Stephen Dunn looks at the voters who’ll decide GE2015 – those who live in the marginals

January 23rd, 2014

map of marginals

It’s the Demography, Stupid.

The next General Election is a year and a half away, and it’s going to be interesting (as all elections are for gamblers). Labour currently have a consistent polling share which suggests a Labour majority, if they maintain it. But for predictive purposes, it’s interesting to look in some detail at who will actually decide the next election – Everyone, of course, but realistically the voters in the most marginal seats. Who are they, where are they, and what can we find out about them?
Let’s take Labours top 100 target seats – simply, the seats where they lost last time but came closest. Labour have 254 seats. To scrape a bare majority (Out of 650) Ed Milliband needs 68 of these – and to have a workable majority he’d want more.

Where are they?

With much thanks to UK polling report he top 100 are listed here

And the Tories target seats are listed here

So if we want to know who decides the next election, we want to see where these targets are and who lives there. There are lots of answers to “Who” but the simplest approach is just to look at the census data – Who lives there, and what are they like?

Are they young or old, rich or poor, black or white?

For simplicity let’s look at just England and Wales, since they contain the vast majority of target seats, 94 of Labour’s top 100, and 72 of the Tories top 75.

NOTE – We’re going to use 2010 Constituencies. This is probably fine in aggregate – But might catch you out in a specific constituency, if there’s been a change. So, as ever Do Your Own Research. We’re using census data from 2011 – so some places will have changed, but not all that much.

Let’s look at the top 100 England and Wales target seats – 75 for Labour, 25 for the Tories. If either party won all of these targets, and lost no others, that would be enough to scrape a majority.

Where are they?

The map shows Labour targets in Red, and Tory targets in blue.

There are some interesting trends and groupings – a “Northern Belt” of around 25, stretching from Liverpool along the M62 and M180 to Grimsby, a “London and nearly London” grouping, and a cluster in or near Birmingham, as well as others – miscellaneous.

So, who lives in these target seats?

Bluntly, who might the parties be targetting for the next election?

Census Data has been sourced from http://www.ons.gov.uk/
“Census output is Crown copyright and is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.”

Young Or Old ?

Average % of Population under 18 = 21.38 for 100 targets
Average % for all 573 seats = 21.35

Average % of Population over 65 = 16.4 for 100 targets
Average % for all 573 seats = 16.78

So, the target seats aren’t noticeably younger or older than the England and Wales average.

Rich Or Poor

We can’t, unfortunately, easily access median income data by constituency. One of the things that we can easily look at is unemployment, which will be a rough proxy for rich and poor. Taking Unemployment as the proportion unemployed of the whole “ecomomically active” population here’s what the 2011 census figures say

Average % Unemployed = 6.4 for 100 targets
Average % for all 573 seats = 6.3


Ethnicity has been cited here and elsewhere as influential – Probably with a working assumption that a high non-white population tends to work in favour of Labour rather than the Tories. This may be a little simplistic, but let’s look at the profiles of our top one hundred E&W targets. Note that we’re looking at residents, not voters – So our non-white total will also include, for instance Chinese students. And it’s certainly simplistic to lump together black British people in London with Pakistani British people in the Midlands. Anyway

Non-White Population

Average % of Population Non-White = 12.6 for 100 targets
Average % for all 573 seats = 12.8

So what have we have found out? Nothing that particularly stands out – The England and Wales target seats, are on average, very average. Perhaps this shows us something about how (mainly) 2 party politics works – That as the parties adjust policies and appeal, the battlegrounds will, on the whole, be the most “middling” constituencies.

Looking at the Geographical Spread in more detail might tell us more – Do the apparent “clusters” mean anything, and do they in themselves have different and interesting characteristics? We’ll come back to that.

Stephen Dunn.