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British electorate at its most volatile in modern times

08 Oct 19

British electorate at its most volatile in modern times

The British Election Study – run by Nuffield and the University of Manchester – warns of high levels of unpredictability in any upcoming General Election.

The British Election Study today shared analysis of the British electorate based on their forthcoming book, Electoral Shocks: The Volatile Voter in a Turbulent World.

An unprecedented trend of voting volatility, amplified by a pattern of ‘electoral shocks’ means it will be extremely difficult to accurately predict the outcome of the next general election, according to the analysis. This is especially true given the picture around Brexit is still changing.

In both the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, more people changed their vote than ever before, with 49% of the country voting for different parties across the three elections from 2010 to 2017. The British Election Study has identified an historic trend in which voters have become less loyal or partisan.

It found that voters are hugely influenced by unique events or issues it calls ‘electoral shocks’, such as the 2008 economic crash, the 2010-15 coalition government, the Scottish referendum and Brexit.

Such shock events have caused large shifts within the more volatile electorate, according to the British Election Study team. It argues that by identifying and understanding electoral shocks we can explain changes in voting behaviour, but not predict future outcomes. It is possible that any forthcoming election will again show high levels of voter switching, especially given the choices voters will be presented with are still in flux, organised around Brexit.

Talking to members of the British press this morning, Professorial Fellow Jane Green said,

“We don’t know what the Brexit situation will be on election day. We don’t know who will get the blame for the current political deadlock, or who will benefit. But we do expect there to be clear winners and losers because voters are now more changeable in response to such shock events. A key driver of vote choice will be how competent each party is perceived to be on Brexit.”

The 2019 to 2023 British Election Study is run by Nuffield and the University of Manchester and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It provides the UK’s ‘gold-standard’ survey of voting patterns and individual choices after every general election since 1964.

This analysis was featured in The Independent, The Times and The Telegraph (Tuesday 8 October 2019).