Did voters for the progressive parties in the May 2015 UK election share common policy concerns?

So, the election… yeah. That didn’t go the way anyone was expecting.

The prospect of a progressive coalition melted like a rainbow at dusk, and both Labour and the Lib Dems are in psychological shock. The Greens and UKIP both have every reason to call for electoral reform. The SNP must be excitedly planning how to spend or save their new political capital in Scotland.

The soul-searching of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour is painful to see, but what I’m curious now in the immediate aftermath is not so much the campaign mechanics of how each party rebuilds itself, but what the election tells us about national culture and which policy issues connected across voters.

Is there any core of values across the left-wing and/or progressive parties?

Given the fiendishly complicated Maggie Simpson map that is the Which, as you all spotted, looks (a bit) like Maggie Simpson.British constituency system and my lack of psephological chops, the best I could do until the political analysts have done their thing was look at Lord Ashcroft’s polling on people who voted, and this absolutely lovely Buzzfeed article about the political maps of #GE2015.

Getting grounded in the facts, here are the figures for the proportion of the vote at the national level:

Parties % of vote Seats
Con 36.8 331
Lab 30.5 232
Lib Dem 7.6 8
UKIP 12.6 1
SNP 4.7 56
Green 3.8 1
Others 4 21

These figures are percentages of the 66.1% of the electorate who voted. One third of the electorate either did not want to vote, or fell through the cracks.

The first concern from a progressive point of view is that even adding up percentage shares of Labour, Lib Dem, Green and SNP is still less than the combined figure for the Conservatives and UKIP (Nick Clegg’s hypothesized ‘Blukip’ coalition).   The Conservative result on seats is not counteracted by a progressive groundswell split over the other parties.  Another concern for Labour is that turn-out was lower in regions where Labour did well on the night.  If Labour did lose voters to UKIP when Nigel Farage ‘parked his tanks on Labour’s lawn), could it win them back and at least swing the popular vote away from the Conservatives?

Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 11,898 people who voted produced the following percentage shares:

Parties % of vote
Con 34
Lab 31
Lib Dem 9
UKIP 14
SNP 5
Green 5
Others 2

So the poll is somewhat under-representative of the actual Conservative share, and over-representative of Lib Dem, UKIP and Green vote share. And of course it says nothing about people who did not vote. But it’s a good place to start comparing some numbers.

Is there any common core of policy issues of across the Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, and the SNP?

What was important to the people who voted for the parties in that hypothetical rainbow coalition that never was?

I looked at the summary of Lord Ashcroft’s post-vote poll data for this and did some colouring in.

The people he polled were asked to rate the top three issues facing their country, and then asked separately to rate the top three issues facing them and their family.

I ranked the data so that the issues were rated from most important to least important across all parties. (1)

Then I coloured the set of voters that found each issue most important in green, and the voters that found it least important in red. If another party’s voters were within 5% of the highest or lowest group of voters, then I coloured them in appropriately too. I put the most important issue for each group of voters in bold (or two issues if they were only apart by 1%). I highlighted ‘dealing with crime’ in amber, because all groups of voters were within 5% of each other, and it was a relatively unimportant issue for all voters.  My charts are on this link:  ashcroft country

The NHS

One of the things to stand out is that Labour voters distinctly thought the NHS more important than anyone else, but the NHS was nevertheless the issue most often selected in the top 3 issues facing the country not just by Labour but by the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP. However both the Lib Dems and the SNP had an issue which was just as important to them, (‘Getting the Economy Growing and Creating Jobs’ in both cases) and for the Greens, the Environment was not far behind the NHS. Labour voters were unusual in the distance between the NHS and the next most important issue (the economy and jobs).  Only UKIP had a top issue which stood further from the others (immigration).   Paradoxically, when asked which issues most affected them and their families, the NHS grew slightly or significantly in importance for all groups of voters except for Labour, for whom it decreased.

Economy and jobs

The voters most likely to agree that ‘Getting the economy going and creating jobs’ was one of their top 3 issues were the Conservatives, Lib Dems and SNP. Labour and the Greens were less likely to rate this issue in their top 3, but the surprise to me here was how low the UKIP score was – only 27% of UKIP voters put the economy and jobs in their top 3. This is especially surprising given that elsewhere in the poll, 51% of UKIP voters agree with the statement ‘I am not feeling the benefits of an economic recovery and I do not expect to.’  SNP voters had a markedly different reaction: they were the most likely to agree with the statement ‘I am not feeling the benefits of an economic recovery and I do not expect to,’ but rated the economy and jobs as their joint most important issue affecting the country.

Cost of living

‘Tackling the cost of living crisis’ moved up significantly in importance across all voter groups when asked to rate the 3 most important issues affecting them and their families, compared to its positioning when asked to rate the most important issues facing the country. The issue was up by 20% or more for Conservatives, UKIP and Lib Dem voters when asked its importance in relation to them and their families.  It is hard to interpret this unanimous uprating in importance when the issue is considered from the personal rather than the national level.  Possibly those voters were more swayed by the country issues than the personal ones, or equally possibly, perhaps they did not see the issue as owned by Labour.

Relatively unimportant issues – education, the environment and crime. 

You can see that issues that did not feature much in campaigns really fell by the wayside in terms of the importance that voters gave them when asked about importance to the country. Education and crime were relatively unimportant to voters from all parties when asked to take a view on the country as a whole, and the Environment was only significant to Green Party voters (53% of Green voters unsurprisingly included it in their top 3 issues, against an average of 9% across the other parties, and only 3% of Conservatives). Education became somewhat more important when voters were asked to name the three most important issues affecting them and their family, although even then, only 18 – 22% of Lib Dem, Labour, Green and SNP voters put it in their top 3 issues. Only 13% of Conservative voters and 9% of UKIP voters put it in their top 3.

Do any parties place similar importance on the issues?

Looking at the top 3 issues for the country across all voting groups, Labour is not very close in its importance ratings to any other party. Looking at the top 3 issues for self and family, Labour is only close to one other party on issue: similar percentages of SNP and Labour voters rated ‘tackling the cost of living crisis’ in their top 3.

Labour, Green and SNP, and sometimes the Lib Dems become closer in their ratings on the issues that overall were not rated as most significant across all parties, such as education, Europe, and welfare reform. Arguably, the left-wing or progressive parties are more similar in what they don’t care about so much, than the issues they care about.

The Conservatives are very close to UKIP on many issues, but not on ‘Growing the economy and creating jobs’ where they are most like the Liberal Democrats and SNP, or ‘cutting the deficit and the debt’ where they are most like the Lib Dems.

How similar are Labour and UKIP?

Hardly at all. There are almost no issues where Labour and UKIP are close to each other in their ratings, which suggests it might be hard for Labour to reach that group of voters on other issues, even if a social consensus on immigration could be reached. There is no one piece of common ground. This could be very significant for Labour’s electoral prospects. UKIP’s vote share went up across the nation, even in Scotland.  A growing portion of the population is choosing a party for whom the far and away biggest issue is immigration. UKIP’s stress on immigration is not only unmatched by any other party, the percentage of people choosing that issue in UKIP was higher than the percentage in any other party choosing their most important issue.

Overall, is there a common set of important issues among progressive and/or left-wing voters?

I do not get the sense of one progressive or left-wing voting bloc which circumstances split into different parties for this occasion – the different ratings in importance between the parties feel  significant. It is interesting that the NHS did have such broad importance but that its cardinal importance to Labour (maybe reflecting its Labour origins) is unique.

It looks as though the Lib Dems and the SNP pulled away significantly from Labour in how much they rate the importance of the economy and jobs.  Whereas UKIP and the Conservatives are quite similar in many things, but not on the economy, jobs and the deficit. And UKIP is not much like any other party in the primary importance of the immigration issue.

Perhaps the most worrying factor for Labour would be that of the voter groups who felt that the economy and jobs was one of the biggest issues, one is in a country that may become independent or at least more politically separate sooner rather than later, and those votes, lost this time, may never have the option to return again.

Voters rating issues in top three facing country

Voters rating issues in top three facing country

Voters rating top 3 issues facing them and their family
Voters rating top 3 issues facing them and their family

(1) Ranking the issues from left to right as most important to least important is based on averaging the percentages produced by each group of voters.  It  is not the same as saying that the ranking shows the ratings for the whole population as there would be more individuals producing some of the party percentages than others. But it gives a snapshot of something like combined party voice.

(2) The poll data also shows many other reasons why people voted – there is no intrinsic match between policy issues and voting decisions, as factors such as leadership, tactical or local voting play their part. But the policy issues matter if you’re trying to build bridges, which is what many progressives are thinking about now.

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