LibDems failed to shift enough Tory remainers – Electoral Calculus on 2017->2019 voter migration

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Martin Baxter’s Electoral Calculus website has an excellent Infographic on Voter migration 2017 – 2019. Using human figures (voters) to represent one percentage point of the voters, he not only shows where 2017 voters and non-voters went in 2019, he also graphically shows 2016 EU referendum preferences.

His conclusion on the LibDems is interesting:

The Liberal Democrats…gained a Remain voter from the Conservatives, and a new voter who had not voted in 2017. Altogether that increased their vote share nationally, but those votes were scattered across seats and they were not able to translate their increased support into seat gains.

The Conservatives were notably static. They gained a couple of Leave voters from Labour and lost one Remain voter to the Lib Dems. But otherwise their supporters stood remarkably loyal. Most significant was the significant group of Conservative Remainers who (mostly) did not defect to other parties. The failure of the Lib Dems to attract more of those voters was a big setback for the Lib Dems and a strong positive for the Conservatives. If half of Conservative Remainers had gone to the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives might have won just 325 seats and been short of an outright majority again.

You can see the inforgraphic and Martin’s full commentary here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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37 Comments

  • Mohammed Amin 19th Jan '20 - 11:54am

    It is indeed an excellent infographic, and I have tweeted it.

    Until I saw this, I had not realised how big was the impact of 2017 Labour voters staying home in 2019.

  • Paul Pettinger 19th Jan '20 - 11:54am

    I think this risks us drawing some unhelpful conclusions. A lot more remainers/ socially liberal voters are left of the centre than right of the centre, and Con remainers are too geographically spread out to base an electoral strategy around. Under first past the post our challenge is to achieve first places and, in most of our target seats, to win more votes than the Conservatives. Experience shows this is usually best achieved by winning over some soft Cons, but amassing a coalition of voters that includes more progressives. This coalition of voters can all too easily fragment when we prioritise our appeal for soft Cons, as occurred in 2015 and far too readily during the 2019 campaign, where Labour leaning remainers went back to supporting Labour in droves.

  • George Potter 19th Jan '20 - 11:59am

    On the contrary. It was obvious from before the campaign even started that the Tories would frighten soft Tory Remainers with the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in order to convince them not to switch their votes to other parties. This was obvious because they did the exact same thing in 2017, 2015 and 2010 (showing that they’ll try to paint pretty much any Labour leader as dangerous).

    Our response to that was to say that Corbyn was dangerous and that we wouldn’t let him be Prime Minister. This tactic was an utter failure as it simultaneously helped convince Tory voters that he really was dangerous, and that therefore they had better vote Tory to stop him, whilst also convincing Labour Remain voters that we were anti-Labour and therefore didn’t share their values on anything but Brexit.

    Lib Dems failing to win over Tory Remain voters was pretty inevitable given who the Labour party leader was, but in trying and failing to win them over we helped lose ourselves potential Labour Remain voters who, at the beginning of the campaign, were seriously thinking about voting for us.

  • George Potter 19th Jan '20 - 12:03pm

    And indeed if we look at the infographic we in fact see that we won two 2017 Labour Remain voters for every 2017 Conservative Remain voter we won.

    Think about how much better our performance would have been if we’d won three or four or five Labour Remain voters whilst still only winning one Tory Remain voter – that’s what we were poised to do at the start of the campaign and the failure to do so is a big part of why we failed to win places like Cambridge and Sheffield Hallam, and why we went from being the frontrunner in seats like Portsmouth South to being also rams in constituency polling over the course of the campaign.

  • Oliver Craven 19th Jan '20 - 12:16pm

    Exactly George

  • Paul Pettinger 19th Jan '20 - 12:26pm

    Our anti-Labour “tactic was an utter failure as it simultaneously helped convince Tory voters that he [Corbyn] really was dangerous, and that therefore they had better vote Tory to stop him, whilst also convincing Labour Remain voters that we were anti-Labour and therefore didn’t share their values on anything but Brexit” – George is right. Just as in 2015, our 2019 campaign helped ensure we got more aggressively squeezed, than warded against it

  • lloyd harris 19th Jan '20 - 12:29pm

    Couple of things that affected us, first the framing of the election as a fight between Boris and Jeremy which we had no control over.
    Second the fact Tory remainers clearly saw Jeremy as a greater threat than leaving Europe therefore removing our opportunity to gain their votes.
    As the election went on our vote went down and the Tories went up, my view was this was partly to do with these Tory remainers returning home.

