28 January 2015

New ethnic minority voters will take higher price from Tories in 2015

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According to research from British Future, Britain’s increased diversity – with over 620,000 young people from ethnic minorities projected to be eligible to vote in 2015 – could cost David Cameron the 2015 election unless his party increases its appeal to minority voters, writes Steve Ballinger.

David Cameron visits North Manchester Jamia Mosque ahead of Eid 2013. Photo: Crown copyright.
David Cameron visits North Manchester Jamia Mosque ahead of Eid 2013. Photo: Crown copyright.

With Conservative support among ethnic minorities at only 16% compared to 68% for Labour, the potential impact for the Tories at the next general election, unless the party extends its appeal among minority voters, is massive.

The Conservatives’ failure to win ethnic minority votes cost them an overall majority in 2010, with Labour holding on to 24 marginal seats because of the ethnic vote gap. This new research shows that the increased diversity of first time voters would boost Labour’s majority by an average of 645 votes in each of these key battleground marginal seats, if the Conservatives continue to trail Labour by a 4-1 margin among non-white voters. If David Cameron could improve his share to just one-in-three non-white votes, however, he would win all of these Labour seats.

In three Tory-held ‘supermarginal‘ seats – Thurrock, North Warwickshire and Hendon – the demographic shift of first time voters mean the Conservatives would now start behind.

A quarter of a million new, first-time voters from ethnic minorities are likely to turn out at the polling station in May 2015. If the Conservatives fail to increase their appeal to non-white voters, 171,000 are projected to vote Labour and only 36,000 to vote Conservative, giving the Labour Party a 135,000-vote advantage.

In our 2013 report, From Minority Vote to Majority Challenge, British Future projected that the Conservative Party could have won an additional 500,000 votes – and an outright parliamentary majority – if it had appealed to ethnic minority voters to the same extent that it appealed to the electorate as a whole – increasing its share of the vote among non-white voters from 16% to 37%.

The next generation of 2015 voters is increasingly diverse: ethnic minorities make up 18% of 2015 first-time voters, compared to just 12% of current voters. As a result, failure to address this issue will exact a higher price for the Conservatives at each election unless it is addressed.

These new votes, however, are not out of reach for David Cameron’s party. Research shows that younger ethnic minorities do not share such high levels of support for the Labour Party as older non-white voters. Even among older BME voters, when questioned about individual policies, many express attitudes on taxation, welfare and social issues that are more in line with Conservative thinking than Labour, indicating that their votes should not be considered ‘out of reach’ to the Conservative Party.

While increased effort from the Conservative Party could therefore increase the party’s reach among ethnic minority voters, they are less likely to be attracted to Nigel Farage’s UKIP: according to Ipsos MORI polling, 41% of ethnic minorities say they would “never consider voting UKIP”, compared to 35% who said they would never vote Conservative. In fact Conservatives are more likely to attract ethnic minority voters to the party than to persuade UKIP supporters to switch: 48% of UKIP supporters say they would never vote Conservative.

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future said:

“This research shows that growing diversity of the next generation means Conservatives will pay a heavier price in both votes and seats in 2015 if they stand still with ethnic minority voters. Yet David Cameron would take many more of the key marginal seats if his party could improve the Tory share to just one-in-three votes from non-white Britons. Whether or not the Conservatives make progress with ethnic minority voters looks likely to make the crucial difference between triumph or disaster for them at the next election.

“The good news for David Cameron is that these votes aren’t out of reach. Younger voters are more willing to shop around for a party that appeals to them. While older non-white Britons have a much stronger affiliation to Labour, this new generation of ethnic minority voters is more ‘up for grabs’ if the Conservatives make greater efforts to appeal to them.”

Steve Ballinger is head of communications at British Future. Research by Doug Jefferson for British Future. This article first appeared in April 2014

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