The UK General Election of May 6th, 2010 – Section 5 – The UK General Election of May 6th, 2010

Russell Haggar

Site Owner


The UK General Election of May 6th, 2010 Sections List: 

Section 1: Introductory Links - Click Here


Section 2: Parties, Poll Data, Events and Debates - Click Here

Introduction: Aspects of British Party Politics 2005-2010

Opinion Poll Data and Some Major Political Events 2005-2010

The Leadership Debates


Section 3: The General Election of 2010: Data - Click Here 

The Result of the UK General Election of 2010

Tactical Voting [External links only at present]

Social Influences on Voting Behaviour

Social Influences on Turnout [Added April 2012]

The Mass Media and Voting Behaviour [External links only at present]


Section 4: The General Election of 2010: Data - Click Here

Party Identification and Voting Behaviour

The Influence of Salient Issues and Party Policies

Party Images and Voting Behaviour

Valence Issues: The Importance of Political Leadership

The Parliamentary Expenses Scandal


Section 5: Summary: The UK General Election of May 6th, 2010



Section 5:

The General Election of 2010: A Summary

  • The General Election of 2010 resulted in a Hung Parliament which subsequently led to the formation of a Coalition Government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
  • The Poll Ratings of Nick Clegg and of the Liberal Democrats improved as a result of his strong performance in the first debate  and the success of Nick Clegg  and the resultant transformation of the polls alarmed both of the main parties and led to the orchestration in the Conservative Press of a series of anti- Liberal Democrat editorials [often targeted particularly on the dangers of a Hung Parliament and the threats of electoral reform] as well as articles personally critical of Nick Clegg. Furthermore the Conservative Party itself organised a "Spoof" party Political Broadcast designed to emphasise the weaknesses[ according to Conservatives] of Proportional Representation
  • However although the Poll ratings of the Liberal Democrats and of Nick Clegg remained at historically high levels, they did decline gradually as Election day approached. and  further disappointments for the Liberal Democrats arose as their actual electoral support fell below their ratings in final eve of election polls . Nevertheless relative to the lack lustre ratings of the Liberal Democrats in 2008 and 2009 the 2010 General Election result could be rated as more of a success.
  • The operation  of the FPTP electoral system discriminated against both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In 2005  Labour had secured an overall House of Commons majority on the basis of 35.2% of the popular vote whereas in 2010 the Conservatives failed to secure an overall majority despite gaining 36.1% of the popular vote. As usual the FPTP system discriminated most against the Liberal Democrats.
  • The result was clearly disappointing for Gordon Brown and the Labour Party whose share of the popular vote at29% was its second lowest in the post 2nd World war period. Labour failed because it failed to articulate a credible overall strategy for the future government of the UK and its opinion poll leads in terms of preferred party policies on salient issues, on a range of image criteria and leadership criteria had declined quite significantly between 2001 and 2005 and declined even further between 2005 and 2010. Thus the Conservatives were the preferred party on the economy [which was the most salient issue of the campaign], on immigration and race relations and on law and order [which had become increasingly salient issues in the 2005 and 2010 General Elections] and even narrowly [in some but not all polls on Education [which had traditionally been a "Labour issue"]. Labour remained the preferred party on Health but by a narrower margin than in previous General Elections . Labour's lead on a range of image criteria such as looking after people in real  need and understanding the problems of Britain had also declined significantly especially in comparison with 1997 and 2001.
  • Despite his apparent successes in relation to international financial matters Gordon Brown had failed to create an image of leadership competence and he failed to convince the electorate that he would be able to manage a process of necessary policy renewal within the Labour Party which left him open to the danger that many voters would now come to believe that after thirteen years of Labour Government it was now "time for a change". He also faced considerable political difficulties as a result of his perceived dithering over whether to call a General Election in Autumn 2007, the financial crisis,  the subsequent economic recession , his abolition of the 10p tax rate, the MPs' expenses crisis , the criticisms of his managerial style and his allegedly poor relations with ministers and senior civil servants and his poor presentational skills all of which led to three perhaps poorly organised and half-hearted attempts between 2007 and 2010 to force him to resign the leadership of the Labour Party . If even his own Party was dissatisfied with his leadership this could hardly be expected to encourage  confidence among the wider electorate while Brown's  so-called "Bigotgate"  gaffe could possibly have been expected to be the last straw [!] leading to Labour defeat and Conservative victory. But is was not to be...quite!
