Who were the 2017 switchers?

Evan Williams wants to talk to you about how voters switched in the 2017 general election in Scotland, and would quite like to do so over a pint.


There has been quite a lot of discussion about tactics and campaigns and the impact of the Tory campaign, Brexit, indyref2 and all that stuff. I have some thoughts about those things, and would be happy to discuss them over a few beers. But I thought it would be interesting to try and take the Scottish results and some of the helpful analysis that has been done by YouGov and the British Election Survey to take a stab at working out how voters in Scotland switched between 2015 and 2017.

The first non-trivial caveat is that 2015 was an unusual election in Scotland in lots of respects. In 2015 the SNP had a stellar campaign that got traction across the UK and the Tories used attacking the SNP as a means of shoring up their vote in the rest of the UK while essentially writing off the prospect of seats in Scotland. Comparing 2017’s snap election could be just comparing one odd election with a different odd election in Scotland. Also, comparing what happened in Scotland with England as if that tells us anything meaningful about the respective campaigns is a disservice to numeracy.

A second caveat is that the data is rarely available at a Scotland-only level, although swings from the SNP are identifiable even in national results because they helpfully only stand in Scotland, but that leads to very small sample sizes and we all know what small sample sizes mean.

I expect you will have noticed the rather nice diagrams people have been using in election analysis like the one I have created below. They are known as Sankey diagrams and I’m a big fan. Check out sankeymatic.com to do your own.

A third caveat, I have included in my analysis a dod of people who did not vote (DNV) and have slightly artificially tried to keep the vote shares as % against each party, so there is a little sleight of hand with the numbers, especially for DNV, but that shouldn’t stop you getting the sense of movement that the diagram conveys. I have preserved the colour of the lines from the 2015 vote to make it easy to track where 2017 votes came from.

What I think the evidence shows us it that there were perhaps four important movements of people

  1. SNP to Conservative switchers – and these seem to have been concentrated in areas that might have been thought of as Conservative in the 80s and 90s.
  2. Labour to Conservative switchers – not huge, but a noticeable number of 2015 Labour supporters making that move. My guess is that these were people for whom the Union is a bigger issue than left-right politics.
  3. SNP to Labour switchers – slightly more than the Labour to Conservative switchers, presumably predominantly people who switched to the SNP from Labour some time from 2007 onwards.
  4. SNP to did not vote – predominantly people who are reluctant voters but helped to account for the very high turnout in 2015.

The DNV to Labour switch observed in rUK seems to have been a bit muted in Scotland although that could simply be because those people did vote in the unusual circumstances of 2015.

None of these movements seem to be the kind of more or less uniform swings we are used to at election time. They are also in part quite geographically specific movements, which is in part why everyone had so much difficulty in predicting the results, especially if they were using a 2015 baseline and a swingometer to do so.

It is tempting to suppose that most of those movements are fairly permanent, and you can easily construct a narrative that says former Tories who lent their support to the SNP in the 80s and 90s stuck with the SNP through to 2015 but some combination of Brexit, Indyref, Ruth Davidson and the leftward pitch of nationalist rhetoric made them feel comfortable switching back to their more traditional comfort zone. Equally you could argue that SNP to Labour switchers have “seen through” the SNP and are coming back home, and that the Labour to conservative switchers will come back to Labour if the issue of the union / indyref ceases to be the dominant frame in Scottish Elections. However, I don’t think we should suppose anything about the way people voted in 2015 or 2017 elections is set in stone.

First past the post elections have significant tipping points depending on whether an election is a 2, 3, or 4 way contest. In a fairly even Scottish 3 way contest Labour does well through a concentration of votes in the central belt, the Tories do well in the north east and the borders and the SNP struggle.

A lot of people will be doing hugely optimistic analysis about the small swings needed for Labour in Scotland, and its good to be optimistic, but there’s a really important caveat to such calculations: for every one of those SNP to Tory switchers who the SNP get back, Labour needs to win an extra vote from somewhere (probably the SNP) just to stand still.

The SNP have shown significant tactical nous over the years and I would hesitate to suppose they won’t be applying their very considerable political skills to what they need to do to get some of those voters back. The Tories must be working out how best to keep what they have and get even more.

Anyway, I’m off to support Neil Bibby’s Tied Pubs bill – if you want to discuss how Labour builds from here I’m happy to do so over a pint.

Related Posts

10 thoughts on “Who were the 2017 switchers?

  1. In the main BES report they did a diagram which showed movements from 2010->2015->2017 – it might be interesting to see that as well. I suspect that a lot of DNV’s voted SNP in 2015 (which boosted turnout) and then stopped voting again.

