Why the UKIP surge is good for Liberal Democrats

Party activists should be cheering on UKIP’s rise in the polls. Why? Because a UKIP surge would most likely end up making it easier for Liberal Democrats to win in Conservative marginals. By my reckoning, every 1% on UKIP’s popularity increases the Lib Dem majority over the Conservatives in these areas by about 90 votes. If last weekend’s polling, putting UKIP at 14%, is correct, that gives Lib Dems in Con-Lib marginals about a 1000 vote head start.

Where do these numbers come from? A recent ComRes poll found that, of people who said they were going to vote for UKIP, 33% were ex-Conservative, 15% ex-Lib Dem and 3% Labour. We can plug these figures into the twenty-three Lib Dem seats in the Conservative top 100 target list (ie the most marginal), and figure out what that means for votes. So, for every 1% that UKIP’s vote goes up, we assume 33% of that came from the Conservatives, decreasing their vote, and 15% of that came from the Lib Dems. * The figures in the graph below are an average of the net impact of this on majorities in those 23 seats.

The usual caveats apply when doing this sort of electoral modelling – as Lib Dems know, national trends don’t always apply locally, incumbents make a difference, national opinion polls can sometimes be very dubious. But there does seem to be pretty compelling evidence that UKIP’s rise is going to help Lib Dems in Con/Lib marginals – and, potentially, help quite a lot.

UKIP chart

* If anyone would like to have a play around with the numbers, I’ve put the spreadsheet up here. You can adjust the weights of where the UKIP vote came from – I’ve just used the ComRes numbers. The target list was taken from the excellent UKPollingReport website.

* Tom Richards is a Liberal Democrat member in London.

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43 Comments

  • Sadly I don’t see that such a mechanistic approach to electoral politics is likely to lead anywhere. Surely Liberal Democrats exist to change the system, get vested interest out of politics, and deliver a fairer and more stable society? Our political and economic systems are broken by in-built short-termism that has led to a debt mountain that will soon be impossible to repay. If people fed up with the way things are run turn instead to a fringe UKIP with no track record, barely any local organisation, and hardly any elected representatives beyond a body they purport to seek to abolish, that would be a sign of failure, not success.

  • It also helps the cause of electoral reform, of course.

    On top of disgruntled UKIP voters, the fact that I – as a Lib Dem who strongly opposes most UKIP policies – would welcome a high UKIP vote-share in the general election, but am quite worried about the same happening in the (proportional) European Parliament elections, should give Tories added cause to question FPTP.

  • Richard Dean 21st Dec '12 - 2:04pm

    Everyone vies for the middle ground, so the future battles won’t be between Labour and Capital – there’s little difference between them. Future battles will be between those who want us In and those who want us Out. As the present main parties fail and fade, UKIP will perhaps become one of the two main parties in this future conflict.

    Can LibDems become the other?

  • Tom Richards 21st Dec '12 - 2:34pm

    Ian – I actually agree – clearly much better to see strong Lib Dem campaigns leading to a higher Lib Dem vote. But unfortunately it’s looking like the party’s going to struggle to do that nationally. So tactical considerations like this could come into play. As for mechanistic models, I agree this is pretty simplistic (as in my last paragraph) – but it’s just trying to make the general point that, according to the data we’ve got available, UKIP’s rise should hit the Tories harder than Lib Dems, which is good news for Lib/Con marginals in what’s going to be a tough election (if sad news more generally – it’s difficult to think of a less liberal party on many issues).

  • paul barker 21st Dec '12 - 2:34pm

    There might be some truth to this if voting intention polls were a useful predictor of fringe party performance in general elections but they arent. No doubt UKIP will do very well in 2014 & that may help us indirectly if it causes panic or splits in tory ranks. If we remember 1989 the greens did very well in the Euros too, accompanied by the same media speculation about libdems being replaced.
    Come 2015 UKIP will flop as they did in 2010.

  • Tom Richards 21st Dec '12 - 2:37pm

    Paul – yes, and worth bearing in mind that out of 120ish council by elections this year UKIP have lost a couple and gained (I’m told) none. Which hardly looks like the surge in the polls we’ve seen. And, as we know, Parliamentary by elections can sometimes throw up some odd results. Would be very surprised if UKIP hit 14% in 2015 (or even double figures).

  • Alexander Bisset 21st Dec '12 - 4:03pm

    Sadly this article shows a distinct lack of thought to the process, you have only looked at one side of the equation.

    The other side of the equation is the people who last time voted Lib Dem as an anti-conservative protest and this time would vote UKIP as an anti-conservative protest. The story of the polls, now conducted daily by the likes of YouGov and so variations/outliers can be very simply tracked, is that the Lib Dems are typically just at or below the 10% mark. This is dramatically down on 2010. The first notable event was formation of coalition, 2nd notable event was turning back on signed pledge on tuition fees. Since there precious little movement has been evident in the polls with an almost constant daily 10% showing +/- a couple of points.

