Last week John Curtice opened up a debate about whether Labour was mistaken to pursue Leave voters. I thought the paper was simplistic but I have far too much respect for John to say that without at least a little evidence. And I suspect John was more interested in opening up a debate than deciding Labour’s strategy for the next four years! So I have today published two tables as a counter-point to John’s piece. But first a simple point, and one which John fails to mention…
In order to understand which strategy to employ we really need to know a lot more about people’s motivations and behaviours. Because if people voted to remain but don’t think it’s as important as other issues in determining how they vote then Labour would be wrong to doggedly pursue the ‘remain part of their brain’. There are plenty of Remainers in Scotland and the south of England but I suspect they have a few more important reasons not to vote for Labour right now. So, more work needs to identify those voters which are ‘moved’ by Brexit, regardless of who they vote for. Without that information Labour, or any party, risks triggering emotions which play a smaller role in vote intention than they’d like. I believe this is a serious problem for the Liberal Democrats come the general election, but that’s for another day….
The table below uses data from Wave 9 of the British Election Study, the same data used by John Curtice (thanks to Jon Mellon). It shows three types of switchers: those which moved from voting Labour in 2005 to another party in 2015; those which moved from Labour in 2005 to voting for another party in 2010; and those which moved from voting for Labour in 2005 but another party in 2010.
I have also included John Curtice’s numbers for comparison. I hope you can see the issue here. Curtice took the 2015 Labour voters as a cohort, which I instinctively believed was flawed. As the table shows the people who drifted away from Labour between 2005 and 2015 were mostly Leavers in 2016. This is a significant problem for the Labour party, as it appears to be in the unenviable position of needing to reclaim the voters it has lost with a Brexit message whilst appealing to [probably younger] Remainers.
Not that Labour’s problems end there! The table below shows three types of voters: 2010 Liberal Democrats; those which moved from Labour in 2005 to voting for the Lib Dems in 2010; and those which moved from voting for the Lib Dems in 2010 to Labour in 2015.
This table presents another problem for Labour, in that the voters it regained from the Lib Dems in 2015 are geographically southern, London, Welsh or Scottish. In some of those areas Labour pulled up trees to win seats from the Lib Dems whilst in Scotland it shed unprecedented vote share to the SNP. I have my doubts that an appeal to Scottish remainers alone will bring the defectors to the SNP back. Note the number in Wales too; the Remainers in Wales are disproportionately in and around Cardiff so the upcoming local elections there will be useful evidence. I suspect much of Cardiff and its suburbs will see a swing to the Lib Dems.
I am hoping to continue this research further now that I have the data but the tables above are probably food enough for thought.