Last Thursday, “there was a larger Lib Dem vote movement to Conservatives than to Labour”

by Stephen Tall on May 12, 2015

I noted on Friday morning, in the immediate aftermath of the Lib Dem electoral bloodbath, that the Lib Dem post mortem would prove to be “more complicated” than we expected because “we didn’t just lose votes to Labour (that had been priced in) we lost at least as many votes to the Conservatives”.

This has now been backed up with an analysis of the numbers by Michael Barone at the Washington Examiner (hat-tip Nick Thornsby):

As I have written several times, the British are experienced tactical voters. They know the balance between the parties in their constituencies and cast their votes in a way to achieve the national balance in Parliament they want. That is plain in the parties’ percentages of the vote in the Con-LD and Lab-LD seats: in the former Labour won only 11 percent of the votes and in the latter Conservatives won only 15 percent of the votes. Voters who didn’t want a Conservative government in the former or a Labour government in the latter gravitated to the Lib Dems. These were districts with Lib Dem incumbents who in most cases were running for another term; the incumbents had worked their districts hard and built up networks of Lib Dem supporters. Even so, they were massively outvoted, 41-30 in Con-LD seats, 43-27 in Lab-LD seats. After four [sic] years of supporting a Conservative-led coalition, the Lib Dems’ previous constituency was splintering. But contrary to expectations, it didn’t move largely to Labour. Instead, previous Lib Dem voters who were reasonably satisfied with the coalition record and/or appalled at the idea of a Labour government tugged left by the Scot Nats migrated into Conservative ranks.

The implosion of the Lib Dems is plainest in the 81 marginal Con-Lab seats. Here, where there was no incentive for tactical third-party voting, the Lib Dems were reduced to an average of 4 percent of the vote, roughly comparable to the Greens. And well below the 12 percent of the vote that went to Ukip, a percentage virtually identical to the 13 percent Ukip won nationally. I speculated that the Ukip vote may have evaporated in these districts. Not so: the Lib Dem vote did. I think — and perhaps Britain’s chastened pollsters may check on this — that there was a larger Lib Dem vote movement to Conservatives than to Labour and that some Lib Dem voters whom everyone considered likely to switch to Labour voted Ukip instead. The fact that Ukip ran second in many safe Labor seats in the North of England fortifies this view: for downscale voters repelled by Conservatives but untrusting of Labour, Ukip provided a means of expressing their views. Certainly the fact that Conservatives averaged 44 percent in these 81 seats to Labour’s 36 percent, and the fact that Conservatives came out ahead 71-10 in these seats rather than the projected 44-37 behind, point to this conclusion. Conservatives, led by Australian campaign guru Lynton Crosby and assisted by 2012 Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, clearly did a brilliant job of pounding their messages home in the seats where it mattered, gearing them to local opinion or local factors when appropriate, but stressing national themes as well. It was generally agreed that Labour had more campaigners on the ground, but they relied on a single national message with no local references, and their efforts were unable to deliver the votes they needed and which the pre-election polls suggested they would have.

As I also noted on Friday morning:

For those dissident Lib Dems reaching for the easy answer that’s long been trailed – the party needs to return to its radical, centre-left roots and the progressive voters will surely return – that should be a warning. Labour has just found out to its cost that burrowing yourself further into your comfort zone doesn’t help.

PS: If you prefer your analysis less quantitative and more qualitative, then Daisy Benson’s fascinating reflections on campaigning across eight Lib Dem-held seats (seven Tory-facing, one Labour-facing) backs up the stats above. Eg:

During one particular evening canvass session slightly later on in the election campaign a middle-aged women I spoke to expressed concerns to me about the possibility of a SNP-backed government. This struck me as odd at the time: I was in Somerset and the seat was a Lib Dem – Tory marginal. …

A Lib Dem supporter [in Labour-facing Hornsey & Wood Green] told me she would normally vote for us and was a big fan of Lynne Featherstone but wasn’t going to this time as ‘Labour needs this seat to be able to form a majority government’. She was worried about the SNP too but this time Labour had put that fear in her head. This experience left me reeling – I’d never encountered a response like it before during an election campaign. I was used to campaigns being about one party’s policies vs another and one candidate’s record vs another.

So in two totally different constituencies two different political parties were campaigning against Lib Dem MPs – Labour as part of their narrow ‘35% strategy’ and Tories for their own 23 seat strategy. Politically, we were caught between a pincer movement – left and right.

These experiences shaped Daisy’s conclusion:

I found it very interesting to hear what people said about the Coalition 2010 – 2015, and coalitions more widely. Some voters I talked to saw it as a positive to see political parties working together (they may have been Lib Dem voters?). A couple of others I spoke to – one in OxWab and one in Wells said they preferred ‘strong’ government e.g. single-party government. This may or may not have been in part a response to the messages found in Tory leaflets promoting their 23 seat strategy.

Judging by our results nationally I’m willing to admit that many of those people I met who were positive about the Liberal Democrat performance in government did not go on to vote for Lib Dem candidates. But I think a fair number of them did. I recruited members during the campaign and I know from talking to other activists that people continued to join the party throughout the campaign.

For this reason I am against us ditching wholesale Lib Dem achievements of the past 5 years in government. Based on what I heard on the doorstep I think a reasonable number of people in the country at large who voted in the election did appreciate our role in government and voted for us because of it. Furthermore I think the party’s standing and Nick Clegg’s reputation will grow rather than decline as time goes on.

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4 comments

I can think of one held seat where the Tory vote fell and the significant increase in Lab vote was the issue.

by Iain BB on May 12, 2015 at 10:53 am. Reply #

The polls were painting a false picture of a neck-and-neck race with potentially the SNP, UKIP or the Greens having decisive influence – pushing people towards both Labour and Tory – when the reality was the Tories heading towards the winning post. Had the polls shown the true picture, tactical anti-Tory voting would have been boosted instead.

by Ian on May 12, 2015 at 10:55 am. Reply #

The party spent five years telling people that the Tories were right about the economy, the average voter’s number one issue. Why should it be surprising that a big chunk of them then voted Tory?

by Andrew on May 12, 2015 at 1:10 pm. Reply #

“For those dissident Lib Dems reaching for the easy answer that’s long been trailed – the party needs to return to its radical, centre-left roots and the progressive voters will surely return – that should be a warning. Labour has just found out to its cost that burrowing yourself further into your comfort zone doesn’t help.” – sorry to keep busting your balls like this, but if you don’t yet know why the votes went the way they did you should prob withhold judgment until then. Accusing others of seeking a comfort zone is deeply patronising, especially when the analytical and strategic framework put forward by many of those steering the Party’s direction in recent years was revealed last week to be deeply flawed.

by Paul Pettinger on May 12, 2015 at 3:41 pm. Reply #

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