Ukip has gained ground because the traditional parties have lost touch with the everyday concerns of votersby Peter Kellner / December 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
2014 has been the year of the insurgents—Ukip and the Greens gaining ground, and the SNP overtaking Labour in Scotland. The SNP has plainly stolen Labour’s clothes as the party able to deliver progressive policies to help Scotland’s working-class voters; but new YouGov data suggests that the Ukip/Green story is a little more complex.
It is easy to see symmetry in what is going on—Ukip outflanking the Conservatives on the Right, while the Greens outflank Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the Left. Easy: but wrong. For the symmetry breaks down when we look at the outlook of the voters that have deserted the traditional parties.
From time to time we ask people where they place themselves on a scale from Left to Right. The following table shows this week’s results:
All voters % Green voters % Labour voters % Lib Dem voters % UKIP voters % Con voters % Very left-wing 5 17 10 1 1 0 Fairly left-wing 11 41 21 8 5 1 Slightly left-of-centre 14 14 25 39 7 5 TOTAL LEFT 30 72 56 48 13 6 Centre 18 13 16 32 18 18 Slightly right-of-centre 13 6 2 4 19 32 Fairly right-wing 10 4 1 0 20 24 Very right-wing 2 0 0 0 4 5 TOTAL RIGHT 25 10 3 4 43 61 Don’t know 27 4 26 16 25 16
Taking the electorate as a whole, slightly more people say they are on the Left rather than the Right. But few place themselves far from the centre ground. Just 16 per cent say they are “very” or “fairly” left-wing, while even fewer say they are equally far to the Right. While 45 per cent place themselves in the centre or “slightly” left or right. (The remaining 27 per cent say “don’t know.”)
Green Party supporters are different. Fully 58 per cent say they are “very” or “fairly” left-wing—far more than Labour supporters (31 per cent) or Lib Dems (a mere 9 per cent). The good news for the Greens is that their support is ideologically coherent. Most of their supporters think alike. However, this coherence means that their appeal is limited. In the long run, if they are to develop into major players in Britain’s political spectrum, they will need to broaden their appeal beyond the committed Left.
One might expect the figures for Ukip supporters to provide a mirror image in terms of right-wing ideology. But only 24% say they are “very” or “fairly” right-wing. The figure for Tory supporters, 29% is higher. Indeed, less than half of all Ukip voters, 43% say they are on the Right at all, when we add in “slightly right-of-centre” – well below the 61% of Conservatives who place themselves somewhere to the right of centre. In contrast to the Greens, Ukip’s problem, but also its opportunity, lies in the variety of support it enjoys. Can it continue to succeed as an all-purpose party for discontented voters?
The traditional parties have a more immediate task. Between now and May they need to win back the votes they have lost to Ukip and the Greens. To do so, Labour, Tory and Lib Dem strategists will need to understand that the two insurgent parties are fundamentally different, not only in their ideologies, but in the extent to which their appeal is ideological at all.
The Greens are unquestionably winning support from left-wing voters who are disillusioned with Labour and the Lib Dems. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have the tricky task of burnishing their ideologically progressive credentials without losing votes in the centre ground.
As for Ukip supporters, our figures confirm that it is pointless for the Tories, in particular, to engage in an ideological arms race. People have been flocking to Nigel Farage’s banner not because the traditional parties are insufficiently right-wing but because they are deemed to be part of a broader political and social elite that has lost touch with the concerns of millions of voters. Tackling Ukip requires credible, down-to-earth solutions to people’s everyday problems, not a lurch to the Right.