Two Polarities of Anti-Politics: why trying to be friends with both Ukip and Green supporters won’t work for the mainstream parties

Diptic

Diptic

By Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker. Will Jennings is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at University of Southampton (Academia.edu, Twitter) and Gerry Stoker is Professor of Governance at University of Southampton (Twitter). You can read more posts by Will Jennings here and more posts by Gerry Stoker here.


There is a polarity at the heart of British politics that is triggered by anti-politics. Both Ukip and Green supporters share a deep sense of disillusionment with the political class and functioning of British democracy. In almost every other respect, though, their grievances with what is on offer from the political mainstream diverge – leading to polarities that require both Labour and the Conservatives to defend against an attack from both their left and right flanks.

The mainstream parties recognise the threat but are in much more of a bind when it comes to how to respond than they understand. First the political disenchantment at the heart of Ukip and Green support means that their voters have stopped listening to mainstream parties to some degree and second the polarity of Green and Ukip positions means that if mainstream parties try to appease one set of voters they run the risk of simply driving others away from them.

As part of our ongoing investigation into the causes and impacts of political disaffection, we have undertaken a systematic comparison of the determinants of Ukip and Green Party support, based on the British Election Study’s Continuous Monitoring Survey (2009-13) and Internet Panel Study (2014). Full details of our analyses can be found here (the Ukip analyses replicate earlier work reported here).

The results across both periods – which start well before the height of the Ukip and Green surges – are striking. Distrust of politicians is almost as big a factor for Greens as it is for Ukip supporters (it is interesting that this effect is slightly weaker for 2014 as the Greens have picked up more popular support). The odds of someone intending to vote Green or Ukip are up to two and a half times higher (and at a minimum 50% higher) if they express distrust in politicians. People who intend to vote for UKIP and the Greens are also more dissatisfied with British democracy, dislike both David Cameron and Ed Miliband, and more likely to agree that “politicians don’t care what people like me think”. Interestingly, Greens are more likely to accept the view that “it is difficult to understand government and politics”, whereas Ukippers disagree – for them politics is not as complicated as is made out. Even controlling for the demographic and attitudinal factors identified in the popular and widely accepted Ford and Goodwin thesis, political distrust and disaffection is a major driver of support for the Greens and UKIP.

The idea that Ukip or the Greens represent a threat is not news to the political parties. Labour’s big data election analyst Ian Warren long since identified the Greens as key to understanding the distinctive geography of the new British politics. And the Tories plainly see Ukip as a major concern. But the standard mainstream party response is to focus on policy red meat that both parties should throw Ukip supporters to win them back. Disaffection with politics means this strategy may not work because those voters are less trusting of politics and so less likely, anyway, to believe the policy crackdowns and inducements they are offered. But appeasing Ukip has in turn created space for the rise of the Greens – though it remains to be seen to what extent their gains in the polls translate into votes on Election Day.

Our old politics is struggling to cope with a new world of polar opposites. While they may be disaffected and share distrust in politics and politicians, the attitudes of Ukip and Green supporters differ in important ways. Ukip voters are more likely to be male, aged 55 and over, and read right-wing tabloids. Greens are more likely to be female, younger, and not tabloid readers. Ukippers want to leave the EU are worried about immigration, and tend to be of the view that “ordinary people do not get their fair share”. They also are more likely to think that equal opportunities for ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians have gone too far. Greens on the other hand are pro-EU, more likely to express positive attitudes on immigration, believe that government should be concerned about inequality, and disagree that “too many people rely on government handouts”. They also strongly disagree that environmental protection has gone too far. In contrast to Greens, Ukip supporters tend to be less supportive of redistribution or government intervention, but still care about ordinary people getting a fair deal. They may be hacked off about the economic status quo, but Ukip supporters are not necessarily natural bedfellows for Labour’s brand of redistributive social democracy.

These results show that the Left behind thesis that the demographic of Ukip supporters means they are natural Labour voters has perhaps been overplayed – the set of policy attitudes that they express would be just at home in the “new working class” identified by Ivor Crewe in Thatcher’s heyday. These people once may have voted for Labour and Tony Blair – in the guise of “Mondeo Man” – but their policy and cultural attitudes are distinctive and not social democratic in any way. By trying to placate voters’ concerns about immigration and the EU, parties may well have driven voters into the arms of the Greens – who are the polar opposite to Ukip supporters on crucial cultural and policy attitudes.