  • The squeeze cut us out of the argument, it became Depeffle or Corbyn and Depeffle was the least unpopular of the two. The hunt for unicorn voters appears to be an obsession with much of our leadership, the truth is as bad things happen people will start to look for an alternative, the challenge for the Lib Dems is to be one. Now there will be many trying to be the alternative and obsessing about what might of been and being timid least we upset people will not make us one.

  • Paul Barker 19th Jan '20 - 2:03pm

    The reason we failed to win over more Remain Voters was the same whether they were Tory or Labour, we simply werent big enough to be credible. The Election came both too soon after our low point in Summer 2017 & too late after May 2019, the boost we got from the May results had faded completely. From our point of view an Election 2 Months earlier or one 2 Years later would have been much better but we dont get to decide these things.
    As yet its too soon to say where we are now; weve had 2 Polls, both showing us down on The Election but we really need to see another 4 or 5.

  • I wanted to remain but quite happy with Boris as PM, the Labour alternative was just too frightful to allow, more McD than Corbyn, letting the former anywhere near the money printing presses would have seen Sterling down to about 0.5 US dollars. There is no evidence than any Labour govn has ever given any power back to the people – the new song of wannabe Labour leaders – much more likely to end up in the hands of the political elite. on the back of confiscatory taxes. Have to wait to March to see how extreme the Conservatives are going to be, that all important first budget when the nasty stuff gets done with five years for the electorate to get over it.

  • Given that in Sept. Tory remainers such as Boris brother Jo, Amber Rudd & Rory Stewart walked out of the party, Lib Dems rightly had high expectations of Tory remainers switching in their masses. Apart from a handful of constituencies (st Albans, Hitchin, South Cambridgeshire, Esher etc) this did not happen. Boris successfully negotiating a deal with EU would have persuaded some to stay put (made him look a bit less extreme). For constituencies where Lib Dems are traditionally also rans (Midlands etc.) why would a Tory remainer bother with Lib Dems? Particularly if Lib Dems not running much of a campaign in those constituencies.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jan '20 - 5:34pm

    Surely we need more investigation into why we did not win over more Tory Remainers. As I understood it, our main target seats had Tory MPs. Given the consistent strong lead in the polls of the Conservatives over Labour, I don’t see why Tory voters in those seats should have been fearful of a Corbyn-led government. Why not vote for our strong Lib Dem candidate, given the known demerits of Boris Johnson? Were they put off by not liking Jo Swinson, or the fantasy we proposed of her being the next Prime Minister, or the diversion from the democratic way of stopping Brexit by another referendum, which our Revoke policy involved? Or was it that after three years of indecision they just wanted the question resolved nationally through Johnson and his deal, because they were fed up with the long delay? I’d like to see some qualitative research done with Tory voters in one or two of the Remain-voting areas where we had high hopes of success.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '20 - 5:35pm

    @Mike Read “Lib Dems rightly had high expectations of Tory remainers switching in their masses”
    Not rightly at all as it transpired!
    Even without the benefit of hindsight It was apparent for the last few years (at least!) that Parliament was not representative of public opinion as far as Brexit was concerned.
    Lib Dems seemed to get too caught up in the Westminster bubble, believing a grassroots rebellion was signalled by a few parliamentary defectors (most of whom might have chosen to become Lib Dem MPs originally if it had offered the job security and easy ride of a safe Labour or Tory seat). It also meant that every poll, by-election, election, petition and demonstration was interpreted unquestioningly as further proof of an anti-Brexit revolution. This self-delusion contributed to poor decision-making, a weak strategy, and ultimately an awful performance in the General Election.
    It might have been different if senior Lib Dems had read the posts on this site! 🙂

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 19th Jan '20 - 6:38pm

    Whilst I hugely agree with George Potters comments about the awfulness of our messaging re Corbyn, which turned off both Tory remainers and labour remainders, he misses that it also cost us seats by switching Labour Leavers to Tories.

    We spent a lot of time telling these people how awful Corbyn was. The Tories then had a last gasp message in Lib Dem target seats of “vote libdem, get Corbyn”. Which meant that this group of people were left with no choice but to vote for that lovely Boris, who gets what we are worried about.

    Also, electoral calculus is a national average. Our data (at least in EofE) shows a large difference between the switches across areas, with different percentage pictures in those of our seats that made huge gains and those that made more modest gains.

