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Could reverse tactical voting open the door for Michael Howard?.

May 25th, 2004

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    Need the Tories be so gloomy about the Westmister seat distribution?

A number of Tory supporters are seeking to raise their General Election hopes by suggesting that the Westminster seat distribution that seems so skewed to Labour might not be as bad for them as it appear. There’s been a particular focus that this factor could be partially off-set by the anti-Tory tactical voting of 1997 and 2001 “unwinding”. Could this happen and what would be the effect?

A major study after the 1997 election put the number of Conservative seats that were lost as a result of tactical voting by Lib Dems switching to Labour at 25-35. Almost all of these seats were retained in 2001 and the evidence is that there was an average tactical dimension amongst Lib Dem supporters amounting to about 3% of all those who voted.

The question that political gamblers are interested in is what happens if at least part of this tactical element “unwinds” at the next Election. What if the Lib Dems who were ready to vote Labour to keep the Tories out decide that in the post-Iraq environment that they will return to their party fold. What happens if showing disapproval for the war becomes more important in many of their eyes than switching to Labour to maximise the anti-Conservative vote.

    In this case all the General Election projections based soley on a “Universal National Swing” might be wrong. Maybe the Tories are in a better state than seat projections based on the latest polls are showing. Maybe the moves in the betting markets to the Tories have been right. Maybe Michael Howard could after all be the Prime Minister after Tony Blair/Gordon Brown?

There were two types of tactical voting at the last two General Elections: –

Labour supporters switching to Lib Dem. Our view that these tactical votes will largely stay intact. In campaigning terms the Lib Dems are brilliant at targeting. Where there are sitting Lib Dem MPs Labour supporters are going to take little convincing that switching is the best way of opposing the Tories. It might be that if the General Election looks like a close race then more Labour voters will move over. The Lib Dems will be a natural home for the Labour people opposed to the war.

Lib Dems switching to Labour. The Lib Dem supporters who switched to Labour in 1997 and 2001 are a different matter and clearly a proportion will return to the Lib Dems given the decline in popularity of Tony Blair’s government.

To try to assess the electoral affect Anthony Wells has amended his General Election predictor programme to factor in this element. But he does not discriminate between Lib-Lab and Lab-Lib tactical switches. We think that he should and our estimate is that the Conservatives will be 10-15 seats better off at Labour’s expense.

This does make some difference to General Election seat predictions but, it should be emphasised, the overall seat structure is still very much tilted in Labour’s favour. Taking the May Populus poll findings this is how the Westminster seats split on a uniform swing and taking into account some tactical voting unwinding in Labour seats wons with Lib Dem support.

Populus Poll: CON 36%, LAB 32%, LIB 22%
Based on Uniform National Swing these vote shares convert to this new House of Commons
CON 245 seats; LAB 305 seats; LIB 65 seats
Factoring in a 14 seat Labour loss due to tactical voting this becomes
CON 259 seats; LAB 291 seats; LIB 65 seats

Thus Labour are still 32 seats ahead even though they are 4% behind in the popular vote. Thus the unwinding affect is going to help Michal Howard but its affect can be over-stated. It might make the overall result less “unfair” than it might otherwise have been.

In future seat projections on Politicalbetting.com we will factor in this element with Labour seats only.






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