  • David Cameron had what many people believed to be very effective communication skills and a strategy designed to improve the overall image of the Conservative Party and to develop voter-friendly policies  which would locate the Conservatives closer to the ideological spectrum than had been the case under the successive unsuccessful leaderships of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. Cameron's aim in a nutshell was to "decontaminate the Conservative brand" by reforming the Conservative PPC selection procedures and focussing on issues such as the necessary expansion of public services and the protection of the environment while de-emphasising  traditional Conservative themes such as immigration and race relations, law and order, taxation reduction and Europe in the hope that once the brand had been detoxified the electorate would now be more willing to listen sympathetically to what the Conservatives had to say on traditional Conservative themes.
  • In a phrase which was first coined during the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith this was to be the politics of AND: better public health services and tougher law and order; better schools and tougher immigration laws and so on. Opinion poll data suggest that Cameron's strategy was partially successful: he was preferred to Brown as a Prime Minister; the Conservatives were preferred to Labour as the Party best able to manage the economy; and Conservative ratings in other policy area and on other image criteria all improved but as the data presented in the main body of this document suggest the Conservative ratings simply did not increase enough to secure victory. Also given the parlous state of the Labour Party it must have been very disappointing to the Conservatives that they did not secure outright victory in these circumstances which seemed particularly favourable to them.
  • Data from Ipsos Mori indicate that although David Cameron was perceived at the time of the 2010 General Election as most likely to make the most effective Prime Minister his overall lead over Gordon Brown was considerably smaller than Tony Blair's over John Major, William Hague and Michael Howard respectively in 1997, 2001 and 2005 .
  • Thus the data on party policies, party images and party leadership along with the relatively negative effects of the first past the post electoral system on Conservative seat gains clearly help to explain why the Conservatives increased their support relative to 2005 but not by enough to secure outright victory. David Cameron failed to "seal the deal" with the British electorate.
  • With regard to the social influences on voting behaviour note the following basic points
  1.  There was a significant decline in class voting such that in 2010 there were  little differences in the patterns of party support among AB, C1, and C2 voters although DE voters were still quite significantly more likely to vote Labour than to vote Conservative although the difference was smaller than in previous general elections.
  2. The combined effects of the relative increased and reduced sizes of the middle class and the working class respectively, the class differences in turnout and the decline in class voting meant that Labour actually received more middle class votes than working class votes. You may like to revisit the assignment on social class and voting behaviour.
  3. Ipsos Mori data and YouGov data on relationships between social class and voting behaviour in 2010 were very similar.
  4. In the Ipsos Mori poll data Women remained more likely to vote Labour and less likely to vote Conservative than men although some YouGov surveys suggest that the more traditional gender differences in voting behaviour had to some extent reasserted themselves. Given the differences in poll findings it will be important for students to discuss this point with their teachers.
  5. Age differences in voting behaviour were small
  6. Minority ethnic voters were more likely than White voters to vote Labour and less likely than White voters to vote Conservative. However support for Labour did decline among Minority Ethic voters and Indian voters were more likely to vote Conservative and less likely to vote Labour than other Minority Ethnic voters. Click here and here for data on ethnicity and school exclusions and here for a Guardian article on exclusion rates , ethnicity and gender
  7. All regions/countries apart from Scotland swung from Labour to Conservative. Only in Scotland was there a swing from Conservative to Labour.
  8. The Liberal Democrats fared poorly in Scotland partly because they had dismissed two Scottish leaders [Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell between 2005 and 2007.
  • The outcome of General Elections depends to some extent upon the voters' assessments of parties' policies on the most salient issues of the General Election. In relation to the General Election of 2010 it is important to note the following main points but also to remember the strengths and weaknesses of the issue voting model of voting behaviour.
  1. The Conservatives were perceived as having better overall policies than Labour.
  2. The most salient issue of the campaign was the economy on which the Conservatives now enjoyed small advantage over Labour. In 1997, 2001 and 2005 Labour was considered more economically competent than the Conservatives.
  3.  Asylum and immigration had become an increasingly salient issue between 2005 and 2010. In Ipsos Mori polls asylum and immigration were less salient than Health and Education but in YouGov polls Asylum and Immigration were more salient than Health and Education. This may have been because the questions on issue saliency were phrased differently in the different companies' polls
  4. Health was  the second most salient issue in the Ipsos Mori survey : Labour enjoyed a small lead over the Conservatives and but Labour's lead  had declined significantly between 2001 and 2005 and gain between 2005 and 2010..
  5. Education was now the third most salient issue in the Ipsos Mori surveys: Labour's large  lead on this issue had disappeared by 2010 and in some polls the Conservatives were rated narrowly ahead of Labour [Ipsos Mori: all respondents], in some polls the ratings were equal [Ipsos Mori : Individuals mentioning Education as important] and in other polls Labour were rated narrowly ahead of the Conservatives You Gov: All respondents]
