Although the local election results announced on May 5th would seem to concur with pollsters’ predictions of a ‘Tory landslide’, it is worth considering how useful they may be for trying to understand the potential General Election results.
How Did the Parties Fare?
The following table shows the seat changes:
A cursory analysis suggests a significant surge in support for the Conservatives, a blow to Labour, the obliteration of UKIP and a largely neutral time for parties such as the Lib Dems (for whom this author is an approved parliamentary candidate), the SNP and the Greens. Both Plaid Cymru and the SNP, however, do not have an appeal beyond Wales and Scotland respectively.
However, there is also the projected national vote share from Professor John Curtice and the BBC which must be considered more closely – this put the Conservatives’ projected national vote share at 38%, Labour at 27%, the Lib Dems at 18% and UKIP at 5%. This differs drastically from what the poll of polls from Britain Elects, below, suggests.
Although poll of polls estimates for Labour seem to in accordance with the projected national vote share from the local elections, support for the Conservatives seems to be wildly overestimated (46% in the poll of polls vs 38% in the recent local elections) whilst support for the Liberal Democrats seems to be significantly underestimated (9.5% in the poll of polls vs 18% in the local elections).
In the 2015 General Election, the Conservatives gained 36.9% of the vote (with a positive 0.8% swing), Labour gained 30.4% of the vote (with a 1.5% positive swing), the SNP had 4.7% (with a 3.1% positive swing) and the Liberal Democrats had 7.9% (with a 15.2% negative swing).
Therefore, compared to the 2015 General Election, the May 2017 local elections only saw the Conservatives increase their vote share from 36.9% to 38% whilst Labour declined from 30.4% to 27% and the Liberal Democrats have seen a significant increase from 7.9% to 18% in the local elections (in terms of projected national vote share).
Some Caveats to Bear in Mind
Although the local election results paint a different picture to what traditional polling suggests, there are other factors to consider. Most importantly, turnout at general elections is much higher than at local elections. Furthermore, people vote differently in their local election than in a general election: whilst some would have viewed them as a way to use their vote to speak on national issues, many more would simply have voted on local issues (such as garbage collection, crime and so on).
With just under a month to go before Britain goes to vote, traditional polling could be proven wrong as it has been several times before. The opportunism with which Theresa May called a snap general election – not before, but after triggering Article 50 – indicates that she expects a lot of pain from Brexit and she wants a ‘grace period’ after Brexit where she can engage in the wholesale firefighting against the many who will suffer from it as it unravels.
The problem is that she, and many of her advisers, may have overestimated support for her agenda.