Issues & Ideas | 20th February 2015

Ukippers and Greens are united by distrust, but can't be appeased at the same time

The new extremes in British politics are fuelled by anti-politics. Both Ukip and Green supporters share a […]

Photo: Getty

By and

The new extremes in British politics are fuelled by anti-politics. Both Ukip and Green supporters share a deep sense of disillusionment with the political class and functioning of British democracy.

In almost every other respect, though, their grievances with what is on offer from the political mainstream diverge – both Labour and the Tories need to defend against an attack on their left and right flanks.

The mainstream parties recognise the threat but are in a bind when it comes to how to respond. The disenchantment propelling Ukip and Green support means their voters have stopped listening to mainstream parties. And the polarity of these parties’ positions means the mainstream risks alienating one set of supporters if they appease the other.

As part of our ongoing investigation into the causes and impacts of political disaffection, we have compared the causes of Ukip and Green support, based on the British Election Study’s Continuous Monitoring Survey (2009-13) and Internet Panel Study (2014). Full details of our analyses can be found here (the Ukip analyses replicate earlier work reported here).

Distrust of politicians is almost as big a factor for Greens as it is for Ukip supporters.

The results across both periods – which start well before the height of the Ukip and Green ‘surges’ – are striking. Distrust of politicians is almost as big a factor for Greens as it is for Ukip supporters (it is interesting that this effect is slightly weaker in 2014 as the Greens have picked up more popular support).

The odds of someone intending to vote Green or Ukip are up to two and a half times higher (and at least 50 per cent greater) if they express distrust in politicians. People who intend to vote for Ukip and the Greens are also more dissatisfied with British democracy, dislike both David Cameron and Ed Miliband, and are more likely to agree that “politicians don’t care what people like me think”.

Interestingly, Greens are more likely to accept the view that “it is difficult to understand government and politics”, whereas Ukippers disagree – for them politics is not as complicated as is made out.

Even controlling for the demographic and attitudinal factors identified in the popular and widely accepted Ford and Goodwin thesis, political distrust and disaffection is a major driver of support for the Greens and UKIP.

Greens are actually more likely to think “it is difficult to understand government and politics”.

The idea that Ukip or the Greens represent a threat is not news to the political parties. Labour’s big data election analyst Ian Warren long since identified the Greens as key to understanding the distinctive geography of the new British politics. And the Tories plainly see Ukip as a major concern.

But the standard mainstream party response is to focus on policy red meat that both parties should throw Ukip supporters to win them back. Disaffection with politics means this strategy may not work. Voters are less trusting of politics and so less likely to believe in policy crackdowns and inducements. And appeasing Ukip has in turn created space for the rise of the Greens.

*

Our old politics is struggling to cope with a new world of polar opposites. While they may be disaffected, and share distrust in politics and politicians, the attitudes of Ukip and Green supporters differ in important ways.

Ukip voters are more likely to be male, at least 55, and read right-wing tabloids. Greens are more likely to be female, younger, and not read tabloids. Ukippers want to leave the EU, are worried about immigration, and tend to be of the view that “ordinary people do not get their fair share”.

Ukippers are more likely to think equal opportunities for ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians have gone too far.

They also are more likely to think equal opportunities for ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians have gone too far.

Greens on the other hand are pro-EU, more likely to express positive attitudes on immigration, believe that government should be concerned about inequality, and disagree that “too many people rely on government hand-outs”. They also strongly disagree that environmental protection has gone too far.

In contrast to Greens, Ukip supporters tend to be less supportive of redistribution or government intervention, but still care about ordinary people getting a fair deal. Yet while they may be hacked off about the economic status quo, Ukip supporters are not necessarily natural bedfellows for Labour’s brand of redistributive social democracy.

These results show that the ‘left behind’ analysis of Ukip – Ukippers are natural Labour voters abandoned by the party – has perhaps been overplayed. The set of policy attitudes Ukippers express would be just at home in the “new working class” identified by Ivor Crewe in Thatcher’s heyday.

Ukippers are less supportive of redistribution, but still care about ordinary people getting a fair deal.

These people may have once voted for Labour and Tony Blair – in the guise of “Mondeo Man” – but their policy and cultural attitudes are distinctive and not social democratic in any way.

By trying to placate voters’ concerns about immigration and the EU, parties may well have driven voters into the arms of the Greens – who are polar opposites to Ukippers on crucial cultural and policy attitudes.

Furthermore, Greens and Ukippers are not “insurgents” in any normal sense of the word. They have a clear set of ideological dispositions and policy preferences that are not being met by the political parties or within the political system as it currently stands.

That those preferences are at polar opposites highlights the impossibility for both Labour and Conservatives of mollifying both sides.