Further Greens and UKIP supporters are not “insurgents” in any normal sense of the word (they are unarmed as far as we know!). They have a clear set of ideological dispositions and policy preferences that are not being met by the political parties or within the political system as it currently stands. That those preferences are at polar opposites highlights the impossibility for both Labour and Conservatives of mollifying both sides. Their impact on rising support for the new forces in British politics simply highlights the lack of discussion about the underlying attitudinal cleavages that are giving rise to these disparate political movements and the extent to which they are reshaping the political map.

This research is funded under the ESRC research award ‘Popular Understandings of Politics in Britain, 1937-2014’ (Nick Clarke, Gerry Stoker, Will Jennings and Jonathan Moss). See further details here.

PAIR 50th Anniversary Lecture on April 22nd: ‘Cops, Warriors and Revisionist Just War Theory’

Professor Chris Brown, London School of Economics

Wednesday 22nd April 6-7.30pm (58/1067, followed by wine reception).

Abstract: The English common law tradition distinguishes between the role of the police constable and the soldier; the former is an independent legal official, personally liable for his/her actions, while the latter is team player, acting under orders, subject only to the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC).  Recently both of these ideal types have come under threat. The militarisation of the police (‘warrior cops’) is a much commented upon phenomenon; less attention has been give to the rise of the ‘Cop Warrior’, where civilian standards of legal and moral responsibility are applied to soldiers in combat zones. Unlike the rise of the Warrior Cop, which happened in response to changing circumstances, the rise of the Cop Warrior is partly the product of shifts that have been defended in philosophical terms and promoted by revisionist just war theorists. These theorists understand war in terms of individual responsibility, subsuming the LOAC under general International Human Rights Law. This is a retrograde step; it loses contact with realities of warfare, and by rejecting the moral equivalence of combatants validates Carl Schmitt’s critique of just war thinking as encouraging a Manichean world-view.

Workshop: Developments in Deliberative Democracy

By John Boswell, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southampton (Academia.edu, @Boswell_JC). You can find more posts by John Boswell here.


We are delighted to present an international workshop on new directions and developments in deliberative democratic theory and research.  This half-day event brings together two high-profile academics from the world of deliberative democracy: John Dryzek (Canberra) and John Gastil (Penn State). The first session, provocatively titled ‘One Deliberative Process to Rule Them All’, will be led by John Gastil who will reflect on his ongoing research on the Citizen Initiative Review process in Oregon. The second session ‘Deliberative Democracy and the Agents of Global Justice’ will be led by John Dryzek. The workshop will be followed by a short reception.

The workshop is a partnership between the Centre for Citizenship. Globalisation and Governance (C2G2), Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and PDD Specialist Group.

Key details

Where: The Boardroom, the University of Westminster

When: 1-6 pm Saturday, March 28

How: Attendance is free but you must register in advance. To do so, click here.

PAIR 50th Anniversary Lecture on February 18th: ‘Life in an Age of Theocracy on the March’

Ronnie Beiner, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto

Wednesday 18th February 6-7.30pm (58/1067, followed by wine reception).

Abstract: Human history is full of surprises. In 1989, one had decent reason to believe that the age of totalitarian ideologies was definitively over (or at least that it would be banished for many generations). Who would have expected a new totalitarian ideology to be a significant global player so soon? And who on earth would have predicted that ancient theocracy of all things would come to define the core of this new ideology? The purpose of this lecture is to sketch an account of what it means to be normatively committed to a secularist vision of social and political order, against the backdrop of a virtually relentless cascade of bad news associated with the challenges posed by toxic versions of theocracy.

PAIR 50th Anniversary Lecture (Tonight, 6pm): ‘Sovereignty of the People? Public Opinion and Constitutional Change in Britain’

By Rosie Campbell, Reader in Politics, Birkbeck University of London.

Wednesday 11th February 6-7.30pm (02 / 1089, followed by wine reception).

