The week’s polling: Tories ahead while the big squeeze tightens

Spot the UK's next Prime Minister
Spot the UK’s next Prime Minister

The first week of campaigning since the official start of the election campaign may have gone to Miliband but it’s the Tories who are creeping ahead in the polls. In fact, this past week saw rather bigger moves in the YouGov daily polling than we’ve seen so far this year. The Tories gained over a percentage point in a week and the Greens lost a similar amount. It may be that people are beginning to focus as we enter the final five weeks of the campaign. And as the party leaders hog the media focusing means running back yet again to the apron strings of the old parties.

w/e April 3 w/e March 27 change
Conservatives 35.4% 34.2% +1.2%
Labour 34.6% 34.8% -0.2%
Lib Dems 8.0% 7.8% +0.2%
Ukip 12.4% 12.4% nc
Greens 4.6% 5.8% -1.2%
SNP/PC 4.6% 4.4% +0.2%

The pattern of the past week repeats, but emphasises, that of the past month. The Tories are three points up on their February ratings, Labour and the Lib Dems about a point up, Ukip and the Greens a couple of points down. The conclusion is plain – the squeeze is well and truly on as the old parties take advantage of a ludicrous first past the post voting system to persuade people to vote for what they least like rather than prefer.

The question now is can the challenger parties – Ukip, the Greens and everyone else – halt the slide? The answer is yes. And no. In 1997 challenger parties saw their share of the poll rise from 6% to 8% in the five weeks of the election campaign. On the other hand, in 2010 their share fell from 11% to 9%. But in 1997, five weeks from the poll Labour held a huge 20 point lead over the Tories; in 2010 it was much closer. If one party is well in the lead voters may be more prepared to vote for their first preference; if things seem tight they’re more vulnerable to pressure to waste their vote by voting ‘tactically’.

Unfortunately for Ukip and the Greens, 2015 looks much more like 2010 than 1997. In fact, it’s even closer than 2010. Moreover, in 1997 the challengers included James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, which spent as much as the Tories and Labour. This time even Ukip will be well outspent by the old parties who can rely on assorted millionaires, hedge funds and trade unions to bail them out.

But there are two caveats.

First, vote share can fall overall yet seats can still be won. In 2010 the Greens scored an average 1.8% in the seats they contested, down from 3.3% in 2005. Yet they gained a seat. Targeting resources on winnable seats can overcome the squeeze.

Second, it’s usual for around a quarter of voters to change their minds in the final month of an election campaign. By this time next week we’ll know exactly who’s standing (nominations close on Thursday) and the media air-war will be well and truly joined by the war on the ground. Efforts there can still make a difference and numbers and energy outweigh money. Who knows, voters may realise that the old parties cannot be trusted to do anything about global warming or growing inequalities. Just joking!

If the trends of the past month continue we’re looking at a general election result something like this in terms of vote share. How this will translate into seats is anyone’s guess.

Predicted share of vote May 7th

Vote share Change since 2010
Conservatives 37% +1%
Labour 36% +7%
Lib Dems 8% -15%
Ukip 11% +8%
Greens 3% +2%
Others 6% -2%

Challenger parties will still make gains on 2010 and the long-term disintegration of support for the Con/Lab/Lib neo-liberal centr(al)ist consensus will continue. Moreover in Scotland this week saw the SNP restore its 15% lead over Labour, something reinforced by Nicola Sturgeon’s comprehensive trouncing of the middle aged, middle class men in this week’s TV ‘debate’. In Scotland it looks like last week’s smaller poll gap was a blip, not a trend.

PS: While we’re on trends note that, while YouGov only seems to have noticed the end of the ‘Green surge’ on April 2nd, you read about it here first – over a month ago in fact.

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