Mark Reckless won the Rochester and Strood by-election by 2,930 votes, handing UKIP another victory and an aura of invincibility that is wreaking havoc within the main parties. What is so disturbing for the political elite is that Reckless is a mediocre politician while Rochester – younger than average and relatively middle class – seemed unlikely UKIP territory. Or was it? On closer inspection I argue Rochester was fertile UKIP soil. This doesn’t mean the main parties should be complacent, but it should caution us not to leap to the conclusion that this by-election is a bellwether for 2015.

Let me explain. There is little doubt Clacton was extremely favourable for UKIP. Matthew Goodwin writes that it ranks first in terms of UKIP demographics. Goodwin and his collaborator Rob Ford have written a fascinating book that highlights the importance of cultural anxieties in powering the rise of UKIP. I concur. Hence a focus on those suffering economic deprivation, such as poor pensioners, may lead us astray when it comes to fully grasping UKIP.

The most important correlates of strong UKIP support are ethnicity and national identity. The share of the population of a Local Authority that is of White British ethnicity and, of those, the portion that identify as English rather than British, predict nearly half the variation between Local Authorities in 2014 UKIP European election support, as shown in the table below.

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Rochester and Strood is 87 percent White British compared to the English average of 80 percent, and 75 percent of its White British population identifies as English compared to 65 percent nationally. This still placed Rochester well down the list of UKIP-friendly seats, around 144, but well above that assumed by some.

Another reason Rochester turned out to be UKIP-friendly is its opposition to immigration, which is partly related to its proximity to diverse Greater London. Though London is not an easy commute, it is close enough to be familiar to many in the Medway area in which Rochester sits. In Gareth Harris’ and my recent Demos report on the White British response to ethnic change, we focus on what Swedish sociologist Jens Rydgren terms the ‘halo effect’ – whereby fears of change are most amplified in white areas proximal to diversity. Think of a nuclear power plant. Studies find that concerns are not greatest among those living by nuclear stations, nor among those far enough away not to think about it, but among those who are close enough to fear it, but not close enough to understand it. With ethnic diversity, those who rarely have contact with minorities and immigrants but are close enough to diverse places such as London to fear impending change are more opposed to immigration and more likely to support the populist right.

Rochester and Strood fits this description. In the Citizenship Surveys of 2009-2011, survey data shows that White British concern over immigration is relatively high in Medway. Among White Britons in England, 60 percent said immigration should be reduced ‘a lot’. In Medway, this rises to 70 percent among the 182 White British respondents on the survey who resided in this Local Authority. This helps explain why UKIP won 42 percent of the vote in Medway in 2014, 18th out of the 248 Local Authorities that Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit has thus far collated and kindly shared. A glance at the map of UKIP vote share by Local Authority in the 2014 EU elections  – areas in white indicate missing data – shows the Thames Estuary region is a powerhouse of UKIP support.

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On the face of it, even ethnic composition, national identity and proximity to London don’t seem quite enough to explain the favourability of Rochester. This brings us to a further set of factors which seem to characterise UKIP voters and Rochester residents, low ‘social capital’, or connectedness.

Specifically, data from Understanding Society shows UKIP voters trust neighbours and government less than White British people elsewhere. They are less attached to neighbours and neighbourhoods, and express a stronger desire to leave their immediate locale. This is so even with controls for neighbourhood deprivation, crowding and the proportion of renters, as well as a host of individual characteristics such as age, education, gender and income.

This seems especially important in distinguishing UKIP voters from Tory voters who hold identical views. For example, 61.9 percent of White British UKIP voters said they ‘belong to my neighbourhood’ against 70.6 percent of White British Tory voters. In the Citizenship Survey, looking only at White British respondents, 35.3 percent of white Medway residents said they did not ‘strongly belong’ to their neighbourhood compared to 21.4 percent in England and 24.3 percent of Londoners. In the same survey only 40.4 percent of Medway residents trusted ‘many’ of their neighbours compared to 58 percent in the South East and 54 percent in England. Even London’s White British were more trusting.

Low social capital is linked to nonvoting. UKIP seats have significantly lower turnout than average: the British Election Study 2015 Internet panel survey reveals that those who didn’t vote in 2005 or 2010 were significantly more likely to vote UKIP in 2014. Understanding Society finds that an important chunk of UKIP voters didn’t turn out in the previous election. Low social connectedness and trust is linked with low turnout and attenuated local connections to the major parties. This renders switching more likely and reduces loyalty to established brands. Those who switched from Labour in 1997 to the Tories in 2005 are significantly more likely to have voted UKIP in 2014. So too for constituencies: more such switchers signals a stronger UKIP seat even when controlling for Tory support.

Now look at Rochester and Strood. Labour lost 6.8 percent in 2005 and a whopping 13.7 percent in 2010. The Conservatives gained 2.5 and 6.6 percent in those respective elections. A pattern of low party loyalty coupled with rising conservatism generated the seedbed for UKIP’s success. UKIP has been blessed with two favourable by-election targets, Clacton and Rochester. The main parties shouldn’t be complacent about UKIP’s rise, but it is still too early to say that this by-election was straw in the wind.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, and author of Changing Places: the White British Response to Ethnic Change (Demos, October 2014) He may be found on twitter @epkaufm

 

In this expert analysis, Professor Kaufmann explains how Ukip will damage the Tories in 2015 but may ultimately harm Labour

Ukip’s Douglas Carswell won the party’s first seat in Clacton while in Heywood & Middleton, Labour held the seat by a whisker. These results prefigure the kind of damage Ukip may inflict on the Tories, making a Labour victory more likely in 2015. Yet in the long run, Labour should worry about Ukip’s riseThe upstart party’s support rose substantially in both contests over its level in 2010. The media and some commentators have spun the story as a tale of dispossessed voters from forgotten constituencies striking a blow against the political elite. On this view, both the main parties will suffer at the hands of the Faragists.

Yet the data does not support the contention that the economically and politically disadvantaged of all political stripes are in revolt. Instead, the by-elections, and the rise of Ukip more broadly, reflects cultural anxieties and status resentments which loom largest among middle income people who lack degrees. These turn on the issue of immigration which I discuss in my recent Demos report on the White British response to ethnic change.

Ukip damages the Conservatives more than other parties and is set to tilt the electoral terrain in Labour’s favour in 2015 and beyond. This means we need to entertain the possibility the Tories may enter the political wilderness, much as the Canadian Tories did between 1993 and 2006 when the populist Reform Party split the right-wing vote.

In Clacton, Douglas Carswell, a high-profile defector from the Tories, carried the seat easily, winning 60% of the vote in a constituency Ukip did not contest in 2010. Popular in Clacton, Carswell carried wide support across a range of social and voter groups. In Heywood and Middleton, Ukip candidate John Bickley won 39%, increasing Ukip’s share by a whopping 36 points over 2010. It was an impressive Ukip tally, but the seat was held by Labour, winning 41% of the poll. Here we have two strong Ukip performances, resulting in a Tory loss in one instance, and a Labour win, albeit narrow, in the other. The constituencies are not typical of the country, but the results are indicative of what may happen in 2015. Why?

First, consider that in both by-elections, Ashcroft polls show the Tories lost a larger share of their vote to Ukip than Labour. These results are corroborated in the admittedly small sample of some 70 British Election Study (BES) internet panel respondents from these seats interviewed in early and mid-2014 about their 2015 voting intentions.

The British Election Study provides data on over 34,000 people, interviewed in both early and mid 2014. Looking at the second wave reveals a stunning pattern: 47 percent of those who voted Ukip in the 2014 European elections said they voted Tory in 2010 compared to just 13 percent from Labour. When it comes to intended vote in the General Election, it’s much the same story: 44 percent of those intending to support Ukip are ex-Tories while just 10 percent said they voted in Labour in 2010.

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In terms of current party identification, while 38 percent of those intending to vote Ukip in 2015 identify their party as Ukip, 24 percent say they identify as Conservative, compared to just 10 percent of Ukip vote intenders who currently identify with the Labour party. These data rely on respondents reported retrospective vote. However, the Understanding Society longitudinal survey just compares what people said in the previous wave with what they say in the current wave. These actual results, between 2009 and 2012, confirm the self-reported results from the BES: between 2 and 5 times as many people switched allegiance from Conservative to Ukip as moved from Labour to Ukip.

Some suggest Tory defections are in safe Conservative constituencies where they are unlikely to affect the Cameron-Miliband contest. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, there is no evidence for this. The figure below shows the predicted probability that an individual in the BES will vote Ukip in 2015, on the vertical axis, against the Labour share of the vote in his or her constituency in 2010, on the horizontal. The blue line represents those who voted Tory in 2010, the red line those who voted for parties other than the Conservatives in 2010. This is a multivariate model where we also control for a host of other predictors of Ukip voting, such as age, education, ethnicity and so forth. The cross-hatch lines represent confidence intervals, which are longer at the extremes of Labour share because sample sizes are smaller there.

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Two things jump out of this chart. First, Ukip will hit the Tories harder than other parties by 6-8 points across all types of constituency. There is no reluctance among 2010 Tory voters to desert the party for Ukip in marginal seats. Nor are Ukip defectors concentrated among Tory voters in Labour strongholds. Where votes averaged 30% Labour in 2010, often indicating a tight contest, a 2010 Conservative voter has a 21 percent chance of voting Ukip, which falls to just 15 percent among their Labour counterparts. Ukip support is holding steady in the polls, and if this continues, Ukip will pose a threat to Cameron.

