The results are almost in for Great Britain, with just Scotland to report its final figures once the Western Isles have completed their count.
As most of the opinion polls over the last 10 days predicted, UKIP has won the largest share of the popular vote for the first time, adding 10 MEPs to its complement so far with another possible in Scotland. The increase in UKIP’s vote from 2009 so far is 74%. But back to this in a moment.
The Liberal Democrats have been utterly crushed with a vote share lower than the Greens and just one MEP of their previous 10 scraping back in the South East. The Lib Dem vote was more than halved. Nick Clegg’s ‘Party of In’ strategy has completely failed and his future as leader is now surely in doubt ahead of the general election.
The most pleasing moment of the night was seeing the burial of the BNP as a political force. 764,000 voters from 2009 have deserted the party – most likely for UKIP and its anti immigration message – its two MEPs have been removed from office and its local organisation is in ruins. Then BNP is now a paper party.
Labour performed a little less well than predicted while the Conservatives performed a little better than expected. Neither will be happy with the outcome of the Euro poll, but neither will be panicking yet. Domestic factors are at play and will increase in importance in the coming months. For both parties there is everything to play for. Cameron’s position seems secure, but Labour ranks are breaking regarding Miliband and his team. This is personality politics writ large and in that race, Miliband has a big problem.
But there is something of a wake up call this morning for most pollsters who published polls over the last 10 days. Only one pollster, You Gov, came close to correctly projecting the vote shares. Their methodology in their poll conducted between 20-21 May most accurately reflected the actual voting percentages within the usual margin of error:
You Gov / (Actual)
UKIP – 27 / (27.5)
Lab – 26 / (25.4)
Con – 22 / (23.9)
Lib – 9 / (6.8)
For UKIP, Survation (32), Opinium (32), TNS (31) and ComRes (33) were way off the mark. ICM was even further out having Labour winning with 29 and UKIP in second on 25.
A recent exchange on Twitter between me and the CEO of Survation, who aggressively defended his research and methodology when I argued their handling of non responders and undecideds was overstating UKIP’s likely support, seems to confirm my argument. That Survation research specifically concerned the Eastleigh parliamentary constituency, but as we saw in the local election results Survation’s adjusted findings of 32% for UKIP was nowhere close to borne out in the 15 seats contested, with the Lib Dems comfortably holding all their seats and gaining one from an independent, and the Conservatives holding their seats.
It is always possible that in the last few days before the elections UKIP’s support softened, but YouGov has been consistently the most accurate pollster and their polling seems to best reflect voter opinion. The other pollsters have some thinking to do. Ascribing voting intentions to people who say they don’t know how they will vote in a forthcoming election, in the way Survation and others have been doing, might make for big headlines, but it is generating numbers that are wrong by more than the margin of error.
The way people voted is very interesting indeed. It looks like reading into the Euro Election results as a guide to the general election in 2015 would be a hazardous thing to do. We have known there is a substantial protest vote in Euro Elections and this seems to have been exhibited here too.
In the European poll UKIP has received 27.5% of the vote, dwarfing their previous share in 2009. With Scotland to provide its finall tally, UKIP has increased its vote from 2,498,226 to more than 4,350,000, over 2 million more votes. Almost certainly 750,000 of those have come from former BNP supporters, but that still means they have harvested another 1.2 million voters from the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and previous non voters.
Yet where council elections took place, UKIP took just 17% of the votes. This suggests that where council elections were taking place, many people segmented their vote. When choosing their councillors they largely voted for their preferred party, but on the European ballot paper many were happy to stick it to the main parties to show their dissatisfaction. The conclusion that can be drawn is that as the Euro Election is meaningless many voters were happy to give their vote to UKIP – but cannot be relied upon to do the same at the general election.
Although Nigel Farage predicted this election would see a record turnout, at 34.1% it is slightly down from 2009 (34.4%), which itself was lower than the 38.2% in 2004. In 1999 the turnout across the whole UK (which includes Northern Ireland) was just 23%. In respect of absolute numbers of voters he might yet be correct, as population increase has seen the size of the electorate grow. We will find out later.
Regardless, whereas about 7 in 20 eligible voters turned out this week and next year it is likely to be about 13 in every 20, there is an increasingly dogged section of the electorate, around one third, that simply will not participate in the political process. For all of UKIP’s proclaimed insurgency providing a voice for those who don’t feel represented, legitimacy of the system is increasingly in question.
The additional 6 in 20 voters that will turn out to vote in May 2015 are very unlikely to vote UKIP. We know UKIP’s core voters were utterly motivated and turned out this week. We also know UKIP were loaned votes to make a point to the other three main parties, so this is their high watermark. While UKIP’s general election vote will be higher than 2010, their total number of votes will be less than this week. This will mean their share of the vote and their vote concentration in areas where they appear strong this week, will be diluted. The recent You Gov nationwide polling for the general election has UKIP sitting around 13%, which seems to be an excellent reflection of what will come to pass.
Ahead of the general election we can expect to see more scrutiny of UKIP, but most probably a change of tack. Rather than focusing on the characters in the party, the other three parties will likely start applying pressure regarding the absence of coherent polices that the media will happily run with. This has implications for any subsequent referendum as time and again we will hear that UKIP wants the UK to leave the EU, but has no plan about how this can be done cleanly or painlessly.
Conversely we can expect to see an onslaught against Ed Miliband as voters are asked to contemplate the idea of him being Prime Minister. It’s not an attractive vision and it has the capacity to drive more people towards the Conservatives. If this begins to happen, Lord Ashcrofts polls in the marginal constituencies will start to see the gap between Labour and the Tories narrowing. That is what watchers need to look out for. If that happens, as it permeates the consciousness of those floating voters, we can expect to see a classic two party squeeze in 2015. The Lib Dems will have retreated to their existing constituencies to try to retain them as part of this squeeze and their scope for causing upsets elsewhere has largely been neutralised.
Things are therefore all set for another two horse race where UKIP’s involvement will be limited to that of spoiler rather than contender. The extent of the spoiling will depend on UKIP’s credibility under further scrutiny. The next six months could tell us a great deal.