Sunday, 17 April 2011

Council elections 2011 - Armageddon for the Lib Dems?

It's only two and a half week to the council elections. Loads of people are cheerfully predicting electoral meltdown for the Lib Dems. Aside from the fact that this has been promised on multiple occasions before (and failed to materialise), there seems to be some substantial evidence that it may not be as simple as that.

Now, to be fair, the national polls are rather bad at the moment with the party on about 10% if you look at the average of all the polls. But national polls aren't representative of what happens in local elections - at least not where the Lib Dems are concerned.

Over on political betting they have a piece concerning the By-Election Forecast Range by Rallings & Thrasher. For this they essentially tot up the council by-election results so far and work out what the average vote share for each party is (it's actually a lot more complicated than that but in essence that's what they're doing). Now, they've been doing this accurately for over a decade so they have something of a track record in this area. But let's have a look at what they produced this time round:

Here's what political betting said about the matter:
The two also make predictions for each year’s local election day, based on local by-elections results, and their projections for May 2011 are in the chart. 
This year, unsurprisingly, they are suggesting that Labour will move to 38% and the Tories to a range between 34% and 38%.

But as they explained at length they had had real problems with a Lib Dem share projection because of Clegg’s party's relative success in local council by elections. 
Feeding the by-election result data into their standard formula they came up with an incredible 22% - only two off what happened in 2007. 
I don’t believe it either and I think that it will end up near to the lower end of the Rallings & Thrasher range.
As you can see, they're rather surprised at the results, after all, even taking the minimum value of 16% would still give far better results than those predicted off of national polls.

I have to confess though that I'm not that surprised. You see, as I've pointed out previously:
The Lib Dems have a long record of doing better in local elections than national ones and have proved very tough when it comes to defending hard won seats. This is because their essential principle that "all campaigns are local" stands them in good stead when it comes to local elections.
And that's certainly been borne out by my experience campaigning on the doorstep for the local borough council elections (I'm standing in Christchurch ward in Guildford, if you're reading this and live in Guildford please come and deliver leaflets for me).

Now, one thing to bear in mind is that in council by-elections we obviously focus all our resources in the area into that by-election campaign - obviously come the council elections proper everyone will be campaigning in their own patch with little time to help out their neighbours. As a result you can probably expect our success rate to be a bit worse than we've been having in by-elections. Mind you, the same applies to the other parties as well so you there is a bit of an off-set there as well.

So now I'm going to look into my crystal ball and make a prediction. If we look at the 22% value we can say that's the high point - but too high. So let's subtract 5 points from that and we get 17%. Now 17% isn't the minimum predicted by Rallings & Thrasher but it is closer to their minimum than to their maximum. So this is now my prediction. At the council elections on May 5th the Lib Dems will get a national vote share of 17%.

On that kind of share we could expect to see net losses of seats and perhaps a few councils but overall the battering would be far less than several are hoping. Armageddon it would not be. Of course there is no doubt that we will then start to get predictions of a massacre in the European elections in 2012 but I'm not to concerned about that. As I said, we have a habit of surviving the regular predictions of our demise.

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