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Get ready for a big psephological debate on Friday on how much you can read in to the locals

May 2nd, 2017

How much a general election pointer will the locals be?

The timing of the 2017 General Election has created an almost unique situation. This is the first time in the modern era when a general election has been called before the May local elections and the campaign period covered those elections.

Since 1992 all general elections have been held on the same day as the local elections scheduled for those years. The impact has been that the turnout in the locals has been at general election levels, 60%+, way above turnouts in the 30s in non general election years.

The effect has been that the big picture from the locals have been akin to the general election. The general election results were broadly though not entirely reflected in the council votes.

In 1992 John Major went to the country four weeks before that year’s locals with LAB doing much worse in the May locals than in the April general election.

We have to back to the June general elections 1983 and 1987 for anything similar to what we have this year – May locals and June general elections. The only problem is that that in those years Mrs Thatcher went to the country AFTER she had seen how well her party had done in the locals. So those two general elections cannot be seen, as Anthony Wells of YouGov is trying to argue, as relevant precedents for GE2017.

    People will be voting on Thursday in the knowledge that they’ll be doing so again on June 8th. Inevitably national considerations will impact on voting behaviour.

The two critical sets of numbers that will come out on Friday will be Prof John Curtice’s national vote projection and the national equivalent vote share projection from Professors Rallings and Thrasher.

These are likely to be different from the latest general election polls and will be seized on by parties that are doing better to assert that they are a better reflection of public opinion.

The Lib Dems will certainly use them to make the case that they are doing better than the polls.

Mike Smithson