The Conservatives cannot win an election by relying solely on supporters of Brexit, while Labour could get closer to its goal of majority government if it does more to peel off anti-Brexit voters who are still backing the Tories: these are two of the key conclusions of a new report published by Best for Britain today (24 October 2017).
The report – from independent data scientist Dr Abigail Lebrecht – shows that the Conservatives were successful in appealing for the votes of previous UKIP supporters and other leave voters but that was not enough to deliver victory in the face of a grassroots revolt by tactical voting supporters of remain.
Dr Lebrecht states that the evidence shows “the Conservatives cannot win on a leave only platform”.
She adds: “With the evidence from our previous studies, the BES and Ipsos Mori post-election polls, we can say with some confidence that the grassroots anti-Brexit tactical vote denied Theresa May her majority. While the Labour Party’s own campaign was more successful than expected, its impact was often localised and was helped by a general anti-Brexit tactical vote across the country – boosted in some places by a general anti-Conservative vote – that was often organised by those outside the parties.”
Dr Lebrecht has discovered statistically robust linear relationships between the Conservative constituency vote and support for both leave and remain, while for Labour she has demonstrated a similar relationship between the Labour vote and support for remain.
Her work shows that the Tories’ vote rose in proportion to support for leave in each constituency but also fell in proportion to remain voters. Labour’s vote rose in proportion to the remain vote, but there was no clear relationship with leave votes.
Eloise Todd, CEO of Best for Britain, said:
“Tactical voting over Brexit shaped the election result in a fundamental way. Even in seats where accepted wisdom is that Labour was at risk or could not win because of high levels of leave supporters backing the Conservatives – such as Ipswich – Dr Lebrecht’s work suggests Labour won or held on largely or in-part because of a switch in votes by supporters of remain.
“General elections are determined by voters in marginal seats and these are much more likely to be found in urban and suburban areas and in the South of England – all places where the support of Brexit-sceptic voters will be decisive.
“If the Tories want to win again they will have to abandon their Brexit-at-any-price approach, while to cross the line Labour need to strengthen their support from remain voters from across the country.”
In 2017, The Tories went for ‘peak Brexit’ and yet lost their majority – strongly suggesting that they cannot win by travelling further in that direction. Labour said little about Brexit during the campaign but were big beneficiaries of grassroots-organised tactical voting campaigns – including that organised by Best for Britain. B4B’s ‘tactical voting dashboard’ was visited over one million times during the course of the campaign – particularly in marginal constituencies.
Eloise Todd added:
“We did not issue a blanket call for Labour votes, but we did back Labour in many of the key marginals where Dr Lebrecht’s work suggests the outcome was determined by tactical, anti-Brexit, voting – such as Bristol North West and Kensington.
“We also endorsed Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru candidates in seats in which they were most likely to win and advised supporters where the Conservative candidate was likely oppose an extreme Brexit.
“The electorate has understood the power of their vote, the remain vote swung the 2017 election and both main parties will need to attract more of that floating vote if they want to get ahead and break the UK’s Brexit stalemate.”
Notes to editors: Dr Lebrecht studied the relationship between the referendum result and the 2017 general election in each constituency in England and Wales. A full copy of her report is attached.
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