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Turnout, youth and Brexit: the three things that sank the Tories

Posted by hkarner - 17. Juni 2017

Date: 15-06-2017
Source: The Economist
Subject: Post-mortem of Britain’s electoral upset

THE Conservative Party began the election campaign with an enormous lead and even on election day was expecting to increase its majority. What went wrong?

The biggest unknown ahead of the election was turnout. Labour was wildly popular among the young, but polling firms differed in their estimates of how many young people would vote at all. In the event, Labour’s young fans excelled themselves: turnout among people aged 18-24 was 57%, according to a large post-election survey by YouGov, a pollster. That is 14 percentage points greater than in 2015.

Age is now the main determining factor affecting party choice. The “phenomenal” generational divide has never before been so stark, according to John Curtice of NatCen Social Research. Mr Corbyn pulled in young people in droves by promising free university tuition. Labour won 43 of the 60 constituencies where full-time students make up 15% or more of the adult population, five of which it gained from the Tories.Overall, turnout rose by 2.5 points to 68.7%, the highest since 1997. Seat-by-seat analysis shows that it increased most in areas with large populations of well-educated under-45s; areas that are ethnically diverse; and areas that voted to remain in the European Union last year. That probably cost the Conservatives. Turnout in pro-EU London, where they lost six seats, increased by five points to surpass 70% for the first time since 1992.

Brexit paid some dividends to the Tories. In 2015 the UK Independence Party won 12.6% of the vote with an anti-EU message. With the referendum won, its vote collapsed. About 60% of those who voted for UKIP in 2015 defected to the Conservatives, according to a post-election survey by Lord Ashcroft. The Tories did best in constituencies that voted heavily for Brexit: in six of their eight new English seats the Leave vote was over 60%.

But Brexit hurt the party in other places. Excluding Scotland, there is a strong correlation between swings from the Tories to Labour and the vote in the EU referendum (see chart). By our seat-by-seat analysis, Brexit was responsible for about half of the national swing from the Tories to Labour. Labour said as little as possible about the subject, allowing it to attract voters from both sides of the referendum divide. It gained 18 seats in lukewarm Leave constituencies and 13 in areas that voted Remain.

All told, of the 28 seats the Tories lost to Labour, perhaps 17 can be explained by some combination of higher turnout, large populations of young and educated voters, and opposition to a hard Brexit. That leaves 11 seats dotted around England where those elements were not sufficient to explain the result. Seven years of austerity under the Tories are likely to have counted; so is Theresa May’s dour campaign, which failed to learn from the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 that positive messages matter.

It was nearly very different. The Tories lost four seats by 30 votes or fewer. The current distribution of votes means that the number of seats won is more “elastic” relative to vote share than in the past, Mr Curtice notes. A 2.5 percentage-point swing from Labour to the Tories would have won them 29 more seats, giving them a 51-seat working majority—and turning the narrative of Tory disaster into one of triumph.

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