    Detailed analysis of the effect of UKIP is not complete without consideration of where the 12% of the voters last time who voted Lib Dem have gone. A large number of them have gone to Labour, some will have gone to the Conservatives (in Scotland the bulk of the loss has gone almost directly to the SNP). However in England a significant percentage of the missing Lib Dem support will have gone to UKIP. Historically our support has always included a sizable element of protest vote. Hell a large part of the core campaigning tactics for the last 30 years has been focused around “two-horse race”, vote to keep X out. So a core part of the analysis must be to account for the votes we picked up last time that were protest votes that we might not get if UKIP are strong.

    In summary detailed analysis on how the drop in Lib Dem vote going to the other parties and especially UKIP is required before making the somewhat dubious claim that a UKIP surge helps the Lib Dems.

  • Tom Richards 21st Dec '12 - 4:30pm

    Alexander – as I said I agree it’s a bit simplistic, but it’s . On your point about Lib Dems losing protest votes to UKIP, the nice thing about this analysis is that it actually goes some way to quantifying it – it feeds in the information we have from polls about where UKIP voters come from.

    You’re right to say that this model doesn’t show the impact of other things (such as Lib Dem voters going to Lab/Con/elsewhere) – but it doesn’t pretend to, it’s much less ambitious than that – it’s just making the point that UKIP hurts Conservatives more than Lib Dems (as you would expect). If you want to look at the bigger picture, you’re probably best off just doing a simple UNS calculation off the back of the tracking polls.

  • For heaven’s sake people, when did naivety become a compelling election strategy? Do you seriously think that the 1922 committee, will tolerate this haemorrhage of their Tory vote to UKIP, right up until the 2015 elections.?
    Occam’s razor, tells us that the most simple solution is probably the best one.
    They (1922s), will kick Cameron out, (they are tiring of him anyway!), install someone like (say) Gove, and steal UKIP’s ‘chapeau’. It couldn’t be more simple ! And Liberal Democrats would be wise not to waste too many campaign funds on a Battle Bus. A 16-seater minibus in 2015, will be more than adequate.

  • George – where do those figures come from?

    Nov & Dec 2009 YouGov (ie the same point in 2005-10) had us on 14, 16 & 15
    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/voting-intention-2005-2010

    I might have missed it but I can’t see a single poll between 2005-10 that had us on 10% or lower.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 21st Dec '12 - 6:14pm

    I totally agree with Andrew Ducker and all the other posters who think a rise in UKIP’s popularity will help the path to electoral reform.

    The current Labour/Tory duopoly is clearly no longer fit for purpose (if it ever was). The electorate told us so in 2010. Hence, any further fragmentation in the vote – Green, UKIP, whatever, is to be applauded and encouraged.

    The more viable parties, the louder the clamour for an electoral system that accurately reflects that.

  • …………………..I totally agree with Andrew Ducker and all the other posters who think a rise in UKIP’s popularity will help the path to electoral reform…

    I disagree…A single ‘sub-main’ party (LibDem), whose share of votes is not reflected in seats, is a strong argument in favour of PR. A number of smaller ‘subs’will have the opposite effect.

    ……..The current Labour/Tory duopoly is clearly no longer fit for purpose (if it ever was). The electorate told us so in 2010………

    The electorate also told us (by 2 to 1) that they didn’t want the alternative on offer. Sadly, I believe that the ‘coalition experience’ will not only massively damage the LibDems but will also make electoral reform even less likely.

  • UKIP did not stand everywhere. My Lib Dem MP was in a straight contest with the Conservatives. Labour appeared as a name on the ballot only: they had zero presence. UKIP would draw disproportionately from the Tory vote. The Labour vote will likely to take votes away from LIb Dems more than from the Conservatives.

    On electoral reform, I doubt a rise in UKIP would have much overall effect; UKIP seem to evoke a mythical era some time around Feb 29 1959 and I don’t think PR really fits at all into this fantasy, so I do not really see UKIP really making any headway with electoral reform (recall they think EU governance structures are less democratic than those at Westminster).

  • I am reminded of the Monty Python song “Always look at the bright side of life”

  • Sorry, jbt, what “grievance”? Maybe I’m wrong, but it sounds like you are recommending just reacting on an assumption that the press is correct in the way they present the EU? Which would be just bowing down before the forces that have ruled British politics these many years, instead of getting off our knees, and presenting the positives about the EU, why shared democracy is a good thing, not a bad, while acknowledging that the EU, rather like your local Council, or national government can change to make things better.

