Learning from the Euro-polls: A single issue election?

June 4, 2009

Euro Polls

In the UK, the Euro-polling has been described as a single issue contest driven by voter reaction to the on-going MP expenses scandal. If only it were as simple as that

The combination of economic and political turbulence in the UK is such that the government is close to meltdown. Or that’s what the opposition parties have been saying with increasingly vehemence. Here, the public mood is primarily occupied with the MP expenses scandal which overwhelms other considerations.

It has been widely predicted that voters will use the regional and Euro-elections this week to take some direct action to exact revenge on the Government. One common refrain is that all politicians are the same. For some, this belief will be translated into voting by not voting. For others is will be translated by votes for parties too limited in numbers to have been caught up in the expenses business.

More interesting, again from the UK perspective, is the degree to which voting patterns will represent the well-known tendency of using such elections to protest. Will there be an adjustment subsequently to older beliefs and voting patterns in a General Election which will take place within a year?

According to veteran political commentator Andrew Grice

Voting today [June 4th 2009] will be all about punishing greed .. Even normally loyal grassroots activists in all three main parties have been so angry about the MPs’ expenses scandal that they have refused to campaign for today’s local authority and European Parliament elections. If people like that are furious with the behaviour of MPs, then it’s an understatement to say ordinary voters are even more angry.
“It’s not so much the moats and the servants,” one Labour MP said. “What I keep hearing on the doorstep is ‘why the hell can’t you buy your own food like the rest of us?'” Until the controversy forced a belated shake-up of the expenses system, MPs were allowed to claim £400 a month for food under their “second homes” allowance, without receipts and even when the Commons is not sitting.
Today the voters will get the chance to pass their judgement on such behaviour. Labour, as the governing party, will take the biggest hit. But the Tories also expect to suffer damage, after the constant stream of revelations in The Daily Telegraph about how they used their allowances to maintain their country estates.

One intriguing question ..is whether the Liberal Democrats are tarred with the same brush as the two bigger parties. [Party leader] Nick Clegg has had a “good war” on the expenses row ..but some Liberal Democrats fear the party may be seen by some voters as part of the problem rather than the solution.
Who will benefit most among the smaller parties? UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party, anti EC single issue party] has looked shambolic since being the surprise package at the last Euro elections in 2004 and does not have an unblemished record on expenses. Despite that, it has been given a new lease of life by the crisis at Westminster. [and because its single issue is Europe] should help ..
[Among the other minor parties] The Greens, who had their high water mark in Britain at the 1989 Euro election, have a spring in their step again and have moved up in the polls.
The Greens hope to deny the BNP [British Nationalist Party] its first seat in a nationwide election. But some party workers fear there may be a “spiral of silence” in which people tell pollsters they will support other parties (such as UKIP) but back the BNP in the privacy of the polling booth.

Pundits (even distinguished ones such as Grice) are relying on the opinion polls to predict voting outcomes. This is an approach with the strengths of taking into account recent and reasonably authenticated information. It does not (can not) explain grounds for assuming that one issue (expenses) which will be the dominating influence as voters head for the polls or stay away from them altogether.

[Non acnowledgement]

I have been trying unsuccessfully to locate the origins of the image, which is evocative of the ‘analysis by spread sheet’ approach much loved by consultants and political commentators. I would be grateful for any help in locating its provenence.