Category Archives: Local elections

What does it take to get elected in Scotland and Wales?

By Stephen Fisher, 6th May 2021.

There is speculation about how well various new and small parties will do in today’s elections to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. Former SNP First-Minister Alex Salmond has recently established the Alba Party, while George Galloway has created Unity 4 All. Both are contesting regional list seats in Scotland. Meanwhile, Abolish the Welsh Assembly has come fourth, with at least 6% of the regional list vote, in all four polls for the Welsh Parliament (Senedd Cymru) since mid-April. Also, Reform-UK, the renamed Brexit Party, is fielding candidates in both countries. These are just some of the various contenders.

This post explains some of the complications in trying to figure out what share of the vote a party needs to get elected in these institutions. It ends up pointing to past experience as a guide and drawing comparison with and the electoral system for the Greater London Assembly (GLA).  

TLDR: The experience of all five elections to the Scottish Parliament suggests that around 5.5% of a regional list vote is usually enough to win a seat. It would be rare, but not impossible, to miss out on a seat with 6%. Winning on 5.2% to 5.4% is not uncommon. The lowest D’Hondt ratio ever to yield a seat in Scotland was 4.6% (equivalent to a single party winning a seat on that share). That was in 2003 when the SNP won 5 seats, including 2 list seats, with 23.0% of the Mid Scotland and Fife list vote. For the Senedd, a share of around 6.5% in a region is likely to be enough, especially in North Wales and Mid and West Wales which have historically been more accessible to small parties. By comparison, the GLA has a 5% legal threshold, without which parties would get seats with 3.8% of the vote.

Scotland

The Scottish Parliament has 129 seats. The electoral system is sometimes described as proportional, but it is significantly different from pure proportional representation. If it were close then a party would win a seat for roughly every 0.8% of the vote, since 100/129=0.8. More precisely, if all the seats were elected by the D’Hondt method of proportional representation a party would be guaranteed a seat with more than 100/(1+Number of seats) per cent of the vote, that is 100/130 = 0.77% of the vote. As we shall see that is much lower than what is actually required to get elected.

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Forecasting Local Election Net Seat Gains/Losses 2021

by Stephen Fisher, 6th May 2021.

Local election seat gains and losses are hideous to try to predict at the best of times. Various factors make this year especially hard. The Covid-19 pandemic means that the 2020 round of local elections was postponed to today, and there have been various boundary changes and restructuring that mean it is hard to allocate many seats to either the 2016-2020 or the 2017-2021 4-year cycle that my model requires. Nonetheless, and despite the weaknesses of my 2019 forecast (discussed below), I have ploughed on regardless. This is not due to the kind of stoic determination that the Finns call sisu: amusingly summarised by someone as, “chin down and press on to the next disappointment.” Rather, I am still curious as to how much of a guide (on a broad macro level) Westminster vote intention polls are to local election outcomes. 

Headline forecasts are in the table below together with the range of possible outcomes in the model. The table includes the projections from Michael Thrasher’s second scenario here. He and Colin Rallings would normally calculate an expected National Equivalent Vote (NEV) from the results of local by-elections, but those have not been happening. Instead Michael Thrasher has used adjusted opinion polls to estimate the NEV and then projected the implied changes at the ward/division level. Both mine and his methods use polls this year, but whereas Michael’s is a local projection based on previous ward and division level results, mine is based on regression models of the macro historical relationship between poll changes and net seat changes. (For a really micro, individual-level approach, predicting Labour losses in “red-wall” councils, but not overall net gains and losses, see the analysis from YouGov’s Patrick English here.)

Table 1. Forecasts for English local election net seat changes 2021

ForecastRangeThrasher
Con-210-770 to +350+120
Lab+70-290 to +430-50
LD+140-50 to +330-70
Others0 0

It is striking that my forecasts point in different directions from Michael Thrasher’s projections for every party. But with 4630 odd seats up for election, both sets of predictions are for modest net changes. The prediction intervals for my forecasts comfortably include zero for all three parties, so each of them could easily end either up or down when all the results are in. 

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Calculating the Local Elections Projected National Share (PNS) and Projected House of Commons in 2021

By John Curtice and Stephen Fisher.

This post is a revised and updated version of a similar post from 2019 here.

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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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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How big a lead does Labour need in the local elections to be on course to win the next general election?

By Stephen Fisher.

People often wonder what local election results bode for the next general election. Here is a quick look at the relationship between the BBC Projected National Share of the vote (PNS) in the local elections and the outcome of subsequent general elections. In particular, I focus on the lead for the main opposition party over the principal governing party. The graphs below show the lead at the subsequent general election plotted against the lead in the PNS.

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Calculating the local elections Projected National Share (PNS) in 2018

By John Curtice and Stephen Fisher.

Part of the ritual of election-night coverage at the BBC is the calculation of 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, but also as compared with any previous local elections for which a PNS is available – even though the places in which local elections are held varies considerably from one year to the next.

One of the key patterns in last year’s general election results was a tendency for those who voted Remain to swing more to Labour than those who voted Leave, while the Conservatives lost ground amongst Remain voters while advancing amongst their Leave counterparts. If a similar pattern is maintained at these local elections – and it was in last year’s county council elections – then the Labour vote will increase more (or fall less) were the Remain vote was higher in 2016, while the converse will be true of the Conservatives.

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Forecasting Local Election Seat Gains/Losses 2018

by Stephen Fisher

My forecasting model for seat gains/losses at local elections has previously been a simple model based on change in party support in the polls. While the historical data show that changes in the percentage of the council seats that a party wins is reasonably strongly correlated with changes in that party’s poll share, that basis for forecasting this year would not work.

The Conservatives are up by 8 points and Labour up by 6 points in the polls since just before the 2014 local elections, when most the seats up for election this week were last fought. As in last year’s general election, support for both main parties has increased largely because of a big drop in UKIP support. Forecasting the parties separately based on changes in their respective poll shares would produce misleading predictions of big gains for both main parties. In first-past-the-post elections it is typically relative not absolute performance that matters for seat outcomes. Last year, despite winning more votes the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority because the Labour vote share went up by more than did that for the Conservatives.

For this reason, my forecasting models this year are based on changes in the gaps between polls shares.  For the Conservatives, who have traditionally faced many contests with the Liberal Democrats, their leads over both Labour and the Liberal Democrats matter. For Labour, the model is primarily based on the Labour lead over the Conservatives. Meanwhile, for the Liberal Democrats, their changing opinion poll performance relative to the Conservatives, but not Labour, has historically been correlated with headline local election seat changes.

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UKIP dropout did not help the Conservatives much in the local elections

By Stephen Fisher.

UKIP are putting up just 377 candidates at the general election, well short of the 624 they had in 2015. Given that the polls are showing that around half of former UKIP voters are planning on voting Conservative this year, and given that the Conservatives clearly benefitted from the collapse of the UKIP vote in the local elections, surely UKIP dropout is a big advantage for Theresa May?

Perhaps not. A good way of assessing this question is to look at the experience of local elections and analyse how much other parties benefitted when UKIP stood a candidate in 2013 but not this year, compared with where they had candidates both times. To make the context more like a general election I focus just on places fought by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats both in 2013 and 2017.

There were 969 such divisions where the BBC collected the full details of the result. Of these 523 had UKIP candidates both times, and 446 had a UKIP candidate last time but not this time – only a slightly higher (46%) dropout rate than that for the general election (40%).

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