A recent Ashcroft poll of eight key Con-Lab marginal shows that despite improving national popularity, the Tories are struggling in key battleground seats. Despite the release of discouraging marginal polling, however, the Conservatives remain surprisingly confident going into the final month of the election campaign.
So why aren’t the Tories worrying? Well, in this election the biggest problem for the conservatives is not the popularity of Labour but that of the UK Independence party.
UKIP’s recent rise in popularity has seen the Tories lose many of their more conservative voters to the Eurosceptic party. Around 60% of current UKIP supporters actually voted for the Conservatives in the 2010 election. It is the loss of these voters that threatens Tory victory. However, Conservatives believe that during the final stages of this political campaign, many UKIP voters will return to the party if faced with the possibility of Ed Miliband becoming prime minister.
But will it be the case that as the election draws closer, UKIP’s polling numbers will fall and the Conservatives’ rise? To make an educated guess, it could be useful to look at the results of recent European Federal Elections and how their far right parties faired in the run-up to, and in, those elections.
Greece had their legislative election late this past January. The graph below is a compilation of polling data in the four months leading up to the elections. The blue line is Syriza, the left wing part, that ultimately won; the red line is the centre-right party New Democracy (ND); and the purple line represents the far-right Golden Dawn (GD). While GD doesn’t come close to having the share of votes of the two main parties, its popularity did not decrease as the election drew closer. In fact from October to January, the party’s rating actually increased from 5 to 6%. The final election results which took place on the 25 of January left Syriza with 36.3%, ND with 27.8% and GD with 6.3%.
In 2011, the Finnish Parliamentary Election saw three main parties compete: the centre-right National Coalition, the centre-left Social Democrats and the far-right Finns Party. Throughout the campaign, the Finns Party saw popularity surge as the election drew closer, albeit with a slight dip on polling day itself. However, on the day, far-right party received 19.1% of the vote, actually tying with the more established centre-left Social Democrats.
Lastly, the 2014 Swedish elections followed the same course as the Greek and Finnish elections. The two largest parties, the Social Democrats and Moderate Alliance won the majority of support with the far right party Swedish Democrats coming in third. However, like the True Finns and Golden Dawn, the Swedish Democrats ended up with a higher percentage of the final election vote than there final polling numbers would have suggested. Their final polling numbers were around 10% and in actuality they received around 13% of the popular vote.
Looking at the graphs above doesn’t seem to bode well for the Conservative party, with the far-right parties all finishing their electoral campaigns strongly. But perhaps the party can take hope from the most recent local French Elections which didn’t follow what seems to be a trend in recent European Elections. The Eurosceptic French party, Front National, was expected to come top in the French local elections with 30% of the vote but actually received 23 -26%. An unexpected result, given the polling numbers and results of other European Elections.
So why do these Far-Right parties see a surge in popularity and enjoy steady popularity as the elections draws nearer? One reason is that these parties are very successful in appealing to the growing discontent with many countries mainstream political parties. With their new-found popularity, these right-wing can seem relatively untainted by controversy even in spite of their controversial opinions. Every time a mainstream party experiences a scandal or a politician is exposed as corrupt, anti-establishment parties often experience a surge in popularity.
In fact, the swell in the True Finns popularity can be partly attributed to the Finnish election funding scandal that affected the country’s main parties. When a country seems broke and the current leaders seem weak and unable to inflict change, voters will turn to those who they can believe will not act out of self-interest.
These right wing parties also have another effective political strategy to help them garner votes. Populism and scapegoating, these parties give voters someone to blame for their problems. Poor domestic economic performance isn’t the fault of a nation’s economic policies, but rather the result of immigration and EU membership. This rhetoric has been particularity effective during the prolonged period of economic uncertainty and strife in Europe.
While UKIP’s popularity has recently experienced a decrease, the election is still over 40 days away. Every misstep made by the conventional political parties, especially the Tories, is a potential gain for UKIP. Party funding scandals, corrupt politicians, and unpopular opinions may spell disaster for the main parties but possible success for UKIP. That being said, UKIP is not immune from controversy and every scandal experienced by UKIP will most likely see a rise in popularity in other parties, namely the Tories.
Another factor that at play in the upcoming UK elections is the theoretical possibility some UKIP voters may head to the ballet and cast a tactical vote. When polled 84% of UKIP voters said that they would rather have David Cameron as Prime Minister than Ed Miliband. If faced with the possibility of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister some suggest that some UKIP voters will use their vote tactically and vote for a Tory in an attempt to keep Ed Miliband out of Downing Street. While certainly a possibility, voting trends in recent European elections do not offer the Conservatives’ much encouragement.
Image Source: Ukip Broxbourne