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April 2015

Manchester experts provide commentary on the Leaders' debate

(2 April 2015)

British Election Study (BES) experts will be on hand in Manchester this evening to provide expert commentary on the only head-to-head TV debate of the General Election campaign, presented by Julie Etchingham.

Professor Jane Green and Professor Ed Fieldhouse, both from the School of Social Sciences, have conducted extensive analysis on a range of issues which throw light on the national picture.

The Green’s Natalie Bennett will kick off the debate followed by Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, Labour’s Ed Miliband, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and David Cameron for the Conservatives.

ITV says the two-hour live debate, to be screened from 8pm to 10pm, will allow each leader to give an uninterrupted one-minute answer to each question posed by a studio audience of around 200 people.

On Scotland:
Professor Green said: “Vote switching, which happens beneath the surface, could easily throw up unexpected results during the campaign. But while Scottish Labour may convince its previous voters to come back to the fold from the SNP, we do know that the odds are certainly stacked against them. We find 86% of Labour voters who had switched since 2010 say they will now stick with the SNP.”

On the Lib Dems:
Professor Fieldhouse said: “While Labour and the Tories enjoy the loyalty of around three quarters of their 2010 voters, a fairly typical figure over the course of an electoral cycle, Liberal Democrat loyalty is an astonishingly low 23%. This is almost unprecedented for a supposedly major party, and has reduced the Liberal Democrats to a level of support not seen since their formation. Indeed if they do not improve on their current 7.5% of the vote before the General Election it would represent their lowest vote share in a general election since 1970 when they won only 6 seats.“

On attitudes to Conservative policies:
Professor Green said: “What is well known is that the national economic recovery is an electoral asset for the Conservatives. However, what isn’t known is that the Tories have much work to do if they are to convince voters that a range of key policies are working. We find that only around 6% think the NHS is getting better and 3% think immigration is getting lower. Indeed, less than 20 per cent of voters see an improvement in the Tory’s record on immigration, the NHS, crime, education and cost of living. And only just over 20 per cent of voters see themselves as personally better off.

On last week’s BES ‘nowcast’:
Professor Fieldhouse said: “If our nowcast comes to pass, the only realistic coalition arrangement would be between Labour and the SNP, and with Labour ruling this out, some minority government and even a second election would be a distinct possibility. UKIP and the Liberal Democrats would be strategically weak in coalition negotiations, although in such a close race the hand of either party would be substantially strengthened by a much reduced Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party. Notwithstanding all these caveats what we can say with confidence is that a hung parliament is by far the most likely outcome of the election.”

On the impact of coalition politics:
Professor Green said: “We find the experience of coalition could have a ‘profound  impact’ on the electoral success of Ukip, the Greens and the SNP. If voters expect a hung parliament or a coalition, then they are much less likely to support Labour or the Conservatives. Among those expecting a hung parliament, the Liberal Democrats and Greens double their support, Ukip add a third and the SNP see a quadrupling. Around 41% of our sample of 16,000 people, surveyed online in March, think neither the Conservatives nor Labour will win a majority.”