Abstract: In this presentation I will explore how the public understands political representation using illustrative examples from surveys of public opinion. Contemporary elite and academic discourse often problematizes the descriptive and substantive representation of citizens through the lens of gender and ethnicity. For example, there are multiple surveys that have evaluated whether there is a public appetite for measures to improve the descriptive representation of women. However, there is also a resurgent interest in social class and regional/local identities that provides a further challenge to the current political class’s claims to be ‘representatives’ of the people. How the sovereignty of the people should be expressed through the collective voice of MPs in parliament has been contested at least since Burke made his famous speech to the Electors at Bristol; MPs must negotiate where to situate themselves between the two poles of political representation (centre and periphery) and choose to act as either delegates or trustees. These issues are increasingly salient in the context of a fragmenting party system where there is mounting pressure on MPs to perform their representative role by focusing more of their attention on the interests of their constituency. I will use surveys of public opinion to explore how these tensions are ‘voiced’ by the people.

What Is Going on in Argentina with President Fernandez de Kirchner?

By Pia Riggirozzi. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


[Cross-posted at The Conversation.]

Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has announced plans to dissolve her country’s intelligence services. President Fernandez de Kirchner’s move comes after the controversial death of a prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who had accused her of attempting to cover up Iran’s role in the country’s deadliest ever terrorist attack: the bombing of the AMIA (the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Society) in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people.

How did things get to this point, and how did Fernandez de Kirchner get into such terrible legal turmoil?

Cristina de Kirchner and Héctor Timerman. EPA/Jason Szenes

Muddy waters

Nisman had allegedly been investigating the AMIA bombing for over a decade. He finally brought things to a head in mid-January 2015, when he suddenly brought an indictment against Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, for their suspected involvement in the cover-up.

Nisman was then found dead in his apartment on January 18 2015, just four days after serving the indictment and hours before a judicial inquiry was set to begin. His death was declared “suspicious” despite the fact that it seemed like a suicide – and the investigation into it has now turned up evidence he may have been planning to arrest Fernandez de Kirchner herself.

Nisman’s allegations about the Iranian connection must be seen in a wider context. There has been a marked shift in Argentina’s policy towards Iran since 2010, mainly led by Timerman, towards trade and diplomatic relations.

At the same time, Iran has been trying to raise its profile in Latin America in general as it looks for ways to ease the pain of Western sanctions. Tehran has forged close ties with leftist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia, and has been seeking trade agreements with Brazil for food imports.

While the shift to Iran, and the lack of judicial progress in the case of international terrorism striking the country still needs to be accounted for, the death of Nisman and the ensuing political chaos has raised profound concerns about the state of Argentina’s democracy.

Alberto Nisman. EPA/Cezaro de Luca

Nisman’s case against Fernandez de Kirchner and Timerman was dismissed on February 2. It relied heavily on transcripts of wiretapped conversations between Argentine negotiators and Iranian officials, and these recorded conversations – provided by the intelligence services – were found to be inconclusive and the case lacking in substantive evidence.

There are suspicions about whether this evidence was all it seemed, and worries that the intelligence service was up to its old tricks once again – muddying the waters of a highly sensitive case, or even supporting sinister plans to destabilise the government.

But those misgivings themselves show that whatever Fernandez de Kirchner’s real reason for doing it, the intelligence overhaul was undeniably long overdue.

Toxic institutions

During Argentina’s so-called Dirty War in the 1970s and 80s, the intelligence services were dominated by the military, and acted as its instrument in the persecution of opposition leaders and social activists.

After democratisation began in 1983, the government of Raul Alfonsin was mainly focused on reforming two main enforcing agencies: the armed forces and the police. The intelligence services were left for later, despite the fact the secret services were still rampantly active, engaging in political disappearances and the extortion of prominent businessmen to “make up” for the dwindling demand for their services.

In part, this was just one of many difficulties facing a fledgling democracy that was struggling to achieve stability and self-confidence. But the intelligence services were also protected by the fact that even democratic governments found them very politically useful.

Taken at face value, then, Fernandez de Kirchner has done the right thing. Dismantling the intelligence services was necessary, a debt of democratisation in Argentina. And while passing the reform will require parliamentary endorsement, Kirchner’s Front for Victory party controls 39 of the 72 seats in the Senate and 130 of the 257 seats in the lower house, the changes will probably enjoy a smooth ride through both chambers.

But whether Fernandez de Kirchner’s newfound zeal for reform will do anything for the health of Argentina’s democracy is another question entirely.

For democracy’s sake

Instead of opening up engagement with the opposition, Fernandez de Kirchner’s swift intervention has become a piece of partisan grandstanding, and has all but trivialised the judicial process Nisman began.

It has also done nothing to dismiss suspicions about the president’s “real reasons” for dismantling the intelligence service, while sending party politics into a frenzied back-and-forth of accusations and denunciation.

