Two Notes on the Psephology of the Euro-Elections

by John Curtice, Patrick English, Stephen Fisher and Eilidh Macfarlane.

Even though the votes have yet to be counted, the Conservatives and Labour already seem to be undertaking their own post-mortems of what promises to be poor results for both of them in the European Parliamentary elections. Within the Conservative party there is a lively debate taking place about whether or not in the wake of the anticipated success of the Brexit Party, Tories could and should embrace at least the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal. Meanwhile, Labour, anticipating perhaps that the party has lost votes to others whom have adopted a clearer position on Brexit, looks as though it is about to consider the possibility of coming out more firmly in favour of some kind of public ballot.

Doubtless, all sides in this debate will look to the pattern of the results on Sunday for evidence to support their view of what their party should do. There has already been some speculation that the pattern of reported turnout in this election (information about which has already been released by some councils) suggests that voters in more Remain-inclined areas were more likely to turn out to vote, indicating perhaps a new determination among anti-Brexit voters to express their views at the ballot box. Meanwhile, we can anticipate that the results themselves will be poured over for evidence that the Conservatives or Labour have lost ground more in Remain-voting areas than Leave-inclined ones or vice-versa. However, in both instances caution will be required in interpreting the evidence when the full panoply of results is unveiled on Sunday night.

Turnout

First of all, we consider the evidence on turnout. Two patterns can be observed in the data available so far. (Our evidence comes from the figures for 143 councils where the data have been collected by Matt Singh and/or Patrick Heneghan.) The first is that turnout appears to be up by a couple of points or so on 2014, and thus may well be a little above the average for previous Euro-elections. The second is that turnout appears to have increased more in those areas where a majority of voters backed Remain in 2016 than it has in those places where Leave were most popular.

Two notes of caution about the data on turnout are in order. The first is that the figures on turnout released so far are based on the total votes cast, including votes that might eventually be deemed invalid; turnout is conventionally calculated in the UK on the basis of the total number of valid votes cast, that is, excluding those votes which are deemed to be invalid. These amounted to 0.5% of all votes cast in 2014, enough to reduce the turnout as conventionally calculated by 0.2%. So even if the figures released to date prove to be representative, any increase in turnout is likely to prove a little less than has been reported so far.

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Calculating the Local Elections Projected National Share (PNS) and Projected House of Commons in 2019

By John Curtice and Stephen Fisher.

A key summary statistic of the outcome of each year’s annual round of local elections is the so-called Projected National Share (PNS). This is an estimate of the share of the vote that the principal parties would have won in a GB-wide general election if voters across the country as a whole had behaved in the same way as those who actually voted in the local elections. It provides a single, seemingly straightforward measure of party performance that can tell us not only how well or badly a party has done as compared with four years ago (when, typically, most of the seats up for grabs were last contested), but also as compared with any previous local election for which a PNS is available – even though the places in which local elections are held varies considerably from one year to the next.

In this blog we provide some guidance as to how the PNS is being calculated this year by the BBC and how it will be used to project an outcome in terms of House of Commons seats.

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Forecasting Local Election Net Seat Gains/Losses 2019

By Stephen Fisher.

Updated 23:00 on 1st May to include a poll-based forecast I did not previously have access to, and to clarify figures for the Rallings and Thrasher local by-election model based forecast.

My predictions for this week’s bumper crop of English council elections are given in Table 1 below, along with those of others. The changes are relative to (sometimes notional) results for 2015 when the seats were last fought.

Table 1. Forecasts for English local election net seat changes 2019

Forecast Range R&T (local by-election model) R&T (local vote intention poll) Hayward
Con -700 -90 to -1,300 -405 -1,100 -800
Lab +590 +200 to +990 +150 +840 +300
LD +350 -10 to +720 +400 +170 +500

R&T refers to Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher. Their figures are, I’m told, in the hard copy version of their Sunday Times article. (They differ slightly from those on Sophy Ridge on Sunday and others being attributed to them on Twitter.) Their local by-election model takes the results of recent local by-elections to predict the National Equivalent Vote (NEV) and projects the implied NEV changes since 2015 at the ward level (perhaps using notional results where required.) The local-election vote-intention poll Rallings and Thrasher used was conducted by Opinium which had the following shares of the vote: Con 28, Lab 36, LD 10, UKIP 9. That poll-based forecast is also mentioned in this excellent blog on the background to the local elections, which includes great data visualisation.

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Is Brexit like banning booze?

By Stephen Fisher.

Various historical comparisons have been made in discussion of the Brexit process. Last year there was the suggestion that, just as the 2008 financial crisis bailout legislation passed Congress only at the second time of asking after a negative market reaction, so the Meaningful Vote might do so. Not only has Theresa May’s deal failed to pass so far, but there has not been any major market reaction to the three defeats.

Tonight’s statement by the prime minister suggesting cooperation with Labour means she might, as Jacob Rees-Mogg anticipated she might, follow the example of Robert Peel in splitting the Conservative party by pursuing a policy that relies largely on opposition support.

