Making sense of the differences in results across the country in the local elections

Winning elections is hard work and those in the Lib Dems know better than most how hard it is and as a party we are often faced with confusion about why we lost when we should have won. The recent local election results have produced generally very poor results with some exceptions in some areas and while some people put this down to the fact that we have a sitting MP in that area, this is misleading so it is worth looking at this in more detail to learn the lessons for all local parties.

It is true that in some areas where we have sitting MPs we had some good results in the local elections such as in Cheltenham where we picked up an extra councillor where we have Martin Horwood as the Lib Dem MP, or in Eastleigh where we picked up an extra 2 councillors where we have Chris Huhne as the Lib Dem MP. However, we lost 18 councillors in Cardiff where we have Jenny Willott as an MP and we lost 3 councillors in Cambridge where we have Julian Huppert as the MP, so the results are not uniform. So how do we make sense of the results?

The national picture is the same across all areas but how this is interpreted by each individual or community is very different. We see the Lib Dem vote holding up better in areas we were fighting the Tories than in areas we were fighting Labour. A Labour area will interpret the national picture in a much bleaker way than perhaps a Tory area and so we see a more damning result against the Lib Dems in these areas as we are in Government. Whereas in Tory areas the Lib Dems were not punished at the polls in the same way, in fact some areas even rewarded us. So we can start to see that the national picture is filtered by the regional picture.

We also see that in some areas the vote held up better than in other areas in similar regional climates i.e. Lib Dem v Labour areas or Lib Dem v Tory areas. I don’t have any firm stats on this anecdotal evidence but some are saying that where there were more conversations with local people, through conversations on the doorstep or via telephone, the vote held up better than in areas that ran a predominantly paper campaign. The research from the Get Out the Vote would certainly back this up which suggests that paper produces a minimal, or even negligible, improvement in voting while face to face canvassing produces an 8% increase in votes. So we can start to see that the regional picture is also filtered by the local picture.

This results in a way of understanding election results like this:

So we can see that in Cardiff, while we may have a sitting MP and had run the council, the regional and the local influences on the voters had a significant impact on the result than in say Eastleigh. Feeding in the differences in the different levels allows us to see the different influences on the voter. Clearly there will be additional influences such as friends and family in the local dimension or colleagues and local media in the regional dimension, but understanding the results through this will give a more accurate reason as to why some areas will have done well while others have not. It seems that having an MP is a bonus, or at least can be, if the local MP can help influence the regional and local dimensions. Sometimes they can if they are popular, work hard, and have a good team who communicate with the local people. But sometimes they don’t such as Lembit Opik who lost a fairly solid Lib Dem seat in the last election.

It will be better to compare similar regional and local areas than it will be to the compare against the generalisations of the national picture.

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7 Responses to Making sense of the differences in results across the country in the local elections

  1. FYI, we lost 3 councillors in the Cambridge constituency (4 on the council area as a whole), not 1 as stated.

    In more positive news, we achieved 6% swings from Labour in 3 of the 4 wards we won.

    Luke Richards,
    Agent, Cambridge Lib Dems

    • Hi Luke, thanks for that, the site I looked at must have had it wrong. I will amend my post. Well done on the other areas and good luck with winning them in the future.

  2. John says:

    In Cheadle we gained one seat from the Tories and held another two – in Stockport we held a seat from Labour by 24 votes (although the effect of the last labour victor endorsing our candidate helped) while in another labour-facing area labour went down by 600 and we went up by 400 although it wasn’t enough to hold the seat. I think it was down to what I call `total campaigning` ie punchy, direct, creative literature, constant door knocking and phoning and GOTV. The main problem is the Labour narrative (although now they have difficulties with their narrative) – the issue is to effectively smash it – we’re on our way to doing that. We just have to believe we can.

    • Hi John, thank you for the comments and this was exactly what other people have been telling me. I wrote about it in my post last week as it seems that the most effective way of campaigning for the Lib Dems at the moment is face to face contact to rebut the lies and misconceptions. Well done on your efforts and good luck with winning in the future.

  3. Pingback: Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #274

  4. Richard Cole says:

    Like John, I believe you overlook the importance of local campaigning. In Portsmouth we had results which were not just good for this year, they were good for any year. We won 9 out of 14 seats and missed a tenth by 43 votes. We gained 3 seats (2 of them in Portsmouth North) including Cosham which we won from third place (we had 17% of the vote in 2011 and 33% this year. The Conservative vote dropped from 48% to 30% and Labour’s went down from 35% to 32%). The biggest single difference we made in Cosham this year was the amount of voter contact.

    There are differences across the country in reactions to the Government and in the quality of other parties campaigns but the quality of our own campaigning varies too.

    • Hi Richard, thanks for the comments and the stats, very interesting and very well done on your local teams efforts. I saw the material you were putting out at Kickstart and was very impressed. I am not sure I overlook the importance of local campaigning though, I would put it in the local section of my diagram and as I said in the post where people have spoken to more people the results were better – which was my link to local campaigning and how local issues affect the result. I have not seen a good result like yours though in areas where it was a Lib Dem vs labour fight. If you, do let me know.

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