The government stands accused of using Nisman’s case for partisan ends, dodging a major investigation into the president in an election year; it in turn accuses the opposition of not wanting to give up illicit paid access to political information from spooks.

Of course, weak institutions and impunity for the powerful are not the fruits of some latter-day Kirchnerista invention; they are long-established facts of Argentine political life. Still, the current government has done a lot to deepen distrust of the state among its people.

To be sure, the sensation around the death of Nisman made it clear just how badly Argentina’s intelligence system needed reform, and created the context to finally get the job done. But for the sake of democracy, this must not be allowed to descend into a party-political brawl – and certainly not at such a sensitive time, as a two-term-limited president nears the end of her tenure.

Polling Observatory #44: Race continues to narrow with less than 100 days left

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). The homepage of The Polling Observatory can be found here, and you can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This is the forty-fourth in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

UK 01-02-15 anchor on average

Politics has returned with a vengeance after a brief festive cease-fire. All the parties have moved into campaign mode with just a few months left until election day, and news schedules are now daily filled with briefings, policy announcements, and the wearying trench warfare of spin, with hyperbolic claims and counter-claims hurled back and forth. What have the voters made of it all? Our last report tracked polling up to the beginning of December, so the latest estimates from the Polling Observatory cover two months: the December lull as well as the January campaigning.

So far, there is little evidence of any decisive impact on the overall balance of power. Labour support has been stable for the past two months – our February 1st estimate of 32.2% is exactly the same as our estimate for December 1st. There has been a great deal written in the media about an alleged slump in Labour fortunes, but this story seems to be behind the curve of polling – Labour support did experience a substantial drop in the early autumn, but has been stable since. Given that much of the autumn fall in Labour support seems to be concentrated in Scotland, where the recent wave of constituency polls by Lord Ashcroft has confirmed a massive swing from Labour to the SNP, it is possible that overall support for Ed Miliband’s party has not declined at all in England and Wales in the past year.

Conservative support has picked up a bit over the past two months, but most of the gain merely recovered the ground lost in November. We now have them at 31.2%, one point behind Labour, and still stuck in the 30 to 32% band where they been marooned for almost three years. The Conservatives will hope that their positive economic message, and David Cameron’s sizeable ratings advantage over Ed Miliband, will start to deliver polling gains as the election approaches, but as yet we see little sign of this.

UKIP received less attention over the winter than they enjoyed during their vintage autumn, crowned by two by-election victories. This may explain the slight dip in their poll ratings, down 0.7 points to 15.5%. Both of the main parties will hope that Farage’s insurgents will be squeezed in a more sustained way as election day approaches, but there is no evidence of this yet – 15.5% remains above the highest ratings the party received before 2014.

The Liberal Democrats slid once again over the past two months – down 0.5% to 8.0%, a record low on our revised methodology. The party’s famed constituency campaign organisations become ever more vital to its prospects one election day as its national poll numbers continue to flatline.

The other big political story of the past two months has been the “Green surge”, with support for the environmentalists soaring, particularly among disaffected younger voters, and pushing the Liberal Democrats into fifth in some polls. This month we have for the first time added estimates for the Greens. Our systematic inspection of the polling evidence does not support the narrative of a “surge” concentrated in the past few months, which seems to be the result of selective analysis of the most favourable polls. Instead, we find that support for the Greens has been steadily increasing for about a year, and – at 6.3% – is now more than double the level recorded at the beginning of 2014. As so often in this turbulent election cycle, the true impact of the Greens’ rise is hard to gauge at present – while there is a sustained and genuine shift towards them, it is concentrated among the segment of the electorate (under 25s) that is least likely to vote, and also most likely to be adversely affected by new voter registration rules. In addition, the Greens’ organisation is relatively weak, and so there remain doubts about whether the party has the capacity to mobilise and turn out its new support base. Despite the conventional wisdom that the Greens are hurting Labour, it is striking that the rise in Green support over the past few months has much more closely mirrored the (continued) decline in Liberal Democrat support.

With the four party politics of 2014 now giving way to five or six party politics, it is becoming ever more important to consider May 2015 at the constituency level. We have been working hard on developing our constituency level prediction model over the past couple of months, and we will very shortly unveil our seat level forecasts for the election. These will then be updated regularly along with the polling estimates.

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien