The Labour Party is Losing the Centre


The graph above shows the level of electoral support for British political parties by ideological self-positioning, based on wave 10 of the British Electoral Study (data collected in November and December 2016). I have left out people who refuse to place themselves. The curve obviously declines as you go right for Labour, and increases for the Conservatives (with a decline on the far right as UKIP goes up). What is the most interesting is the slope of the two main parties: electoral support for Labour declines faster as you go right, and the Conservatives rise earlier, meaning that the Conservative are stronger on the center ground. The Conservatives do much better than Labour among people who consider themselves in the very middle of the political spectrum (that is, choose a 5 out of 10). 27% of voters in this category intend to vote Conservative, against only 18% who plan to vote for Labour. As the histogram below shows, this is the largest category of voters in the electorate, among those who are willing to place themselves (23% don’t). The sample is 30’319.


Projecting the second round of the French presidential election

What would vote transfers in the second round of the presidential election look like? In an earlier post, I showed that Jean-Marie Le Pen got very few votes from other parties in the second round of the 2002 election, when he made it to the second round. Voters of all other candidates massively rallied behind Chirac against Le Pen. Will things be different this time around?

The CEVIPOF at Sciences Po Paris and IPSOS have released a poll yesterday (n= 11 601) which asks people who they would vote for in the first and the second round, presenting different scenarios. The report shows the proportion of Fillon voters who would vote for Macron if Fillon doesn’t make it to the second round, the proportion who would vote for Le Pen, and so forth. This could all be presented in a matrix.

I have used this data and polls to project possible voter flows between the first and the second round in the different scenarios. Basically, I have taken the current poll numbers of the candidates and reallocated their share of the vote to the two candidates in the second round based on the report.

Now, this should be considered with a pinch of salt because one has to make a lot of – sometimes quite strong – assumptions. First, I assume that polls are accurate, and the level of support of the different candidates in the first round will be close to the real first round result. Second, I assume that voters of a successful candidate in the first round will stick with them in the second one, and none of them switches or abstains. Third, since people were given the opportunity not to express a preference, I assume that the people without a preference will abstain. This is not realistic and surely overestimates abstention, but the lack of preference surely signifies that there is no likable alternative for these voters. Fourth, and most importantly, these were scenarios presented to voters before they knew who is actually in the final runoff, and preferences may change once the choice before them becomes real. But this gives an overview of how “likable” the different candidates are beyond their own electorate, which is crucial to win a two-round election. Amongst the potential candidates, Macron and Mélenchon seem to have the broadest appeal beyond their own electorate.

I have built a series of Sankey diagrams that present these voter flows in the different scenarios. In brackets, the poll numbers for the different scenarios as given by Ipsos. The numbers in the graph include abstention, so the share of the vote for each candidate is given as a share of the electorate, not of valid votes. One problem is that abstention is not factored in in the first round, but the numbers are only given for people who “are sure they’re going to vote” (people tend to overestimate this). Also, “small” candidates like Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud are not in the poll, but the vote transfers from these candidates are small anyway.

Scenario 1: Macron (61%) vs. Le Pen (39%)

sankeymatic_2400x2400MacronLe Pen

The biggest addition to the Le Pen vote in a duel Le Pen-Macron would come from Fillon, but an even greater share of the Fillon voters say they would vote for Macron. Macron has the big advantage of drawing from left, right and center.

Scenario 2: Macron (64%) vs. Fillon (36%)

Fillon is a very weak candidate against Macron because he doesn’t draw any votes at all from the left. Mélenchon and Hamon voters loathe him, and the share of Le Pen voters going to him is not big enough.

Scenario 3: Fillon (55%) vs. Le Pen (45%)

Fillon-Le Pen is the tightest race against Le Pen. Fillon would still win, but he is very unpopular among Mélenchon and Hamon voters (a bit less among Macron voters). Because there is no left candidate, this is the race that in theory produces the most abstention (a large share of Hamon and Mélenchon voters don’t express a preference, meaning that for them, Fillon or Le Pen doesn’t make much of a difference). This is quite different from 2002, where Chirac’s more centrist position was less of a repellent for left voters.

Scenario 4: Le Pen (43%) vs. Mélenchon (57%)

Mélenchon-Le Pen is the most polarised race. Mélenchon would win by drawing on his good standing among Macron and Hamon voters, even if he doesn’t get many votes from the right (Fillon). Le Pen, again, could only draw from a transfer of votes from Fillon. It would be too small to beat Mélenchon, however.

Scenario 5: Macron (57%) – Mélenchon (43%)

Macron wins against Mélenchon because he appeals to the right, and could rely on a substantial transfer of votes from Fillon and even Le Pen. There would also be an interesting transfer of votes from Le Pen to Mélenchon, whose radical left position apparently appeals to some of Le Pen’s working class base. Fillon voters wouldn’t transfer much to Mélenchon, preferring to abstain.

