Lord Ashcroft has repeated the same sort of large marginals poll that PoliticsHome did in 2008 and 2009, looking at the clusters of key marginal seats that will provide the battleground for the next general election.

As in 2008 and 2009, the poll asked two questions to determine voting intention – asking the same sort of standard voting intention that all polls use, then prompting people to think about tactical voting, asking people to think specifically about their own constituency, the political situation there and the candidates likely to stand and then asking how they’d vote in their own seat.

There is a widespread belief that people don’t really think about tactical voting until a general election is almost upon us. I’m not so sure that’s the case, it may just be that people don’t reflect their tactical voting intentions in polls until late in the day! The two-stage voting intention question clearly suggests that some people answer a standard voting intention question differently to how they think they would actually vote in a general election, their normal answer is more like their “national party preference”.

Anyway, this two stage voting intention appears to pick up tactical and incumbency effects, so in Labour held seats it tends to slightly increase the reported level of Labour support, in seats the Conservatives are defending it marginally boosts Conservative support. Where is has a massive effect is in Lib Dem held seats – the Liberal Democrats get much more support in those seats when you prompt people to think about their own constituency.

The picture painted by the Ashcroft marginal poll is not particularly surprising – a big swing from Con to Labour, the Liberal Democrats collapsing where they are against Labour but more resilient against the Conservatives. It is good to have solid data to back up what I was only assuming was happening in the marginal seats though!

The swing from Conservative to Labour is slightly smaller in the marginals than in the national polls (national polls are showing a swing of around 8.5%-9.5%, while this poll shows a swing of 8% in Con-v-Lab margins) but this looks like this is the result of incumbency effect for those first term Conservative MPs who hold most of those seats – the standard voting intention question without the constituency prompt was showing a swing wholly inline with national polling. There are no massive regional differences, the biggest being London marginals where there is only a 5% swing from Con to Lab, probably a reflection of the fact that the swing towards the Conservatives in London in 2010 was much less than elsewhere in the country – there is less far for the pendulum to swing back.

Perhaps the more interesting findings are what the poll says about the Liberal Democrats – the Con-v-Lab battle normally follows national polls, the Lib Dem battleground is sometimes different. When PoliticsHome asked the two stage voting intention question structure back in 2009 it found the Lib Dems did 10 points better in LD-Con seats when people were prompted to think about their own constituency (and conseqently was actually quite a good pointer to how well they’d do at the 2010 election – it had them getting 55 seats, compared to the 57 they actually got). In the Ashcroft poll today the tactical/incumbency boost the Lib Dems get in LD-Con seats when people are prompted to think about their own constituency is a mighty 13 points.

This is naturally good news for the Liberal Democrats, but still means they will lose a lot of seats. The reason that tactical/incumbency boost is bigger is probably simply because they are starting from a much lower base. Even with this prompting the poll suggests the Lib Dems will lose around 17 seats to the Conservatives. In seats where they are up against Labour the swing is bigger, the tactical/incumbency boost is smaller, and the Lib Dems face wipeout. Overall, if this poll was reflected at the next general election – still two years away remember- it would leave the Lib Dems with around 25 seats, a very sizeable loss, but not the complete wipeout that some have predicted, feared or hoped for.

192 Responses to “Lord Ashcroft poll of marginal seats”

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  1. Am I first (and still in Nairobi wondering how the 49.97 % who lost will react to the Kenyatta win)

  2. Interesting in Con-Lib marginals where the increase in Lib support comes from.
    While standard VI is
    Con 33, Lab 29, Lib 18, UKIP 11
    VI for ‘thinking about your constituency’ is –
    Con 30 (-3), Lab 23 (-6), Lib 31 (+13), UKIP 9 (-2)
    Approx 5% comes from Labour, 3% from the Tories and the rest from elsewhere – indicating not only tactical voting from Labour voters but also a relatively large incumbent bonus.

    69% of Labour voters said they definitely would not consider voting Conservative, 58% said they would not consider UKIP, while only 35% said they would not consider LibDem – indicating any tactical swing from Labour to LibDem could potentially be larger if encouraged.

  3. Welsh

    Is it a case of very strong regional and ethnic diffrences? If so would their be a danger/opportunity for a breakaway nation?

  4. Anthony, what do you make of this?


  5. Odd that AW thinks that 25 seats is not a disaster. It takes the dems back to 1983!! To go backwards 30 years in one election is extremely bad for a third party, also thats a 60% drop in seats which would in relative terms be worse than the tory rout in 97

  6. @RiN,

    I bet the Tories would love to go back 30 years in one election…..

    I suspect AW is talking in the context of expectations – which is where most debate about political outcomes happens.

    As it happens I think the LibDem vote share in 2015 will probably be better than it looks now, and their seat tally will be a bit higher than 25 (but still a dramatic loss, albeit from what is for them a very high base).

