A third of Conservative Party members could vote for the UK Independence Party at the forthcoming European Elections, with many not coming back, according to a new study.
The research found that Conservative activists most attracted to UKIP are the ones who are most “culturally and socially” conservative. They also tend to be slightly more to left on the economy and public services.
In the academic study, entitled “Why Do Tories Defect to UKIP? Conservative Party Members and the Temptations of the Populist Radical Right“, Professor Tim Bale and Professor Paul Webb say that these Conservative activists feel alienated by Prime Minister David Cameron’s liberal stance on issues such as gay marriage, and are attracted by UKIP’s tough stance on Europe and immigration.
The authors say that this group are not only likely to switch their votes at the European elections, but may also permanently switch allegiance, giving UKIP a huge boost in terms of dedicated activists and significantly helping its chances at next year’s General Election.
The study, published in the academic journal Political Studies, make use of a YouGov survey of 850 Conservative Party members, found that those most likely to consider switching to UKIP are significantly to the left economically of those least likely to switch – being less sceptical of taxation, more in favour of government intervention – but also “significantly more socially authoritarian”, to use the report’s term.
“They are particularly concerned about immigration and the EU. Perhaps most alarmingly for the [Conservative] party, they do not feel valued or respected by their own leadership, while they regard David Cameron – their own party leader and the country’s prime minister – as ideologically more remote from them than Ukip,” the report says.
Tim Bale told the Independent, “Voting for Ukip could be the first step on a road that sees some Tory members eventually joining Nigel Farage’s party. That might provide Ukip with a stream of experienced activists who could boost its already effective insurgent campaign. If that happens, the next general election is going to be very difficult indeed for David Cameron.”
Conservative Party strategists have been trying to win back UKIP voters by focussing on the steadily improving economy, and highlighting their welfare and immigration reforms. David Cameron has also made his strongest pledge yet to hold a referendum on EU membership in 2017, promising to resign if he cannot deliver it.
The main concern for party strategists, however, is that these voters may simply not believe anything Cameron now does. Some members of other sections of the party have even welcomed the loss certain members to UKIP.