  6. The Conservatives enjoyed substantial leads over Labour on Asylum/immigration, Taxation, Crime and anti-social behaviour, Defence and Reforming MPS expenses..
  7. In the Ipsos Mori polls Labour did have small leads over the Conservatives on Unemployment, Benefits and Climate change although the Liberal Democrats were actually the preferred Party on Climate change. However in the last YouGov Poll before the General Election the Conservatives' policies on unemployment were narrowly preferred to Labour's were
  8. The Conservative Party was perceived as better able than the Labour Party to deal with the MPs' Expenses Scandal but the electoral salience of this issue had declined significantly between April 2009 and May 2010.
  9. Conservative electoral support could therefore be expected to improve as a result of these developments in the issue and policy agenda but not necessarily by enough to propel the Conservatives to outright General Election victory.
  • With regard to the impact of changes in party images on voting behaviour I repeat the summary which has already appears above. Students may scroll upwards to find further details.
  1. In general terms between 1997 and 2010 Conservative party ratings have tended to improve and Labour's have tended to deteriorate on the basis of the criteria Used by Ipsos Mori. Between 2005 and 2010 Conservative ratings improved especially according to the following criteria: : they are now seen as more likely than Labour to understand the problems ; as having a better team of leaders than Labour; as having more sensible policies than Labour; and as more professional in their approach than Labour. The Conservatives in 2010 were also less likely than in 2005 to be seen as divided; less extreme ; less out of touch with ordinary people and less likely to promise anything to get elected. However it is important to note that even though the Conservative Party image has improved according to a range of criteria   its ratings remain lower  on several criteria than were those of the Blair Governments especially in 1997 and 2001.
  • Spatial Issues, Valence Issues and Party Leadership in the 2010 General Election [See above for further information on the distinction between Spatial Issues and Valence Issues]
  1. It has been argued more recently that in the era of declining party identification and increasing mass media focus on the political leaders that political leadership is an increasingly important influence on voting behaviour. This may arise especially if party policy differences on spatial salient issues are  relatively small because in these circumstances perceptions of overall governing competence to deliver on valence issues [such as improved living standards, better health care and reduced crime] are  likely to be more significant determinants of voting behaviour and it is the perceived abilities [or otherwise] of the  party leaders [and other significant members of the leadership team] which are crucial to the creation of an image of governing competence.
  2. Gordon Brown did experience a short honeymoon in the early stages of his Premiership when both the Labour Party and Mr. Brown personally achieved higher opinion poll ratings than the Conservative Party and Mr. Cameron personally. However following the postponement of an expected General Election the poll ratings of Mr Brown and of the Labour Party declined, recovered slightly in the early stages of the "credit crunch" but then declined mainly as a result of the combined effects of the economic recession, the MPs expenses scandal, [the significance of which had nevertheless declined by May 2010]  and the perceived relatively poor performance of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. However Gordon Brown's ratings did improve slightly in 2010.
  3. Click here for the IPSOS MORI Slide Presentation on the 2010 General Election and scroll to slides 13-19 for Information on Party Leadership
  4. On May 5th, the day before the General Election in answer to the IPSOS MORI question "Who do you think would make the most capable Prime Minister best Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, David Cameron or Nick Clegg  respondents answered: 33% David Cameron, 29% Gordon Brown, 19% Nick Clegg, 19% Non/Don't Know. We may note that David Cameron achieved significantly higher poll ratings  than previous Conservative leaders [except John Major in 1992] but that his ratings were lower than those of Tony Blair in 2005 and not much higher than those of Gordon Brown in 2010.
  5. The Conservatives were seen as having the best team of leaders and the best senior leaders but in each case their leads over Labour were small [5% and 3% respectively.
  6. On some criteria Gordon Brown was preferred to both David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
  • The MP's Expenses Scandal
  1. When the MP's Expenses Scandal first broke in April 2009 many voters were  enraged by it and the scandal was clearly a major explanatory factor in the reduced support for all three main political parties and increased support for UKIP, the BNP and the Greens in the European Parliament Elections of 2009. However in May 2010 by comparison with 2005 overall turnout increased slightly and support for non-mainstream parties increased only slightly suggesting that despite the involvement of some MPs from all mainstream parties in the Expenses Scandal the vast majority of voters still wished to support mainstream rather than non-mainstream parties. There were arguments that perhaps the Expenses Scandal might harm Labour more than the Conservatives but it seems likely that any such differential effect was small and possibly non -existent.

The End!


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