By Stephen Fisher, 2nd May 2023.
Changes in vote intention opinion polls typically provide an indication of headline net seat changes at local elections. This year presents a significant challenge to that idea.
Most of the seats up this year were last fought in 2019. The following table shows how party support in the opinion polls has changed since then.
Table 1. Opinion poll changes from 2019 locals to 2023 locals
|%||2019 polls||2023 polls||Change|
With little net change for the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or Greens, there has been a big swing from the parties which Nigel Farage once led (UKIP, Brexit and Reform) to Labour. We know from surveys that is not the product of much direct switching from Farage parties to Labour. Most of the support for UKIP and the Brexit Party from the spring of 2019 went to the Conservatives by the general election that year. Labour’s more recent rise of support has come disproportionately from 2019 Conservative-Remain voters, even though in absolute terms there have been more Conservative-Leave voters switching to Labour. Also, some of the Labour rise is apparently due to the decline in the numbers of people telling pollsters they know whom they would vote for.
Before thinking about how those general election vote changes might affect local elections this time, we need to reflect on a puzzle from last time. Back in 2019, the Farage parties did not stand many candidates. Many of their supporters must have turned up to the polls but had to look elsewhere for someone to vote for. That was perhaps part of the reason why independents and candidates for micro parties did so well that year. If so, then maybe the independents will do much less well this time now the Farage parties are less popular. But those independents and others who were elected in 2019 might since have built up personal support and benefit as first-term incumbents.
If the rise of Labour in the polls is, to an unusual extent, due to the rise of “Don’t Knows”, it might not translate to gains at the local elections. At around a third of the electorate, local election voters are more engaged and partisan. The rise of the “Don’t Knows” may have been more limited among those who normally vote in local elections. If so, the swing to Labour in the local elections might be smaller than what the polls suggest.
In addition to those unusual factors, there are the usual reasons why poll swings do not necessarily translate into local election outcomes, especially local politics and selective candidature.
Nonetheless, I have applied my usual local election seats forecasting models regardless. If nothing else it is interesting to consider the extent to which local election results do track opinion polls, and analysis of the discrepancies is instructive.Continue reading Local elections seat projections for 2023