Follow the Leader: Why the UK Election Really Is About Brexit – Bloomberg
Follow the Leader: Why the U.K. Election Really Is About Brexit
Security fears twice derailed the U.K. election campaign, and policy wobbles undermined Prime Minister Theresa May’s “strong and stable” message.
But an analysis of the prime minister’s campaign stops shows the path to re-election still runs through the Brexit heartlands with the Conservatives gunning for traditional Labour seats where voters supported to leave the European Union.
Leeds, Halifax, Bolton, Mansfield, and Tyneside North. These are unusual places for a Tory leader to focus on. After the terror attacks, May was back on the stump in northern England three days before Thursday’s vote. Specifically Bradford South, a place that last elected a Conservative in 1918. That is the surest sign yet that she remains confident she can still score a historic win despite the polls showing her lead eroded.
As we can see below, in seats where the two main parties finished first and second in 2015 the battle is being fought mainly on Labour’s turf.
May Targets Labour “Leavers”
Constituencies where Labour and Conservative parties came first and second to each other in the 2015 general election
↓ Voted to remain in the EU
Sources: Campaign visit data via Bloomberg reporting, BBC. Estimated EU referendum results at constituency level by Chris Hanretty of UEA
There was a shift in the campaign patterns of both parties after a May U-turn on social care funding, a key manifesto policy, a BBC analysis shows.
But in the wake of the Manchester and London terror attacks national polling averages have shown that May’s Conservatives retain a solid lead over Corbyn’s Labour.
Polls Still Favor May
Polling average puts Labour 9 points behind the Conservative party
Source: Bloomberg composite of polls
A polling lead of 11 percentage points on election day would be an increase from the 6.5 percentage point lead they achieved in the 2015 election. That would translate to a swing to the Tories of just over 2 points.
To try and make sense of these numbers we have plugged them into an election modeller developed by Bloomberg that allows us to measure the effect of a swing from one party to another.
It suggests that a 2 percent swing from Labour to Conservative would mean that the Tories would win just 7 more seats. On its own that would increase May’s working majority to 24. That’s unlikely to be cause for celebration in Tory headquarters.
Conservative party majority of
But if we add in a groundswell of potential support for May from former UKIP voters we see a different picture. In 2015, UKIP won more votes than the eventual majority in 163 seats, many of them Labour-held.
The Importance of the UKIP Vote
Difference between UKIP votes received and the winning majority in the 2015 general election
Clacton, the only seat
won by UKIP in 2015
UKIP votes below majority ←
→ UKIP votes above majority
Clacton, the only
seat won by
UKIP in 2015
Source: Estimated EU referendum results at constituency level by Chris Hanretty of UEA
If May wins 50 percent of the 2015 UKIP vote as well as 2 percent of Labour’s, our model shows she will win a total of 41 more seats, significantly increasing her majority.
Conservative party majority of
If she outperforms the polls and wins over more Labour voters that would make a dramatic difference. A 4 percent Lab-Con swing would see the Tories win 387 seats, our model shows.
A 2 percent swing from the Conservatives to Labour would see Labour gain 10 seats, wiping out May’s majority. If Labour won back 25 percent of UKIP voters that would see them win another 18 seats. The result would be a hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party but Labour potentially seeking coalition partners to form a government.
Hung Parliament: Conservatives short of a majority by 13 seats
Conservatives short of a majority by 13 seats
There are caveats to this analysis, of course. No model is perfect, and neither the pollsters nor our election spreadsheet can truly predict the election outcome. We are unable to model for the effect of a split in swing, for example if UKIP voters break partly for the Conservatives and partly for Labour. We have also decided not to model for swings affecting other parties; the Scottish National Party are under pressure in some places, while the Liberal Democrats aim to recover, at least partly, some of the losses they incurred in 2015.
Overall, though, despite a faltering campaign from the Tories, two campaign interruptions following terror attacks and the introduction of security as a key issue, the electoral map suggests that this election may just be about what we thought it was all along: Brexit.
Source: Data compiled by Bloomberg
Editors: Eddie Buckle and Flavia Krause-Jackson