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Voter values and the 2019 election
To the sound of cheers from election nerds across the country the first academic data on the 2019 election became available today. Although various polling companies have released post-mortems of the election it is only through these surveys that we can begin to see how voters values mattered in 2019.
This is a ‘first look’ at some of that data. Better models, charts and descriptions will follow in the coming weeks.
Values are our deeply held sense of the ‘desirable’, political values are our sense of the outcomes we would want to see from politics. A little looser than ‘ideology’ but a little more abstract than attitudes to specific items. They are conceived of as ‘latent’ factors in our belief systems — there isn’t a single question that can be asked to find out what an individuals’ values are. To measure these we use a series of attitudinal questions which are designed to tap into these latent variables. Exactly how they are measured across different surveys varies. The items used here are:
These are then scaled to run from 0 to 10, with low values being the ‘left’ and ‘liberal’ parts respectively.
In the 2019 data these values were measured in the pre-election wave (wave 17) but not the post-election wave (wave 19) so the figures here use the pre-election measures for values with the post-election reported vote for those that completed both waves.
For each scale three groups are created left/centre/right for the economic scale and liberal/moderate/authoritarian for the liberal-authoritarian scale. These are then combined to generate nine ‘values groups’. These are defined according to the positions on the scales and are not intended to be equally sized.
(These distributions should be read as indicative rather than definitive, boundaries could be placed differently but they nonethless give an idea of the ‘shape’ of the electorate. The ‘left-authoritarian’, ‘centre-moderate’ and ‘centre-authoritarian’ groups are the largest overall.)
Looking at the 2017 and 2019 share of the vote for the parties across value groups highlights the importance of both the economic and the socio-cultural divides. It is difficult to understand voting patterns without taking both into account, and initial modelling suggests that particularly for distinguishing between Labour and Conservative voters both are important parts of the story.
Labour lost support across all of the value groups. But this was more marked among the least liberal groups. Critical for Labour though is the loss of support among groups otherwise on the left but who were not in the most liberal group. For the ‘left-moderate’ group Labour support fell below half, for the ‘left-authoritarian’ group this fell to fewer than 1 in 3 of those who voted.
The pattern for Conservative support is also different across different value groups. While in the ‘authoritarian’ groups Conservative support rose, among more liberal groups there was a decline in support for the Conservatives.
However, given the relative size of the groups the 10 percentage point gain among the left-authoritarian group more than off-sets a 14 percentage point loss among the ‘right-liberal’ group.
Comparing the change in vote share across the groups for the two main parties underlines this. Change in the Conservative vote is small in most of the groups, but with a rebalancing from the liberal-right to the authoritarian-left. Of the 2019 Conservative vote around 1 in 5 are in the later group, with the largest group being those on in the centre economically but authoritarian on social issues. For Labour there are falls in all groups but the very large fall in the authoritarian-left (and moderate-left) groups means that in 2019 almost 1 in 3 of the vote was drawn from the liberal-left group.
The challenges for the parties over the course of the new parliament are very different. The Conservatives now have a broad-based values coalition, their challenge will be to find ways to hold this together. This may be easier should the Labour party continue to leave the ‘centre’ of both the economic and social divides largely uncontested.
For the Labour party, the challenge is to broaden the appeal to other value groups. They are already winning, even in 2019, a large majority of the votes of the liberal-left. This is not an election winning position on its own, this group is around fifteen percent of the electorate, and while it is growing is not growing fast enough to win in 2024, or indeed 2029 without also increasing support among other value groups. In looking for ways to do this Labour will need to think about both the economic and the social/cultural dimension and if unwilling to give up core principles at least consider how to convince the more ‘moderate’ voters on both economics and cultural issues that Labour has something to offer them.
Paula Surridge is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol. She tweets at @p_surridge. This article was first published on the blog platform Medium and has been reposted with the permission of the author. Image credit: CC by UK Parliament/Flickr.