Voting locally can determine the general election

There’s an oddity in the way we discuss politics sometimes. We talk about the national government and look at national polls for guidance on how the parties are doing, but we actually elect MPs for a particular constituency. Those votes do not always follow the national sentiment and Mike Smithson at Political Betting points us to a recent poll showing this constituency effect.

A poll by Nottingham University/YouGov asked people how they perceived MPs. The net satisfaction rating for all MPs was very negative, at -41 but the net satisfaction rate for their own MP was, while still negative, much better at -6. If that own MP was a Conservative, they fared worst with -13 approval rating, Labour did better at -5 but the Lib Dems did very well at +14.

This tells us something about the incumbency effect as well as other local factors that may be in play at the next general election. You can already see this in local elections in England: the parties all got proportions of the vote that were nowhere near their national poll ratings. For example, Labour got about 29% of the popular vote but a YouGov/The Sun poll published the following day showed a Labour voting intention nationally of 43%. Similarly, the Lib Dems and UKIP did much better than their poll ratings suggested they would.

So if we look ahead at the general election in 2015, we can probably say that the Liberal Democrats will do better than their poll rating (10% in the latest YouGov poll for the Sun) given that party’s ability to really get stuck in locally. However, that party does historically have a difficulty holding on to seats where a long-standing MP stands down (e.g. Harrogate, Hereford and South East Cornwall in the 2010 General Election). Quite a few Lib Dem MPs have already announced their decision to stand down, so this might affect their result.

If more Lib Dems hold on to their seats, this will hamper the Conservatives efforts to gain 40 seats. Some of those target seats that have the smallest majorities for incumbent MPs are Lib Dem-held seats. Additionally, if the satisfaction rate with voters with their local Conservative MPs are indeed low it might be difficult for the party to hold on to the other 40 seats that the Tories intend to focus on defending (the 40/40 strategy). Labour’s target seat list mainly consists of Conservative seats so there will be a strong challenge.

What does this mean for the next general election? It is difficult to tell this far out but one thing that is clear is that it will be a very interesting and heavily-contested election. The odds are on Prime Minister Miliband, which does not seem a bad shout, but the question is whether he will manage to win an outright majority. While it is true that Labour needs to win less of the popular vote to win a majority than the Conservatives do (due to the way the constituencies are currently drawn), Labour appears not to have firmly convinced many voters yet. You can see this in Ed Miliband’s approval ratings and in the fact that people say they trust the Tories over them to run the economy. There is also still a sixth of the electorate who say they have yet to make up their minds.

Henk van Klaveren