With just twelve weeks to go until the General Election, political parties on all sides are watching the polls and holding their breath. Something has got to give, the main three parties think. With their combined share of voting intention now at a historic low, Labour and the Conservatives’ chances of a majority look more remote than ever, while the Lib Dems wonder if they will even retain enough seats to play kingmaker.
All three are hoping for a break in these final weeks. But are these hopes realistic? The answer is most likely yes – and let us briefly explore why.
In spite of strong levels of support during this electoral cycle from previously peripheral parties like the Greens, UKIP and the SNP, it is worth paying respect to two persistently occurring historical precedents at General Elections. First, that support for the incumbent government of the day often recovers by a modest amount on polling day, and second, that untested parties under-perform significantly.
Unlike in local or European elections, the desire to preserve the status quo, along with a heightened fear of the unknown, has time and time again manifested itself particularly acutely in General Election results.
It is upon this fairly safe historical assumption that electoral strategists envisage some sort of significant shift from current polling trends in the run up to May 7th. But with polls pointing to a wholly ambiguous result, the real question is from which party the election-changing momentum will come to make that all important break.
So then, let us play a game to try and find out.
We will measure the most important issues set to decide the next election against the differing levels of public trust placed in the competing parties for each of these issues.
Below, we have the breakdown of party preference upon the six headline issues of our day, divided into three games based on the importance that people place on them. Within them are constructed three scenarios, with the average party score across the issues represented in each producing a theoretical voting intention. The results of these games are shown further down.
Game One represents a head-to-head of party preference if we were to imagine entering an election based exclusively on the issues of the NHS and the Economy. This is the election which the Conservatives and Labour would prefer us to be entering, but of course things are not that simple.
Game Two adds Immigration to the mix, an issue which has exploded the convention that would normally see one of the main two parties holding hegemony. Finally, Game Three acknowledges a further three of the next most important issues registered by voters. This is included in order to represent the electorate in a more comprehensive way. You can view interactive trackers of these issues, and more, by visiting our Voter Behaviour page.
This exercise provides two potentially election-altering insights.
First, that if we are to believe that people will vote rationally based on their preference of party trust in the issues that mean most to them, the results below show a collapse in support for periphery parties in line with the “fear of the unknown” factor seen at previous elections. This isn’t to say that many people’s votes aren’t heavily biased by pre-existing party allegiances, but rather that this model assumes that these biases are already registered in the way people place their trust across each issue.
Second, that whilst all three games produce a Conservative lead of 2-5%, in no instance is this enough to secure the party an overall majority. Even with these big shifts from the current average voting intention (shown below the game results), we are still looking at another Hung Parliament.
Game One, the head-to-head which the Conservative and Labour war machines are centring their key messaging around, produce a rather unlikely result. No matter the strength with which these issues are highlighted by campaigners, they clearly do not exist in isolation, and people have broader concerns than just these two.
Game Two on the other hand offers a much stronger result for Other parties. There is, unfortunately, no further breakdown of party preference for the minor parties, and it would be fascinating to see who is benefitting where. On the issue of Immigration, however, we can assume UKIP to be doing very well.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, however, is that Game Three doesn’t produce any significant variation in the results compared to Game Two, despite the issues sampled being doubled. This harmonisation suggests a much more realistic result than Game One.
This is not an election prediction, rather a prism of using real data to envisage where those expected breaks in voting intention will come ahead of May 7th. This game does, admittedly, seem to overly favour the main two parties, and there remains the distinct possibility that apathy will keep many traditional voters at home to the benefit of the Other parties. It may also be that because the minor parties aren’t specifically named in the survey question, that respondents feel compelled to name one of the main three, thus under representing the overall score of Others.
The data behind each of the issues shown here finds that around 30% of the population say that they have no party preference on these policy areas at all, meaning that this number are yet to decide or have no intention of voting. They have been removed from this game to capture only those with preferences and are thus more likely to vote, but this more unreadable dynamic of the undecided voter, as always, may in the end prove decisive.
The game does, however, demonstrate the potential that parties have to distill this broad spectrum of trust across these issues into an X on the ballot paper. It just depends which issues voters hold to be most important as they enter that polling booth.