    But it is all about being able to present cases against headwinds, which politicos don’t find easy, but which is a necessary part of his or her armoury.

  • Kevin McNamara 22nd Dec '12 - 11:11am

    martin, you’re conflating governance with elections. and to be fair to ukip, they believe in electoral reform too.

  • I think we’re missing the elephant in the room here: that we’ve lost (according to Yougov) around 40% of our 2010 voters to Labour. THAT is the real obstacle we are going to have to surmount.

    If we let through even more mad projects like this absurd scheme to privatise the motorways and major A roads being floated in the press today, we’re going to be even more unpopular in 2015.

    Incredibly we have even lost around 10% of Lib Dem 2010 voters to the Tories, for goodness’ sake. I mean, what on earth is happening there?

    We are going to have to find ways of convincing these lost voters to trust us and vote for us again in 2015 and we can’t just rely on the weakness of other parties to do the job for us.

  • Alex Matthews 22nd Dec '12 - 12:08pm

    Geoffrey – “Whilst it is true that there are some good spin offs to come from the rise in UKIP support, the main reason we should be bothered about this is that they are an illiberal force. Their popularity is a bad sign of where public opinion is heading.”

    This basically sums up my concerns. Sure this may split a few marginals here or there, but even if (and that is a big if) this gives us some seats in the short term. Such short termism is something, which as Lib Dems, we should be shying away from, and instead we should be looking to face the real issue here. This is a Party which basically stands against everything we believe and we, right now, need to be showing the public why that is, and why voting for them is in our minds a really damaging act for Britain’s place in the world .

  • Let me delve a little deeper if I may, and ask a searching question. What if the 56% can see something, that the LD Euro stead-fasts, can’t YET see.?
    My guess is that LD’s who are still pro Europe, feel that the economic turmoil across Europe is just a temporary blip. But where is your evidence that this is temporary? What if the traumas unfolding across Europe, are not fleeting, and indeed, evidence of a ‘Crash and Burn’, (albeit at glacial speed) ?
    In short, what if your utopian vision of Europe, (but stalled), is just plain wrong? What if the 56% are right?

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Dec '12 - 6:31pm

    John Dunn, what “utopian vision of Europe”? People like you always use wording like this – you seem to think that anyone who isn’t actually against EU is some sort of “utopian”, you do not seem to suppose there may be a middle ground. In my experience most Liberal Democrats are not fanatical supporters of the EU for some sort of utopian reason, they simply agree there are good reason for co-operation with our neighbours, and (unlike most people who say they are anti-EU) do have a realistic idea of what the EU does, rather than an idea based on tall stories from Britain’s right-wing press.

    How do you suppose mere membership of the EU causes the turmoil you mention? What is the mechanism? What I see is countries which have got themselves too deep in debt, that isn’t directly a factor of their EU membership. It does appear a factor in this was an over-confidence in their economic ability due to their EU membership, so money was lent to them too readily. So are you saying that Britain’s economy is weaker than is supposed but EU membership disguises that?

    In Ireland and Spain in particular, one of the biggest factors was debt going into property price rises, leading to an economy where it was supposed ever-rising houses prices would themselves work as a sort of perpetual motion machine driving the economy with no-one having to do much real work. That’s not too different from the UK, is it? One might note those European countries whose economy is doing better are those not so focused on property ownership and the mistaken idea that owning a house and making money from it is a substitute for making money from work.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Dec '12 - 6:44pm

    jedibeeftrix

    There is of course an answer to the threatening rise of a protest vote party, deal with the grievance that the public feels is not being recognised by the mainstream parties of politics. fail to do so, and suffer the consequences, whilst what was a protest vote becomes mainstream thus altering the political paradigm.

    How are we to deal with a grievance that has been manufactured by those with a vested interest? Our economy is in a mess because of the right-wing economics pushed on it by all governments since 1979. The theories they used have proved worthless. We were promised that by cutting the state, reducing taxes, privatising everything, we would get a better and more effective economy. But we haven’t – we’ve an economy which shares out the wealth much less evenly than in the past, which is generating less growth than the much more state dominated economy of the 1960s, and which is grinding down because people live in an atmosphere of fear – which this current government’s policy of “make sacking easier” will only make worse. Now even home ownership, supposedly the great thing Margaret Thatcher brought to us is in reverse – the rather obvious point being that it’s easy to promote home ownership when there’s plenty of (local) state owned homes to give away, less so once they’ve all been given away.

    So, how to deal with this if you’re a right-wing newspaper who’s been pushing all these economic policies all these years? Invent a distraction, put the blame on something else, pretend that’s all to blame for what;’s going wrong with our economy. Feed the people through your domination of the newspaper industry with a series of tall stories about the EU, make it out to be the big enemy we have to fight. It’s an old trick, used many times by failing elites – invent an enemy and set the people to fight it, that stops them fighting you.

