Politics and Governance in the UK

Second edition

by Michael Moran

Update 48 - June 2014

The European Parliament Elections: myth and reality

‘Europe rocked by Eurosceptic revolt’; ‘UKIP bandwagon rolls on…’ The headlines the morning after the elections to the European Parliament almost wrote themselves. But all is not as it seems. The ever excellent Peter Kellner, at YOUGOV, has thrown a bucket of cold social scientific water over all the hype about the rise of UKIP. In a detailed comparison of polls and results for 2009 and 2014, Kellner explodes five myths about UKIP.

First, ‘UKIP is more popular than ever before’. It is indeed true that UKIP’s share of the vote rose in 2014 compared with 2009, but the proportion of voters expressing negative feelings towards it also rose. UKIP has garnered fresh support (for instance as a result of the collapse of the British National Party Vote) but it has also aroused increasing hostility among voters. One could as easily write (and justify) the headline ‘UKIP is more unpopular than ever before.’

Second, ‘support for UKIP’s core policy, withdrawal from the EU, is rising.’ In fact it has fallen since 2009: 40% were prepared to vote for withdrawal in 2009, and the figure had fallen to 35% in 2014; 38% were prepared to vote against withdrawal in 2009, and the figure had risen to 43% in 2014.

Third, ‘opposition to immigrants – another key UKIP policy – has grown.’ In fact it has fallen, and support for the view that immigrants make a positive contribution to Britain has risen. However, opposition to immigration still remains an overwhelming feature of British opinion.

Fourth, ‘Britons felt worse off and more pessimistic than in 2009’. In fact, despite public spending cuts, and the campaigns about a cost of living crisis, the proportions of Britons who feel they have enough to live on has risen by 10 per centage points in the last five years.

Fifth, ‘disenchantment with conventional politicians is at record levels’. A great deal of UKIP’s supposed strength lies in the belief that the blokeish Nigel Farage is a change from conventional politicians. But trust in the conventional politician has actually risen: in 2009 54% of those polled agreed with the statement that British politicians are personally corrupt; the figure had fallen to 38 per cent in 2014.

Many things contributed to UKIP’s showing in the 2014 elections: the collapse of the vote of both the BNP and the Liberal Democrats; the greater professionalism of the UKIP campaign; the undoubted skills of its leader, Nigel Farage. But what Kellner shows us is that there is no evidence that there is occurring some kind of fundamental shift in the character of public opinion powering UKIP to new heights. Sometimes, boring old social science is worth paying attention to.

Kellner’s analysis can be found at: