Just under half of Ukip voters are former Tory supporters ©NCJMedia
The record has stood for more than a century. Not since before the First World War has any party other than Labour or Conservative won a Britain-wide election. Unless something dramatic happens, that record will fall in May. The UK Independence Party is set to top the poll in the elections to the European parliament, leaving Labour second and the Tories trailing far behind in third place.
It could end up as a flash in the pan. Ukip is likely to win few, if any, seats in next year’s general election. But its votes could still decide who governs Britain. So—who are Ukip’s supporters, and what drives them?
By combining the results of YouGov’s polls throughout January, we know the loyalties of more than 37,000 electors. They include more than 4,000 people who say they would vote Ukip in a general election— enough to tell us in some detail who they are.
Just under half (around 1.6m voters) are people who voted Tory in 2010. The rest comprise a collection of far smaller groups: just over half a million former Liberal Democrats, around 400,000 each of those who voted Labour last time, or for Ukip itself, or did not vote. So the Conservatives are by far the biggest losers, but it’s not true that Ukip supporters are mainly Tory switchers.
Not surprisingly, Ukip does well among those who say they are “very” or “fairly” right wing, and among readers of the Daily Mail and Daily Express. But one of the striking things about Ukip is its appeal to older, working class, former Tories, especially those who left school at 15 or 16 and earn less than £20,000 a year. They are people who might be thought to be natural Labour voters. Now, after five years of squeezed living standards and three decades of mounting inequality and job insecurity, many have given up on all three of the traditional main parties. Ukip has had far less success appealing to betteroff voters, graduates and those under 40.
When people are asked their general election voting intention, Ukip wins a steady 12 per cent vote share. When asked about the coming European parliament elections, Ukip’s share doubles. And that is before the campaign itself has begun: in 2004 and 2009 it gained…