I’ve been doing media interviews this morning, so thought I should start my own results coverage online by summing up what I think we are learning about the election. I should mention that Bernard Rix has been running his own excellent unofficial results coverage in the morning if you need instant access to the figures.
Firstly the turnout is disappointingly low, generally hovering in the mid-teens. Many voters have told me they have had nothing from candidates and were not going to vote. On the one hand this is a little encouragement to those of us who push out such material, often wondering whether it is read and makes a difference, but on the other it raises the question over whether central provision of a candidates booklet would have been a help. My own suspicion is that the greater factor is that when people are asked to make a decision they need to have a choice, and it has not always been evident what difference supporting a particular candidate would make, with a number choosing safe generic promises to tackle crime and Anti-Social Behaviour over anything that contained insight.
However, as Michael Crick has said, people are making too much of turnout. Next time the PCC elections will be together with the local elections, and the plan is that they coincide with the 2020 general election after that. For turnout the only way is up, and no-one who accepted the legitimacy of unelected police authorities can criticise PCCs for lacking a mandate.
Secondly, we have a number of real upsets from Independents Martyn Underhill in Dorset, Ian Johnston in Gwent, Winston Roddick in North Wales – the last two confounding my expectations that a split in the Independent vote would prove terminal. That points to the voters who did turn out making a discerning choice. These perhaps are the people who did peruse the papers, google the candidates, visit this and other sites, and made a conscious and informed decision as to who was best. When I forecast opinion poll results to get a baseline for these elections I despaired at tribal splits and asked readers to make me wrong, and you have done me proud!
Thirdly, there is an element of defiance of parties who take the voters for granted. Christopher Salmon’s surprise win in Dyfed-Powys for the Conservatives was their best chance, but it means both that he has done very well, and that Christine Gwyther has done very badly. Labour will be shocked, having lost at least three of four opportunities in Wales.
But that third element has a specific point of detail. I have gone on at length on this site and elsewhere about how the parties needed to listen to what three different pieces of research were telling them about what type of candidate was preferred. All the research showed a clear and distinct preference for police experience over political time-serving in this role. Parties ignore such a clear message at their peril and the election of a growing number of former officers in the first few results backs this up. Perhaps parties would have done better if they had given the public the candidates they wanted?
The final of my first thoughts is this – a YouGov poll at the weekend showed 28% of the population as certain to vote, with plenty more just behind them. That obviously did not happen. I’m not saying that there was anything wrong with YouGov’s maths, but there is a hidden assumption with polling – namely that what people say they will do, think they will do, and actually do, are clearly not always the same thing.