John Curtice: Mid-term loss for the Tories has proved Ukip’s gain

 

The principal electoral development of 2012 was the advent of mid-term blues for the Conservatives. The party began the year well, with a narrow lead over Labour, one secured the previous month thanks to David Cameron’s European veto.

But the party’s support fell below 35 per cent in the spring – and has failed to recover. The timing of the drop suggests it was occasioned by the many hiccups and rethinks engendered by the March Budget, together with a few other ministerial accidents.

Labour has undoubtedly profited to some degree from the Conservatives’ misfortunes. The party has been consistently at 40 per cent or more since March. Even so, given the party had already been at 40 per cent or more throughout the period (except for one month) from Dec 2010 to July 2011, its improvement could not be considered a major further advance.

The party that appears to have profited at least as much is Ukip. It began the year at no more than the (record) 3 per cent level that it secured in the 2010 election. Thereafter, Ukip’s rating rose as Tory support fell, while most recently it has been boosted by the favourable publicity generated by its performances in the PCC elections and the Crosby and Rotherham by-elections - much as by-election successes once helped the Liberal Democrats.

For them, 2012 was a year of continuing unpopularity. The party faces the same difficult question as 12 months ago, which is what can it possibly do to get itself out of its electoral pickle before 2015? 

John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University.

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