UK election results stun Conservatives: Experts react
Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is a more attractive proposition to more economically left-wing people Photograph: (Others)
Stuart Wilks-Heeg, head of politics, University of Liverpool
Theresa May is in deep, deep trouble. We know why she called the election; she wanted a bigger majority and a strong mandate ahead of the Brexit negotiations. At the time, it looked like she couldn’t fail, and now it seems that she has failed spectacularly. The campaign has fatally undermined her leadership, and the one thing that could have saved her – if she came through with a strong majority for the Conservative party – hasn’t happened. I think she is finished politically – whether she resigns, or is pushed out by her own party remains to be seen.
Kathryn Simpson, lecturer in politics and public services, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dubbed the Brexit election, this general election provided very little clarity and specific details on what Brexit negotiations would be and what a post-Brexit UK would look like. And the electorate has recognised this.
There will not be the strong and stable government by the time Brexit negotations begin on June 19. That will have a robust impact on Brexit.
The Brexit clock started ticking when May triggered Article 50 in March. Taking six weeks out of the two-year Brexit negotiating window to conduct a general election was risky, as it has eaten into the time available to deal with the EU. Now, with so much uncertainty about how the next government will be formed, more time will inevitably be lost.
Daniel Fitzpatrick, lecturer in politics, Aston University
In an election called to secure a clear mandate for Brexit, the result is no obvious mandate for any party. The mandate for the Conservative version of hard Brexit is in tatters, while a second independence referendum in Scotland is moot given the swing away from the SNP towards the unionist parties – the Scottish Conservatives particularly.
Political commentators are fond of naming elections, as a shorthand for the dominant issue of the day: the 1983 “Falklands” election, the 2005 “Iraq” election. Psephologists will tell you that such retrospective rationalisations do little to convey the complexities of voting behaviour.
But, rarely has an election been characterised so one-dimensionally before the campaign even begun. Although labelled the “Brexit election” by the Conservatives, Theresa May did little to establish that narrative beyond her supposed leadership credentials, which, to put it mildly, faltered. It figured surprisingly little in the election campaigns of the other mainstream parties, except for the Liberal Democrats.
Taking a largely ambivalent stance on EU, Labour has gained Remain seats in London and the South East and retained and won back marginal Leave seats in the North. It looks like neither the so-called Leave or Remain vote offers a reliable indication of the new electoral map. It has figured in certain parts of the country, but nowhere near as decisive as imagined.
William McDougall, lecturer in politics, Glasgow Caledonian University
The Conservative party are performing much better in Scotland than anywhere else. In that sense, Scotland is again having its own election, different from the rest of the UK. This is probably due to the fact that the Scottish Conservatives have been able to run a separate campaign, disassociating themselves from Theresa May and the poor campaign the Conservatives have run in the UK as a whole. They’ve been able to focus on an anti-independence, anti-SNP message. But that does mean that it’s less clear what else the Scottish Conservative MPs stand for. Once they start voting in Westminster, we’ll have a clearer idea of where they stand on other policies.
The Scottish Conservatives could now play quite a vital role in the Westminster parliament. It could make all the difference for May as she attempts to hold on to power. It’s ironic: people often say that Scotland never gets to influence UK election results, and now it could be the Scottish Conservatives who keep the party on top. It puts Ruth Davidson in a strong position within the Conservative party, although it might not have an impact on the direction of Brexit: the new Scottish Conservative MPs are likely to behave themselves in that respect.
John Garry, professor of political behaviour, Queen’s University Belfast
It seems that the two big parties have swept away all the others in Northern Ireland. Apart from an independent unionist candidate retaining her seat, the hardline unionist party, the Democratic Unionist Party, have had a great electoral night at the expense of the Ulster Unionist Party, which has lost its two seats. On the nationalist side, it has been a dreadful election for the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which has lost its three seats. The more hardline nationalists, Sinn Fein, have dramatically increased their support.
With the cross-party Alliance also winning no seats, the overall picture emerging is of a more polarised politics in Northern Ireland. This bodes ill for the kind of compromise and conciliation that will be needed to re-establish a power sharing government – a process that was effectively put on hold once Theresa May called this snap Westminster election.
It is ironic that both the DUP and Sinn Fein, which are finding it difficult to form a government in Northern Ireland, were regarded as potentially key players in the election night commentary on government formation at Westminster. Would Sinn Fein change its policy of abstention and possibly prop up a Jeremy Corbyn premiership? “No”, was the quick response from the Sinn Fein leadership. It’s more plausible that the DUP could play a crucial role in sustaining a Conservative administration.
Darren Lilleker, associate professor of political communication, Bournemouth University
Exit polls have generally been fairly accurate in recent UK elections. If that is the case in 2017, the result is cataclysmic for the Conservatives. Labour would not only have increased its number of seats in parliament but also undermined the stranglehold of the neo-liberal societal narrative on public attitudes. This could represent a sea-change in the nation’s politics.
Labour supporters are somewhat triumphalist. It is still a bit early. It will be almost impossible for Labour to have a majority, and it’s still unknown if the Conservatives will be the majority party in a minority government. But if the rumours are true, Labour have the momentum.
Why might this be? This is the most interesting question. It would appear that the Conservative message of offering strong and stable government may well have failed, whereas the more nebulous – but also unproven – Labour platform has traction. What’s more, the UKIP vote has collapsed, while at the same time we see the emergence of the two-party state. UKIP voters have not exclusively moved to the Conservatives while other party voters seem dispersed – the electoral terrain never seemed less certain.
Todd K. Hartman, lecturer in quantitative social science, University of Sheffield
After catching their breath, the first question most people were asking was whether they could trust the results of this exit poll.
The short answer is yes. While the official seat count may differ in either direction due to sampling error, exit polls have provided reliable estimates in past elections.
Exit polling is done at selected polling stations within constituencies with sufficiently large samples to reduce uncertainty around the estimates. They include responses from tens of thousands of voters, while most national opinion polls have sample sizes of around 1,200.
The exit polls only include responses from actual voters. Opinion polls must rely on vote intentions and the likelihood that a particular respondent will actually cast their ballot on election day.
However, like most opinion polls, exit polls are not based on probability samples and are thus not entirely representative of the voting public. This process of sampling introduces error, which is why the exit poll estimates may be different than the certified seat counts.
James Tilley, professor of politics, University of Oxford
Poll leads for the Conservatives over the past couple of weeks have varied enormously. Much of the variation, although by no means all, has been due to the way that the pollsters predicted people’s likelihood to turnout.
The polls with the highest leads for the Conservatives tended to predict low voting rates among younger people and people in working class jobs. We’ve seen this pattern of non-voting for the past few elections, arguably because these groups had become disillusioned with Labour. The polls with the lowest leads for the Conservatives assumed that these two groups would turn out to vote at higher levels than in 2015. The argument here was that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is a more attractive proposition to more economically left-wing people. So who was right?
Obviously, we won’t know the actual result and we won’t know exact rates of turnout by age and social class for several months until the British Election Survey reports back, but the exit poll does seem to suggest that young people have turned out in larger numbers than at the past few elections.
Generally campaigns are not thought to matter enormously, but this may be the exception that proves the rule. Labour has evidently either converted some people who said they would vote Conservative a few months ago, or mobilised people who said that they wouldn’t vote.
It’s likely that both conversion and particularly mobilisation have been higher among younger voters. While it’s not a successful night for Labour in that it is still predicted to have 50 fewer seats than the Conservatives, at this stage it appears a clear success for the Labour campaign strategy.