What the electoral system gives it can also take away

What the electoral system gives it can also take away

    An academic challenge to received opinion

Anybody considering placing a bet on the Commons seat markets should check out this New Statesman article by the Nottingham Univiersity academic, Philip Cowley, before parting with their money.

In it he challenges current received opinion that Labour is heading for a comfortable majority. He has an analysis of opinion poll overstatement of the Labour margin that will be familiar to regular users of this site. Where he gets really interesting is in his analysis on the “pro-Labour bias” in the electoral system noting that if there was a dead heat on 36% Labour would, on a uniform national swing, be returned with a majority of 52. He goes on:-

Yet this is to assume that the bias in the electoral system will work its magic in the same way again, and there is absolutely no reason to think that it will. For one thing, the reduction in the number of Scottish seats hurts Labour disproportionately. For another, the Tories appear to have started to target properly, focusing on key voters in swing constituencies. And third, there is a sign that the pro-Labour tactical voting of the past couple of elections has worn off. A Populus poll last month found that Labour supporters who were willing to vote tactically still split heavily in favour of voting Lib Dem to stop the Tories rather than vice versa (by a ratio of almost 8:1). But Lib Dems now split almost evenly between those who would vote Tory to stop Labour and those who would vote Labour to stop a Tory.

It is the Conservatives who will benefit from this. Following the Scottish boundary changes, Labour would lose its Commons majority if it lost 79 seats. The Conservatives are the main challengers in 85 per cent of these 79 constituencies. You don’t have to be a statistical whizz to work out what will happen in these seats as the anti-Conservative tactical voting of previous elections begins to disappear. As Labour’s vote falls, the Conservatives would start to gain the key marginal seats, even without any sizeable increase in their own vote. As the electoral bias that benefited them so much in previous elections starts to unravel, Labour could find itself not doing any better in its marginal seats than it does elsewhere. What the electoral system gave, the electoral system can take away.

The current betting odds and spreadbetting prices reflect to a large extent current received opinion. You can get 2/1 against Labour getting less than 345 seats while 15/8 is available against the Tories getting 205 seats or more.

On the spread markets IG IndexLAB 350-355: CON 199-204: LD 68-71.

SpreadfairLAB 350 -351.7: CON 200-201.2 : LD 68.7 -69

© Mike Smithson 2005

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