Can Andrew George win St Ives? The message of the maths.

Even though the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships turned their backs on a so-called ‘progressive alliance’, we have a de-facto one in Cornwall in St Ives. But how likely is it that Andrew George and the Lib Dems can unseat the Tories’ Derek Thomas? Here are the voting figures for St Ives in 2015.

Derek Thomas Conservative 18491 38.3%
Andrew George Lib Dem 16022 33.2%
Graham Calderwood Ukip 5720 11.8%
Cornelius Olivier Labour 4510 9.3%
Tim Andrewes Green 3051 6.3%
Rob Simmons MK 518 1.1%
turnout 73.7%

Progressive alliance fans tend to approach things a little simplistically. They assume that all the voters for ‘progressive’ parties will vote for the ‘progressive’ candidate. On that basis things look good for Andrew, who can add another 8,079 to his total. Hold on though. The ‘progressive’ alliance is facing a ‘regressive’ one, as Ukip isn’t standing. So on the same basis add another 5,720 votes to Thomas’s total. This gives us

Derek Thomas Conservative 24211
Andrew George Lib Dem 24101
Chris Drew Labour 0

You might have spotted a small flaw in the logic here, with a Labour vote that even the Tory press might not expect. Because Labour is standing. Its local candidate, Chris Drew, is well-known in the Penzance area. It’s hardly likely that no-one will vote for him even if the Labour campaign is extremely low profile. Current polling indicates that around two thirds of Labour voters last time intend to do the same this time, with one in five still undecided and the rest scattering, including 10% to the Tories. But let’s assume that in St Ives only half their voters stick with Labour, while 10% go Tory. This leaves 1,804 for Andrew.

Let’s also assume Andrew picks up 90% of Green and MK votes, which may be taking things for granted a little. This gives him another 3,212. But what will happen to the Ukip vote? Across Britain 60% of Ukip’s voters in 2015 now intend to vote for Ukip-lite – the Tories – in the absence of a Ukip candidate (45% will do so even if there is one!). Eight per cent are considering voting Labour and just 4% for the Lib Dems with the rest undecided. Let’s assume St Ives’ kippers vote the same way but that the non-Tory vote splits evenly between Labour and Lib Dem.

All this surmising gives us the following.

2015 vote Labour GP/MK Ukip  2017 vote
Thomas 18491 +451 0 +3432 =22374
George 16022 +1804 +3212 +343 =21381
Drew 4510 -2255 +357 +343 =2955

Oh dear, it’s still a majority for Thomas, and a fairly healthy one at that.

Moreover, so far this exercise has made the further very questionable assumption that every single Lib Dem voter in 2015 will stick with Andrew. This is very unlikely. Recent polls suggest that Lib Dem voters are more volatile than any other party apart from Ukip. Only half of Lib Dem voters in 2015 are contemplating doing the same in 2017, with nearly one in five saying they’re going for that strong and stable, but nice, Mrs May and one in ten to Labour. The rest are dithering.

So, in order to win, Andrew has to pick up at least nine out of ten Green and MK voters, retain ALL his own voters from 2015 and get at least half the Labour vote. A tall order. But even all that isn’t enough. So he needs to do all or some of the following as well.

  • Attract Tory voters. This will be difficult as Tory voters in 2015 are proving the most resilient to changing their votes. They’re not called conservative for nothing.
  • Attract more of the Ukip vote. This is made more difficult by the Lib Dems’ strong anti-Brexit stance.
  • Pick up support from non-voters. Easier said than done.

There’s one final possibility. In 2015 Andrew went down with the good ship Lib Dem, sunk by the general swing away from the party across the UK. If there were a rising Lib Dem tide this time it could take him back to Westminster. The problem is that there isn’t. Lib Dem support in the polls is stubbornly languishing at levels similar to or even a little down on 2015. The Lib Dem vote in the Cornish local elections also stagnated and was hardly encouraging.

To win, Andrew has to hope that the remaining three weeks of the campaign see an uplift in Lib Dem prospects generally. Otherwise, you can safely place your bets on Derek Thomas.

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11 thoughts on “Can Andrew George win St Ives? The message of the maths.

