Vertical ticket splitting is the academic term used to describe the act of voting for two or more different political parties when elections are held to fill different levels of government. So if you voted Lib Dem in the locals, but Labour in the nationals, you’d be engaging in split ticket voting.
The last four general elections have coincided with local elections. Holding different elections on the same day seems to have become relatively commonplace, and as a result, ticket splitting has become more commonplace within the UK. It is no longer an activity that primarily relates to US, or Australian voters.
Two elections researchers from Plymouth found that 11% of voters engaged in split ticket voting in 1997. During the EP and local elections of 2004, this figure rose to a real figure of 38%. Researchers have often argued that smaller parties, such as the Lib Dems, the BNP, and Greens, alongside independent candidates are more likely to gain higher vote shares in local elections, which makes sense if you think about it.
Local elections since the formation of the coalition have shown declining levels of support for the Liberal Democrats. This has been supported by the latest polling figures from YouGov showing that the party has similarly low levels of popularity amongst the entire electorate; 8% in case you are wondering.
However, the Party seems to be building up its grassroots support once again. Figures recently released from the Party’s membership department show that membership appears to have bottomed out, and is finally beginning to increase. Hopefully, this will mean that the party can once again engage in it’s traditional strategy of winning local elections in order to provide the stepping stones for greater parliamentary representation.
If this is the case, then one might argue that it is likely that we will see an increase in ticket-splitting amongst those who are more inclined to vote Liberal Democrat in local contests. It seems likely that voters will still want to punish coalition MPs for going back on their pre-election promises. This is particularly relevant in University towns, such as Sheffield, but by no means limited to these areas. However, as we continue to make progress at a grassroots level, by rebuilding our activist, and membership base, we should start to make progress in local elections again.
Knowing that voters are more likely than ever to engage in split-ticket voting might provide a source of motivation, or comfort to liberally minded activists who are trying to decide whether to focus their limited time, and efforts upon helping the Party during the run-up to the 2015 elections.
The general consensus is that national swing will be working against the Liberal Democrats during the 2015 elections. These effects are more prevalent in the national contests, where the impact of localized campaigning is less pronounced than in the local elections.
However, you shouldn’t be demoralized, particularly if you live in an area where there are elections for two levels of government during May 2015, as your efforts might pay off much more than you had originally anticipated. After all, think of Newcastle… The Party managed to run the council until 2011, but has never managed to secure Parliamentary representation. There’s plenty of hope for the Liberal Democrats yet.