Skip to content

Month: May 2015

The UK electoral system now decisively favours the Conservatives

By Tim Smith.

In the wake of the largely unexpected Conservative election victory, it was said that pollsters and political scientists had a lot of explaining to do after so many incorrect forecasts.  However, this author correctly predicted that the Liberal Democrats would do worse than was assumed , and also that the electoral system might well favour the Conservatives for the first time since 1987 which also turned out to be the case.  In this blog piece I will explain what has happened and the consequences for the next election.

At this election the two-party bias (or skew) in the electoral system moved from a pro-Labour bias of 54 seats, to a pro-Conservative bias of 48 seats, meaning that if the two parties had won the same number of votes, the Conservatives would have won 48 more seats than Labour.  The table below shows the decomposition of factors that result in this bias.  These can be obtained algebraically using Brookes’ decomposition method, as adapted by Johnston, Rossiter and Pattie. For a full explanation of the factors please re-read this entry.

The Opportunities of Sovereign Credit Ratings

By David Gill

Sovereign credit ratings play an important role in the global economy. The potential advantages of a strong rating are widely known: the ability to borrow more money, on better terms. And the downsides of a poor one—less credit, higher costs—are equally so. Yet the path to a top rating is less clear. Economists and political scientists have spent decades trying to understand how governments can secure better sovereign credit ratings, principally by focusing on a handful of economic indicators, such as a country’s GDP per capita, real GDP growth, default history, and the like. Such indicators, however, are incomplete guides on their own. The “big three” credit rating agencies—Fitch Ratings, Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s Investors Service—rely on more than quantitative factors, which is why their conclusions about the same numbers sometimes differ.

Indeed, that fact, combined with some recent damaging downgrades, has led some experts to conclude that the ratings process is too subjective or ill-thought out and that political leaders should dismiss credit ratings agencies as a result. But adopting such an approach risks missing a valuable opportunity. Subjectivity, after all, is a two-way street, since it can work in a country’s favor as well as to its disadvantage. Governments that understand how ratings are made can take steps to hold or improve their position; those that don’t may end up more vulnerable. And with new rating agencies now emerging alongside the old guard, knowing the rules of the game matters more than ever.

Lib Dem incumbency advantage persists but fails to prevent disaster

By Tim Smith

As this author warned here, some of the assumptions that incumbency advantage would prevent a poor result for the Liberal Democrats at the election were flawed.  As the post suggested, the party did indeed do far worse than the projection that they would hold onto at least 25 seats. As David Steel said, decades of progress were reversed with the party finishing up with just eight seats, the lowest since 1970, and it was arguably its worst result since 1959 in terms of share of the vote.  The party lost all of its seats in its strongest English region, the South West, and all but one of its eleven seats in Scotland, another traditional stronghold for the party.  Despite this, analysis in this post of the results of the election show that the large incumbency advantage the party has traditionally relied on has not gone away, but that it was not enough on its own to prevent a disaster.

At the election, the Liberal Democrat share of the vote fell in all 57 seats the party won in 2010.  The smallest decline was in East Dunbartsonshire (2.4%); the largest was in Brent Central (35.8%), with a mean decline of 15.7%, slightly worse than the average in Great Britain.  The table below shows the change in the Lib Dem vote from 2010 to 2015 in various categories of constituencies.

Europe and the Disaggregation of Cyberspace

By Ignas Kalpokas

‘Cyberspace’ has, for the most part, been one of those terms that are constantly used and yet difficult to define. However, one attribute is commonly held to be unquestionable: its indivisibility. As the argument goes, there is only one cyberspace that transcends state borders and regional specificities, thus bringing the world closer together and challenging traditional power relations. It is also seen as a fundamentally decentralised environment that is impossible to control. However, that is not necessarily what the future holds, and Europe might be teaching the world how to carve out its own distinct piece of cyberspace.

Cyberspace itself has acquired quite a few connotations: it is a source of information, a medium of self-expression, a tool for empowerment of groups that would not otherwise be heard, a work tool and contributor to employment through the growth it generates, a marketplace used for commercial activities of every kind, etc. Moreover, access to it is often even considered to be a new fundamental human right. Hence, cyberspace is global by both design and usage. Given this context, it is difficult to imagine anything but a single universal cyberspace. However, an important distinction needs to be made: between cyberspace, the Internet, and the physical layer. The latter refers to the infrastructure required for the signals to travel and reach the intended destination, the Internet is the medium of communication, while cyberspace is the experience enabled by the Internet. Not all of those elements are likely to change in the same manner (or to change at all). In fact, both the Internet and the physical component underpinning it are likely to remain as they are, i.e. global. But cyberspace as experience is going to change.

Is back to the future what is best for Labour after Ed Miliband?