  • Starting to get somewhere here, thought it bizarre that we said Corbyn too extreme, thereby panicking the horses and also giving remain Tories a figleaf
    to vote Tory again. Never were there more dark arts than in this scandalous election, more fool LDs for helping set it up, and letting Boris J frame it as the people v parliament even after parliament had passed his crummy deal. The deflection is going on now too, as the nhs crumbles again the press is obsessed with? Yup, the future of a couple of well connected millionaires and remainer “plots’ to stop big ben binging for Brexit.

    I despair.

  • Once again Paul Pettinger argues for us to target Labour voters and encourage soft Conservatives to vote Conservative. The only rational explanation for this is that he is so much more right wing than I am that he wants a Conservative government.

    Sorry to be ‘unhelpful’.

  • @ Joe Otten It would be very ‘helpful’ if you could tell us why the Lib Dems didn’t regain Sheffield Hallam, Joe.

    Should have been a pushover after the O’Mara performance and all the negative stuff in the media about Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '20 - 7:21pm

    Joe Otten “Paul Pettinger argues for us to target Labour voters and encourage soft Conservatives to vote Conservative. The only rational explanation for this is that he is so much more right wing than I am that he wants a Conservative government.”
    An interesting way of measuring success given that with the current strategy we have seen the last three general elections deliver one minority Conservative government and two majority Conservative governments.
    Lib Dems have looked like an opposition to Labour and an alternative to the Tories for too long and it does not appear to be working. In 2015 Lib Dems bolstered the Tories by stoking fear of a Lab+SNP coalition and in 2017 & 2019 supported the Tories by stoking fear of Corbyn. I don’t believe a strategy based upon Paul Pettinger’s observations would do worse!

  • “Our response to that was to say that Corbyn was dangerous and that we wouldn’t let him be Prime Minister. This tactic was an utter failure”

    Seeminly this was the case. The question then is why did the party’s polling/researcj mpt identify this.

    Were the questions not asked, were they asked wrongly, were the answer either misinterpreted or not understood.

    It’s that sort of question that this review needs to be asking.

  • Looking at that another question worth asking is whether Hywel can competently use a keyboard! Hopefully what I meant is just about intelligible!

  • Steve Trevethan 19th Jan '20 - 8:11pm

    Don’t despair! Analyse!
    Might it also be of help to also analyse the attitudes and behaviours of the corporate or mainstream media around the election? (Including the B B C)
    Does our country have a “level playing field” of mass information and communication, for instance?

  • Talking about changing voter behaviour, I just loved this James Cleverly comment today linking democracy with the unelected Upper Chamber.

    “The government is examining whether to move the House of Lords out of London, the Conservative Party chairman has said. James Cleverly told Sky News the idea was among a “range of options” being considered to “reconnect” politics with voters outside of the capital”.

    York and Birmingham touted as possible venues…………..

  • John Roffey 20th Jan '20 - 7:20am

    @David Raw

    There is the clear contrast between ‘democratic’ and the unelected House of Lords. However, this might be a shot over the bows of the members – warning them of what could happen if they choose to be difficult over the government’s legislation program.

    I would guess the majority of Lords live in the South East and would not relish the 4 hour return journey – or moving north [average age 70].

    More concerning – with regard to challenges to the government’s actions – are the announced changes to the handling of press:

    “An important principle is at stake. For the first time in history, lobby journalists will have to ask permission from the government to be briefed by the PM’s official spokesman, rather than just being able to ask questions by dint of having a lobby pass.

    Concern over the latest move led every national newspaper editor – including Chris Evans at the Telegraph, which until recently employed the prime minister – to join forces with more than a dozen editors from broadcast and regional media to condemn the plans in a letter sent by the Society of Editors.”

    This move follows the example set by Trump.

    From the Guardian:
    https://www.theguardian.com/media/commentisfree/2020/jan/19/the-westminster-lobby-system-is-at-the-heart-of-a-press-freedom-fight

  • “Might it also be of help to also analyse the attitudes and behaviours of the corporate or mainstream media around the election?”

    It could but would ‘Lib Dem prospects were affected by negative media coverage’ really be that surprising. The question then is was this considered as a factor and what steps were taken to minimise that.

    The key element of the review is what factors were in our control to influence and what did or didn’t we do to influence them, why did we do that and what effect did it have.

    It does feel like people want a comfort blanket review that says ‘not our fault, if only the world was a nicer place we would have won because our arguments are so great’

  • George Potter 19th Jan ’20 – 11:59am………………….On the contrary. It was obvious from before the campaign even started that the Tories would frighten soft Tory Remainers with the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in order to convince them not to switch their votes to other parties. This was obvious because they did the exact same thing in 2017, 2015 and 2010 (showing that they’ll try to paint pretty much any Labour leader as dangerous). Our response to that was to say that Corbyn was dangerous and that we wouldn’t let him be Prime Minister. This tactic was an utter failure as it simultaneously helped convince Tory voters that he really was dangerous, and that therefore they had better vote Tory to stop him, whilst also convincing Labour Remain voters that we were anti-Labour and therefore didn’t share their values on anything but Brexit…………..

    This party’s leadership seems to have learned nothing…

    Guardian (today).. “The acting Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, has claimed the “toxicity” of Jeremy Corbyn was a big factor in the Lib Dems’ poor performance in last month’s general election, saying voters backed the Tories rather than risk a “hard left” government….”

    He seems to have forgotten that this party was stoking the ‘toxicity’ fires as fervently as the Tories. Mr. Davey, If you throw petrol onto a fire you are liable to get burned!

  • Stephen Howse 20th Jan ’20 – 9:55am……………..We need to wait and see who Labour choose as the next leader. If it’s Starmer, Nandy, Phillips or Thornberry we will be able to work with them no bother…………..

    The majority of posts on the subject of any ‘co-operation’ with Labour suggest the opposite.

  • Stephen Howse- More pertinent is will Starmer etc want to work with LDs? About as likely as Boris working with Nigel I would say.

  • Denis Loretto 20th Jan '20 - 12:20pm

    Too many posters on here have a very exaggerated view of the influence wielded by the Lib Dems. The idea that our toning down criticism of Corbyn or even supporting the idea of him as PM would reassure Tory voters is for the birds. The only way for us to ward off brexit was to secure a people’s vote and to achieve that we needed a majority in the parliament as was including all the Tory rebels and the remainer Labour MPs. For this it was essential to be anti Corbyn. We could hardly then switch that when the election came – not that this would have had any beneficial effect anyway.

  • Denis Loretto 20th Jan '20 - 12:23pm

    Sorry for misspeak above. I meant “reassure Labour voters”.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Jan '20 - 1:28pm

    Katharine Pindar:

    “Given the consistent strong lead in the polls of the Conservatives over Labour, I don’t see why Tory voters in those seats should have been fearful of a Corbyn-led government. “

    Because of 2017, perhaps? The Tories were going to win a landslide under Theresa May right up until the exit poll figures were announced. So in 2019 it was not obvious that the Tories were necessarily going to win a majority. The gap between Labour and the Tories was closing in the last week of the campaign, and it did look like going into “hung Parliament territory”.
    Anyway when I spoke to voters in my Con-LD marginal (one of the 2 we actually gained from the Tories) I got A LOT of people saying they would have liked to vote Lib Dem, but had to vote Tory because of Corbyn. My response was always that Corbyn wasn’t going to become PM as there was no possibility of Labour winning outright, and no possibility of Lib Dems propping up a Corbyn-led government. It was by far the biggest objection to voting Lib Dem I got on the doorstep. When I got any of the other arguments you mention, they seemed scripted, suggesting that they were being put forward by people who weren’t going to vote Lib Dem in that election anyway.

  • Re: Stephen Howse – Boris wasn’t interested in helping Nigel, he veered towards a hard or no deal Brexit to outlflank the Brexit Party , it was all about “putting Farage back in his box”. No Labour leader is going to help pull the LDs out of the hole they’ve dug themselves into, much more likely to chuck a few shovel loads of you know what in themselves.

  • Most Tory voters will need more than one policy to change their habits; we also need to make our Party more attractive to them without annoying our own supporters. By always criticising their actions, we don’t give their supporters a bridge to move over to us. Perhaps we should be more generous when as happens occasionally, the Tories get things right.

  • James Fowler 25th Jan '20 - 8:54am

    @ Stephen Howse: ‘The centre left is the most crowded bit of real estate in British politics and the “Labour Remain” vote is wanted by Labour, us, the Greens, Plaid and the SNP. The Tories, by contrast, at present have 43% of the vote all to themselves.

    If you want the Tories out, parties which aren’t Tory need to talk to and win over a good chunk of those Tory voters. It’s staggering that so many Lib Dems are so consumed with being “left wing” that they can’t even see that.’

    Absolutely spot on.

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