The Myth of the Squeeze








7th June 2024

There has been much talk during this General Election campaign, as there is during every campaign, about the prospect of smaller parties’ support being “squeezed” by the main parties. The assumption of many commentators has been that as we approach polling day, voters who are currently expressing support for Reform UK and the Green Party will grudgingly switch allegiance to the Conservatives and Labour, respectively. But just how likely is that to actually happen?

The above graph shows the combined support for third parties in the polls during the final 30 days of all general election campaigns since 1992. The darker curve is the mean across all these elections. The thing to notice about this curve is that is flat. Remarkably so, in fact. On average, support for third parties as a whole does not change during the course of the final 30 days before polling day. So much for the inevitable squeeze.

Of course, this does not mean that the squeeze never happens. The lighter lines in the graph represent individual elections, and some of them show considerable variation over the campaign. In particular, in 2010 support for third parties surged during the final 30 days, and in 2019 it plunged. But these movements cancel each other out on average – there is no general trend which applies across elections.

What’s more, when smaller parties’ support is squeezed (or stretched), it always happens for a reason. In 2010, the surge was caused by “Cleggmania” after the Liberal Democrat leader’s strong performance in the first debate (which all third party representatives will be hoping to repeat tonight). In 2019, the plunge was precipitated by Nigel Farage’s decision not to stand candidates for the Brexit Party in seats held by the Conservatives (a trick he seems unlikely to repeat this time). Substantial changes in smaller parties’ support are not a given during the campaign – something significant must happen to bring them about.

There are now 27 days to go until General Election 2024. Perhaps support for third parties will be squeezed during that time. But recent history tells us that it is just as likely to be stretched. Most likely though, unless something dramatic happens, it won’t change very much at all.

The data for this analysis was taken from Mark Pack’s PollBase:

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Matthew PriceAuthor: Matthew Price