By Steven Fielding

If victors get to define the reasons for their victory, then losers just get told why they’ve lost. Within hours – minutes even – of the announcement of the shock BBC exit poll at 10pm on May 7, Ed Miliband was being informed in no uncertain terms why he had done so badly by an army of observers, critics and supposed party comrades.

It is ridiculous to imagine that in such a short space of time anyone can properly explain why Labour’s performance was so disappointing. We still don’t know why all the opinion polls were so out of alignment with the final result. Did they consistently over-estimate Labour support in the campaign or was there a late defection to the Conservatives? These things matter.

But political debate rarely stops for the lack of adequate data. As a consequence, in the wake of this and every other Labour disaster at the polls, prejudice often masquerades as analysis. Most infamously, Labour’s third defeat in a row in 1959 saw party leader Hugh Gaitskell and his revisionist cohorts in academia and the media blame its association with nationalisation. But they had long been critical of nationalisation and blatantly sought to use defeat to ditch Labour’s constitutional commitment to public ownership. It was arguable, however, that Gaitskell’s own campaign blunders had harmed his party more. But he still plunged Labour into years of bitter and harmful division.

Three common errors in interpreting voters’ choices

By BES FactCheck Team

During election night, we undertook a fact-check in which we assessed the factual (in)correctness of all kinds of claims made by politicians, journalists and commentators about the behaviour and motivations of voters. We did so on the basis of analyses of the British Election Study Internet Panel, using data collected recently (wave 4, collected immediately before the start of the campaign). The results of this enterprise can be found on the BES website and in a large number of tweets summarising the conclusions of these fact checks, tagged with #BESFactCheck.

In the course of this work we encountered some popular misconceptions about and incorrect interpretations of voters’ behaviour and motivations that, in our view, deserve extra attention:

The British and their political parties: The Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

In our previous blog post we discussed the electoral potential of the Conservatives and Labour, and emphasised that while both parties could do well tomorrow and potentially hit 40% of the vote with a good campaign, they could lose a great deal of support as well. Here we consider the electoral potential of the parties that might take some of those votes and who are competing throughout Britain: the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens.

Just as in our discussion about the Conservatives and Labour, we have to distinguish between ‘vote intentions’ and ‘electoral preferences’. Vote intentions are gauged by a question about the party one intends to vote for in the general election. Electoral preferences refer to voters’ propensity to vote for a particular party on a scale from 0 (meaning ‘very unlikely’) to 10. A person’s vote intention could change from one day to the next as a result of their exposure to the election campaign and other events – and they are particularly likely to switch from one party to another in this sense if they have a high electoral preference for that party. Similarly, some voters reply ‘don’t know’ to the vote intention question, because they may find two parties equally attractive and cannot decide which one to support.

The British and their political parties: Conservatives and Labour: little room for gains, much room for loss

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

In two previous posts we discussed why asking people how they intend to vote in the general election is not enough to understand adequately how voters relate to political parties. One reason for this is that ‘vote intention’ does not reveal how one’s preference for this party compares to their preferences for other parties. The other reason is that we get little idea of how strong that person’s intention to vote for that party actually is. Both problems can be solved by asking voters, in addition to their vote intention, how likely or unlikely it is that they would vote for each party on offer, on a scale from 0 (‘very unlikely’) to 10 (‘very likely’). We use here the information from such questions as asked in the British Election Study at the onset of the campaign.

These questions allow us to gauge the potential support for every party in the electorate i.e. the proportion of voters who consider each party a sufficiently attractive choice that they may vote for them on polling day. As most voters have high preferences for more than one party [insert hyperlink to blog post 1], a part of each party’s ‘potential electorate’ overlaps with other parties. Parties’ competition for votes, therefore, focuses particularly on these groups of voters. It is unlikely that a given party would ever realise its entire voter potential (unless it had a particularly good campaign while its competitors had a particularly bad one), but nonetheless we can identify the potential support each party could conceivably obtain on election day, if everything went its way.

Unpopular Leaders Missing from 2015 Leaflets

By Caitlin Milazzo

A few weeks ago we explored which party leaders appeared most frequently in their party’s election leaflets in 2010. Based on pre-campaign evaluations of the leaders we expected that David Cameron would have appeared most frequently in his party’s leaflets, as he was the least disliked of main party leaders (followed by Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown). As a result, Cameron should have been seen as less of an electoral liability by his party. And indeed, when we looked at the extent to which the three leaders appeared in more than 4,000 election leaflets from 2010, we saw that Cameron was more likely to feature in his party’s leaflets than the other leaders.

Using leaflets collected by, we return to this topic and explore whether parties have been taking into account their leader’s popularity (or lack thereof) when designing their leaflets for the 2015 campaign. We looked at more than 1,300 leaflets collected between the start of the long campaign and 20 April, coding each leaflet based on a number of dimensions, including the issues covered, the nature of the message, and the types of images used.