The days of strong party loyalties appear to be a thing of the past after new research revealed half of Brits are now swing voters.
Across the three elections from 2010-17 only 51 per cent voted for the same party in each ballot, with a significant upheaval occurring over the past four years.
Research by the British Election Study revealed that more people changed their vote than ever before between the 2015 and 2017 national polls.
The reason could be that voters are hugely influenced by unique events or issues it describes as “electoral shocks”.
Examples include the 2008 economic crash, the 2010-15 coalition government, the rise in immigration, the Scottish referendum and – most critically in the current moment – Brexit.
The BES – which is run by The University of Manchester and Nuffield College, Oxford – says that these shock events have caused large shifts within a more volatile electorate.
It argues that by identifying and understanding electoral shocks we can explain changes in voting behaviour, but not predict future outcomes.
The ongoing Brexit process means it is possible that a forthcoming election will again show high levels of voter switching, especially given the choices voters will be presented with are still in flux, organised around Brexit.
Professor Edward Fieldhouse of the University of Manchester said: “Given the UK’s recent history of vote switching and the unpredictability of the current climate, it would be unwise for any political party or commentator to presume how voters will behave in a general election, particularly in the middle of an electoral shock – but we do expect to see big shifts defined largely by Brexit.”
Highest swing between Conservatives and Labour
The analysis draws on research from the forthcoming book, “Electoral Shocks: The Volatile Voter in a Turbulent World”, which will be published in December.
It also found that 2017 saw the highest levels of switching between the Conservatives and Labour since the BES started in 1964.
And for the first time in modern history, non-economic attitudes including immigration and Europe were equally as important as left-right in sorting Conservative from Labour voters.
The BES says there are likely to be high levels of volatility in a forthcoming election, and that Brexit is likely to play a key role in defining the next election outcome, but it is not yet clear who will benefit.
“We don’t know what the Brexit situation will be on Election Day,” Professor Jane Green of Nuffield College, University of Oxford said.
“We don’t know who will get the blame for the current political deadlock, or who will benefit.
“But we do expect there to be clear winners and losers because voters are now more changeable in response to such shock events.
“A key driver of vote choice will be how competent each party is perceived to be on Brexit.”