  1. By far the best analysis I’ve seen and I’ve been thinking about this matter for the past two years. I’d go along with most of it, but I think some LIb Dem voters who switched to Tory in 2015 may well switch back again after experience of Mr Thomas. Being hopeful I’ve noticed a lot of chatter locally against the Tories among young people and those not usually inclined to vote. New voters could yet make the difference here.

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  2. Although I think Andrew George is facing an uphill battle, I think this blog piece is flawed, in that it doesn’t take a step back and look at the pattern of previous elections. Between 2010 and 2015 Andrew George lost 3.5k votes. The Tory gained just 0.6K. Between them Labour, Green and MK gained 2.5K – so those swings come close to accounting for Andrew George’s losses (most to the Greens, a few to Labour and Tory). However, UKIP also saw a 2.7K gain between 2010-15… which is very similar to the uptick in turnout between 2010-15 (2.4K). I’d wager that most of the UKIP voters in 2015 were non-voters in 2010, and there’s a good chance they won’t turn out again this time (turnout will almost certainly be lower in general). The Greens – who seem to have been the single biggest beneficiaries of Andrew George’s lost votes – aren’t standing; Labour has worse poll ratings nationally; and there will likely be some swing back away from the Tory – who is notably crap as a local MP – to Andrew George amongst the floating sector of the traditional voter base, which is loosely small-C conservative, and which historically has tick-tacked between Tory and Liberal. So, reading those psephological runes, I’d say it’s eminently possible for Andrew George to win – though the ball is very much in the court of would-be Labour voters. They’re the ones who will decide whether St Ives sends a Tory back to parliament or not – and if it does, the responsibility will lie largely on their shoulders.

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    • Nice try and a fair point about the previous elections. But your anaylsis remains only implicitly quantitative. Do the numbers and, even on your assumptions, it’s still too close to call. You’re putting your faith in Ukip voters last time (and in 2010) not voting Tory but staying home, which is not what the polls are suggesting. Plus a straight swing from Tory to Andrew, which again runs against the tide of state-wide polling and depends on a strong personal vote. I hope you’re right but the maths are still tight.

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      • It *is* indeed only implicitly quantitative, but it is the most logical way based on what we already know to “do the math”, as they say. The fact that my reading of where votes most likely shifted between 2010 and 2015 actually suggests that a small number of Andrew’s lost votes actually may have gone to UKIP means that even the assumption that any 2015 Kippers who bother to turn out this time will automatically vote Tory isn’t a given. And I’m pretty sure that the personal vote *is* significant in quite a big way here – and was significant in minimising Andrew George’s 2010-15 loss, which was markedly smaller than I’d been expecting myself, given the extent of antipathy to the coalition from “progressive” electors. And because the Conservative has been notably inconspicuous during the past two years – and given that it has only been two years – Andrew George actually enjoys a certain pseudo-incumbency advantage… We shall see, in any case!

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      • All assumptions that raise fair caveats about my argument, based on past voting record and current polling evidence. We’ll know the answer in a fortnight.

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  3. I used to vote conservative. Now my son’s school is facing a funding crisis. It’s hard to defend your party when fellow parents cite this, cuts that effect their elderly and disabled relatives and such a silly vote losing decision as to legalise the ivory trade again.

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  4. It’s a very sobering article. Andrew spoke recently of how close this election is likely to be and I thought he might be being unduly gracious to his primary opponent. However, these figures – and the likelihood of so many UKIPpers voting for the Brexit candidate – make it seem a tall order for Andrew to unseat Derek Thomas. It may also be hoping for too much that enough Labour loyalists might think tactically in voting for Andrew too, sadly. I would vote Labour if I believed that they had a good chance but I believe that Andrew is the most realistic and able candidate to deliver us from Tory stooge-ism in West Cornwall. However, peeking further into Pandora’s Box, the hope is that the young voters might, just might, hold the key to Andrew’s possible narrow victory. I hope so. I’m amazed by how many people don’t seem to understand the ‘first past the post’ system though and still vote according to their ideals rather than tactically. Still, let’s hope enough people get out and do the biz on June 8th. We need that strong voice for West Cornwall back in the HoC.

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