The UK Election is Not Just About Brexit

Tories are headed for a big win in the UK election, but how much do voters really care about the Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU?

By G. Elliott Morris / May 09, 2017

 in European Politics

This is the first in a five part series on the 2017 United Kingdom general election. Join us every Tuesday until election day (June 8th) for parts 2, 3, 4, and 5!

If polls are right, the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party is on a path to a big win in June’s general election. The Tories currently have an 18 point lead in pre-election polling, one that is pretty likely to stick on election day. In the light of Labour’s recent loss in local UK races, this is not surprising. It’s very plausible that a thoroughly reported-on movement against the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is helping those losses along. However, the other prevailing narrative that the election is a referendum on Brexit is simply not the case. Polls show that voters care a lot about other issues, like the economy, when deciding for whom to cast their ballot.

A traditional approach to determining what voters care about is to analyze what they say is the “most important problem facing the nation.” According to a poll conducted by YouGov, 64% of respondents in Great Britain said that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union was the most important problem, or MIP. When allowed to pick three “most important issues” (I know, its confusing) 45% of voters said health(care) was the most important issue, 35% picked immigration and 34% picked the economy.

Issue Percent Saying MIP
>Most Important Issue in the 2017 UK Election
Source: YouGov Poll, May 07
Britain Leaving the EU 64
Health 45
Immigration 35
Economy 34
Education 19
Housing 17
Welfare 15
Crime 11
Pensions 10

One way to look at these numbers is to think, “OK, Brexit ranks as the most, most important issue in the election, thus it’s the guiding force.” But, a more holistic view suggests that 36 percent of British voters said the decision to leave the EU was not only not their most important issue, but not their second-most or third-most important issue. Roughly half the public, then, is primarily worried about something else. Will my schools have funding come July? Will advertisements for junk food be banned? (Note: these are actual policies, I didn’t think-up a ban on junk food ads.)

It would be silly to suggest that Brexit isn’t fresh on everybody’s mind in the UK. It would also be silly to think that it’s the only issue driving voters to the polls.

It would also be silly to overlook the role of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (or lack thereof) of the UK’s Labour Party. Corbyn has been consistently blamed for some of his parties failures. Some Members of Parliament belonging to Corbyn’s party fear he has shifted too far to the left, calling for their own party if Labour is led to a historic loss come June. “The Labour Party has got to appeal to moderate people who have got moderate views and that is the majority of the people in this country” they said.

These Members of Parliament (MPs) may echo the popular sentiment of the country, as Corbyn’s net approval among the public is a dismal -41 percent (Trump’s is -14%).

Indeed, as mentioned in the beginning of this post, if pre-election polls are any indication (more on this in future posts) Corbyn’s party is on track to lose about 2% of the voters they had in the 2015 election — in which Labour lost 24 seats despite making gains in the popular vote.

It appears as though the 2015 UK election is just as much about Labour leadership as it is about Brexit, the economy, immigration, or any other big-ticket item. For anyone closely watching this year’s election, that much is almost apparent. Conventional wisdom about the contest may be overlooking how multifaceted voters actually are, favoring instead easy explanations for why people vote the way they do. Elections, as recent events (see 2016 US) have shown, are not that simple.

The next 28 days of the contest will offer more hints as to what voters really care about this time around. It’s very likely that, as Prime Minister May’s actions would suggest, voters in the UK want a change of leadership in their opposition party. It could also be the case that polls are overestimating conservative gains in the country and that Labour will steam ahead to a surprise upset. We’ll just have to wait and see.

… . .

Come back next time for part two of five in a series on the 2017 United Kingdom “snap” election!

Thanks for reading today everyone. Tune in to my twitter for updates and make sure you sign up for my newsletter to get notifications of recent posts.






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