By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter
Labour and the Liberal Democrats between them polled over 15 million votes at the last election. UKIP gained less than a million. It stands to reason that targetting 15 million votes is more likely to lead to to electoral success than targetting a million.
However, it doesn't follow that targetting that million votes is of no importance. Much depends on where they are concentrated, and even more on the difference they might make between winning and losing seats.
Tim wrote about the Conservatives and UKIP in The Times (£) yesterday. Iain Martin has done so today. Tim pointed out that at the last election there were 21 constituencies where the UKIP vote was greater than the Tories’ losing margin.
It is theoretically possible (though surely unlikely) that few of those UKIP votes would otherwise have been cast for the Tories. But Tim also contrasts the UKIP rise in the polls with the Conservative fall, and refers to new polling by Lord Ashcroft.
Iain's piece also contains figures, noting the steady rise in the UKIP vote from about 100,000 in 1997 to the million or so figure two years ago. Some readers will remember that I have explored the question of whether UKIP harms the Tories on this site before, quoting:
- James Bethell's work on the "ANTI" voters.
- Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin's research (carried out with help from YouGov).
- Philip Lynch and Richard Whitaker's academic survey of the last Euro-election.
This body of study refers to pre-2010 election events. Michael Heaver today puts flesh on Tim's theme of rising UKIP numbers at Tory expense by writing that one in ten Conservative voters are now backing UKIP. Anthony Wells of YouGov tells me that a more reliable figure is 8%.
The sum of the evidence in all this work indeed suggests that UKIP poses a problem for the Conservatives. As my old friend Daniel Hannan might say, drawing as ever on "the greatest of all Englishmen": "There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave. To tell us this."
Though there is no threat in the view of Tim Bale – who yesterday morning lapsed for a moment from the language of academia to denounce the idea as "total crap". By the time he came to write for the Spectator, later, he had cooled sufficiently to describe it only as a "daft distraction".
Professor Bale simulatenously conceded that UKIP could affect the result in "a handful of seats – certainly nowhere near enough to mean the difference between the Tories being the biggest party and a comfortable overall majority".
Now I would have thought that "a handful of seats" could decide whether or not the Conservatives are able to govern on their own, at least for a while, for the first time well over 20 years. But then again, I'm not an academic. I lack the required facility for in-depth study.
Talking of which, I have been tasked by His Grace with reading Bale's piece in search of findings with which he backs up his view – of the kind cited by, say, Ford and Goodwin and Kavanagh and Cowley and Lynch and Whitaker.
I haven't yet been able to find any. Can readers help me out?