The Hansard Society’s Britain Votes is one of now several series of books which come out after a British election. The days when the only regular book was a new Nuffield series volume with David Butler as one of the authors are long gone (though his books are still well worth a read).
Being one of the first to appear for the 2015 general election, Britain Votes 2015, edited by Andrew Geddes and Jonathan Tonge and with a large high-powered cast of chapter (co)authors, relies on preliminary analysis of the election results.
Usually this is a little bit of a drawback, though this time round it may well be a blessing in disguise because the non-availability of the final British Election Study data means the BES is only little referenced in the book. As the final BES polling results were – like all the other pollsters – way off the actual result, that is a blessing because the temptation otherwise, which we’ve already seen some academics fall prey to, is simply to use the BES anyway because it’s there, it’s big and it’s packed full of numbers.
Yet on the one clear test against reality (final poll figures versus election result) it was wrong, and for reasons unknown – which mean its figures can’t even be safely adjusted to reflect the right result. Despite that many political scientists are ploughing on using BES data as if all is fine when it clearly isn’t. (Credit by the way to Sarah Childs and Rosie Campbell who do use BES data in Britain Votes, but do so including an all too rare proper caveat and explanation of its limitations by virtue of having been very wrong.)
So the paucity of BES-powered analysis in this volume is really rather an advantage, and indeed Britain Votes 2015 shows how other data can still produce interesting results, such as showing how evenly the Lib Dems lost support to Labour and the Tories, and how Ukip took slightly more support from Labour than the Tories – both patterns running against the conventional media story at the time.
Interesting too to note that this time, unlike in previous elections, turnout was not higher overall in the closest of seats. The old pattern of marginality raising turnout was not there in 2015. The books suggests this reflect a failure of party campaigns to be as effective in marginal seats as they wished and were in the past, though perhaps instead it reflected an increasing skill in party campaigns at depressing turnout for opponents – resulting in no net gain in turnout in marginal seats.
Each chapter is a free-standing article, covering obvious areas such as each main party in turn and the different nations of the UK. That makes for some duplication, and the book is traditional in having a separate chapter on female voters. That’s the norm in such books, but also in some ways rather odd given that female voters are the majority. It says something rather unflattering about politics and the study of it that a special chapter about the majority is needed.
Overall, the book does a good job at presenting preliminary analysis of the results, done with enough skill and accompanied by enough detail about what happened for the book to continue to be valuable even after further analysis takes place.
If you like this, you might also be interested in Pay me forty quid and I’ll tell you: The 2015 election through the eyes of the voters.
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Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.