John Curtice looks at evidence from recent opinion polls to examine the character and sources of support for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and to consider how the challenge posed by UKIP might best be met by Britain’s mainstream parties. He finds that the party is sapping more support away from the Conservative Party than the other two main parties, and argues that the Conservatives need to turn around the economy rather than fret obsessively about Europe.
During their first two years as the senior party in the coalition, the Conservatives largely retained their 2010 level support, not a bad achievement for a party in power presiding over an unresponsive economy. However, in the spring of 2012 Conservative support fell away noticeably in the wake of a Budget that occasioned an unusual level of criticism and subsequent policy reversals, and which coincided with a number of other ministerial misfortunes that came to be dubbed by the opposition as an ‘omnishambles’.
Meanwhile since last spring there has been a remarkable increase in support for UKIP whose current rating in the polls is on average at least equal to that of the Liberal Democrats. The party now threatens to pose the most serious independent fourth party incursion in English electoral politics in the post-war period. It is fighting the local elections this year on a widespread basis for the first time and how well UKIP does and with what consequences for the other parties will arguably be the question that attracts most attention as the results are declared today.
There has been much speculation and assertion about whether UKIP’s rise simply poses a threat to the Conservatives (as its timing would seem to suggest), or whether all of the three main parties at Westminster have reason to fear UKIP’s rise. In practice, the message from the opinion polls is quite clear. Based on polls conducted by different companies during April, Chart 1 shows that the Conservative party is losing votes more heavily to UKIP than either the Liberal Democrats or (especially) Labour. On average the polls in that chart suggest that some 16 per cent of those who voted Conservative in 2010 and currently have a party preference are now backing UKIP. The equivalent figure for the Liberal Democrats is 8 per cent and for Labour 4 per cent.
Chart 1: Polls suggesting percentage of voters defecting to UKIP
Sources: ComRes 10-11.4; ICM 12-14.4; IpsosMORI 13-15.4; YouGov 17-18.4
Striking though those differences might be, they do not mean that most UKIP supporters are former Conservatives, a fact that many a journalist has discovered when interviewing current UKIP supporters. Rather, it appears that no more than between two-fifths and a half of current UKIP supporters voted Conservative in 2010. However, that still means they are the largest single source of UKIP support and it does not contradict the claim that UKIP is hurting the Conservatives more than any other party. Failure to appreciate that fact seems to have misled some political commentators into thinking that UKIP may not be a particular problem for the Conservatives after all.
Nigel Farage himself has been keen to assert that much of his party’s support comes from the politically disaffected, many of which did not vote in the past. However, these claims cannot be verified from the information published by most national polls as typically they do not show the current voting intentions of those who did anything other than vote for one of the three largest parties in 2010. All that can be stated is that around a third of UKIP’s current support comes from those who did not vote for one of the three largest parties in 2010, including not only those who abstained, but also, crucially, those who voted UKIP in 2010.
The social character of UKIP’s support is commensurate with what one would expect for a party that has made social conservatism a key part of its appeal alongside anti-Europeanism. In particular, support is at least three times higher amongst those aged 60/65 and over than it is amongst those 18 to 24. It also tends to be rather lower in the AB professional and managerial portion of the population, a feature that distinguishes it from that of the Conservative party. At the same time UKIP support is higher amongst men than women, a pattern also to be found in support for nationalism and independence in Scotland (where UKIP itself is relatively weak). These patterns are not new, but were also evident on the occasion of the last European elections in June 2009 when UKIP secured 16 per cent of the vote.
In responding to UKIP’s rise, the Conservative party appeared initially at least to assume that it was driven primarily by growing discontent with the UK’s membership of the European Union, thereby leading the Prime Minister to offer the prospect of a referendum on that subject in the event of a majority Conservative government after 2015. In the event, that manoeuvre has proven inadequate (though the speech may for a while at least have had the paradoxical effect of reducing the level of opposition to Britain’s membership).
The initial trigger for the Conservatives’ difficulties and UKIP’s rise appears rather to have been a marked drop at the time of the 2012 Budget in public confidence in the Conservatives’ ability to handle the economy. According to ComRes, before that Budget consistently around 30 per cent agreed that they trusted David Cameron and George Osborne to run the economy; since then the figure has consistently been around 25 per cent. UKIP supporters are amongst those expressing very low levels of trust in the economic competence of the Conservative duo. Meanwhile, more broadly, according to Ipsos MORI satisfaction with David Cameron’s leadership has also been consistently lower since the ‘omnishambles’ of spring 2012 than it was beforehand.
