YouGov have published some interesting research to show how volatile the electorate is becoming.
It follows that it is no longer really sensible to talk about ‘Labour voters’, ‘Conservative voters’ and ‘Liberal Democrat voters’ as this implies people who vote regularly for the same party.
There are fewer and fewer such people. YouGov estimate that barely half of voters will behave in the same way in 2015 as they did in 2010. Over a span of more than two elections, the churn will almost certainly be much greater.
They identify large numbers of people changing their voting intentions in seemingly unlikely directions, such as 500,000 from Lib Dem to Ukip, 500,000 from Conservative to Labour and 400,000 from other parties to the Lib Dems.
All elections have had cross-currents and they often more or less cancel each other out. Between the general elections of 1997 and 2001, when Labour was returned with a comfortable majority in both contests, only 67% of Labour voters remained loyal, compared to 66% of Conservative voters and only 54% of LibDem voters.
These cross-currents are getting stronger with a greater choice of parties, fewer people paying to be members of any one party, more overlaps in policy and looser social class divisions.
The long term trend has been for voters to move away from the three main parties. In 1951 99.3% voted for the three parties combined. By 1979 this had fallen to 94.6% and in 2010 it was only 88.1%. On YouGov’s evidence, this trend seems likely to continue, and even accelerate.
With the first past the post system, you can spread a lot of votes away from the major parties before they start losing many seats. The overall result in terms of seats could still look very similar for a few more elections, but if the trend continues the major parties could find themselves dragged into deep water by these dangerous cross-currents.
The labels of ‘Conservative voters’, Labour voters’ and ‘Lib Dem voters’ could come to look very quaint.