CrosbyTextorPepper (the company of the Conservatives’ 2005 election guru Lynton Crosby) have published the results of a poll of the 112 Conservative target seats they need to win to gain an overall majority (I believe they used my notional figures, so the list of seats polled is here. The poll was conducted between the 27th September and the 7th October, so straddling the Conservative party conference.
In 2005 these seats voted LAB 36%, CON 36%, LDEM 21% (that alone seems strange, how can the Conservatives be equal with Labour, yet have lost all these seats? It;’s because tactical voting will mean the non-Conservative vote is concentrated around the party that can best beat the Conservatives in that seat.) The figures now are LAB 40%(+4), CON 35%(-1), LDEM 16%(-5) – so the Conservatives wouldn’t have gained any seats from Labour at all.
However, as I said earlier, this poll straddled the Conservative conference, and the majority of it was done when Labour were enjoying huge great 10 and 11 point leads in the national polls. A swing towards Labour should come as no surprise. The figures also include breaks for those respondents interviewed before the Conservative party conference, and those interviewed after it had begun. Pre Conservative party conference, when Labour had double digit leads nationwide, the figures in the marginals were LAB 42%(+6), CON 34%(-2), LDEM 17%(-4) – so the swing in the marginals was pretty comparable to the swing nationwide. In the responses gathered during and after the Conservative conference the figures were LAB 39%(+3), CON 38%(+2), LDEM 15%(-6) – almost no Con-Lab swing at all since the last election.
It’s important to note that the number of people interviewed after the Conservative party conference was only 443, so there will be a large margin of error on these figures. However, for what it’s worth, had there been an election and these figures been repeated at the ballot box, Gordon Brown would have easily retained his majority.
In terms of methodology, it’s not quite clear how the poll was done – the long time period and the fact that data was stratified by postcode implies that it was done using face-to-face quota sampling. It was weighted by demographics of the seats concerned and used only “likely voters”. Interestingly, it also prompted respondents with the name of the candidates for each party in their seat, something that MORI often do in the last couple of polls before an election but which is normally only possible in face-to-face polls. My guess is that at this stage it probably favours the incumbent, since some people will know that X is their local MP, but (sorry to PPCs reading this, but it’s true) only hardcore anoraks will know that Y is their Conservative candidate. That said, that is accurate, the same largely applies come the actual election.
We don’t know what, if any, political weighting was applied, or how likely voters were identified, so it is hard to compare the figures to other pollsters – it shows Labour performing better in marginals than ICM’s poll did, but is that because of different methodology in terms of weighting, is it because it covers far more marginals (the Conservatives could be doing well in the bottom 50 that ICM polled, but much less well in more the distant prosects that CrosbyTextor included, or because of the different timescale or just because of that big margin of error. We don’t know.
To an extent, now there isn’t an election for at least two years it doesn’t matter. More interesting, given the fact that it was conducted over the period of the Conservative conference, is the opportunity to see how perceptions of the Conservatives actually changed during that period. We know they went up in the polls, but this is a chance to see why.
On page 11 of the results is a list of attributes people said applied to David Cameron and the Conservatives, ordered by how much they changed during the party conference. There aren’t many surprises there, but it does sum up what changed – the Conservatives went up nearly everywhere, but gains were smaller on things like the environment and immigration and the economy (still Labour’s strong card). The really noticable leaps were in the proportion of people who thought the Conservatives had strong leadership, had a strong and united team and had well thought out policies – these all nearly doubled. The largest increase of all was the proportion of people who thought they were performing well and communicating clearly, doubling from 18% to 36%.
The Conservative recovery has been mostly put down to inheritance tax, a policy which polls have universally said is popular and which Labour have rapidly sought to neutralise. The proportion of people who thought the Conservatives would cut taxes did rise, but not quite so dramatically – up from 38% to 49%. A fair old chunk of people thought that the Conservatives would cut taxes anyway, its not the tax cutting per se that changed, but that amongst other things hte inheritance tax proposals represented actual concrete policies, put across clearly. What changed was that the Tories managed to communicate a clear message, look capable and united and put forward coherent policies.