For quite some time now, and in particular since the turn of the year, this site’s been pointing out two things about polling for the 2015 UK general election.
One is that Labour’s lead has been in steady decline since 2012. The other is that the polls present a falsely optimistic picture for Ed Miliband’s party, as ultimately a significant proportion of UKIP support is likely to vote tactically, because only two people have a chance of becoming Prime Minister and only one of them is promising what UKIP supporters want above all else – a referendum on leaving the EU.
Pleasingly, on one level at least, today we were proved right.
A Lord Ashcroft poll reported by the excellent Mirror Group spinoff site Ampp3d revealed the unsurprising fact that, just as we suggested back on 1 January, just over half of the people who voted UKIP in this week’s elections say they’ll do so in May 2015. The others broke down like this:
Lib Dem 1%
Don’t know 14%
At first that 11% gap doesn’t seem as bad for Labour as some people might have thought. But when pondering which way the 14% who haven’t yet made up their minds might jump, it’s worth noting the other findings of the poll (which had a large sample of well over 4,000 respondents).
More than half (52%) were former Tory voters, with just 15% ex-Labour.
66% thought David Cameron would make the best Prime Minister, compared to only 25% who said Ed Miliband was the man for the job.
69% trusted Cameron and George Osborne more to handle the economy than Miliband and Ed Balls.
We don’t think it’s going to be necessary to call in the Taggart team to work out which party Nigel Farage’s defectors are going to split in favour of. But let’s be charitable and only allocate two-thirds of the switherers to the Tories, with the rest scattering hither and thither, perhaps to fringe nutter parties like the BNP (which it should be remembered secured over half a million votes in 2010).
Two-thirds of 14% is just over 9%, which gives us a conveniently neat 30% of UKIP deserters returning to the Tory fold versus 10% going to Labour. So now let’s apply that equation to some recent polls, redistributing 15% of UKIP votes to the Tories and 5% to Labour (half are staying UKIP, remember) and ignoring everyone else.
Populus poll 19 May
Con 37% Lab 35%
YouGov poll 18 May
Con 36% Lab 38%
ComRes poll 17 May
Con 32% Lab 34%
Ipsos Mori 14 May
Con 32% Lab 35%
YouGov 13 May
Con 36% Lab 35%
YouGov 12 May
Con 37% Lab 37%
ICM 12 May
Con 35% Lab 32%
Ashcroft 12 May
Con 36% Lab 33%
Populus 12 May
Con 37% Lab 37%
That’s four polls with the Tories in front, three with Labour ahead and two tied (though in reality, not a single one of the nine gives either side a lead above the standard 3% margin of error). The averages are Con 35.3%, Lab 35.1%. It’s a dead heat. When we fed the results into Electoral Calculus, it predicted a hung parliament.
We already know that the UK electoral system is biased in favour of Labour, which EC factors in – that’s why Labour gets 32 more seats on fewer votes – but also that polls historically always swing towards the incumbent government as the election nears, which it doesn’t. The economy is also (statistically) recovering strongly, unemployment is falling, and by far the most important issue to UK voters is immigration, which favours the Tories.
If we assume that the latter three factors bring the Tories just a 2.5% swing over the next 12 months (less than half the size of the one that Labour got in the last year of Gordon Brown’s disastrous premiership), it’s enough to make them the biggest party, and able to form a majority coalition with the Lib Dems again.
Increase that swing by just 0.5% to 3% and the Tories have a majority:
If anyone’s still reading by this point, or if you just skipped to the end 400 words ago, the gist should be clear: unless something dramatic and unexpected happens, the Conservatives are going to win the 2015 election.
(We haven’t even allowed for the fact that opinion polls tend to overstate the real level of Labour support, perhaps due to the Shy Tory Factor.)
Tactical voting from UKIP supporters is only likely to account for about 1% of swing, though it could be far more significant than that depending on where it’s deployed. But with immigration (and therefore, indirectly, Europe) looking like continuing to be the top priority of UK (which on this occasion really means English) voters, it’s hard to see anything that Labour can do to stop their slide.