YouGov have produced a wonderful composite of all their February 2013 polling to try and give a realistic picture of which bits of the electorate are behind UKIP’s polling surge into double figures , a trend which was clear well before the party pushed the Tories into third place in the Eastleigh by-election last week. There are reasons why one needs to be slightly cautious about polling composites, but with 28,944 total respondents and 2788 UKIP supporting respondents, this is a significant piece of opinion research.
I was alerted to it by a good analysis piece Jonathan Jones put on the Spectator blog yesterday. I don’t particularly disagree with anything that Jonathan wrote in that piece, although I think I come to a slightly different set of conclusions than he has.
The biggest variation from the general population characteristic of UKIP voters in YouGov’s surveys is that they are more likely than average – much more likely than average – to be old. While 38% of the electorate is aged between 18 and 40, only 15% of UKIP’s voters are young. On the other hand, UKIP voters are more than twice as likely as the general population to be over 60 (48% as opposed to 28%). YouGov hasn’t drilled down further into this oldest age cohort, and if they did I suspect we would find the concentration of UKIP voters got even higher among over 70s and then over 80s.
I think that explains something Jonathan Jones thought was significant, but I don’t think is – the high proportion of UKIP voters who left school before they turned 17. I think this can pretty much be entirely explained by the tendency for people to stay in education much longer in the past 30 years or so than in the past. While just 12% of the electorate left school at 15 or under, something that could only have happened before the school leaving age was raised in the 1970s, fully 22% of UKIP voters did. I think the older age profile also largely explains the fact that UKIP voters are more likely than average (59% as opposed to 50%) to identify with a particular religion.
Apart from age, the next most dramatic trend – although it is relatively tame in comparison to the age effect – is that around 57% of UKIP voters are men. This isn’t as dramatic as the gender bias of people who supported parties of the traditional far-right during their surges of support in the past, and to be honest it isn’t much of a surprise. Although in the good old days of mass trade union socialism, men tended to lean more to the left than women, this has reversed in most established democracies over the past generation as the basis of centre-left politics has changed, and Britain has been no exception. In any case, it’s not an overwhelming lean – there are plenty of women currently intending to vote UKIP.
I was surprised to see that UKIP voters are slightly more likely to be working class than the population in general. I had expected to see some concentration of UKIP support in the C1 and C2 social classes. This isn’t a dramatic effect, with at most a 4% variation from the national average in any social class, but the gradient is a simple rise in support with falling social class.
Combined with the information on housing tenure, we start to get quite an interesting picture of which social groups are most likely to vote UKIP. There is a very high proportion of UKIP supporters who own their homes outright (11% above the national average) which again reflects the age profile of UKIP support, but the one thing that is interesting is that the proportion living in social housing is only average. Given the slight working-class lean of their support, we would expect that proportion to be at least a little higher than average, all other things being equal. UKIP’s voters, on average, are slightly lower earners than even Labour supporters, although again this probably reflects the fact that a much higher proportion than the overall population are living on a pension rather than earnings from work.
So what sort of portrait are we getting of the average UKIP supporter – older, probably not especially well off, probably not university educated, slightly more likely than average to be a working-class man, probably owning his home outright and living on a pension and some modest savings. Although YouGov didn’t produce figures for this demographic, he is almost certainly white.
60% of UKIP supporters voted Tory at the last general election, compared to only 22% who voted Labour or LibDem. In the main, these are classic, older, working-class or lower middle-class Tory voters, and probably very reliable voters given that older people in general are. This paints a worrying picture for Conservatives.
Cameron has already offered these voters an in-out referendum on EU membership if he wins the next General Election; he’s already taking a fairly abrasive line in EU summits as of now, despite being in a coalition with the Europhile LibDems. There probably isn’t much more he can offer them on Europe.
Undoubtedly, cultural alienation is a big part of these voters’ defection from the Tories. These voters grew up in a Britain that was, outside major metropolitan areas, entirely white and many of them are old enough to have grown up in an era when even core cities had not been touched by the Windrush generation of immigrants. Gay marriage is another issue – support for marriage equality, drops dramatically among older men, especially older men whose politics lean to the right. However, moving to the right on immigration and sexual politics could well alienate younger voters, who often had voted Labour pre-2010 and could easily defect back, or to the LibDems whose participation in the coalition might make them a soft option for younger centre-right voters. There is no easy answer for Tories being outflanked on both sides.
Economic factors are often ignored in the defection of Tory voters to UKIP. This is a mistake in my view. As I noted, many of UKIP’s supporters will be living on a modest pension and modest savings. Inflation has been high in recent years and particularly concentrated in core items of household expenditure such as food, fuel, and heating, even as the price of electronic gizmos has fallen. Savings rates have been abysmal for years. The Tories are simply not delivering economically for many of these voters and as Labour did not better for them, the logic of their defection to UKIP is obvious.
Jonathan Jones noted that by three-to-one these voters still prefer a Tory-led government to a Labour one, and the Tories must hope they can put the tactical squeeze on them as the next General Election approaches. Buried in the report, however, are other figures that must be even more worrying for Conservatives: there has been little movement between the two main parties since the last General Election, but almost a quarter of current Labour supporters voted LibDem in 2010. That alone will deliver Labour dozens of gains, even without any swing away from the Tories, either to them or to UKIP.
YouGov didn’t, unfortunately, provide any regional breakdown of party support. If UKIP’s surge is heavily concentrated in the South and East, the potential gains for Labour are less, although far from non-existent. If, on the other hand, it is significant in the North and Midlands, coupled with defection from the LibDems and Labour, it could result in carnage for the Tories in the suburbs and large towns of Yorkshire and the Midlands, although it probably will see UKIP falling well short of gaining parliamentary seats.
On the other hand, if UKIP’s surge is concentrated in the South, there are potential gains for the party even at parliamentary level – there are many seats on the South and East coast with very high proportions of older voters, very culturally conservative, almost entirely white, and with few people in social housing but equally few people on high incomes. In most of these places, Labour is not a credible threat and the LibDems have been going backwards since the early 1990s, minimising any Tory appeal to tactical voting.
UKIP remains hampered by a lack of constituency level organisation or candidates selected and well dug in, buoyed almost entirely by Nigel Farage’s larger than life personality. As Eastleigh showed, however, they do have people who can learn how to be effective parliamentary candidates fast.