And we’re back.
One thing that I’ve been thinking about with this election is whether there are any other elections it resembles and if those give us a clue to what the final result would be. Political scientists like finding things that are broadly comparable for two reasons: first, we can use different outcomes to measure the effects of small changes in other variables, and second, we get to pretend that all that reading about previous elections that we’ve done was of important academic significance, not just indulging in a psephological hobby. So, here are three other elections that this one may or may not resemble. Bonus points for guessing which one it’s most like before we get to see the answers of June 9th.
(And a reminder that the prediction competition is still open, if you’re interested in scoring meaningless points)
February 1974: Never ask the electorate a question you don’t already know the answer to
This was the last time a Prime Minister decided to call a snap election, and unlike this one, Edward Heath went for a very quick one with just three weeks between him telegraphing the Queen (she was in New Zealand) to ask for a dissolution of Parliament and the election date. Heath called the election in the midst of a series of industrial disputes and the three-day week to ask the electorate to decide ‘who governs Britain?’ He wanted a strong majority and electoral mandate to take on the unions and thought he could get the people to rally round him. When it came to the crunch the electorate’s answer to the question was more on the lines of ‘not sure, but probably not you’. Heath had over a year left before he had to call an election, but wanted to get a new mandate to take on a difficult task – will May’s search for one lead to the same result.
1983: The closest thing to khaki
An economy coming out of recession. An election a year after the UK was at the centre of a major world event. A female Conservative Prime Minister ready to decisively shift her party in a new direction versus a Labour Party led by a veteran left-winger despised by the press. So far, so similar, except for the bit that’s missing. This time we didn’t get the proclaimed moderate wing of the Labour Party splitting off under a leader recently returned from a high-profile foreign role, and the Labour Party has remained vaguely united and on-message during the campaign. (There has been some sniping, but it’s equivalent to the attacks from within May faced over the dementia tax) It’s not identical to 1983, but is the best chance we’re going to get to have an idea of what might have happened there without the SDP? When things look like they’re shaping up into a classic two-party fight, what happens to the centrist voters when they’re the ones who get squeezed?
2004: The blame game
Not a British election this time, but one in Spain, which was the last time a major terrorist incident (the Atocha bombings) happened during a European election campaign. Before the bombings, the incumbent right-wing government had a comfortable polling lead over their left-wing opponents but by the time the election came around three days later, they were defeated and the left won a surprise victory. One of the principal factors behind that was the Aznar government completely mishandling the response to the bombings, by insisting the Basque separatist movement ETA was behind it when it was eventually revealed to have been done by Islamists. However, it does show that the electorate won’t necessarily rally round the government in a time of crisis, and the shift in voting behaviour caused by a major event isn’t easily predictable.
So, three previous elections, three possible scenarios that we could be playing out right now, or something entirely new and different might be happening. Thirteen days till we find out.