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Further evidence of UKIP's threat to the Conservatives

by Paul Goodman

Analysis of UKIP's prospects and support is an underwritten subject.  In the wake of the Barnsley by-election, in which the party came second with 12 per cent of the vote, it reached seven per cent in an opinion poll - and its ratings had been nudging upwards for some time.  I therefore decided to have a look at the party's prospects and support.

There are three main theories of where UKIP gets its core support from -

  • Anti-politics and protest voters.  (The suggestion of research carried out by James Bethell.)
  • "The party's baseline vote does come disproportionately from those that vote Conservative".  (Kavanagh and Cowley.)

The last set of authors didn't set out much evidence to support their view - unsurprisingly, since the assertion was a small detail in a very big book.  I therefore wrote cautiously that "the bulk of the evidence suggests that to date UKIP has tended to draw more from the Tories than Labour".

After publication, I was contacted by Richard Whitaker of Leicester University, who drew my attention to "the first academic survey of UKIP’s general election candidates alongside responses from over 2,000 UKIP general election voters".

The article that he's co-authored with Philip Lynch is well worth reading.  The findings that most interested me were as follows -

  • "Roughly half of its voters at the 2009 European elections (in which UKIP finished second) went on to vote Conservative in 2010, indicating that some Tory supporters took up Nigel Farage’s invitation to ‘lend us your vote’."
  • "Of those who said they voted Conservative but either really preferred another party or had voted tactically, one-third said they preferred UKIP, the largest proportion for any party."
  • "Many UKIP supporters do not see the BNP in a positive light... And when looking at UKIP’s 2010 voters’ views of other parties, the Conservatives were the most favoured... UKIP should resist the temptation to follow in the footsteps of the radical right as this would contaminate the UKIP brand by associating it with extremism".
All this bolsters the view that a significant tranche of voters can move in elections both from the Conservatives to UKIP and vice-versa.  This has implications for Tory strategy, and the debate between ultra-modernisers, who believe that the party should pitch for "centre ground" voters alone, and those who want "shift to the right" or else prefer "the politics of and".

Lynch and Whitaker's piece suggests that Nigel Farage's aim of topping the poll in the Euro-elections is far from absurd.  As I wrote last time round, UKIP are in a good position both to peel off conservative voters disillusioned with the Government (as some always are when the party moves out of opposition) and make a pitch for anti-politics and protest voters (given the absorption of the Liberal Democrats into government and the collapse of the BNP).  Their support won't soar - but it will rise.

And that's before starting to calculating the effect of a "Yes" vote in the AV referendum, if this happens.  UKIP will find that with this rising profile comes more media scrutiny.  They won't like it any more than the other parties.

Finally - and once again - evidence to date suggests that UKIP's vote has less to do with EU than some readers want to believe.


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