Featured, Need to Know | 17th April 2015

How does the churn of 2010 voters explain each party’s level of support?

Very few Tories and Labour voters have switched to the other main party, while Ukippers and the SNP have both attracted a mix of support.


If it wasn’t for the Lib Dem collapse, Labour would be polling below 30 per cent and Ed Miliband would not have made it to last night’s debate.

Without the Lib Dems, Labour would be on 27 per cent. Or perhaps 28-29 per cent, as some Lib Dems would likely have drifted their way since 2010. But they would not be on 34 per cent, and headed for power in three weeks; defecting Lib Dems account for 7 per cent of Labour’s 34 per cent vote share.

This is one of a series of findings in a new analysis by May2015, which you can find in this week’s New Statesman. We have put together a rough guide which shows you how 2010 voters make up each party’s current level of support.

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As we have stressed before, there is astonishingly little churn between the UK’s two main parties – Labour and the Tories.

Only 1 in 20 of those voters who backed the Tories in 2010 have switched to Labour over the past five years, and a similarly low number have left Labour to turn blue, as this FT graphic shows. 2010 Tories and Labour voters who have switched sides are represented by the gently curved white lines.

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The latter isn’t so surprising – if a Labour voter was going to defect they would probably have done so in 2001, 2005 or 2010 – but Ed Miliband’s inability to win over 2010 Tories is more startling. Labour have lost voters to the Tories for three elections in a row. After ridding themselves of Blair and Brown, one might have expected a new leader to win back some of those erstwhile supporters.

Yet Miliband hasn’t managed to. Labour are tied in the polls because 3 in 10 of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 have been handed to them, not because they’ve reached out beyond their 2010 base.

That’s not as problematic as we might be making it sound. It means that Labour will be elected by a fairly united and fairly centre-left base – their voters are either those who were resolute enough to stick with them after 13 years of government, or are disgruntled Lib Dems who left their old party soon after they started working with the Tories.

Unlike with the Lib Dems in 2010, Labour’s vote is unlikely to split, and perhaps even fall at all, if the party kowtows to the SNP and curbs austerity. This isn’t Tony Blair’s Labour Party; the benefit of being far less popular is that your support is rather more secure.


As for the rest of the parties, these donuts show how the Tories have lost just under a sixth of their vote to Ukip, for whom 2010 Tories make up around 40 per cent of their support. (This is a rough calculation – we have assumed 2010 Ukippers, Greens and SNPers have stuck with their party; pollsters do not provide detailed data for these voters.)

But Ukip, the Greens and the SNP all take their support from a wide group of voters, unlike the three traditional parties, who are all simply clinging onto their core voters.

The Tories have lost just under a sixth of their vote to Ukip.

This looks impressive now, but it could easily become problematic for all three, who will have to keep these fragile coalitions together.

The SNP are the most well-suited to do so. Their support is closely linked to support for independence. The SNP won 45 per cent in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, 45 per cent in the referendum and are polling slightly above 45 per cent in this election. SNPers are, as one train guard put it to a senior Labour MP, now part of ‘the 45’.

That coalition could hold as long as austerity, Trident and independence continue to unite nearly half of Scotland. The Greens can also be confident. They are 20-30 MPs away from having real power (and therefore having to make unpopular decisions), and should be able to keep hold of many protest voters.

Ukip face the greatest challenge. Crudely, they need to keep hold of two groups once thought to be polar opposites: northern working class Labour voters, and better off retirees who once voted Tory. Both groups are united by immigration, social conservatism and an antipathy towards Europe.

In the same way that Scotland need to keep the flame of independence alive, the European ‘bogeyman’, as Sturgeon referred to it last night, is fuelling Ukip.