Scenario 6: Fillon (42%) – Mélenchon (58%)

Mélenchon is actually quite popular among Macron voters, would draw on almost all Hamon voters, while Fillon only appeals to his own base and some Le Pen voters. As things stand, Mélenchon would beat Fillon even if he is currently polling behind him in the first round.

How did David Cameron manage to win the 2015 elections in spite of austerity?

The poor hit by austerity don’t vote, while the rich who benefit do

How can we explain the Conservative victory in last week’s British elections in the context of the austerity measures the Tories have been pushing through since they came to office? Indeed, even if the deficit hasn’t come down near the levels announced by the Coalition, there have been net cuts in social spending since it came to power. Political economy theories usually argue that voters sanction governmnets who cut social benefits. Building on the good ratings for economic competence attributed to the Tories in opinion polls, “austerians” have been trumpeting that this is a vindication of the austerity agenda. The storyline is that austerity works for everyone, unemployment is down, and this is why the Conservative party has triumphed in the polls. However, there is clear evidence that not everybody has been better off under the Coalition austerity plans. These plans have had distinct distributional effects: the poorest households have been hit the hardest, while middle-and higher income households have come out relatively unscathed.

This victory is interesting because the common wisdom until recently was that politicians would systematically avoid cuts in public spending that would challenge their electoral prospects. This is especially important for welfare programs since the path-breaking analysis of Paul Pierson: people like social programs they are entitled to, and getting rid of them loses votes for incumbents. However, cuts in public spending didn’t hamper the electoral score of the Tories here, and I think this is due to the setup of the British welfare state and the composition of the Tory electorate.

In a nutshell, low-incomes that paid the price for welfare cuts don’t vote, and especially don’t vote Tory, while those on higher incomes for whom lower taxes are more important do vote. After the poll debacle of the election, it appears that it wasn’t “Shy Tories” that were the decisive factor, but potential Labour supporters not bothering to vote. In the graph below, I have put together two measures: the share of net income coming from the state (from here; negative values mean transfers to the state as a share of net income), and the likelihood to vote in the general elections from the British Election Study by income quintile. The latter is not a very good measure because people systematically lie when they say whether they’re going to vote. However, it reports the difference to the average across quintiles on a scale from from 1 to 5. What the graph shows is that people who receive most of their income from the state via social transfers (and who are the most likely to be hit by austerity cuts) are also those that are the least likely to go and vote. By contrast, those who are net contributors to the public budget – and have an interest in cuts to get lower taxes – are those that are the most likely to vote. As I argued elsewhere, higher income quintiles are also much more likely to vote Tory. Hence, austerity could be pursued while limiting a potential backlash because it harms those that don’t vote, and rewards those who do.

image (66)Besides this structural tendency observed about everywhere (the poor are much less likely to vote than the rich), this is also connected to some specificities of the British welfare state that make it easier for Conservative governments to retrench social programs without facing electoral sanctions. Because social programs are strongly targeted at the poor via means-testing and flat rates, the middle class basically doesn’t have an interest in welfare. The drop between middle class wages and benefits is simply too large for this group to consider it a valuable safety net. Figure 2 shows how jobseekers’ benefit is set at much lower lowers than in most other European countries. In countries of continental Europe, where the goal of social benefits is not only to preserve a basic safety net for the poor but to maintain middle class incomes in periods of unemployment or sickness, it is much more difficult to retrench benefits because the middle class also benefits from them. This is why you see people taking to the streets in France about every time the government seeks to downsize entitlement or benefit levels. In Britain, cutting them doesn’t cause much of a fuss because those that suffer don’t vote, and the middle class prefers lower taxes to social insurance.

Finally, it must be noted that the schemes that benefit the middle class as well, such as pensions and the NHS, were not cut. Pension spending was ring-fenced by the government (who was probably aware of the much higher turnout of older voters), while NHS spending is meant to increase in the parliament, probably at the expense of schemes benefitting groups with low turnout.

image (67)

Does fiscal austerity strengthen UKIP?


In their manifesto published yesterday, the Conservative party have pledged to increase funding for the NHS by 8bn a year, besides other policies that have been criticized for for not being clearly funded. Many observers have argued that all these spending increases will need to be be compensated somehow by deep cuts in other domains, such as the welfare budget, where 12bn are to be cut by 2017-2018. In this respect, the Conservative party will be continuing the policy of reductions in public spending which some believe will lead to levels unseen since the 1930s. Now another thing that the Conservatives want, it’s to prevent the rise of UKIP. Can these two things be reconciled? In the graph above, I have plotted together public spending per capita in 2012-2013 (from here) and UKIP voting intentions from the British Election Study. There is a surprising level of fit (72% of the variance explained), and the clearly negative relationship holds if we control for unemployment (data here: UKIPSpending). The less public spending there is, the more UKIP support there is. Basically, if one were to assume that this relationships was causal, it would “cost” 200 pounds of increased spending per capita to reduce the UKIP vote by 1%. I am not sure whether this fits in the long term economic plan.