Over 2013, there’s been a noticeable softening in Labour’s share of the vote, a softening that has gone almost unremarked in the media, and for good reasons.
That’s because while Labour’s vote share has fallen, the Conservative vote share has fallen by almost as much, giving Labour a relatively stable poll lead, as the comparative share of vote of both parties has declined.
You can see this in the following chart of post-2010 Yougov polls from UK polling report. (I’ve tried to highlight the trends)
Nor is YouGov alone in showing a decline in Labour’s share of vote over 2013. Mori’s polling shows a decline in Labour’s vote share from the low to mid forties at the end of 2012 to the mid to high thirties today, ICM indicates a similar trend. So do ComRes.
While part of that decline comes after the May local elections, the trend predates it. In March 2012, for example, Mori reported that Labour was on 40%, four points below the position in December 2012. YouGov’s March polling showed Labour consistently in the 40-42 range compared to a 42-45 range in December 2012.
To get a more detailed picture of this, I’ve looked at the internals of YouGov polls conducted six months ago and now, looking specifically at the make up of Labour’s electoral coalition. I’ve taken a week of YouGov polls in mid-December, averaged out the internals, and compared them to the last week of yougov polls. (This isn’t hugely scientific, but it should mean I’m not just comparing one poll with another and getting a ‘double-rogue’ result.)
As you can see, both the Labour and Tory share of the vote has declined, in the Tories case by 2.2% and Labour’s by 5%, with the growth going to UKIP, up 5% and ‘others’ up almost 2%. As a result, Labour’s average lead fell from 11.4% to 8.6%, still healthy, but a notable decline.
Does this matter? In electoral terms, very possibly not.
Under our electoral system, it is perfectly possible for Labour to win a healthy majority on the share of vote it has today, so long as the Conservatives are in a weaker position, as they clearly are.
Quickly plugging these results into Electoral Calculus shows that the vote softening has only a very marginal effect on Labour’s projected majority, seeing it fall from 118 to a still huge 104.
However, Labour strategists should be interested in what’s happening for the simple reason that a Labour party on 37% is far more vulnerable to a Tory recovery than a Labour party on 42%.
What Lies behind Labour’s softening share?
Here, we need to look at the internals.
First, here’s the behaviour of people who voted Labour in 2010.
As you can see, there’s been about a 5 point drop in 2010 Labour voters’ support, almost entirely shifting to UKIP.
But that’s not enough to explain the overall Labour drop. So let’s look at the other group of 2010 voters who have turned to Labour: 2010 Lib Dem supporters.
Here we see a significant drop in Labour support. 6 months ago, almost half of 2010 LibDems said they’d vote Labour. Today, only a third say the same.
Interestingly, the difference has split pretty evenly between UKIP and ‘Others’, which looks like being the result of a small increase in 2010 LibDems saying they’d vote Green.
To me, this looks like the classic LibDem ‘protest vote’ looking for a new home. However, it could just be that UKIP and the Greens have convinced different slices of the LD support.
Finally, I thought I’d look at the shift by social group. Here we see that Labour’s softening is more noticeable among C2DE voters than among ABC1s
I also looked at the data by age, and this showed a sharp drop in support for Labour among younger voters.
As I say, if current polling trends continure, none of this really affects Labour’s projected majority. The good news for Labour is that none of these voters are moving towards the Tories in any noticeable fashion at all.
However, it’s always best not to be complacent, and while it’s possible that Labour’s softening has reached its natural limit among these groups,, we certainly shouldn’t assume this is the case, nor that the Tories cannot get support from what you might call the ‘unhappy diaspora’ in future.
What conclusions can we draw from this?
First, that Labour shouldn’t take the conversion of 2010 LibDems to Labour for granted, nor take for granted the motivations of these voters. After all, those that have transferred LD>Lab>UKIP since 2010 may not be straightforwardly left-liberal voters!
Second, Labour shouldn’t assume our current high level of support among 2010 LD and younger voters reflects a firm attachment to the party. It would be worth looking at these groups attitudes to Labour in qualitative work.
Third, it’d be a very good idea to do focus groups among 2010 C2DE Labour voters (in key marginals) to see if these voters attachment to Labour is as strong as it might be, and what messages would help ensure they stay Labour.