Guest Post By Nathan Wurtzel
United Kingdom 2017 Election Day Guide
Election Day is here and voters are voting in the United Kingdom. Polling results do not appear to have significantly changed during the final days of the campaign following the London Bridge terrorist attack. Final polls still indicate a multimodal distribution of results based on the pollsters’ turnout methodology – the fallout of which we previously discussed in our London and Northern Ireland previews.
All polls, except one of highly-questionable data-gathering methodology, show the Conservatives ahead. We further know from polling this election likely will result in the highest-percentage of total votes received by the two major parties since 1979, when they combined for close to 81%.
The Conservative party appears to have a good chance of topping the 43.9% of the vote it received in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, but will likely fall short of the 397 seats Baroness Thatcher won in 1983 when the British Left was hopelessly split.
The Labour party, on the other hand, is in danger of falling short of 200 seats, which would be their worst performance since the 1935 general election.
Final Central Predictions from Pundits and Election Modelers
At the dissolution of the 650 seat Parliament, Conservatives held 330 seats (not counting the non-partisan Speaker John Bercow), Labour held 229 constituencies, the Scottish National Party held 54, and the Liberal Democrats held nine seats. Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party of Wales, held three seats and the Green Party holds the lone constituency of Brighton Pavilion.
Since all models agree Conservatives will be the largest party in the House of Comments, predictions are given in numbers of constituencies they are expected to win. Readers wishing to learn more about methods and the ranges of seats for each party within each forecast may use the links.
YouGov, election model: CON 302 and a hung Parliament.
Britain Elects, election model: CON 353.
Lord Michael Ashcroft, British pollster and former deputy Conservative Party leader: CON 357.
Martin Baxter, British psephologist: CON 361.
Washington Post Monkey Cage: CON 361.
Chris Hanretty, University of East Anglia: CON 371.
PM and Pendulum, election model: CON 372.
Matt Singh, who correctly predicted polling inaccuracies in the 2015 election: CON 374.
Thomas Scotto, University of Strathclyde, in interview: CON 380-390.
Iain Dale, British talk-show host and former Norfolk North MP candidate: CON 386.
Ian Warren, British political consultant who has advised all parties: CON 387.
Nathan Wurtzel, your humble author: CON 359-379, LAB 189-209, SNP 45-51, LD 7-15, PC 3, GRN 1
With the punditry squared away, we move forward to the procedure of Election Day.
All voters in the UK who wish to vote must be registered two weeks prior to the election. There is no day-of-election registration.
Voting locations in the United Kingdom are open from 7:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Most voters cast their ballots in person. It is also legal, for any reason, to vote by mail after having requested a form, as long as the vote is received by 10:00 P.M. on election day. In rare cases, voters may authorize another person to vote for them by proxy, but this must be due to medical disability, military service, or otherwise unusual absence from the constituency that precludes voting by mail or in person.
Votes are cast by paper ballot. The names and party affiliations of the nominated candidates in each constituency are listed and the voter simply selects one name and marks an “X” next to it. Write-ins are not allowed and a ballot showing anything other than one vote is counted as a spoiled ballot. Voters sometimes return blank ballots as well, which are counted as undervotes.
At precisely 10:00 P.M. in England (5:00 P.M. Eastern), the television networks will present the exit poll. In 2010, it correctly predicted a hung parliament with Conservatives as the largest party. In 2015, it predicted the same with a small Tory gain of nine, but was off by fifteen seats and Conservatives went on to win a narrow majority. As we have noted many times, even if the exit poll accurately predicts the vote percentages for each party, it is difficult to use those figures to assign the correct numbers of constituencies won. Here is a great interview with John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde, supervisor of the exit poll.
Considering the relative accuracy of the exit poll from 1997 through 2015, it likely would be a bad sign for Prime Minister May if the initial prediction is anything other than “Conservative Majority.” Even if the Tories manage to achieve a narrow majority following a prediction of “Hung Parliament” like they did in 2015, it would represent a failure of what they set out to accomplish when calling this snap election.
Voting ends at 10:00 P.M., but any voter in line at that time is allowed to cast their vote. The ballot boxes are then sealed and are transported by police to a counting center. Each constituency has only one counting center, but counting centers in large towns and cities often are used for multiple constituencies, though with separate counting teams for each.