Thus some voters were shaken from the Conservative tree by declining confidence in the party’s ability to provide effective government. Many of those voters might have been expected to use UKIP as a haven of protest anyway, given that voting Liberal Democrat as a way of protesting against the performance of the government was, in contrast to previous parliaments, no longer an option. But UKIP also has some positive attractions for voters. In particular it is clear from polling evidence collected by Lord Ashscroft on the occasion of the Eastleigh by-election and from data collected by YouGov nationally that the party’s popularity lies as much in concern about levels of immigration into the UK as it does in the party’s anti-European stance per se. UKIP voters are, it seems, more concerned about the implications of EU membership for Britain’s ability to control its borders than they are about Britain being bossed about by bureaucrats in Brussels. It is, of course, a concern that continuing low growth will have done nothing to assuage. If the Conservatives are to counter the challenge of UKIP it looks as though they need to turn around the economy rather than fret obsessively about Europe.
This article was originally published on our sister blog, British Politics and Policy at LSE
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Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
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John Curtice – University of Strathclyde
John Curtice is Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde. His publications include the British Social Attitudes Survey Series (joint editor, Sage, ongoing), Revolution or Evolution: The 2007 Scottish Elections (joint editor, Edinburgh University Press, 2009), and Has Devolution Worked? (Manchester University Press, 2009).
Good in depth analysis, but its not as complicated as it seems in academia. A large portion of the UK voters have some grown weary and tired of the endless political foot dragging of the 3 major parties, there clever legal deception and shifting excuses to offer a EU referendum to voters, and that is why Ukip have sky rocketed in the polls, and are gaining seats.
An excellent article – thank you for posting.
Please allow me to point out that “being bossed about by bureaucrats in Brussels” is still a very light expression compared to the harsh EU-reality.
My main concern, before all, is related to the lack of legitimacy of the EU, ever since the illegitimate acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty at end of 2007, and more evidently, ever since the Irish referendum in 2008 was overruled by a dictatorial decision on behalf of the UNELECTED Commission.
To me the very fact that the Irish referendum, which de facto invalidated the Lisbon Treaty, thus marked the end of the EU federalisation process, has been explicitly declared ineffective by the unelected EU Commission, is a breach of international agreement, it amounts to overthrowing national governments and altogether signifies a major anti-democratic meltdown in Europe (to say the least).
Yet the majority of Europe has continued to echo a pro-Europa euphoria. This phenomenon might be due to the overall ignorance regarding the nature and motivations of the federal EU state. In the first place, only a minority of Europe is aware that the EU has been in the position of a federal state since the end of 2007, since its leaders secretly reinstated the formerly discarded EU constitution disguised as mere modification of existing treaties, under the name of “Lisbon Treaty”.
For those who are unaware of above, I recommend article, the video and the references at the end of the post:
“The demo version of ‘kratos’: the sad moment when the totalitarian United States of Europe (USE) was born”
Part of the article:
“The mass-scale deception is currently continued by a recent trick of the EU Commission announcing an overt federalisation plan (see Telegraph article: Plans for EU referendum drawn up for Britain), mimicking a situation as if the covert European federalisation hadn’t been in place for years. So, while Europe – including the UK – is being governed by the existing EU-superstate, the British may get busy getting ready for a referendum, rather than getting busy finding a solution for getting rid of the EU-superstate that has been governing them. Ingenious.”
Even fewer are aware – since almost no one read the Lisbon Treaty, not even the national leaders who ratified it in December 2007 – that the Lisbon Treaty is not only the same as the EU Constitution, but it is a dictatorial constitution by its very content.
Another essential element of the illegitimate status of the EU is its anti-democratic structure: the ultimate decision making political body on the top of the EU’s hierarchy is the UNELECTED Commission.
