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.


The weekly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times is here and has topline voting intention figures of CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 18%, GRN 5% – continuing to vary around what appears to be an underlying Labour lead of a point or so.

Once again the poll included a batch of hypothetical questions with different Labour leaders, and again suggested that Alan Johnson would attract more public support than Ed Miliband. The control question asking how people would vote if the leaders remain Cameron, Miliband and Clegg shows a Conservative lead of three points. If the Labour leader was instead Alan Johnson Labour would be 2 points ahead, with Andy Burnham Labour would be one point behind, with Yvette Cooper Labour would be four points behind. Usual caveats apply – respondents don’t know what policies or priorities alternative leaders would set, so questions like this measure only first impression perceptions of leaders, and take no account of what effect a party actually dumping its leader and perhaps having to have a contest would have.

Asking about Miliband himself, his ratings this week have improved since a week ago, albeit from a low base. 27% now think he’s made it clear what he stands for, up from 20%. The percentage who think he is a strong leader is up 2 points… but is still only 9%. The percentage who think he is up to the job of PM is up three points, but is still only 21%. Overall 33% of people think Miliband should remain Labour leader, 43% think he should stand down, but many of these responses are from Labour’s opponents. Among Labour’s own voters 47% think Miliband should stay, 34% think he should be replaced.

Moving on 26% of people think that the rise of UKIP has increased the chance of Miliband & Labour winning the election, 16% that it has increased the chances of the Conservatives winning, 58% say don’t know or that it has done neither. Amongst UKIP’s own voters – the people the Conservatives would be seeking to reach with a “Vote UKIP get Labour” message – only 16% think their rise is helping Labour. 22% of people think that David Cameron has responded well to the rise of UKIP, 57% that he has responded badly. However they are evenly divided about what would have been a good response – 34% think Cameron would be better off adopting more of UKIP’s policies and being more like them, 33% think he would be better off distancing himself more and arguing against their polices.

There remains comparatively little support for any form of UKIP-Conservative pact. Only 18% of people overall would support it, and both UKIP and Conservative supporters are opposed. If the Conservatives lose the Rochester by-election 53% of people think Cameron should retain his job, including an overwhelming 92% of Conservative voters.