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Fings wot I learned at the weekend

Just before the hell that is the party conference season comes the joy that is the academic conference season: weeks of schlepping around to assorted hotels and universities, sitting in seminar rooms, and eating and drinking too much.  Last weekend, I was at the annual Elections, Public Opinion and Parties conference at the University of Exeter.  As my colleague Matthew Goodwin tweeted during it:  “When I was a kid, I never thought I’d be spending weekends listening to debate about the effects of district magnitude size”.  Here are ten things I learnt in the process:

1. A decreasing percentage of Scots see an ideological difference between Labour and the SNP, which makes judgements on performance more important – and those judgements are becoming more informed, as an increasing proportion of people recognise what the Scottish Parliament is responsible for, and what it is not.

2. At the same time, the percentage of Scots who think that a SNP government will lead to independence is ‘small and falling’.

3. Out of 124 political parties in the European Parliament, 69% collect some ‘contribution’ from their MEPs’ salaries which then goes towards the national party’s funds.  Parties on the left collect higher ‘contributions’ from their MEP.

4. Women are more likely to be elected in European elections than in national elections: there is no country where women perform better in national than European contests. Plus, women who run in European elections are more politically experienced than those who run for national office.

5. In the local elections of 2011, the Lib Dems did worst in Lab/LD and LD/Lab contests, with their vote share down by an average of 18% and 15% respectively.

6. The fall in Lib Dem support has not changed the party’s base of support in terms of its class and gender balance but it has disproportionally lost youth support; those that have defected from the Lib Dems since 2010 admire Tony Blair as the most capable post-war Prime Minister, those who have stuck with the party mostly admire Margaret Thatcher.

7. Nick Clegg’s net personal approval rating is poor: -25. But there’s some way to go before he hits Michael Foot’s worst rating of -56, or Margaret Thatcher’s of -59.

8. The legislative success of minority governments increases as their popularity with the public rises; in Canada minority governments polling 42% or more manage to secure the same proportion of their legislation as majority governments.

9. The distance between the residential location of a voter and that of the candidates matters in the UK.

10. But the best (and apparently this is several years old, but had passed me by): the distance from a voter’s house to the polling station makes no difference to their likelihood to vote in a UK general election.  But in local elections, once that distance gets to 600m turnout falls.  For European elections, the key figure is 500m.

Philip Cowley

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