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10 November 2021

Focus on environment saw electoral boost for parties in areas hit by flooding

Political parties which put particular focus on the environment saw an electoral boost in constituencies which had recently experienced flooding, according to a new study.

Flooding in English constituencies appeared to shape voter preferences. Picture: STOCK IMAGE

Research by Professor Sarah Birch examined results in England across three general elections between 2010-2019 and found evidence that, in seats which had seen major flooding, the party which had taken a strong position on the environment in election campaigns had seen an increase in votes.

A pivot to green issues under David Cameron initially served to benefit the Conservatives between 2010-2015 before, from 2017-2019, the Labour party’s renewed focus on the environment saw its vote share increase in flood-affected constituencies.

The findings of the new study, the electoral benefits of environmental position-taking: Floods and electoral outcomes in England 2010-2019, will be published in an upcoming edition of the European Journal of Political Research.

Prof Birch said: “This research explores the effect of flooding on electoral outcomes and offers evidence that the impact of adverse events varies with changes in political context.

“Changing party positions on environmental issues appears to account more convincingly for shifts in electoral support in response to flooding than other hypotheses, such as the rally-round-the-leader explanation.

“This suggests that parties can derive benefit from, or be punished for, the positions they take on environmental issues when extreme weather events affect citizens.”

Prof Birch added that opinion polls had shown a marked increase in the environment as a priority among voters which could make the impact of parties’ positions on the environment increasingly important at future elections. In 2010, less than 10 per cent of people in the UK though the environment was a priority, a figure that had risen to more than 25 per cent by 2019, according to YouGov polls.

The period of study, the elections between 2010-2019, was particularly salient for the research as the same party, the Conservatives, led the government for three successive elections and there were also no changes in constituency boundaries, making it an unusual period of institutional stability.

In this story

Sarah  Birch

Professor of Political Science