LONDON (Reuters) - Britain heads to the polls on Dec. 12 for an election Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes will return his Conservatives with a majority in parliament so he can deliver the country’s exit from the European Union. The outcome is highly unpredictable.
Below are some of the key things to look out for:
REMAIN VS. LEAVE
The country is deeply divided over Brexit, with how people voted at the 2016 referendum a key driver of which party they now plan to support.
“A lot more people feel very strongly either Remain or Leave than feel either very strongly Conservative or Labour. We have levels of partisan attachment to the Remain and Leave cause that we have not seen for our political parties since the 1960s,” said Britain’s leading psephologist, John Curtice.
Curtice said the election would be determined not by the relative popularity of Leave and Remain but the concentration of those voters, with around three-fifths of Leave voters backing the Conservatives, while only around two-fifths of Remain voters are supporting Labour.
The Brexit Party standing down in Conservative-held seats will help boost the Conservatives in opinion polls but may not translate into more seats, he added, instead possibly just giving them more votes in seats they were already going to win.
Many of Scotland’s 59 seats in the Westminster parliament are close run: 12 have a margin of victory of less than 1% and 10 more have a margin of victory of less than 5%.
It is home to parliament’s most marginal seat, North East Fife, which the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) won by just two votes in 2017.
Alongside the Leave/Remain split, there is an additional complicating factor in predicting the result in Scotland - whether you would vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Scottish independence.
Scotland rejected independence at a 2014 referendum but the SNP are pushing for another vote.
“It gives you four tribes in Scotland: yes/remainers, no/remainers, yes/leavers and no/leavers,” said Ailsa Henderson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.
Voters’ preferences over Scottish independence trump their party political or Brexit views, Henderson added.
The pro-EU SNP are winning the support of the biggest chunk of those favor independence, both remainers and leavers, while the Conservatives are gaining the support of much of the anti-independence Brexit-backing group, she said.
That leaves Labour, which has tried to appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate, floundering. In 2017, it won 7 Scottish seats.
“No one is moving to Labour, no one,” said Henderson. “Less than half of people who voted Labour last time say they are going to vote Labour again.”
Curtice said with both the Conservatives and Labour seeing their support in Scotland falling, it would be an election about who could lose the least.
“What happens in Scotland is potentially fundamental to Boris Johnson winning an election,” he said.
Labour have come first in Wales in the last 26 general elections. But polls now show them level with the Conservatives in Wales on just below 30%, a drop in support for Labour of around 20 percentage points since the 2017 election.
Wales, which has 40 seats in the Westminster parliament, voted to leave the EU in 2016.
Of the 28 seats Labour won in 2017 in Wales, around 10 of them are “seriously under threat” according to recent polling, said Roger Awan-Scully, Head of Politics at Cardiff University.
“If there is one place anywhere in Britain to watch in this election ... it is northeast Wales,” he said, citing a group of 5 relatively marginal Labour seats which could change to Conservative on vote swings of between 2.6 and 5.9 percent.
“If the Conservatives win none of them ... Boris Johnson I think by Christmas time will be an ex-prime minister. If the Conservatives win all of them, they are in with a comfortable majority.”
An electoral pact between smaller pro-EU parties could also have an impact in Wales, he said. The “remain alliance” covers around 10 percent of seats in parliament as a whole, but more than a quarter of the seats in Wales.
In 2017, Northern Ireland’s 18 seats in Westminster returned 10 Democratic Unionist Party lawmakers, who agreed to prop up the Conservative minority government.
The DUP are unlikely to do as well again, said Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool, predicting they would lose two seats. The party’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds is among those in danger, with two pro-EU parties standing aside to help the nationalists Sinn Fein.
The pro-EU Alliance Party has seen its vote share grow at both local and European elections in Northern Ireland this year, Tonge said, and is likely to win at least one seat.
At least one Northern Irish seat is guaranteed to change hands, as independent lawmaker Sylvia Hermon is stepping down.
Additional reporting by William James; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Stephen Addison
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