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In Part 2 of our election analysis, Runnymede Director Dr Omar Khan explains the different ways black and minority ethnic (BME) groups vote, and the likely reasons for their voting behaviour.
Click here to read Part 1: Black and Minority Ethnic Voters
Differences in black and minority ethnic voting, by geography and ethnic group
There are two reasons to suspect that the vote share in more diverse seats may overstate Labour’s level of support, and understate Conservative support among black and minority ethnic (BME) voters. First is a British Election Study poll suggestion the Conservatives would get 23% of the vote, with 47% voting Labour, 6% Liberal Democrat, 6% Green, and 5% UKIP (and 13% other/undecided). Of course polls are now less trusted than they were before May 7th, but mainly because they tended to underestimate Conservative performance.
A second reason is based on the demographic features of ethnic minority groups and the effect this has on where they live, and so how they vote. Briefly, BME voters who live in the suburbs may be more likely to be middle class, more comfortable with Conservative neighbours, and also then more likely to vote Conservative just like those neighbours. But because such voters are relatively few, it is more difficult to estimate their relatively small contribution to relatively small vote swings in hundreds of constituencies across the UK.
However, we know from the 2010 EMBES study that BME voters do not vote in the same ways as White British voters even when in the same class position. We also know that even in better off areas, BME residents are typically more likely to be unemployed and to experience housing inequalities. The worst case scenario for the Labour Party is therefore that middle class voters in low BME population seats voted for them in much lower numbers to result in a decline from their 2010 vote share of 68% to below 60%, while the Conservatives’ best case is perhaps that such voters overwhelming voted Conservative to bring their BME vote share up to 25% or more. The Liberal Democrats are unlikely to have got more BME voters than their 8% national vote share.
This raises three points. First is that while the Labour party may have increased its BME share, this is mainly because of the Liberal Democrat decline. While in other areas the Conservatives were the main beneficiaries of the Liberal Democrat collapse, in seats with large BME populations, the vote appears to have turned more to Labour, but it appears unlikely that many BME voters who supported the Conservatives in 2010 transferred their allegiance to Labour in 2015.
Second is that in some areas, the Conservatives did hold on to and perhaps increase their BME vote share. Although they lost five of their nine most diverse seats, they held on to the others, including, impressively, Harrow East and Croydon Central, as well as in Hendon and Finchley and Golders Green. In these London constituencies, the standing Conservative MPs increased their vote share, as they did in their next most diverse seats. There are key lessons for the Conservatives (and indeed Labour) in these seats, although in Ilford North, Ealing Central and Acton and Brentford and Isleworth, Labour increased their vote share to take some of their few seats from the Conservatives, despite these being notionally further down their target list in terms of the size of the 2010 majority.
Table 3. Ten Most Diverse Seats with Conservative MPs
Vote share change from 2010
Labour vote share change from 2010
Harrow East (60.8%)
Croydon Central (38.6%)
Finchley and Golders Green (33.6%)
Cities of London and Westminster (31.5%)
Uxbridge and South Ruislip (30.1%)
Enfield, Southgate (30.0%)
Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (29.6%)
Chipping Barnet (28.2%)
The third and related point is that not all ethnic groups vote the same, in part because of their differential demographic characteristics, such as place of residence and income. Generally speaking, Indian Hindus are most likely to vote Conservative, with more anecdotal evidence that Chinese groups also being more inclined towards the Tory party. A plausible reason for this is their greater success in the labour market, or the relatively higher earnings and home ownership among these groups. Table 4 shows the different ethnic minority vote share by political party for 2010. As then, we anticipate that all groups are most likely to vote Labour, but with Indian Hindus (though not Indian Muslims or Indian Sikhs) and perhaps Chinese voters more likely than other ethnic minority groups to vote Conservative.
Table 4. Vote share by ethnic group, 2010
All Ethnic Minorities
There are three reasons why the Conservatives may have not seen a larger rise in vote share in 2015, despite a marked increase in outreach to various communities, especially Indians, during the campaign and over the past five years. First is that previous evidence shows that even where BME groups become better off, they are less likely to vote Conservative that their middle class white peers. This leads to a second reason, namely that there is still an anti-Conservative preference among many BME voters, sometimes linked to Enoch Powell’s influence in the 1960s and 1970s, but continuing into recent years.
Third and lastly is that the 2010-2015 Coalition Government rarely discussed race issues, while some ethnic inequalities increased over this period. More specifically, BME youth unemployment worsened, and unemployment was the top voter choice issue for BME voters in 2010. Home Secretary Theresa May did focus on and deliver a reduction in the use of stop and search, but this is unlikely to have been enough to have overcome the wider inattention to racial inequalities and the historic anti-Conservative preference, especially among older BME voters. Whether or not these trends will continue for 2020 and beyond depends on how far David Cameron is able to achieve greater outreach to BME communities, how far younger ethnic minority voters respond to these messages, and how far the aspirations of ethnic minorities are realised and ethnic inequalities reduced over 2015-2020.
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