The UK Independence Party tends to poll significantly better in European Parliament elections than it does in Westminster general elections. A good result for UKIP in the European Parliament elections is a blow for the three major parties, but the major parties traditionally take comfort in the likelihood that a UKIP European Parliament election swing will not be replicated come the next general election. Newly released data from the British Election Study reveal that such comforts may now be misplaced. The translation of UKIP votes from the European Parliament elections on May 22nd 2014 to the Westminster general election on May 7th 2015 looks likely to be much higher.
British Election Study data released today (collected between February and March 2014) shows that 17% of people intend to vote for UKIP in the May European Parliament elections (23% when counting only people giving a party choice, excluding ‘don’t know’ responses). That figure drops to 11% of people who also intend to vote for UKIP in the 2015 general election (or 14% counting only people giving a party choice). However, this drop is far smaller than the comparable drop in 2009 when the last European elections took place. UKIP secured 16.5% of the overall vote in the 2009 European Parliament elections but just 3.1% of the final share of vote in the 2010 general election. More than half of people (57.6%) intending to vote for UKIP in the May 2014 European Parliament election also intend to vote for UKIP in the 2015 general election, whereas the same proportion, those who intended to vote UKIP in the 2009 European election and who intended to vote UKIP in the 2010 UK general election, (using 2009 BES panel data) was less than half that number (25.5%) in 2009.
Which parties are likely to lose out from a higher conversion of UKIP votes in the 2014 European Parliament elections to the 2015 Westminster general election?
The following figure shows the 2010 general election vote intentions of those people who said they voted UKIP in 2009.
2010 General Election vote intentions among European Parliament election UKIP voters in 2009
(2009 British Election Study internet panel survey)
The next figure shows the 2015 general election vote intentions of those people who say they will vote UKIP in 2014.
2015 General Election vote intentions among European Parliament election UKIP voters in 2014
(2014 British Election Study internet panel survey)
The extra UKIP votes in 2014 appear to be at the expense of the Conservatives, and also (though to a much lesser extent) at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. UKIP European Parliament voters are also more decided about how they will vote in the general election next year than they were about the 2010 general election in 2009. However, as Cees van der Eijk argues on this website, UKIP support could still waver in the coming weeks.
Those people who intend to vote UKIP in 2015 are mainly drawn from supporters of the major parties in the last Westminster general election in 2010. Of those people intending to vote UKIP in 2015, 44% voted Conservative in 2010, 17% voted Liberal Democrat, 11% voted Labour and 11% didn’t vote. 9% voted UKIP.
These findings will be cause for concern to the major British parties – especially the Conservatives – and will mean the results of the forthcoming European Parliament elections will be taken especially seriously when looking ahead to the likely vote shares of the parties in 2015. A vote share of 11% for UKIP will not translate into an MP for Nigel Farage’s party unless UKIP’s support can be concentrated in one or more parliamentary constituencies, but it would reveal much stronger support for UKIP in the country and it will have important political consequences in the months and years ahead.
What is behind these vote intention figures?
It is well-known that British public opinion is more euro-sceptic than europhile. Both the Conservative party and UKIP have long held policy positions closest to the majority of British voters in terms of euroscepticism, but UKIP appears to be benefiting. Part of the explanation for this fact lies in the following BES findings.
If we take the average position of the general population on a scale ranging from (0) European Unification has gone too far, to (10) European Unification has not gone far enough, we find that the average position of the electorate is closest to the Conservative Party (measured by where survey respondents think the major parties’ policies are on the same scale).
|Survey respondent (average):||3.10|
|Conservative Party (average):||3.85|
|Labour Party (average):||5.67|
|Liberal Democrats (average):||6.12|
|UK Independence Party (average):||1.28|
However, the average survey respondent placement hides the fact that the largest majority of people place themselves on the furthest eurosceptic end of a 0 to 10 scale, where 0 = European Unification has gone too far, and 10 = European Unification should go further (among those who give an opinion), as can be seen here:
Figure 3: Attitudes towards European Unification, 2009 British Election Study Internet Panel
These attitudinal distributions have implications for understanding the increase in support for UKIP (among a wide range of other explanations for UKIP’s support), but also for the likelihood of support for a referendum on EU membership and the political and electoral consequences of the respective party’s promises on a referendum. British Election Study data reveal that a referendum on EU membership, were it held tomorrow, would be on a knife edge, with the battleground being for the 15% of voters who are currently undecided.
Should Britain stay in the EU or leave (if there were a referendum tomorrow, how would you vote)? (British Election Study 2014; N = 20,850)
|Stay in the EU:||39.79 %|
|Leave the EU:||40.72 %|
|Would not vote:||3.91 %|
|Don’t know:||15.57 %|
Source: British Election Study Internet Panel wave 1, 2014.
Image credit to European Union 2011 PE-EP Pietro Naj-Olear / Flickr under creative commons license.