By Paul Goodman
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With UKIP narrowly ahead of the LibDems with YouGov, there is much focus on how people are supporting the party and on which people are supporting the party but surprisingly little discussion about why people are doing so. I believe that research is likely to answer that last question more accurately than party prejudice or personal conviction, and so turn to that undertaken by James Bethell and his work during the last Parliament on the so-called ANTI voters. I do so partly because he knows his stuff, and partly because I'm not aware of similar work elsewhere.
Bethell's research found that the three main reasons why people vote UKIP were, in the following order: immigration, crime and Europe. Here is the key passage from his paper:
"Surprisingly, perhaps, immigration is a higher priority for UKIP voters even than the issue of Europe, which comes in third. This was reflected in the focus groups we conducted. When asked why they voted UKIP, all of the participants said because UKIP was opposed to immigration. They were interested in the issue of Europe but they did not volunteer this as a key factor in deciding their vote. One of the intriguing things from the focus groups, however, was the feeling that people are not necessarily voting for UKIP on immigration because they understand that free movement of labour across the EU leads to high levels of immigration. Many seem to vote UKIP simply because they think UKIP is opposed to immigration, which is a slightly different motivation. In other words, not everyone makes the intellectual leap that withdrawal from the EU would likely lead to a significant drop in immigration."
There is no reason to believe that the concerns of all UKIP voters and former Tory ones run other than in the same order: immigration, crime and Europe, backed by disillusion with politics – the sense that "they're all the same". My old friend Daniel Hannan this morning suggests a merger between the Conservative Party and UKIP. There are arguments for such a move and arguments against, but one thing is certain: a merger would not roll up UKIP's voters into the Tory column. This is because they aren't so much "Euro-sceptic voters", as he puts it, but anti-politics voters.
Daniel writes: "…the relevant question is not ‘how did they vote before?’ but ‘if UKIP didn’t exist, how would they vote today?’ It seems not unreasonable to assume that the majority would support the most convincingly Eurosceptic party on offer". It isn't unreasonable, but that isn't to say it's right. The evidence suggests that some would vote Tory, and some for protest parties – while others would join a big block of the electorate: the third or so who at the last election didn't vote at all. Are the first group really likely to be "the majority", as Daniel puts it?
Cut non-EU immigration to the tens of thousands – as the Coalition Agreement (small print) and Conservative manifesto pledged. Reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. These are the most likely means of persuading UKIP supporters and ANTIs to vote Tory in 2015.