European elections: UKIP closes in on first place

European elections: UKIP closes in on first place

YouGov's first survey before May's European Parliament elections has Labour in first place – and the Tories in third

The UK Independence Party is on course to win this May’s elections to the European Parliament. YouGov’s first survey in the run-up to the election puts UKIP on 26%, six points behind Labour and three ahead of the Conservatives. In past euro-elections, UKIP’s support has increased as the election approaches. If this pattern is repeated, UKIP is likely to overtake Labour by polling day.

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Compared with the result of the elections in 2009, Labour and UKIP have gained ground at the expense of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and BNP: 

The Conservatives have particular reason for concern. They have held on to barely half the people who backed them at the last general election. As many as 38% say they plan to vote UKIP this May. Some of these people have already deserted the Tories, according to our normal, daily voting question. But in this latest survey, among those who say they will remain loyal to the Conservative in a general election, one in four will vote UKIP in the euro-election.On these figures, it is touch and go whether the Liberal Democrats would hold any of the 11 seats they won last time. (The Greens stand a better chance of retaining one of their two seats, despite having less support currently than the Lib Dems.)

This, it should be remembered, is before the euro-campaign has properly started. If past euro-elections are any guide, further defections are likely from the Conservatives to UKIP. There must be a strong chance that UKIP will not simply edge ahead of the Tories, as they have in this poll, but leave them trailing far behind, with UKIP ending up with 30% or more, and the Tories slipping below 20%.

As this is our first pre-election poll, we should explain our methodology. We have adopted a different approach from the way we ask people how they would vote in a general election. In our normal voting intention surveys, we list the main parties that secured significant support, regionally or nationally, at the last general election, adding the option ‘some other party’. People who tick this ‘other’ box are taken to a second list which includes UKIP, the Greens, BNP and Respect.

This approach has been criticised, not least by UKIP, which argues that, as the party regularly outpolls the Liberal Democrats, and has performed strongly in recent local and by-elections, it should be promoted to the main list.

Our basic approach is simple. We do what we think works best. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament we included UKIP in a single list. Although we correctly anticipated their surge in support, our final poll overstated it. We put UKIP on 19%; it won 16%. In 2009 we reverted to a two-part list, with UKIP not in the main list. This time our final poll was close to the result: we put UKIP on 18%; it achieved 17%.

There is, then, a strong case for repeating the approach we used in 2009 rather than that we employed in 2004. Against that, UKIP’s stronger general poll rating, recent electoral performance, and serious prospect that it could come first this May, all speak in favour of including UKIP in the main list for the euro elections.

We have decided on balance that we should provide a single list for these elections, including those parties that won seats in 2009, and remind people that the system for electing members of the European Parliament is different from that for electing MPs to the House of Commons. This is what we asked:

Q. The European elections are held under a proportional voting system which gives smaller parties a better chance of winning seats than in general elections. If there were an election to the European Parliament held tomorrow, which party would you vote for?

When the votes are counted on May 25, we shall know how well this has worked. We shall then review the way we ask our general election voting intention question.

For the moment, we shall stick with our two-part list and include UKIP in the second list for our standard voting intention question. Having won 17% in the 2009 euro-elections, it fell back to 3% in the 2010 general election and came nowhere near winning any seats. In the light of this vast difference between euro-election and general election performance, we have not yet been persuaded that we would produce more accurate data were we to move UKIP to the main party list when asking our daily voting question. But if and when we think a different approach will provide more accurate data, we shall change.

Image: Getty

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Authors

Peter Kellner

Peter Kellner is a journalist, political commentator, and President of YouGov. See Peter's full bio