Estimating National Results in Local Elections

England has a confusing patchwork quilt of local government. Local elections differ from year to year, in what types of councils are up for election, which party is defending councils, and where these councils are in the country. To overcome these issues, two separate teams of political scientists estimate what each party’s vote would have been had the whole country voted.

This article will discuss the BBC’s projected national share for local elections, and interpretations of the 2019 local election results.

Projected National Share

  • Full candidature: the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats fielded candidates in every ward;
  • Nationwide: Every council was up for election across Great Britain.

This projected share is calculated by Prof Sir John Curtice and Prof Stephen Fisher for the BBC, and typically published the day after local elections have taken place. The aim is to compare local election results across years, rather than be limiting to only understanding each council cycle.

There are some limited differences between the BBC’s projected national share and the national equivalent vote share produced by Prof Colin Rallings and Prof Michael Thrasher, produced for the Sunday Times. The aim of the two estimates is the same, and tell the same story for major parties:

We can see the agreement between the two estimates from the 1980s. (Photo: Elections Etc)

An Initial Understanding of the 2019 Results

For the 2019 local elections, the Conservatives and Labour had a projected national share of 28% each. The Liberal Democrats were on 19%, and other parties and independents stood at 25%.

The two main parties tied, just as they did in 2018. (Image: BBC)

In order to understand local election results, two baselines are typically used:

  • Last year: how the major parties changed in 12 months;
  • Four years ago: this is the last time these council seats were contested.
For a period, UKIP were separated out and a four-party projected national share was calculated.

Now, compare the shift in vote share between 2015 and 2019 with actual changes in councillors:

Conservatives, Labour and UKIP lost net councillors. (Souce: BBC)

The Conservatives’ projected national share fell by seven points since 2015 (and since 2018), leading to an historically very high net losses of 1,330 councillors.

Labour actually fell back somewhat on their 2015 local elections result, which was held on the same day as that year’s General Election. However, the main opposition party has historically gained net councillors in local elections.

Both main parties had an equal projected national share in 2018 and 2019 —with both falling by seven points from 2018 to this year. This is driving statements about ‘voters snubbing both parties’.

In terms of net councillors, the Liberal Democrats made the largest gain since their party was formed. Their projected national share is still well below what the party achieved in 2003 and 2004 (29%).

The Greens and independents made large advances, with UKIP mainly falling due to low candidature.

Additionally, there are continuing signs that the main parties are undergoing a geographical realignment, with Labour losing net councillors in Northern councils but gaining in the South:

Understanding these local elections results more fully will take political scientists and data analysts some time.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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