Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Liberal Democrats Surging in UK

Anyone could have bet that a good performance by Nick Clegg in last Thursday's UK PM debate would be awesome for the LibDems. US politicians have known for years that getting on stage with your adversary for a debate makes you both seem like equally reasonable choices. That's why frontrunners ditch debates and laggers beg for them. And nobody stood to gain more than perennial last-place LibDems. Now two polls have them in first place or just behind the Tories. They are moving in polls from about 20% to close to 30%. That's a mindboggling surge, a 50% increase in support or more. If the LibDems can catch the spotlight and the national imagination for the next 10 days, they could win the election. It would be similar to how Scott Brown in Mass. pulled ahead in the polls for 30 seconds, and that happened to be election day.

Although British electoral math is kind of funky because of how the constituency boundaries are drawn, it is looking increasingly like the LDers could claim a share of power. This would be a terrific thing for Britain, I think. It has been a very long time since any British government has commanded much more than 40-45% of the electorate. A hung parliament would produce a coalition representing likely 60% or more of the vote share. The LibDems would probably get some of their most favored legislation too, some of which I support, such as bills protecting the right of trial by jury (under heavy assault in UK today) and walking back from some of the anti-terror legislation that Tony Blair put in during his I-wanna-be-Bush period right before he converted to Roman Catholicism and really went off the rails.

It wouldn't just be neat to have a hung parliament for a politico like me. It would be great for Britain to have some check on Labour that isn't the Tories.


Raised By Republicans said...

The Liberal Democrats are at a big disadvantage because of the geographical distribution of Labour and Tory support. They have a tendency to either finish a distant third or second. Either way, support for them does not translate into seats.

That said, if they really do get something like 30% of the votes, that might get them something like 15% of the seats which might be enough to force a coalition with one party or the other. I doubt very much they will end up being the senior party in such a coalition though.

Still, with the Liberal Democrats as a coalition partner, the UK could see some rollback on the assault on civil liberties that has swept the UK since 9/11. In the last decade or so, for instance, the UK has become the country with the most pervasive (and invasive?) system of security cameras in the world. LTG mentioned the move away from jury trial guarantees. The Lib Dems are probably the most likely to question that recent trend and try to resist it.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Support does translate into seats, of course, just not directly. I have seen the same predictions about geographical distribution, but these depend on guesses as to where LibDem support will come from. The assumption seems to be that it will be spread across the urban/suburban areas where the districts do not take into account recent growth in population. But we don't know yet where the growth will come from. Increases in rural areas or inner cities would make a big difference. Simply put, I think the analyses of the last couple months are a lot less persuasive with this new unexpected surge.

Also, the vote share is reported and understood. If the LibDems get a very high vote share it will increase their bargaining position by enhancing their legitimacy with the public.

FYI, more polls today confirm the same result, surging LibDem support. I haven't seen indications as to where it is coming from demographically or geographically.

Raised By Republicans said...


Let's take a look at the data.

In 1983, the SDP-Liberal Alliance got 25.4% of the vote and 3.5% of the seats.

1987: Vote share = 22.6%; Seat Share = 3.4%

In 1992 the Liberal Democrats got 17.8% of the vote and 3.1% of the seats.

1997: Vote share = 16.7%; seat share = 7%;

2001: Vote share = 18.3%; seat share 7.9%

2005: Vote share = 22.1%; 9.6%

It is true that the Liberals are doing much better in seat share than they did back in the 80s. And I have little doubt that this election will prove to be a roaring and unprecedented success for the Liberals. The might even force a hung parliament and coalition.

But the kind of change of pattern that LTG is suggesting (one where the Liberals would become the largest parliamentary party) would be all but unthinkable. LTG is suggesting that the Liberal's seat share would go from being less than half of their vote share to being something much closer to the same as their vote share in about 5 years. He must have this in mind because only by getting the roughly the same share of seats as votes (or more seats!) could the Liberals succeed in becoming the largest party. I don't doubt that there have been demographic shifts in the subburbs. But these changes have not been enough reverse the Liberals vote-to-seat failures to success from one election to the next.

The supposed legitimacy of their vote doesn't come into it. The Liberals have been getting the shaft in the British electoral system for decades without anyone demanding they be included in government on the basis of vote share alone. Seat share is what matters and seat share will likely be the Liberals' downfall again.

All that said, if the Liberals come in first in the vote share but third (or even second) in the seat share, I wouldn't be surprised to see a popular movement for a reform the electoral system result.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The data don't tell us much without a theory. Why would votes for the LDers result in a different seat share than votes for Labour or the Tories? The common answer seems to be that LDers fare the way Perot did in the electoral college. In a 2-party system, the #3 party will be horribly disfavored.

But what happens when the formerly #3 party becomes the #1 or #2 in votes? The only explanation for a lower seat share there is if LD votes are concentrated in the few seats they already have and otherwise lower. In other words, you see this result if LD is coming in 3rd in most districts but big first in a few. If LD is a protest vote in 'safe' districts most of the time, we will see this. But what if it's not in 2010?

Why does RBR think that must be the case now? I haven't seen that data yet that the current LD vote share, in 2nd place in the RCP averages, is too poorly positioned nationwide to bring out sufficient votes.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yes, the concentration of LD voters matters. But so does the concentration of Labour and Conservative voters. That's what I think you are leaving out of your speculation.

Labour has a large number of relatively safe seats in the North of England and in Scotland. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that the district boundaries favor Labour by quite a lot. The Conservatives have their safe seats largely in the South East of England.

By the way, LTG, I'm not the one making an extraordinary claim about a change in electoral patterns so I'm not the one who should be obliged to present extraordinary evidence. I'm saying 2010 will be good for the Liberals but will look essentially like every other post WWII election. That is, they will gain a lot of seats and may force a "hung parliament" but they will get a much lower seat share than their vote share.

But you are claiming that this election is going to radically deviate from previous patterns. The gist of your prediction is that LD seat share will be much closer to their vote share than has ever been the case in modern British elections. But you don't present any evidence in support of this speculative claim. Indeed, evidence from past elections does not seem to support it. Instead you insist that this election will be different because once the LD passes some unspecified threshold, their seat share will suddenly converge on their vote share. But you don't provide any basis for this prediction or any specifics about what that threshold might be.

I suggest we start discussing the 1974 election (the last time there was a hung parliament) to try to generate some basis for our expectations.

Raised By Republicans said...

BTW, has a great analysis of this that says much more eloquently what I was trying to convey - and with data.

Bell Curve said...

Nick Clegg was mentioned in the Bugle as the politician whose name sounds most like a note that a forgetful burglar would write to himself before robbing a prosthetic limb warehouse. That is the extent of my knowledge of British politics.