On the 28th August, Douglas Carswell defected to the United Kingdom Independence Party and resigned his seat as Conservative MP for Clacton. At the time of writing, Carswell is the prohibitive favourite to win the upcoming by-election.
Electoral success has many fathers, failure none. Although we could give many reasons for an eventual Carswell win, we wish to identify one reason in particular. Through our research on estimating opinion in parliamentary constituencies, we believe that Clacton is the most Euroskeptic constituency in the UK. Although Douglas Carswell might have personal political reasons for defecting to UKIP, opinion in his constituency is more likely than any other to reward such a move.
Our claim that Clacton is the most Euroskeptic constituency in the UK is based on the techniques we have described in previous posts, applied to the latest data from the British Election Study. Specifically, we use information from Waves 1 and 2 of the British Election Study, which rely on fieldwork carried out as late as June of this year. (We can therefore rule out the possibility that Clacton’s Euroskepticism is a result of Carswell’s defection rather than a potential cause).
By examining responses to a question on vote intention in a future Brexit referendum, and combining this with information on respondents’ and constituencies’ demographics, we can produce estimates of the percentage of respondents in each constituency who would favour exiting the EU. The figure below shows the top and bottom five constituencies in the Great Britain.
Our best estimate for Clacton is that 75% of voters would vote to leave the European Union. It’s possible that other constituencies are more Euroskeptic than Clacton: our 95% credible interval runs from 68 to 82 percent. But there is clear purple water between Clacton and the least Euroskeptic constituency, Hornsey and Wood Green.
We can make three points about these patterns.
First, the geography of Euroskepticism is similar to the geography of UKIP support identified by Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin in their book Revolt on the Right. Euroskepticism is concentrated in constituencies with a larger percentage of elderly white residents with low levels of education. These constituencies often tend to be located in coastal areas. You can see this in the following map. Darker areas are more euroskeptic.
Second, Euroskepticism is not the same as the expected probability of UKIP success. Ideological proximity to voters helps electoral success, but success also depends on organisation and the ability to convince voters that their vote will not be a wasted vote. If you are interested in UKIP’s likely electoral success, you can visit electoralforecast.co.uk, a non-ESRC funded project we are also involved in.
Third, the direction of the relationship between constituency positions and MP positions is not clear. We have shown in a conference paper that there is an association between MPs’ votes on Europe and their constituents’ positions — but the direction of causality is not clear. Is Clacton Euroskeptic because Clacton residents were convinced by their Euroskeptic MP, or did their MP become Euroskeptic because his constituents were Euroskeptic?
Certainly, this relationship is stronger for Clacton than it is for Rochester and Strood (no. 250 on our list), where Mark Reckless has defected. But Tory whips (and UKIP strategists) may wish to download our full list of results to find out who might jump next.