Nowadays, swing voters are no longer a small section of the electorate who are being pulled back and forth by the parties, but a substantial chunk of all votersby Jonathan Mellon / September 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
For decades political parties have competed furiously for one of the great prizes of British politics: the affections of the swing voter. It wasn’t that long ago that there were relatively few political swingers: until the 1990s, fewer than a quarter of voters would switch parties from one election to the next.
Yet that once relatively rare breed is becoming increasingly common, which means party campaigners are going to have to come up with new tactical thinking. The British Election Study survey panels, conducted episodically over the last fifty years, are unique in that they are able to track the same voters from one election to the next, unlike more conventional opinion polls that only look at a snapshot of voters at a given time.
Using these studies, you can identify the percentage of voters who switch their vote from one party to another between each pair of elections since 1966 when such data was first collected.
In 1966 only around 13 per cent of voters had changed their minds since the previous election in 1964. Since then, the proportion of swingers has been steadily increasing. By 2015, 43 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010.
The increase in swing voters is pretty consistent. The three exceptions are between February and October 1974, when the short eight month gap between elections left little time for switching to take place, between 1997 and 2001, when the electoral dominance of New Labour under Tony Blair held back the tide for a time, and finally in 2017, which still saw 33 percent of voters switch parties (the second-highest figure on record) despite only two years having elapsed since the previous vote. 2017 also saw the highest recorded level of switching between Labour and the Conservatives.
29 years of party people
A lot of vote shifting can go on even between elections where the overall result remains stable. In 2001, for example, more people switched votes than in any election before 1997, with a surprising level of turmoil beneath the surface stability. While these largely cancelled out on that occasion, it set the stage for more dramatic changes in the parties’ votes later on.
So British voters now seem more…