No, the electorate wasn’t unusually volatile in 2017

A further snippet from the latest set of British Election Study data: 19% of voters changed their mind on how they would vote between the start and the end of the campaign.

Is one in five voters changing their mind during an election a lot? Not really, at least compared to the past. In 2015 it was 17% and in both 2005 and 2010 it was higher as Anthony Wells has pointed out.

So all that stuff about the electorate being unprecedentedly volatile this time? Untrue. What was different, however, is that this time the movement was much more one way (towards Labour).

In fact, there’s quite a lot about the 2017 general election which far from being unusual or unprecedented was pretty much business as usual. Not only were voters not really more volatile overall than usual, the usual pattern continued that the party ahead well in advance of the election was the party that won the most votes and the most seats. It was certainly a close run thing but that the pattern held even under the remarkable self-destructing circumstances of the 2017 campaign shows just how durable that pattern is.

The significance for the Liberal Democrats in both these factors is that it highlights to what an extent the party’s fate at general elections is set well before the election has been called. Yet the party’s activities – especially money and staff – focus hugely around not only general elections but the immediate run up to them as well.

The Liberal Democrats are not alone in this, of course, but it makes for an overall pattern of political activity which isn’t in tune with when most voters actually make up their minds. And that’s why of course a long-term approach to building up the party is necessary.

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