Thursday, May 16, 2013

The rise of UKIP

The recent rise in UKIP support is bigger and longer-lasting than anything in the party’s history. Here’s a long-term view:

(I’ve used ICM and Ipsos MORI because they both did well at predicting the 2010 election result and they both have a series of monthly polls, with UKIP numbers available, going back this far. It’s also worth bearing in mind that they tend to show lower UKIP scores than most other pollsters.)

Previously, UKIP has spent its life plodding along to very little effect until a European Parliament election comes along (2004 and 2009) and gives it the publicity it needs to make headway. It gets a modest but sharp boost, about half of which then vanishes almost immediately.

That’s not what’s happening now.

UKIP’s vote has been rising pretty much consistently for over a year. Whether you look at its monthly poll rating or the six-month average, which smoothes away blips, it has been above its 2009 peak for over half a year and is now at more than double that peak. And this is without the benefit of a Euro-election. Next year’s will help the party keep its momentum up.

Far more people than ever before are taking UKIP seriously, and they have been doing so for longer than ever before. The longer the idea of voting UKIP spends in their heads, the likelier it is to settle.

But I suspect UKIP is pretty near its limit now. I’d be surprised if it managed more than 10% at the 2015 general election, and even more surprised if it won any seats. That said, it could still make a difference by changing the balance between the bigger parties.

Why is UKIP doing so well?

It’s not that people are suddenly so much angrier about Europe and immigration. Rather, a generally culturally conservative group of people, who initially gave the coalition the benefit of the doubt (and gave the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt in opposition), are becoming more and more disillusioned. Look at the chart and you can see that the dam started to break after last spring’s ‘omnishambles’ Budget.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have bound each other in to a mesh of governmental disappointments and half-hearted compromises, and Labour remains deeply unimpressive and tainted by its own time in power. These cultural conservatives increasingly think the mainstream, ‘modern’ political class has nothing to offer them.

As Kenan Malik argues, people are becoming more likely to vote as a personal statement of belief or outlook rather than as a way of choosing a government. This is borne out by the recent rise in people voting for no-hoper minor parties:

True, when push comes to shove, some of the UKIP’s current supporters will return to the bigger parties – but many won’t. In a large poll last November by Lord Ashcroft, only about half of people considering voting UKIP said that letting their most disliked of the bigger parties win would be a factor in their decision.

The largest part of UKIP’s new support comes from the Conservatives. From the details of the latest ICM and MORI polls, and the daily YouGov polls from the last week, UKIP is currently taking between a fifth and a quarter of the Conservatives’ 2010 vote and about a tenth of Labour’s. The overall effect of that is to increase Labour’s lead over the Conservatives by 4 to 6 percentage points.

If half of UKIP’s recently gained support goes back where it came from by 2015, that would still leave Labour a 2-to-3-point relative boost. That could swing maybe 20 seats.