Boris Johnson’s push for general election is in danger of backfiring, study indicates

'Almost half the electorate are now floating voters', experts say

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 08 October 2019 14:39 BST
Boris Johnson accuses Jeremy Corbyn of wanting to 'stop the election and stop the people from voting'

Boris Johnson’s push for a general election at the earliest available opportunity is in danger of backfiring, a major study has indicated.

Critics have accused the prime minister of deliberately offering the EU an unpalatable deal in the hope of capitalising on pro-Brexit sentiment to regain a Conservative majority after it is refused.

However, the British Election Study shows voter volatility is at its highest point in recent British political history – rendering any such political calculations extremely hazardous.

The researchers claim that almost half – 49 per cent – of the public did not vote for the same party in the three most recent national elections, pointing to an extremely volatile political landscape in Britain.

Between the 1964 and 1966 elections, 13 per cent of voters switched allegiances, but 43 per cent changed their views between 2010 and 2015, and 33 per cent switched from 2015 to 2017, the researchers added.

“Almost half the electorate are now floating voters,” said Professor Jane Green, who contributed to the latest edition of the British Election Study, which goes back to 1964.

The academics pinpointed “electoral shocks” over the last decade – including Brexit, the 2008 economic crash, and the coalition government – as contributing to voters become “less loyal or partisan”.

Speaking on Tuesday at the British Academy in central London, they claimed it is now impossible to predict the result of any imminent election due to the volatility of the British electorate.

Asked by The Independent how great a risk Mr Johnson would be taking, and whether his premiership would be on the line in a winter election, Oxford University professor Geoffrey Evans said his “premiership is always on the line”.

He continued: “It’s that unstable, fickle and uncertain. An event could happen tomorrow – we are saying this, we are saying that for sure, things are on the line.”

Professor Edward Fieldhouse of the University of Manchester said: “Given the UK’s recent history of 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 largely defined by Brexit.”

Professor Green added: “We don’t what the Brexit situation will be on election day. 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.”

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