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05/05/2017

What do the local elections teach us about the 2017 general election?

Written by James Wood

Senior Account Executive

On Thursday, voters in England, Wales and Scotland went to the polls to vote in the 2017 local elections.

Residents in Liverpool, Manchester, Tees Valley, West Midlands, the West of England and Cambridge & Peterborough also voted to elect new mayors in these recently created combined authorities.

In England, a total of 2,370 seats were contested across 27 county councils, seven unitary authorities and one metropolitan authority.

In many of the authorities counting is still ongoing and the results will continue to trickle in this afternoon and into the evening.

A national picture has, however, already emerged. The Conservatives made strong gains, while UKIP have been almost obliterated. Labour have also suffered substantial losses.

Conventional wisdom tells us that...

In “off-years” (between general elections), voters often take the opportunity to punish the party that controls parliament, which often results in significant local election losses for the sitting government.

Meanwhile, recent history suggests that when local and general elections occur on the same day, voters typically vote for their preferred party in both.

For example, the Conservatives, under David Cameron, lost 405 seats in 2012, 335 in 2013, and a further 236 in 2014 before gaining 541 seats in 2015, the very same day Cameron’s government gained 24 seats to extend its parliamentary majority in the House of Commons.

Recent history tells us that...

The pattern seems to hold when general elections take place close to, but not on the same day, as local elections.

For example, in 1983 and 1987, it was (in part) down the Conservative’s strong showing in local election that prompted Margaret Thatcher to call general elections shortly afterwards.

1992 saw John Major returned as Prime Minister (albeit it with a reduced majority), with local elections taking place a month after the general election.

If recent history is anything to go by, then things are looking good for Theresa May as she hopes to “strengthen her hand” ahead of the Brexit negotiations.

A rule of thumb tells us that...

When predicting general election results you should consider the result of local elections and then assume the government will do slightly better than predicted, while opposition parties will fare slightly worse.

Worryingly for Labour, the Conservatives typically fare slightly better than polling suggests. With recent polls indicating that the Conservatives have a 20 point lead on Labour, this could translate into a majority of well in excess of 100 seats for the Tories.

However, the events of the past two years have taught us that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to major elections – particularly when it comes to opinion polls.

How will turnout impact the general election result?

Since Labour’s landslide victory under Tony Blair in 1997, turnout in general elections has been consistently below 70%.

With the EU referendum and local elections having taken place in the space of less than a year, the Conservatives will be wary of voter apathy come the 8th of June. Combined with a prevailing view that this general election is a foregone conclusion, this creates a recipe for a low turnout. We anticipate this year’s turnout to be in the region of 60%.

The Conservatives, therefore, will need to mobilise support in the marginal seats they hope to capture, where they will need voters to turn out for them if Theresa May is to extend her majority in the Commons.

The opposition parties, meanwhile, are sure to be campaigning hard in a bid to ensure that recent history does not repeat itself.

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General election, Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP