Tom Mludzinski: Europe is only the fifth most important issue to UKIP voters
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With UKIP recording their highest standing that Ipsos MORI has ever seen in our Political Monitor this week, and ahead of Prime Minister, David Cameron’s greatly anticipated and then postponed speech on Europe, it is a pertinent time to take a deeper look at UKIP voters. We have looked at our aggregate data from 2012 (combining all our polls from 2012) to build big enough base sizes to try to answer some questions about UKIP voters: who are they, where have they come from and what do they care about?
Following UKIP coming second in the Rotherham by-election last year, Nigel Farage, the party’s leader took the opportunity to claim “We're not just a protest collection of Tories from the shires.” Is he right?
Looking across everyone in 2012 who told Ipsos MORI they would vote for UKIP at an immediate general election, 43% of them had voted for the Conservatives in 2010. Therefore almost half of the support for UKIP is coming from former Conservative voters (note of course , this does not mean half of 2010 Conservative voters are switching to UKIP as we discuss later). Around a quarter are loyal UKIP supporters having voted for them in 2010. The rest is made up of handfuls of Liberal Democrats, Labour and BNP voters as well as people who did not vote in 2010.
Looking at 2010 Conservative voters in more detail, across the year exactly the same proportion (6%) left to UKIP as to Labour – though there are some indications that the increase in UKIP’s support over the last couple of months is coming increasingly from the Conservatives. It is also worth noting that almost one in ten 2010 UKIP voters have moved to the Conservatives, although in absolute terms this is smaller than those going the other way.
When we look at who UKIP voters actually are, the answer may not be much of a surprise. UKIP voters are far more likely than the average Briton to be a Daily Mail, Daily Express or Telegraph reader, while just 2% read the Guardian. Two thirds of the UKIP vote is made up of men, more so than for any of the three main parties. Their support is also mostly from those aged 55+; their reliance on the so-called “grey vote” is greater than even the Conservatives and of course older people are the most likely group to actually vote so their support is important. The pattern of support for UKIP across the country is similar to that of the Conservative Party, with strongholds in the Midlands and the South (excluding London). Indeed, 60% of UKIP’s support comes in Conservative held seats, thought they are more likely to be in safe Conservative constituencies than in Tory held marginals. Mr Farage was not wrong to say his party is not just a collection of disgruntled Tories in the shires, but they do make up a considerable chunk of his support.
A look at the satisfaction ratings for the government and the three main party leaders provides some clues as to why UKIP have slowly but clearly risen in the polls recently: UKIP voters are generally dissatisfied with everyone. Seven in ten or more UKIP voters are dissatisfied with the performance of each of Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband, Mr Clegg and the Coalition government. Does this make them the protest party of the day? It certainly points to UKIP successfully harnessing the frustration many voters feel with the establishment, in the same way the Liberal Democrats were often credited in doing in the days before the Coalition.
Are UKIP a one trick pony? A party set up with the sole aim of, as the name suggests, withdrawing the UK from the European Union, has had to develop beyond that narrow remit with its increased exposure. And indeed the European Union is, in fact, only fifth on the list of UKIP supporters’ concerns; a fifth (18%) saw it as among the most important issues facing Britain in 2012 with the economy, race relations and immigration, unemployment and crime all rated as more important than the EU. However, the one in five UKIP supporters naming the European Union is much higher than the 6% of the general public overall.
As among the wider public, UKIP supporters were more concerned about the economy than any other issue. Six in ten (59%) UKIP supporters placed it among the most important issues in 2012. However, unlike the public on average, the second issue of concern for UKIP supporters was race relations and immigration; 51% of them mentioned it compared with just a fifth (21%) of Britons overall. Crime and law and order is also more important to UKIP supporters than to the general public. Race relations and immigration are also particularly important issues for Conservatives as well as UKIP supporters, highlighting once again the similarities between the two sets of voters.
The one thing polling cannot tell us at this stage, of course, is how this increased (and apparently increasing) level of support for UKIP in mid-term polls would translate into votes at a General Election. Clearly, their supporters are frustrated with the government and the three main parties as they stand. The challenge for Nigel Farage and his party will be to maintain the momentum and gain in credibility as a party that is worth voting for at a general election, and persuading people they are not a “wasted vote”. This summer’s local elections and the European elections next year provide UKIP with opportunities, but even then the past has taught us that success in mid-term elections (both local and European) are no barometer for success in subsequent general elections.
The challenge for UKIP is obvious, but of course, there is also a challenge for David Cameron and the Conservatives. He is losing voters to UKIP but he is also losing voters to Labour. To win a majority at the next election the Conservative Party needs to expand its support from the last election. The Prime Minister will hope his Europe speech, when it does eventually happen, will pacify his own party and also nullify some of the now obvious threat from UKIP. However, he will also need to focus on winning back support his party has lost to Labour.