Monday, May 12, 2014

Crossover? Tories take the lead in a Britain-wide poll for the first time in two years

Belize's very own unelected billionaire representative in the UK Parliament, Lord Ashcroft, has started a new series of GB-wide telephone polls.  The results of the first one should strike terror into the heart of anyone contemplating a No vote in the independence referendum, because it shows the Conservative Party taking an outright lead for the first time in any poll for two years.

Conservatives 34%
Labour 32%
UKIP 15%
Liberal Democrats 9%
SNP 3%

Of course Ashcroft does not have his own polling organisation that actually conducts fieldwork, so just like the PSO referendum poll at the weekend, this poll was actually conducted by others.  The layout of the datasets looks very similar to Populus and Comres, so that may (or may not) be a clue.

This turn of events has been on the cards for some time.  After the Budget, the Labour lead in the daily YouGov polls plunged to almost nothingness, but then recovered somewhat, leading some commentators to assume that there had merely been a temporary Budget boost for the Tories that was of no real consequence.  But in truth it now looks as if it was the Labour recovery that was illusory.  A succession of YouGov polls last week put the Labour lead at somewhere between one and three points, and although there was one at the weekend that showed a bigger lead, that had the look of an outlier.  It seemed it was only a matter of time before at least one poll from at least one firm showed a Tory lead, and it's finally happened.

I put a question mark after the word "crossover" in the title of this post, partly because one swallow does not a summer make, and partly because this is only the first in a series of polls - it may be there's something weird about the Ashcroft methodology that helps the Tories.  Only time will tell.  But this could just as easily be the start of a pattern, with some polls showing a very narrow Labour lead, some polls showing a dead heat, and others showing a Tory lead.

If so, what could be the impact on the independence referendum?  A number of different pollsters have asked a hypothetical question about how people's vote might be affected if it looked like the Tories were heading for victory in the general election.  They've produced wildly different results - some have pointed to an outright Yes lead in those circumstances, and others have shown No in a decent lead.  But the one thing they all agree on is that the Yes vote would be significantly higher than it currently is.

John Curtice always cautions us that voters are very bad at judging what their opinion would be in a hypothetical set of circumstances.  For example, questions along the lines of "who would you vote for if X was leader of X party?" often produce results that bear little resemblance to what actually happens when that person becomes leader.  But it should be remembered that the uncertainty works both ways - it could be that voters would swing even more sharply to Yes in the event of a clear Tory lead than they currently realise.

The fly in the ointment is, as ever, UKIP's likely (but not certain) victory in the forthcoming European elections.  In the afterglow of that result, it's possible that some Tory voters who are currently planning to 'lend' their vote to UKIP for the European elections only could temporarily start telling pollsters that they will vote UKIP for Westminster as well, thus generating the illusion of a bigger Labour lead for a while.


  1. You will not be surprised to learn that the PB tory simpletons are running about in delerium at Ashcroft's poll. Equally 'shocking' is that the most petty and repulsive PB tories seemed furious with your fantastic success James.

    When the cowardly tory moderators weren't banning me for no reason, I was pointing out for months on PB that there would be a repeat of last May's movements and trends for this May. And so it has indeed come to pass. Kippers surging with labour getting hit hard. Ashcroft is just one poll so it's the trend which matters.

    Where I differ with you is the kipper effect. Again I go with what happened last May. So apart from some Eurosceptic tories running about like headless chickens for a time the most likely consequence is that kipper vote is going back down fairly quickly just like last year. If it's matched by another tory rise then little Ed and Labour are going to be in deep, deep trouble.

    Make no mistake, the Cameroons won't want to talk about Europe or immigration again in a hurry. Even they can read the polling and know what happens when the kippers are starved of publicity when the bandwagon moves very quickly on from the EU elections.

    The Yes campaign was never predicated on the tories leading and has closed the polling gap inexorably without it. That said, there is no clearer signal of the consequences of Westmisnter business as usual than the tories beating Labour in the polls. It will of course concentrate minds in scotland if it continues.

    There are more pandas than tory MPs for a reason.

  2. Oops! ;)

    There are more pandas than scottish tory MPs for a reason.

  3. Sorry to 'hog' you comments thread ;) but I suspect you will update your article with this anyway.

    A few tweets tell the story.

    Iain Docherty ‏@iaindocherty 1m

    If that ICM poll is right (usual caveats about sampling error) and @UKLabour come *3rd* in Euros, what a disaster for them and @UK_Together

    Support for Labour drops six points as Tories take lead in latest ICM...

    Labour support falls to 31%, Conservatives rise one point to 33%, Lib Dems are up one on 13% and Ukip rises four to 15%

    Let's not leave calamity Clegg and the poor old lib dems out either.

    Matthew Butcher ‏@matthew1butcher 3m

    Latest ICM poll for Euros puts @TheGreenParty clearly ahead of the Lib Dems with 10% of vote:

    UK - ICM/Guardian #EP2014 poll:
    CON 27% UKIP 26% LAB 24% GRN 10% LDEM 7%

    Golly! As one of Clegg's amusing ostrich faction might say.

  4. Interesting that the Conservatives haven't had a lead since March 2012, then two polls showing a lead appear on the same day!