10 things to bear in mind as we look at the Tory poll leads

13th May, 2014 8:31 am

Lord Ashcroft’s much-heralded new series of opinion polls couldn’t have started with more of a bang – a 2% Tory lead, the first in a national poll for two years.


My reactions:

1. Labour people shouldn’t dismiss this as a “poll by a Tory”. Ashcroft is obsessed by polling accuracy. He might want to use the intelligence his polling gathers for partisan reasons, but he has no interest in generating dodgy numbers, and considerable personal pride in his reputation as an accurate psephologist. His recent political orientation has been far from tribally Tory, with a thinly veiled contempt for Cameron and even an appearance at a Fabian fringe meeting. His previous polling was rather damaging to Tory morale so there is no pattern of bias. In any case within hours an ICM poll, seen as the gold standard, showed a 2% Tory lead as well.

2. The Ashcroft poll, being first in the series, can’t show any changes, but the ICM one does – a 6% drop in the Labour vote, a 1% rise for the Tories, a 1% rise for the Lib Dems and a whopping 4% rise for UKIP.

3. This makes it more explicable. I wouldn’t have been able to explain the Tory vote going up 4% because nothing in the relative positioning or standing with the public of Labour and the Tories has objectively changed since last month. Ashcroft’s poll says 67% of voters say there is no recovery or they are not benefiting from it. But UKIP cutting through beyond their ex-Tory base into Labour’s makes sense. They are basically saying things lots of voters agree with, and the more attention they get because of the Euro elections and the mud being slung at them over the crazier or more obnoxious things their candidates say, the more people will notice them and vote for them. I wrote last week about a strategy for stopping this.

4. If you want to cheer yourself up, the Ashcroft and ICM polls were phone polls and YouGov’s online poll showed a 7% Labour lead yesterday, the highest since March. But … online polls were less accurate than phone polls in 2010. And if you are a serious electoral strategist you plan based on the worst case polling not the best case.

5. Labour can still win. We would nearly get an overall majority based on a uniform swing like those in the two polls with 2% Tory leads. But the legitimacy issues if we won on seats but lost on votes wouldn’t help a new government that had to take tough decisions. We can’t just try to win on points. We know that to really win we need to aim big – for 40% – and Marcus Roberts’ paper on this remains the best guide to how to build that vote share.

6. This is extremely serious – it is absolutely not what you want the polls to be doing a few days before the last big mid-term set of elections in the cycle.

7. But the worst thing we can do is panic. It never helps anyone and almost invariably creates a downwards spiral of infighting. In an election campaign you need to keep trying to set the agenda, as Ed did with his GP waiting times announcement today, not allow other parties, particularly asymmetric threats from parties like UKIP, to set it.

8. Ashcroft’s poll says nothing is settled about the General Election – 52% of voters are open to switching party between now and then.

9. There will be lots more hair-raising moments like this over the next year as we head towards one of the closest elections ever and try to break every historical rule by only being a one term opposition. The challenge for all Labour campaigners is to stay calm and react professionally.

10. The Ashcroft poll I am really interested in is his upcoming poll of marginal seat voting intentions because no one else is doing those.

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  • Richas

    The call for calm is quite right. One issue we should consider with these polls is the timing just days (two weeks) before the Euro elections. People are considering their Euro vote and UKIP have had huge publicity and many eurosceptic voters who we would hope and expect would vote Labour in a General Election are more focussed on the Tory promise of an in out referendum.

    It is perfectly normal for people to vote differently in Euro elections than General Elections. In 2009 Labour polled a disastrous 15.7% yet in 2010 it was 29%. Polls today asking about General Election votes are influenced by the more immediate Euro (and local) elections.

    Whilst many will vote differently in the Euros and the General this does not mean that pollsters will get accurate answers in this period, some will answer for the General in line with their Euro intention and others will avoid any cognitive dissonance by assuming that their intention for the Euro is the same as they would vote in the General.

    We need to get the best local and Euro election result we can in the next nine days and park any concerns about these opinion polls until after those elections have been completed. One poll matters between now and about the end of June and that is the 22 May election.