  2. Very interesting analysis. There can be lots of different views about the reasons for this but what might be interesting is to factor in the Holyrood results and the Local Authority results. That may show whether the two results are caused by abnormal circumstances or whether there is a pattern of vote loss by the SNP

  3. In all the analysing that’s been done nobody asked me. I have an opinion on everything from Big Brother which I am a fan of. The best rubbish on television to trying not to laugh when Trump does his fake news.
    The local authority results saw SNP gains in seats . But there was an underlying message for them across Scotland concentrate on the day job .Holyrood they lost there majority the Tories moved into second. General Election losses for the SNP . Gains for Tories and Labour lessons to be gained for everyone

  4. A reasonable attempt, but voter intention in Scotland is now too volatile and difficult to predict.
    SNP –They have had the best election results of any party in recent decades, but they have no friendly media support ( indeed they are the subject of repeated vilification from some media outlets) so find it hard to ride out of the dips all parties go through. Will they keep falling? Since polling still suggests 50/50 for Indy, they should hold their place in the high 30’s.

    Tories–Friendly media in spades. Including the BBC since Cameron’s win in 2015. May has been found out, but Davidson is media savvy. Her weak spot is policy, which she has little off, as shown with the last general and local elections, fought with an anti referendum slogan(any referendum being years away), rather than explain a U-turn on Brexit. Could rise to the thirties or fall back into the teens depending on credibility.

    Labour-Overly dependent on a “cultish” belief in Corbyn. Dugdale is not a follower, but that has its own downside for her leadership. Labour are juggling many balls, some of them being curve balls over a hard Brexit, or borrowing sums of money incompatable with an open economy. But they are ticking boxes with taxation, housing etc. Many in Labour want Corbyn to fail, but if Labour cannot succeed with this shambles of a government, then their place in history will be assured—-as a footnote!
    Expect the next election in, perhaps 2019, with a youngish new Tory leader backed overwhelmingly by the Media and dollups of City money.
    In Scotland they are in a pickle. Keep supporting Davidson or have their own policy for Scotland. Maybe into the 20’s, if they can dent Davidson.

      1. Apparently Tory activists love Davidson. Blusters and barks like Boris, though sans racism, sexism, chauvinism, Bullingdon attitude and other High Tory baggage.
        Polling in 2016 showed they also have little interest or regard for Scotland and a substantial majority were indifferent to Scottish independence.

        So, a good fit. We exchange Davidson for Scottish self government. Win, win!

    1. Gavin I agree with nearly everything you have said.
      I am as you know in the Labour Party. But I like to hear other peoples ideas . I on the blogs give my own opinion not the party view.
      A lot of the SNP bad press is coming from inside the party at I think a senior level.
      I am thinking on last months press reports that the finance minister was about to be moved in a reshuffle that did not happen. The reporters said this was coming from senior sources inside the finance department. Alec Neal and others have all given their views on the Indy debate when the FM was trying to shut it down.
      In fact some of them have sold their memoirs to Murdochs press
      There have also been some self inflicted own goals like the FMS USA trip during an election campaign . Did it cost votes I think it at least reinforced the Nicola isn’t listening view of the public
      I heard that expression repeatedly when I was phone polling for my local Labour Party.
      Also on that trip the FM gave a pooled report to the BBC. That annoyed STV big time and they made it clear to the viewers . The SNP are media savvy .
      I still don’t understand how they made a mistake like that.
      Then we have the FM and her 14 SPADS the newest one put it out on a Friday when apparently the press office did not respond. This from a press team who openly boast they can shut a story down in 2 hrs. The also used to boast they copied Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell by forcing the party into becoming more professional and stay on message. That included ordinary Party Members. I think the leadership have got the message and are now looking at doing the day job .
      I think there is some very serious thinking going on at the top of the party about how to do that and how they will plan a future Indy campaign .
      I think they are looking at pointing out any forseable problems that would follow a yes vote.
      No it will be alright on the night stuff like last time. The press will be wholesale against them because their owners will insist
      You want to see what the press can do .look at what they did to every labour leader from Harold Wilson on .Tony Blair learned how to handle them until he went to war .
      The press brought Brown down .Does anyone think they are going to let Corbyn win
      Corbyn faught and won 2 leadership elections . Like the SNP at present he has been subject to constant undermining and sniping by senior members of our own party.
      At my own CLP we made it clear we were voting but we did not want all these attacks from our own party on our leader .
      Bad press we can teach everyone about that
      During the election Jeremy for me did not put a foot wrong the manifesto was something I have been waiting years for it was what for me what we should be doing
      In Scotland we are accused of SNP bad all the time . For me its because the SNP are in government and in Holyrood we are in 3rd place.
      I think Kezia is a good party leader I think she does get under Nicolas skin she has learned I think to ask her question and sit down
      I do think she needs a lot more public support from Neil Findlay etc and yes I like him as well
      Where we need to I think Scottish Party policy will have to be and should be different to UK policy
      The Tories sorry I remember the way Maggie turned Scotland into an Industrial dessert
      I cant forgive it or forget it .local Conservative and Unionist candidates had the nerve to dare speak to me to tell me they were emphasising the unionist part
      I would not and could not shake hands with the woman.
      I wish was not so bitter towards them .But I am Tories have NOTHING TO SAY TO ME BUT I HAVE PLENTY TO SAY TO THEM
      Anyway Gavin that’s my thoughts not the parties mine

  5. “Equally you could argue that SNP to Labour switchers have “seen through” the SNP and are coming back home” So you refuse to give any of the credit for that switch to the person who quite clearly delivered it, Jeremy Corbyn.

