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Where are the BNP votes coming from?

October 25th, 2009

A guest article from Peter Ould

It’s commonly asserted that BNP voters are most likely to be disaffected Labour supporters. For example, Iain Dale on Saturday noted that the places that the BNP have done well are all strong Labour constituencies. Equally, some Labour commentators have blamed the rise of the BNP on the lack of an effective Conservative opposition. Which is it?

To examine both these propositions I decided to look at some polling data. Taking the four polling firms that collect and publish previous vote patterns for all parties (ICM, Populus, ComRes, Mori), I’ve taken data from their polls immediately before and after the European Elections in June (when the BNP vote was at its highest to give us as large a population as possible) and analysed the data for what BNP voters said they did last time. The results are interesting.

Of the 132 men and women who said they were going to vote BNP, a staggering 65% didn’t vote for one of the big three parties last time – most of those are very likely not to have voted at all. This means that well over half of BNP voters are not disaffected Labour voters, but rather simply aren’t normally voters at all. Of the remaining 35%, the split is 10% Conservative, 20% Labour and 5% Lib Dem.

What we can safely say is that where BNP voters have voted before, they’re most likely (more than half) to have been Labour voters, but most BNP voters did not show a preference at the 2005 election. This then begs a second question – if most BNP voters are not previous Labour voters after all, are they like Labour voters (given that their vote tends to maximise in Labour constituencies)?

Once again the polling firms help us as they collect demographic information which can help us discern any similarities in voting populations. Here again are the figures from polls before and after the European Elections.

    AB C1 C2 DE
    Con 32.8 32.4 16.5 18.2
    Lab 26.1 28.6 19.2 26.0
    Lib Dem 35.3 29.1 17.2 18.4
    BNP 18.9 18.9 34.8 27.3

A table of correlations highlights for us what should already be apparent:

    BNP Con Lab
    Con -0.944
    Lab -0.900 0.728
    Lib Dem -0.898 0.962 0.617

Far from BNP voters being similar to Labour voters and drawn from the same demographic sectors, the data shows that BNP voters are much more likely to be C2DE than any of the three main parties.

What’s the profile then of BNP voters from this brief analysis? We get a picture of a man or woman, most likely C2DE, who didn’t vote at the 2005 election (though if they did vote they were most likely to have supported Labour). It appears therefore that rather than the BNP tapping into disaffected Labour votes, they have actually managed to mobilise a previously non-participating part of the electorate and persuaded them to go out and cast ballots.

Lessons to be learned by the three main parties perhaps?

Peter Ould is a site lurker and normally hangs out at Forecast UK and his own personal website.