The United Kingdom Commons election uses a simple first-past-the-post system – whichever candidate gets the most votes in a constituency, no matter how low the overall percentage, is declared the winner. In 2015, Alasdair McDonnell won the Belfast South constituency with only 24.5% of the vote, which not only was the lowest winning percentage of that election, but is the lowest in the history of Commons.
Once the count is complete, the candidates and their election agents are made aware of the results. Requests for a recount or any other investigations are made at this point. Should no party have grounds to object, they move to the public declaration.
Constituencies in the United Kingdom are not equal in size, either by population or by geography. Thus, smaller and more compact constituencies will declare more quickly than larger and more far-flung constituencies. St. Ives usually is the final constituency to declare since some votes must be flown or boated over from the Isles of Scilly to be counted.
While partial results are never revealed during the count, rumors often leak out of the count to the media, usually by party officials seeking to influence national expectations. It is wise to treat these like one would treat any political rumor – sometimes they are accurate, sometimes they are not.
When the votes are counted and any challenges dealt with, the count supervisor of the constituency brings the candidates forward and announces the result to the public. The winning candidate then gives a short speech and the defeated candidates may follow in similar fashion.
Here is a link to the rather famous Morley & Outwood declaration of 2015, as Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls loses his election in a major upset. You will note this occurs at the Leeds counting center, as multiple constituencies were counted and declared at this location.
Order of Declarations and What to Look For
There is a general pattern of order of declarations from election to election, but all of the below must be taken as a rough guide rather than a precise prediction.
The first group of declarations will come from the Tyne and Wear region of the North East, including six-times-in-a-row first to declare Houghton & Sunderland South. These constituencies are heavily Labour and rarely give much of a clue as to how the night might proceed.
The next group, in general, is from Northern Ireland and Scotland. These seats usually do not factor into party control of the House of Commons.
It is likely the first major Conservative-Labour marginal seat to declare will be Darlington in the North East. The Tories need a swing of 3.9% to win this seat. If they can’t convert it, it might be a sign they are not going to reap their expected large gains in the North.
In Wales, Wrexham is expected to declare fairly early. This is a seat that will turn Labour red to Tory blue with a swing of 2.9%. The Conservatives are unlikely to gain much of anything in Wales if they can’t win this seat. Clwyd South, requiring a swing of 3.5%, is another early-declaring Wales seat representing low-hanging fruit for the Tories.
In the North West, Bury North and Bury South should declare early. Bury South is a big Conservative target requiring a swing of 5.3% to flip from red to blue, the type of swing they need for large gains in the House of Commons. The Tories barely won Bury North in 2015, and a reversion from blue to red here would have to be considered a very bad portent for them for the night to come.
The first London constituency to report should be Battersea. Last week, we noted Labour is making noise about this seat, despite the very large Tory margin of sixteen percent in 2015. If Labour were to win this seat, it would be a sign of absolute catastrophe for Prime Minister May and the Conservatives.
Larger numbers of constituencies will begin to report around 9:30 – 10:00 P.M. Eastern Time, including Conservative targets Bishop Auckland in the North East, Coventry South in the West Midlands, and Tooting in London, though the last is a longer shot and the Tories do not have to win it to have a respectable night.
Around this time, Peterborough and Thurrock in the East will declare. Tory losses would indicate a very bad night is underway for them.
At this point, there should be enough data in for forecasters to make some conclusions while the heavier flood of constituencies report between 10:30 P.M. and 1:00 A.M. Eastern time.
As Labour constituencies tend to be smaller and more compact, they will take the lead in seats won early in the night. Conservatives will come back and presumably surpass Labour at some point in the early morning hours.
Depending on your cable provider or live-streaming capability, you can watch election night specials on ITV, SkyNews, or BBCWorld. Coverage begins at 4:45 P.M. Eastern time and the BBC coverage is anchored by David Dimbleby, who has anchored their election night program since 1979. This is his final election night.
Finally, for something completely different: the Election Night Special from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Earlier 2017 UK Election Posts By Nathan Wurtzel
Nathan Wurtzel is a Washington, DC-based political consultant. You can follow him on Twitter: @NathanWurtzel