  6. I wonder who the 2019 switchers will be when the catastrophe of Brexit hits home? The Tories have already betrayed the Farmers and Fishermen and it looks like they will end up coming away with nothing from the EU. Labour are all over the place with Brexit and are lacking conviction when it comes to their promises to deliver a package of social Democracy. with labour still suffering an internal conflict between Corbyn and the Red Tories within.
    Corbyn’s continued support for Trident and a hard Brexit is not going to win him any friends in Scotland in 2019 so its seems to me that Indyref 2 will arrive at the most opportune moment for a successful outcome.

  7. When I put my comment into Gavin I got to upset about the Tories to say anything about them
    Alec Salmond got a majority at the Holyrood election and called a referendum on Scottish Independence and lost
    Although he lost . Having secured a majority at Holyrood he had to call a referendum. The SNP did a lot better than I thought they would in fact the night before I thought they had probably won
    If they had their would have been no complaints from me I would have everything I could to make Independence work
    On result morning at 6 am I thought Alec Salmond behaved with dignity on what must have been the most disappointing political day of his life.
    By resigning I think he saved the SNP from the meltdown I thought would come
    My reasons for thinking that Jim Sillars and friends were already beginning to carp from the sidelines Alecs resignation helped put an end to it.
    The SNP still had a Holyrood majority btw these are my thoughts only.
    Then at 7am the PM appeared and he did not behave with any credit at all as far as I am concerned
    English votes that was crass was like a red rag to a bull and the best thing he could have said to pull the SNP together.
    So on it went Nicola becomes FM Our PM David Cameron fighting of UKIP and for his own parties election purposes holds his own referendum on EU membership.
    It was a referendum he did not have to call. This was UKIPS dream come true and also how to become the former PM
    Brexit is for me a disaster of major proportions It got bogged down as I knew it would on immigration never got past it.
    I think it is only now people are beginning to ask what about the EU subsidies we are about to lose
    I will say it again the farming and fishing industries have a nerve complaining they had EU subsidies up to the eyeballs .They campaigned to take us out. Then there are Employment Laws and other regulations we are about to lose
    The Welsh FM gets it the morning of the result and with Wales having voted to leave he went on tv begging for Welsh Spending levels to be maintained at EU level by the UK government
    Then we have PM MAY in order to get herself a better brexit bargaining position . See of Jeremy Corbyn those SNP people and her own backbench rebels . What does she do she goes for a walk in the hills and has a vision. In her vision our brave PM saw herself coming to her parties rescue. The solution hold a general election
    Ignore minor details like getting parliaments permission and holding it in the middle off the local election campaign . Also I would have told her if she had asked people were already fed up with electioneering and would be really pissed off sorry Duncan should have said upset at the party calling another election
    She did not ask me who am I to get in the way of a vision
    Then we get to election night the exit poll conducted by John Curtice and friends comes out
    The vision is now a nightmare. We are told one of the PMS aides fainted at the news
    Probably saw something strange called Jobseekers allowance coming straight at him or her
    Then we are told our PMS hubby was despatched to tell our ;PM the bad news
    Meanwhile all those loyal people Anna Subry Boris Michael were considering switching
    There you go got Switcher in ha ha
    The SNP lose votes and MPS they are still the biggest party by far in Scotland Labour did not lose everything we gained seats Now I come to the Colonel yes you Ruth and your band of MPS
    Our PMS vision witch turned into a nightmare when she lost her majority by holding an election she did not have to . Has a price tag
    Its 1 Billion in aid our PM promised the Ulster Unionists for their support
    Well Ruth I want to know what you are doing about getting 1billion in aid for Scotland
    We have been told your MPS will protect the union well that’s one way of doing it
    Because if the SNP do put another Indy motion before us you wont be able to say things like vote Indy no EU we are going out anyway Maybe Ruth you will say whether you still support prescription charges 4 pounds I think it was
    BTW Ruth I also want 1 billion in aid for England and Wales and maybe Ruth you can explain where the UNIONIST BILLION came from
    Why was it not available before
    And very dear Ruth when PM MAY agreed the money to prop up her Government

Comments are closed.