Below Average – An account of Labour’s 2019 Election Vote Share

First televised head to head debate between Johnson and Corbyn ahead of election

The simple fact is that the party with the most seats wins a General Election in the UK. Nonetheless, there is a tendency to look for other messages in the vote share. The blog is about debunking some of the myths that arise from this. I will look at total votes, vote share based on turnout and  vote share based on the size of the electorate.

Total Votes
The first thing to note here is that the electorate has risen quite steadily between 1979 to 2019, but the total number of people voting has varied considerably.


Total votes in UK General Elections 1979-2019


TV Plot

The data shows that the Tory Party’s highest vote over the 1979-2019 period came under John Major in 1992, but in 2019 Boris Johnson came pretty close to beating it. However, Boris coming 101,651 votes short in 2019 is less impressive when you realise that the electorate grew by 4.4 million over the same period.

We can also see that Labour lost 2.6 million votes between 2017 and 2019 whilst the Tories gained 329,881. Indeed, despite the rising electoral roll, Labour’s performance was slightly below the average of 10.6 million for the 1997-2019 period.

In 2019 SNP recovered around 55% of the 476,868 votes they lost in 2017. Nationalists south of the border in 2019 also failed to reach their 2015 populist surge peak, with the combined UKIP and Brexit vote only showing a modest (12%) increase on 2017.

Vote Share (based on turnout)
The first thing we see is that Boris Johnson’s vote share was virtually identical to what John Major achieved in 1992 (he’s actually 0.01% short). Of course, it is bizarre that with just 44% of the votes the Tories end up with 56% of the seats.

Labour’s vote share in 2019 was well below average for the period of 34.6%, and is almost at the same level John Major reached when defeated by Tony Blair in 1997. What is different in 2019, however, is that the Lib-Dems are substantially weakened and the SNP are now the largest party in Scotland.   Nonetheless, despite the dramatic fall since 2017, Jeremy Corbyn stands down as Labour leader with a better vote share than he inherited from Ed Miliband.

VS Plot


Vote Share (based on total electorate)
Here we see the impact of turnout. Whilst Boris Johnson had a similar vote share and total vote to John Major’s 1992 result, we see that where the whole electorate is concerned his vote share is far worse. Conversely, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 defeat had a vote share only very slight lower than that which took Tony Blair to victory in 2005.

Elect Plot

A lot changed between 2005 and 2019, but the problem Labour faces is turnout. The Tories know that higher turnout favours them, whereas Labour’s record is far more mixed.


The Tories tend to benefit far more than Labour from a higher turnout (steeper blue line). The 2019 General Election had the lowest turnout to deliver them victory over the 1970-2019 period.

No matter how you look at it, the 2019 election was a bad result for Labour. Despite a fairly average turnout, the Tories were returned to government with a substantial majority.  Labour’s performance was below average for the 1997-2019 period and a substantial decline on 2017, but across the board was an improvement on 2010 and 2015.

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