  • this is a big bunch of blah. Polls outside of election time exist to create chatter and that’s what is happening.

    LibDems should ignore the chatter and focus on the issues.

    The main issue being that flaws have been exposed in the monetarist economic policies which have held sway for the past 3 decades, and a reversion to the ‘tax and spend’ policies will provide nothing more than a temporary stopgap.

    The rise of UKIP is indicative of a wider rejection of those polarised alternatives, yet it can only occur in the absence of any real solutions from the moribund left-centre-right establishment.

    This situation presents a real opportunity for LibDems to stake out our claim for credible radicalism.

  • Thea party now has no perceived purpose – that is the problem. I don’t even think voters now see the party as liberal – their image is of self-seeking careerists with EU pensions to protect.

  • David,
    listen to yourself instead of reporting hearsay.

    LibDems oppose populist dogma, and I oppose the cynical perspective you report.

    We stand for free minds and free speech – if you have an opinion then you accept the potential for disagreement, which requires a structured manner of finding resolution.

    We need to exert our maximum influence, and the plain fact is that we can do this better by supporting the democratic process and active engagement with it at every level – including Europe.

    We’re awkward, we scrutinise beyond the obvious. The image you project doesn’t stand up to the reality.

  • @George Potter
    “Also well done on missing the fact that every yougov mid term poll in the last parliament only had us at about 10%.”

    You are completely wrong. Here’s UK Polling Report’s list of VI polls during the course of the last parliament:

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/voting-intention-2005-2010

    I never fail to be astonished at the denial that exists about the current Lib Dem polling situation – polls aren’t accurate/they always show us on low figures/lib dem support always dips mid term, etc. None of these type of arguments ever stands up to five minutes scrutiny of the widely available evidence.

  • Matthew Huntbach asks :
    “How do you suppose mere membership of the EU causes the turmoil you mention?”
    Which bit of what I wrote, brought you to ask such a nonsensical question?

  • Simon Shaw writes:
    “Whether it is temporary or longer term I’m not clear how that would change anything.”
    I’m asking if the EU ship is ‘holed’ but fixable, or sinking. That would surely change anyone’s decision-making?

    56% = ( 34% definitely + 22% probably, would vote out, in an EU referendum)

  • @Simon Shaw

    Apologies for missing out ‘recent local council by-election results ‘ from the list of reasons to deny the evidence.

  • I don’t see how a shift in public opinion toward extremist fringe parties can be good for anybody.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Dec '12 - 6:59pm

    John Dunn

    “How do you suppose mere membership of the EU causes the turmoil you mention?”
    Which bit of what I wrote, brought you to ask such a nonsensical question?

    All of it. Now please could you perhaps answer the question. If I have got you wrong and actually you weren’t saying membership of the EU was the cause of the “economic turmoil” you mention, I’m happy to accept that clarification, in which case, yes my question would not be nonsense. Otherwise, I’m asking you to clarify your point by stating what mechanism you think links EU membership to the turmoil you mention. I think that’s a reasonable question.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Dec '12 - 7:04pm

    David

    The party now has no perceived purpose – that is the problem. I don’t even think voters now see the party as liberal – their image is of self-seeking careerists with EU pensions to protect.

    Er, so you think the whole of the Liberal Democrat Party exists just to protect the pensions of the very small number of members who are or were MEPs? That the reason we go out knocking on doors and delivering our Focus leaflets is just for that reason? David, I have given hundreds of pounds of my own money and hundreds of hours of my own time to the Liberal Democrats over the years, and I’m not an MEP, I’ve never been an MEP and I’ve no wish to become an MEP. I know very well why I have supported the party, I have explained so many times.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Dec '12 - 11:31am

    Whilst some may see that the growth of support for Ukip is good for the Liberal Democrat Party, for it will reduce the support for the Conservatves, personally I fear any increase in support for such an intolerant political party, for it demonstrates to me how society is not as inclusive, as we would care to believe.

    Just remember that Cameron has previously said that Ukip members are mostly “closet racists”, and if he recognises this, then we really have something to fear.

  • Matthw – nearly all the top people in the party (Commons or Lords) have been MEPs or worked for the European Commssion.

  • @Andrew Ducker: If you want electoral reform, Andrew, perhaps you should’ve voted UKIP in 2010! Our policy, if elected, was to introduce AV Plus.

    What seasoned EUroscpetics like me can’t fathom is the rabid EUrophilia of the Lib Dems. Why do you guys hate your country so much that you want to eradicate every semblance of it?

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