The political party of 2013 – it has to be UKIP

The political party of 2013 – it has to be UKIP

UKIP collage

But winning seats matters more than votes

In the final local by-elections of the year last night UKIP once again chalked up some impressive vote shares and came within 3 of taking a ward off the Tories in West Sussex – but when it came to seats they continue to struggle.

The life-off moment for the party which seriously changed perceptions was on February 28th, the Eastleigh parliamentary by-election following Chris Huhne’s conviction and imprisonment. Starting out in fourth place at 13% in the polls they soared past the Tories to secure 28% of the vote which was and still is their highest share ever in a Westminster seat. It was said that on the day of the election they won most votes with the LDs holding on thanks to good early organisation with postal votes.

That provided a huge platform for the May 2nd locals where they easily became third party in terms of votes but were miles behind in seats. In the South Shields parliamentary by-election on the same day they secured a good second place and could possibly have got much closer if they’d decided to put serious resources into the campaign. The result, however, reinforced their claim that in the Labour heartlands they are becoming the main opposition.

In the weeks that followed they were getting into the 20s in the polls while the media spotlight was on them. Interestingly, and worryingly for the established parties, they haven’t dropped much since then even though they’ve been getting less attention.

    Away from the polling headline figures the raw numbers, particularly in online surveys, have been very good. Populus, for instance, has had them on a solid 17/18% in their twice weekly polls. Only the firm’s controversial party identity weighting system has reduced the headline numbers to shares as low as 7%.

Opinium, which does not have political weighting, consistently has UKIP in the high teens in its fortnightly poll for the Observer. Maybe this is giving us a more accurate picture?

I’ve been impressed with UKIP’s advanced thinking for GE2015. The Bown-funded polling has been designed to help them get the message over that their support is not just coming from Tories on holiday.

Everything for 2014 depends on a good, possible vote-topping performance in the Euros. The Tories are going to throw a lot at them in the coming months to try to stop that happening.

But what would really make 2014 for the purples is a Westminster by-election victory. Alas this year there have only been two such contests. Will next year be different?

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004

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