There are three polls in this Sunday’s papers – Opinium in the Observer and two separate YouGov polls, one in the Sunday Times and one in the Sun on Sunday.
Opinium has topline voting intention figures of CON 30%(+1), LAB 33%(+1), LDEM 7%(-2), UKIP 19%(nc), GRN 4%(nc) (changes are from their last published voting intention figures a fortnight ago (tabs are here).
YouGov’s two sets of voting intention figures are CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15% in the Sun on Sunday poll, and CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6% in the Sunday Times (Sun Times tabs are here, Sun on Sunday should be up tomorrow) – so still showing the two main parties very close to one another.
Today is the Rochester and Strood by-election. After every by-election I see the same questions and I write essentially the same post. Given that, I thought I might as well write it before the result: whatever happens in the Rochester and Strood by-election it won’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about public opinion.
By-elections are very unusual beasts. They are fought with huge intensity and media attention, but with very little direct consequence – the government will still be the government the next day, it’s only one single seat that can change hands. They also often have unusual local circumstances – in this case a defecting member of Parliament. When a by-election behaves in line with the national polls, it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. When it behaves differently to the national polls, it’s probably because of the unique factors of by-election.
Assuming that the by-election polls from Ashcroft, ComRes and Survation are all correct and Mark Reckless wins tonight’s by-election we’ll probably see lots of comments tomorrow about UKIP doing well and being a threat to the Conservatives. I’d also expect lots of comments about how Labour didn’t win when they should have. Plus perhaps some comments about the derisory vote the Lib Dems will almost certainly get. Perhaps they’ll finish behind the Greens or even the Loonies or random independents.
To take those one at a time, UKIP are not likely to do as well nationwide in a general election as in a by-election where they have an incumbent MP, so this won’t tell us anything about their likely level of support come the general election – nor will it help answer the question of how concentrated their vote will be, and how well it will translate into returning MPs to Westminster. In terms of Labour, this is the sort of seat that an opposition doing really well in the polls and headed for a landslide win could reasonably expect to win… but we don’t need a by-election to tell us that Labour are not soaring ahead in the polls, and are not currently in a position that would translate to a landslide win. We already know that they are struggling to maintain first place in the polls and are seeing the anti-government vote split between them and other parties. As for the Liberal Democrats, the embarrassment of finishing lower than 4th place and losing their deposit is no longer anything new for them and doesn’t tell us anything new about the dire straights they find themselves in.
The other thing I invariably say after explaining how by-elections tell us virtually nothing about wider public opinion is that it doesn’t make the result any less important. A lot of politics is about the press narrative, about Westminster personalities and morale and in all those senses tonight’s result really does matter – if UKIP do really well it should keep UKIP’s momentum rolling, help them persuade voters they are a viable choice at the election. Perhaps we’ll see them get a boost in the polls from the publicity. Perhaps it will give the Conservative party’s morale a knock, perhaps encourage another defection(s) and turn the media pressure back onto David Cameron after an unpleasant few weeks for Ed Miliband. By-elections are very important – but because of their effect on the narrative, not because they really tell us much about wider public opinion.
Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 14%, GRN 6%. It has a Tory lead of one point, following a Labour lead in yesterday’s YouGov/Sun poll. Realistically we are in a position where the two main parties are so close that normal random variation is going to regularly spit out both Labour and Tory leads until and unless one party manages to pull substantially ahead of the other.
Rather out of the blue there was also a Survation constituency poll of Stockton South earlier today – a Conservative held ultra-marginal, currently represented by James Wharton. The poll had topline figures of CON 39%(nc), LAB 37%(-1), LDEM 3%(-12), UKIP 18%(+15). Changes are from the general election and technically represent a tiny swing from Labour to the Conservatives. Clearly this is better than the Conservatives are doing in the national polls and they’d be pleased to hold such a vulnerable marginal, but it’s also just one single poll with a relatively small sample size (35% said don’t knows, so the topline figures are based on 571 people). Tabs are here.
Survation had a new Scottish poll out for the Daily Record this morning. It showed the same sort of surge in SNP support that we’ve seen in other recent Scottish polls from Ipsos MORI, YouGov and Panelbase – in this case Westminster voting intentions are CON 17%, LAB 24%, LDEM 6%, SNP 46%, UKIP 5% (tabs are here.) I don’t imagine uniform swing calculators are really any sort of guide to how things would work out in a re-alignment of this sort of huge scale, but on paper these figures would give the SNP 52 seats in Scotland and Labour just five, and in practice it would surely produce a huge number of SNP gains. The question remains whether Labour can mount a recovery in Scotland prior to the election once they have elected a new leader, or whether this SNP surge will be maintained.
This afternoon there was also some reporting of a new Opinium poll (tabs here). Opinium don’t seem to have officially released voting intention figures, but they are provided as crossbreaks on a new poll, so we can see that the VI figures would have been CON 34%, LAB 33%, LDEM 5%, UKIP 18%, GRN 4%. This would be the first Tory lead from Opinium since the Omnishambles budget, and the lowest any poll has shown the Lib Dems so far this Parliament.
Today we have our three regular Monday polls and all three are showing Labour and the Conservatives within a point of each other:
Lord Ashcroft’s weekly poll has topline figures of CON 29%, LAB 30%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 16%, GRN 7% (tabs here).
The twice weekly Populus poll has topline figures of CON 35%, LAB 36%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 11%, GRN 5%. This is the lowest that any poll has shown UKIP for a while, though Populus do tend to give them some of their lowest scores anyway (tabs here).
Finally YouGov for the Sun have topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 32%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 8%. The eight point score for the Greens is the highest that YouGov have shown to date, and only the second time they’ve put them ahead of the Liberal Democrats.