The 3 Groups Only Corbyn Could Win for Labour
by Benjamin Studebaker
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has gained 31 seats in parliament and increased its vote share by nearly 10 points. This gives Labour its largest vote share by percentage since 2001. This is somewhat perplexing, because Corbyn had a net approval rating of -11, even during the final week of the election campaign. But even though many ordinary Labour voters might have preferred a more traditional Labour leader, they appear to have nonetheless preferred Corbyn’s Labour Party to the alternatives. In the meantime, Corbyn helped bring in three groups of people which a more traditional Labour leader might have failed to attract.
Group I: The Lexiteers
Before the election, a lot of people were worried that UKIP was acting as a conversion mechanism, turning Labour voters into Tories. With the Tories embracing Brexit, it was widely anticipated that working class northern UKIP voters would swing to the Tories and that Corbyn might face massive losses in the Labour heartland. This didn’t happen, because unlike the vast majority of Labour politicians, Corbyn managed to convince the public that his support for the remain campaign was not genuine.
Many people viewed this as a mistake and figured it might cause remainer Labour voters to defect to the Liberal Democrats. But this didn’t happen. Instead Corbyn did for Labour what May did for the Tories–he made the Labour Party credible as a vehicle for Brexit without costing it its remainers. He also made the Labour Party into an anti-establishment party, but one with different values from the Tory right wing. So if you were a UKIP supporter who opposes austerity–and many UKIP supporters fell into that category–you could vote for Corbyn on the belief that he would give you a left wing Brexit or “Lexit”.
Because of this, the collapsing UKIP vote divided more evenly between Labour and the Tories than anticipated. This is not to suggest that Labour necessarily won as many ex-UKIP voters as the Tories, but the UKIP vote was much less cruel to them than expected. UKIP ended up dropping almost 11 points, but the Tories only picked up 5.5 points in total–from all sources. Only two parties made significant percentage gains in this election–Labour and the Tories–which means even if the Tories somehow took their entire 5.5 gain from UKIP, nearly half of the lost UKIP vote would have had to go to Labour or stay home:
Group II: The Greens
For years, the Greens’ pitch to left wing voters has been that Labour isn’t really proper left wing. Who better to address that concern than Jeremy Corbyn? By making Labour’s platform dramatically more anti-austerity, Corbyn gave anti-establishment left wing voters a reason to return to the fold. And return they did–the Greens lost more than half their support:
If Labour got all the remaining UKIP votes and these Green votes, it would have a 7.4 point gain. But Labour’s gain is larger than this–it’s a full 9.54 points. Corbyn didn’t just deliver Lexiteers and Greens. He also delivered…
Group III: Unlikely Voters
It was frequently pointed out before the election that the polls which showed Labour doing very well tended to anticipate high youth voter turnout. This is a key reason many were sceptical of the strong Labour scenarios. But as it happened Labour was able to achieve the highest turnout figures since 1997, increasing turnout by 2.6 points:
Labour may have pulled this off by promising to eliminate tuition fees and by copying elements of Bernie Sanders’ organisation and platform, which was tremendously effective at turning out young voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries. Adding the entire 2.6 points of additional turnout to the 7.4 would bring us to around 10 points. But there were also other parties that lost some votes. Labour and the Tories no doubt split off pieces of the 1.7 points the SNP dropped and the 0.5 points the Lib-Dems shed, and these chunks probably bring down Labour’s share of the UKIP, Green, and unlikely votes a little. But however we ultimately slice it, between the Tories and Labour there were about 15 points worth of fresh votes, and Labour got nearly 2 of those additional votes for every one the Tories got, and it got the majority of them not in spite of Corbyn, but because of him.
A different leader might have made many ordinary Labour voters happier, but that leader likely wouldn’t have been able to reach these three groups to the extent that Corbyn could. Corbyn was able to do it because he was willing to be anti-establishment, to go outside the Overton window and propose new, exciting policies. Some people found these policies a bit too radical, but they stuck around and in the meantime the policies attracted new voters to Labour, increasing the party’s vote share. Corbyn could make 3 Labour voters disgruntled, but if in doing so he caused a 4th person to vote Labour, he could succeed even in spite of weak favourability figures.
All of this says wonderful things for the political possibilities of someone like Sanders, who attracts many of the same kinds of anti-establishment voters but is much more popular than Corbyn:
During the primaries, Sanders was a +10, and today he’s a +24. Compared to Corbyn, Sanders’ rating has been somewhere between +21 and +35. If Corbyn can manage a hung parliament with his numbers, imagine what Sanders might have done had he been turned loose as the Democratic Party nominee last year. Left wing parties need to recognise that we are not in a right wing moment–we are in an anti-establishment moment, and if you are willing to differentiate yourself from the pack in a bold, authentic way, there are many voters who will give you a chance, almost no matter what you’re on about.