Instead of fixating on the Clactons and Heywoods where Ukip is strong, pundits should focus on marginals where even a small shift to Ukip could tilt things Miliband’s way. We could see upsets not only in Ukip strongholds like Thurrock, but in middle class spots such as Cambridge or Hendon, often in the South of England, where Miliband may pull off an upset. The plot below shows seats the Tories won in 2010 with less than a six percent margin over Labour. These, and more, may be vulnerable.

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If Ukip hands victory to Labour, this raises a whole series of important questions. Can the Conservatives strike a deal with Ukip, as with the ‘unite the right’ initiative between the populist Reform party and more elite Progressive Conservatives in Canada? Should Labour rejoice, or should they look to the reinvigorated Canadian Conservatives as a warning that the rise of the populist right can shift a nation’s political culture against them in the long run? Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford’s excellent book on Ukip warns that the party, with its working-class support base, threatens Labour as well as the Tories. My work suggests working-class Tories rather than Labour traditionalists are most likely to defect to Ukip, but their overall point holds: this is not a movement Labour can afford to ignore.

Eric Kaufman is a Professor of Politics at Birkbeck. This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

This week’s European elections have produced fascinating and, in many countries, uncomfortable shifts in electoral support-see Paul Mason’s blog piece here (though we shouldn’t forget Italy, where the centre-left has won and Greece and Spain, where the far left topped the polls). The results have already led to the Irish Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the opposition in Spain stepping down.

In the UK, attention has focused on UKIP, the minority anti-EU party that has ‘won’ the European Parliamentary elections, or at least got more votes than any other party, and done relatively well locally. The big question is whether UKIP will influence the 2015 General Election or fade away. Will UKIP be the (indirect) kingmaker or just a bad dream by this time next year? Below I’ve set out some of the different sides of the argument so that you can make up your own mind.

UKIP is here to stay: Kingmaker in 2015?

Journalist Michael Crick points out in this post that the UKIP vote in the local elections is slightly down on previous years. However, winning council seats means being able to build organisations and networks in local areas to help get out the UKIP vote in 2015. UKIP is putting down roots across the country.

But will voters stay with them? Some argue that the UKIP votes are just a ‘protest’ vote and supporters will ‘return’ to their ‘normal’ parties for the election that matters-the General Election. This data from Lord Ashcroft’s polling shows that many UKIP voters (they estimate 50%) are likely to stay with UKIP in 2015-other pollsters agree.

Just to make the situation more complicated, it isn’t clear that UKIP will cut down Conservative votes and ‘let in’ Labour. Analysis by the authors of the new book about UKIP voters, ‘Revolt on the Right’, indicates that UKIP’s appeal is cross-party and attracts as many unhappy Labour voters as Conservatives-see their results in Rotherham (Ed Miliband’s constituency) and this piece here.

So UKIP may not win seats but may make the 2015 General Election very complicated and unpredictable. This article expains how UKIP could cause ‘chaos’ and create ‘an electoral map of nightmarish complexity’ in certain crucial seats.Even before the UKIP surge, 2015 was already going to be very close indeed. This prediction gives a ‘dead heat in 2015’ with the Conservatives on 36.1%, and Labour on 36.5%. On a side note, Ashcroft’s poll for the constituency of South Thanet, where Nigel Farage is rumoured to be standing in the General Election, puts UKIP support very high-see pg 1 column ‘voting intention’ and ‘certain to vote’.

UKIP fades away: A bad dream in 2015?

Not everyone is sure of UKIP’s new power. Smaller parties votes have always fallen back, often sharply, in national elections. More importantly, the First Past the Post system at Westminster makes it very difficult for minor parties to win seats, as this analysis explains.

The Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan is not convinced that UKIP’s momentum can be maintained. He points out that UKIP will now be under sustained media scrutiny (which didn’t always work successfully for them, especially in the last few weeks) and will have to begin explaining its domestic policies, which may be difficult. One of the most important players will be the media and how it covers UKIP for the next 12 months.

How well UKIP as a party can cope with the stresses and strains of being a ‘fourth’ political party is debateable-see this analysis of UKIP in local government. Brogan also points out that there have been many ‘new’ political parties ‘enjoying a moment of popularity…Remember the SDP? The Alliance? The Greens? Or even the Lib Dems, who under Nick Clegg have gone from breakthrough in 2010 to breakdown this weekend’.

One thing we can say for certain is that the next year will be interesting. Success is not all about seats and you may see UKIP’s influence in the policies that other parties now start to adopt. Keep an eye on the coming Newark by-election-will UKIP win their first seat?

Ben Worthy is Lecturer in Politics