This post explores comparison with the Prohibition of alcohol in the USA. The 18thamendment of the US Constitution prohibited the, “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” It was approved by big margins in the House and the Senate in 1917, and eventually achieved ratification by the required three-quarters of the states in January 1919. What followed was a dismal story of increasing crime, institutional hypocrisy and disrespect for the law. Public support for prohibition dropped heavily by the early 1920s, and it was repealed in 1933.

Since starting to write this I’ve found that others have said that Brexit is another policy mistake like Prohibition that the public will want to row back from eventually. That might turn out to be true but it is not the analogy I wanted to draw. Regardless of whether you think Brexit is a mistake or not, comparison with Prohibition raises a number of intriguing parallels and questions to ask about the Brexit process.

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Why might Labour MPs support Theresa May’s Brexit deal? Part 1 – the Inbetweeners

by Stephen Fisher and Eilidh Macfarlane.

If the prime minister passes her Brexit deal it will be with the votes, or at least abstentions, of some Labour MPs. It is commonly accepted among commentators that even if she manages to persuade the DUP and more Conservative MPs, there will be some who never will. So she will need support, or at least co-operation in the form of abstention, from Labour MPs.

John Rentoul has compiled a list of those who might be willing. The list might not be perfect, but we use it as indicative of the kinds of Labour MP who might be won over. We refer to those on the list as the potential deal backers.

This group also matters because, as Stephen Bush said, not only are those 30 or so Labour MPs not currently enough to enable May’s deal to pass but their “existence makes it near impossible to see how a second referendum will happen.”

The purpose of this blog is not to try to predict whether, how many, or which Labour MPs will or won’t block a second referendum or help the prime minister pass her deal. It is to discuss some of the reasons why they might be tempted to back the deal in order to say something ex ante about what, if it does come to pass, will be heavily analysed ex post.

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Trading a general election for the Withdrawal Agreement?

by Stephen Fisher.

In my previous analyses and predictions for the Brexit impasse I failed to give enough consideration to the possibility of MPs passing the Withdrawal Agreement without voting on the political declaration (both documents here). Assuming that the government does not collapse before the 10thApril, I now think that’s the most likely outcome. This is mainly because I suspect Theresa May would be willing to offer Jeremy Corbyn a general election in exchange for support for the Withdrawal Agreement, and that would be more attractive to her than the other options available.

The current political declaration and Labour’s demand for changes to the political declaration of 6thFebruary are both compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement. While the political declaration has been agreed with the EU, it is not legally binding. Given the EU principle of the indivisibility of the four freedoms and the problem of the border in Ireland, Labour’s demands would likely produce a future relationship close to the Norway+ model, which the EU have said they would be happy with.

If the Withdrawal Agreement is ever passed then there is inevitable uncertainty over the eventual future relationship whatever kind of political declaration, or none, is approved, not least because of a possible change of leadership in the UK during negotiations.

Since the Withdrawal Agreement is the only legally binding part of May’s deal it is the bit that matters most. Some would say it is the only bit that really matters. I think that would be broadly true for the EU27, but there are a lot of important politics involved in the political declaration for the UK. Since the nature of any political declaration passed along with the Withdrawal Agreement might really shape the future relationship, for political if not legal reasons, it does matter what is in the political declaration.

However, it is not necessary for the Commons to approve any political declaration for the UK and EU to agree and ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as an international treaty and so for the UK to leave the EU with a deal. Approval of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) alone is therefore an option.

What are the prospects of this?

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Why another referendum is still the most likely outcome of the Brexit impasse

By Stephen Fisher.

On Wednesday MPs again voted against a no-deal Brexit, but it remains the legal default. On Thursday they voted by big majorities for requesting an extension to the Article 50 process and against another referendum. The latter vote saw the Labour leadership instruct their MPs to abstain, but 17 rebelled to vote against and 24 rebelled in favour. Even if all those who abstained had voted in favour, the motion still would have lost. This clearly isn’t a majority for another referendum, yet.

I’ve previously argued (see here, here and here) that the Brexit process is most likely heading towards another referendum. The core argument is that if MPs fail to to back her, Theresa May could try to deliver Brexit by taking her deal to the people. She believes in her deal. She has a decent argument for it. She has tried hard to get it through parliament. It has a fair chance of winning, especially if no-deal is off the ballot.

Some aspects of what I argued in the autumn were wrong, especially my predictions on the timing of key events, which I still cannot forecast. However, I still think some of the underlying ideas about the interests and incentives for the political parties and factions still hold. This post updates and revises the main arguments about the implications of those interests for the chances of different possible outcomes. While most commentators suggest that Theresa May is likely to get her deal passed at some stage, and I would admit that the chances of that have gone up, I still think it is more likely that there will be another referendum. If there is one, I think Remain would most likely win but it is far from a sure thing.

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