Voters wrong, but still revealing

As part of the preparation for The British General Election of 2015, I have been playing around with the latest wave of the British Election Study data, which is from the short campaign.

There is a question about whether a party had a ‘real chance’ of being in government or not, ‘either forming a government by itself or as part of a coalition’. The question isn’t brilliantly worded – it rules out other ways in which parties might be involved in government, such as confidence and supply agreements – but for all its flaws, responses to the question are still revealing.

The question asked about parties that had ‘no real chance’ of being in government. The figure for both Labour and Conservative was 3%. Almost everyone could see they had a chance. For the Lib Dems, it was 18%. Most people thought they had a chance.

The figure for the SNP was 23%, only marginally higher than that for the Lib Dems. So most people (71%, with the remainder saying they didn’t know) thought there was a real chance of the SNP being in government after the election. Technically, according to the wording of the question, all 71% are simply wrong. The SNP were never going to be in government as part of a coalition (both they and Labour had ruled that out, and they had ruled out doing any deal with the Conservatives), but there were other ways in which they might have influenced things had there been the hung parliament almost everyone expected, and what this is showing is that people thought the SNP might be involved in government, somehow.

For comparison, the figure for UKIP is 37%, then Plaid (59%) and the Greens (60%).

Labour were desperate during the campaign to rule out any deals with the SNP. It’s pretty clear that this didn’t work.

Voters also understood that if there was a deal involving the SNP it was much more likely to involve Labour than the Conservatives. A different question – again, unfortunately not well-worded – asked about parties that would be willing to join a coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives. Some 89% of voters who had a view thought the SNP would be willing to join with Labour, just 18% said with the Conservatives. Again, technically, all of these voters are wrong – since coalitions with either were not on the table – but the responses do at least show voters understood that the SNP was more likely to engage with Labour than the Conservatives.

% of respondents who say the SNP had no chance of being in government after the election, by day of campaign

No chance of SNP being in government

If anything, the perception that the SNP might play a role in government increased during the campaign. This graph (above) shows the % of respondents, by day of response, who felt that the SNP had ‘no real chance’ of being in government. (The sample size of the BES is so large that each of these daily sub-samples is  c.600-800 respondents). Labour spent the campaign playing down the chance of the SNP being involved, the Tories playing it up. Very slightly – but still clearly – the Tories won that battle.

Philip Cowley