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Room for switching: European Parliament Vote Intentions

Cees van der Eijk

According to a Telegraph/ICM poll published on 19 April, the upcoming European Parliament elections lead to a dismal result for the Conservative party, which is predicted to finish third, after Labour and UKIP. We take no aim with the findings of this poll and the thoughtful commentary by the paper. But it does raise the question whether the current pattern of voter preferences will necessarily lead to the projected result, or whether the election outcome may still be different.

The reason for asking this question is that many voters hold multiple preferences, which is to say that they feel that there is more than one party that they would be quite happy to support at the polls. The 2015 British Election Study, conducted by a consortium of the universities of Manchester, Oxford and Nottingham, allows us to look at this phenomenon. In this study we asked respondents not only to state which party they intend to vote for at the European Parliament elections, but also to indicate for each of the political parties how likely or unlikely it is that they would vote for it (on a scale from 0 to 10). We find that many voters have a real choice to make: the two parties most appealing to them are virtually equally attractive, which provides ample scope for changing their mind about which one of these two to vote for. Importantly, these voters are not found in equal measure amongst the intended voters for each of the parties:


Percentage for whom second choice is virtually equally attractive as first choice
Conservative 9
Labour 9
Liberal Democrat 19
Green 25
BNP 23
SNP 12
Plaid Cymru 20


What these findings tell us is that approximately 1 in every 5 respondents who currently state they will vote UKIP in the European elections can very easily switch because there is for them another party that is equally or almost equally attractive. Amongst those who now intend to vote for the Conservatives, this is only the case for about 1 in every 10. In other words: those who currently intend to vote Conservative are ‘firmer’ in this choice than those who intend to vote UKIP, and thus less likely to be swayed in the coming month by whatever events or political developments to still change switch in their choice. Whether the actions of parties and politicians in the next month will impel these voters to switch cannot, of course, be read from the results of a survey. But it is clear that there is still ample room for switching and if that potential were to be used, that the Conservatives are more likely to gain than to lose as a result, while UKIP is more likely to lose than to gain. The results for the other parties reported above can be interpreted in a similar way.

Technical note:

Data: British Election Study Internet Panel wave 1.

File weighted with weight factor W8_2 (effective n=20850).

First and second choice being equally attractive: based on ptv scores for the various parties. Respondents were classified only as being equally or almost equally attracted to two (or more) parties if their highest ptv scores are tied or no more than 1 point apart.


Image credit to European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari