IGS Conference Analyzes UK Election

UK Flag
September 14, 2015

The 2015 UK Election was a momentous election. Conservatives won a surprise victory; the Scottish Nationalist Party dominated Scotland taking over what used to be safe Labour seats; and the Liberal Democratic Party suffered severe losses. On September 2, 2015, scholars from the United Kingdom and the US gathered at IGS to conduct an analysis of the election and its impact on the party system and governing.  The Anglo-American Studies Program at IGS, the British Politics Group, and the Center for British Studies co-sponsored the conference.

With a surprise, decisive Conservative victory in 2015, several polling agencies took stock of went wrong and went right. Doug Rivers (YouGov) noted that most of the polling error for YouGov came in the London suburbs and had to do with “Lazy Labour” not “Shy Tories.” The “Shy Tories” explanation describes the phenomenon of Tories being allegedly too “shy” to admit their true conservative preferences to pre-election pollsters.  In the privacy of the election, however, Tories cast their votes for the Conservative Party, throwing a wrench in pollster’s predictions. Rivers’ analysis shows little evidence of  “shy Tories” phenomenon; instead he contends the problem was with Labor voters not showing up at the polls—the so-called “Lazy Labour” explanation.  Jon Mellon and Jane Green, British Election Study, also refuted the “Shy Tories” explanation, noting that the “Shy Tories” phenomenon happened in the wrong places.  It happened more in areas dominated by Conservatives than in areas dominated by Labour.  Jon Cohen of SurveyMonkey attributed SurveyMonkey’s correct pre-election polls to the power of Internet polling.  

Many of the minor parties surged ahead in this election.  The Scottish Nationalist Party, UKIP, and the Green Party all increased their vote share percentage. As explained by Mark Shepherd, the SNP experienced the most growth, going from 6 MPS in 2010 to 56 MPS in 2015. The only minor party who experienced a severe dip in its vote share percentage was the Liberal Democratic Party, who ended the night with 8 MPS, a decrease of 49 seats from 2010. According to Jane Green, Ed Fieldhouse, and Chris Prosser, coalition expectations increased voting for the minor parties.

Of course, the flip side of the SNP doing better is that the Labour Party did worse than expected. Labour has lost its stronghold in Scotland, with the SNP winning 56 out of the 59 seats in Scotland. As Mark Shepherd explained, many Scottish voters view the Labour Party as too far-right wing and preferred the SNP.

The news post-election, however, was not entirely bleak for Labour. One of the most startling developments since the UK Election in May is the explosive growth in individuals registering for the Labour Party to be eligible to participate in the September 10th leadership vote. The impact of the 2015 UK Election may have been to swell the ranks of the Labour Party, offsetting some of the decline in party membership and member activity detailed in Tim Bale and Paul Webb’s paper.

All papers and presentations are available on the conference web page.