  • Graeme Hancocks

    There were four polls out yesterday, two showing a very small Tory lead and two showing a very small Labour lead. Although statistically neck and neck, commentators only report the first two – presumably because they spoil the headline and don’t fit in with their narrative. Some balance is needed.

  • Graeme Hancocks

    There were four polls out yesterday – two showing a very small Tory lead and two a very small Labour lead. The latter two have gone largely unreported, presumably because they do not fit with narrative and headline. ICM are a respected polling company but still managed to underestinate Labour’s vote and overestimate lib dem vote in all their polls against actual 2010 results. A little nuance and balance needed – the media try to create and shape the news, not simply report it.

  • MikeHomfray

    Remember also that most people won;t actually vote at all in the Euro Election. They say they will, and afterwards will also say they have – but they won’t

  • PaulBurgin

    The UKIP factor is highly important. People are fed up with mainstream politics and on the doorstep, if I have seen a shift from Labour to a particular party, it is UKIP! Exposing UKIP for what they are is not enough, we need to show a viable alternative that will help those suffering under the Tories and make sure that message is loud and clear

  • p a t r i c k

    I think the opinion polls are altered from what they would be otherwise by the EU parliamentary election activity.

    The Labour party has effectively rejected having an EU referendum in the next parliament and this will be having a pretty big effect right now as the EU is much bigger on people’s minds than usual.

    Strategically speaking ruling out the referendum was, I suspect, a good idea, but the downside is that it will have this impact on the EU parliamentary election.

    The Conservatives line about the referendum, Labour and Lib Dems won’t, UKIP can’t etc. is a powerful one and they are putting that about a lot. Many people will have been reading those leaflets from UKIP describing the EU as the beelzebub in a political form and then they will be enthused by the idea of a referendum on the EU, and when they hear that Labour won’t do one, they will go off Labour.

    I suspect that after the EU parliamentary election the EU will drop off the map as an issue and will remain off the map. UKIP will focus much more on immigration. They know that the Conservatives have stolen their thunder over the EU with that referendum business.

    So I think that the negative impact of Labour’s stance on the referendum will diminish after the EU parliamentary election on the 22nd.

  • swatnan

    Its a pretty heady atmosphere with Euros and Nigel’s UKIP on the horizon. So these 2 and more polls can’t be relied on to produce an accurate picture a year on.
    Will someone please legislate to NOT to hold National and European and Referendums and District Elections on the same day. Surely people won’t be put out too much by getting off their backsides and going to the polls again in 6 months time?

  • Boldee

    Personally I think the problem isn’t Labour voters moving to UKIP its the fact that traditional Labour voters are not voting at all, I follow these pages as a long time Labour voter with hope that I may one day see a proper Party again that represents working class people and not the neoliberal agenda set out by Margaret Thatcher among others.

    Until such time that I see said changes (which will not be in my life time I suspect if ever) I will not be voting Labour, rest assured I wont be voting for UKIP or any other right wing group, Tory or LibDem but I will be voting.

  • davebush999

    Let’s face it, we have no discernible policy on Europe – although I seem to recall that it is to stay in. Which is fine and we must say so. But mainly, our problem is that Miliband is a liability. Only way to win is get a new leader – and quickly.

    • reformist lickspittle

      Re your last comment – I smell concern troll.

      Do try not to be so obvious 😉

  • Mukkinese

    What strikes me is that most people know more about Labours policies from the criticisms and opposition to them, than from Labour’s own announcements and promotion of those policies.

    Labour themselves seem to be hiding and just throwing the occasional policy bomb, which panics the Tories, but the wider public only see the panic and barely hear the bomb go off…

  • EricBC

    Labour is boring and the public voice in statements and press releases is stupid. The party has to reach people emotionally and you cannot do that with qualified facts. Like:

    Rents will be allowed to increase in line with inflation. This is a concession! Sold as radicalism! Rents should be frozen.

    Nor with statements which are incomplete:-
    Energy price freeze is so wow but it’s a secret what happens after.

    Nor with passing the buck:
    Gambling machines in bookies are evil so we won’t ban them but we will let councils limit numbers if they can be bothered.


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