Comparing local results and national polling

The most recent 24 contests illustrate this, with the main parties gaining and sometimes losing seats.

These elections provide something more when a broader perspective is taken. The results show a change in control in almost half. The two main parties each lost four seats, but the Conservatives gained five and Labour just one. The Liberal Democrats took three Conservative seats but lost one in exchange and two others to Independents.

The explanation for some results lies in changing patterns of competition – major parties deciding to withdraw from the fray, Independents leaving or joining the battle for votes, local issue-based parties finding more traction.

But delve deeper still, and something more interesting emerges. Labour is not just losing seats but also vote share. Barely a week into the national campaign, Greg Cook, Labour’s former polling expert, tweeted that the party’s vote had fallen in 85 of 88 recent council by-elections when compared with every year from 2016-2019. Labour’s true position might be worse than the national pollsters are suggesting.

We have results from more than 500 by-elections since the June 2017 General Election. For each ward election there is a before and after – the main May election and a subsequent by-election. Cook’s comments relate to the difference in vote share across these elections.

The local electoral cycle means that comparisons should be made across different years. County vacancies are compared with the May elections held a month before the last General Election. Some district vacancies being contested now were fought last May.

Regardless of the base year, the results are almost entirely bad in Cook’s selection of less than 100.

Taking a broader view, assessing the more than 500 contests since the last General Election, tracks the main parties over time.

Compared with a May 2017 baseline, the Conservatives are down six percentage points, Labour is down one point and the Liberal Democrats are up five. Set the baseline at May 2018 instead, and the Conservative and Labour vote has dropped by two and eight points respectively while the Liberal Democrats have risen by nine points.

Comparing those numbers with our national estimates of party vote shares in both 2017 and 2018 supports Cook’s analysis of the sizeable electoral challenge now facing Labour.

The evidence from council elections runs parallel, with the latest polling showing the party below 30 per cent. As is generally the case, Liberal Democrat support in by-elections is several points higher while Conservative support in by-elections and the polls is similar.

For all the latest by-election results in full, including a spreadsheet of voting statistics, please download the spreadsheet of results.

local by-elections
Chelmsford, Marconi
LIB DEM HELD
21.5% over Con
Turnout 21.6%
Cornwall, Wadebridge West
IND GAIN FROM LIB DEM
13.1% over Con
Turnout 45.3%
Croydon, Fairfield
LAB HELD
16.8% over Con
Turnout 24.8%
Daventry, Abbey North
CON GAIN FROM LAB
10.5% over Lib Dem
Turnout 17.3%
Devon, Heavitree & Whipton Barton
LAB HELD
1.2% over Con
Turnout 30.5%
Eden, Shap
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
14.8% over Con
Turnout 34.4%
Flintshire, Bagilt West
LAB HELD
27.1% over Ind
Turnout 24.2%
Gravesham, Westcourt
CON GAIN FROM LAB
18.1% over Lab
Turnout 19.9%
Liverpool, Princes Park
LAB HELD
59.3% over Green
Turnout 15.8%
Neath & Port Talbot, Rhos
PLAID CYMRU GAIN FROM LAB
29.6% over Con
Turnout 34.2%
North Yorkshire, Upper Dales
CON GAIN FROM IND
7.4% over Ind
Turnout 41.4%
Pembrokeshire, Hundleton
IND HELD
15.2% over Con
Turnout 44.2%
Powys, Llandrindod North
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
12.9% over Lab
Turnout 32.5%
Powys, Newtown South
CON HELD
7.1% over Lib Dem
Turnout 25.9%
Powys, St. Mary
LAB GAIN FROM CON
10.9% over Con
Turnout 41.8%
Richmondshire, Hawes, High Abbotside & Upper
IND HELD
25.5% over Con
Turnout 46.1%
South Ribble, Coupe Green & Gregson Lane
CON HELD
10.6% over Ind
Turnout 25.8%
Torbay, Goodrington With Roselands
CON GAIN FROM LIB DEM
13.9% over Lib Dem
Turnout 31.7%
Tunbridge Wells, Culverden
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
21.8% over Con
Turnout 33.5%
Warwick, Leamington Lillington
LIB DEM HELD
27% over Con
Turnout 26.1%
West Lindsey, Torksey
CON HELD
3% over Lib Dem
Turnout 43.3%
Wiltshire, Melksham Without South
CON HELD
Turnout 20.9% over Lib Dem
Turnout 24.5%
Windsor & Maidenhead, Riverside
CON HELD
11.8% over Lib Dem
Turnout 34.8%
Worcestershire, Bromsgrove South
CON GAIN FROM LAB
17.4% over Ind
Turnout 23.6%
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