Regarding the continuing complex crisis in the EU-states, under the conditions of their lost sovereignty, only the EU superstate and its divide-and-rule strategy are to be blamed for the economical, financial downturn and for the deepening social tension within the region. The victim-blaming game of the EU-leaders is especially unnerving. Those countries that are entrapped in the anti-democratic EU-federalisation are obviously unable to undo the effects of the central mismanagement, yet under the ongoing deception by the EU, the member states are being held responsible for what the EU imposes on them. Ingenious as well.
Furthermore, as it is documented in the unjust and unequal provisions of the constitution (Lisbon Treaty) the EU has been established upon a profound social-economical-political imbalance, thus the very implementation of these principles inflicts the major tension among the member states, the colonising effects and the consequential deepening crisis and instability in Europe.
For more, please read article referenced above.
I’m sorry, but to say that the Commission overturned the Irish referendum on Lisbon is just a complete misunderstanding of how the treaty was negotiated and ratified. The Irish government had already signed the Lisbon Treaty and they were responsible for ratifying it – the Commission has no say as to whether they use a referendum, or any other method for ratification. That’s a decision solely for the Irish government to make.
When the referendum received a ‘no’ vote the Irish government then renegotiated concessions in the treaty (the concession that received the most coverage was Ireland getting to “keep its Commissioner” by doing away with plans to reduce the overall number of Commissioners). These were not particularly major concessions, but they did respond to some of the objections raised by no voters in the first referendum. The Irish government then put the new agreement back to their electorate, who then voted ‘yes’ and the treaty was ratified.
The Commission has never, at any stage, had the power to invalidate national referendums or tell governments how to negotiate or ratify treaties. That kind of myth about an unelected Commission dictating laws to the rest of Europe is one of the main reasons for Euroscepticism in the UK. It’s been stoked up by newspapers and populist politicians (Farage foremost among them) who have no interest in facts and simply want to prey on the understandable confusion of ordinary citizens as to how the EU works in practice.
“The Commission has never, at any stage, had the power to invalidate national referendums or tell governments how to negotiate or ratify treaties. That kind of myth …”
Indeed the Commission has no such power on paper, but in effect it still exercises such power. This is not a myth, but a blatant fact, in front of our eyes, as well as those other facts I elaborated on in the referenced article.
It has done the same with the former EU Constitution. As you are probably aware that constitution was discarded by referenda in several core states of the EU, yet the Commission together with some others within the EU brought it back under a disguised and almost unreadable form, the Lisbon Treaty.
I followed every detail of how this new constitutionalist process was unfolding, thus I am fully aware that it was only Ireland whose national constitution required referendum for ratifying a new, federal constitution (aka Lisbon Treaty).
Yet, right after the NO outcome of the Irish referendum was announced, Barroso in a live BBC program, apparently personally offended by the Irish rejection, declared the decision of the Irish people insufficient to stop the grand Lisbon process. I have seen the respective BBC program.
I am fully aware that the above FACT (not myth), can be explained away by elegant fallacies and rationalisations presenting the EU as the aggregate of its members – which it isn’t. But it doesn’t work, and won’t work in the long run.
Even for the UK it won’t work as its citizens already realised that the main tension is not among the EU states, but between the illegitimate political bodies and the affected country’s citizens.
Just like the trick “the EU is democratic because we label it so” won’t work either. Democracy has an objective definition that the EU has violated on multiple counts and it is continuing doing so. (See my article)
Dictatorship can only for a while can be masked as democracy. Thus we are rapidly approaching a crossroad when the choice has to be made between a democratic revision of this process by referenda in all EU states without the intervention of the EU, or the EU openly revealing its face. The latter is actually forecast – in written form – in the Lisbon Treaty, in which the EU authorises itself to defend the federal government against its citizens by a KGB-like international agency and by military control, which by itself defines a dictatorial regime.
(Note, I am one the few who actually read the Lisbon Treaty.)
Finally, it is a fact that the Commission is de facto the ultimate decision making body.
For anyone who doubts my words, I suggest to read the Lisbon Treaty, and to collect facts on the Lisbon process.
The MYTH is not behind Euroscepticism but what the mainstream media communicate.
The very fact that even the intellectual sphere is unwilling to read the Lisbon Treaty, that they remain in total apathy regarding the blatant anti-democratic nature of the EU, and their overall willingness of rationalisation of these facts, raises much graver concerns than the euphemistic, elegant term “Euroscepticism” can ever express.