  7. This does seem to support the argument put forward that Eastleigh pointed towards a good result for Labour’s national position. If Lib Dems try to save themselves as a party by focussing on the (relatively) soft underbelly of Con-Lib marginals, then Lab voters can – and will – assist them. Elsewhere Libs cannot expect to hoover up the disaffected in the way they have previously. Their twin strategy is over, as is the split left, which was the result.

  8. Everyone was saying the LDs would be annihilated by the Conservatives in 2009. Now they’re saying Labour will take the LD vote. Let’s see what happens in two years’ time, shall we?

    The figure of 25 seats is basically a minimum benchmark without any real campaign underway, Lib Dems at a polling low point, the economy yet to start its recovery and with no real attempt to squeeze parties in third place.

    I would expect around 45 seats as a realistic tally, but unless Labour can come up with some very good reasons why they should be allowed back into government, I would expect their vote to come back down significantly during a campaign.

  9. RiN
    I think the point was more that it’s not as bad as it could have been, had they lacked the incumbency bonus and support from tactical voting.
    Without that ‘bonus, LDs would be 8% lower in LD-Lab and 13% lower in LD-Con.

    Compare that to 3% bonus for Lab in Lab-Con (a large portion being LD>Lab) or 1% bonus for Con in Con-Lab (where there is only small LD>Con and LD>Lab, although very slightly more LD>Lab).

    LDs without that bonus would mean complete meltdown.

  10. @John Pilgrim
    Insightful (and brilliantly written) post. The nationality of Aeneas’ aunts seems now totally irrelevant, particularly given the circumstances in which it was discussed.

    (gist of this left by accident on wrong thread!)

  11. RC,
    For the past 3 years I’ve heard, ‘Labour and LibDem polling doesn’t mean anything, we’re 4/3/2 years away from an election!’
    Until we see some real shift in polling, we have to work with what we’ve got.

  12. @TF,

    I think you mostly hear people saying that in response to the “I don’t see how the Tories can possibly win the next election” comments that permeate these threads.

    Of course, with every passing day that the lead remains in double figures, the chances of a Tory win recede further. But VI can change, for lots of reasons or none. 2 years is plenty for a huge swing. Even 1 year can see big changes. And the effect of “events” is not always the one that seems obvious. After all, Brown didn’t lose badly in 2010 because of the global crash, he lost badly despite it. His polling position was far worse at the start of the crisis. It gave him a chance to stride the world stage and talk seriously about serious issues, rather than being the whipping boy for redtops looking for a Scotsman to abuse.

    Who knows what 2013-2015 will bring, or what the impact could be? Do we really know what effect on VI a Big Event (say, Scottish independence, the break up of the Eurozone, the start of a shooting war in Africa, Iran or the Far East etc) could have?

    We have already seen that two things the Tories were dreading, a double dip and a credit downgrade, don’t seem to have moved the polls particularly. I don’t think we should overestimate our prescience.

    But, yes, the current figures are all we have to work with, and anyone who dismisses them as irrelevant shouldn’t really be bothering with a site like this.

  13. Neil A
    Perhaps I should have been clearer.
    That was exactly my point – things can change in 2 years time, but it has been pretty stable for 2 years so far.

    I just can’t see, ‘When the campaign starts, Labour’s vote will automatically collapse’ when nothing so far has shifted the, largely Lib>Lab, movement.

    You’re right though – 2014 could be the big year, with EU elections and the possibility of Scottish independence (although again, current polling indicates that won’t happen).

  14. Perhaps I should be even clearer –
    I’m not saying that things won’t change and that events won’t come along that will shift things.
    I’m just trying to make the point that dismissing the polling evidence because anything *could* happen doesn’t mean that it *will* happen.

    Just like the various electoral ‘laws’ for why the Conservatives will win (2 term law) or why their vote will continue to decline (discussed relatively recently).

    I’ve seen exactly the same sort of comments from Labour supporters about Ed Miliband’s polling problems (he isn’t exactly popular) – there’s still 2 years to go to convince the public, etc

  15. Of course a nice little war would change everything, but they dont come made to order at least not normally

  16. Scottish LibDem losses should be greater not only because of the availability of at least one other electable party which is not Labour, but because the LibDem vote is largely a negative anti-Con vote.

    Most of it is anti-Con, and if the LibDems could persuade the voters that they are as much a restraint in the coalition as UKIP believe them to be, then they could hang on, but they aren’t making a convincing case so far, and the reason they aren’t is because their case is weak.

    Many anti-Cons have already decided that the SNP are the best option except in Glasgow where it takes considerable mental effort to imagne anyone but Labour winning anything anytime.

    Incumbancy has in the past been of great value to LibDems in the Highlands, but incumbents may think this is a good time to retire if they can and let somebody else be the loser.

  17. Neil A

    The response to Con optimists is to ask them at what date, assuming the polls continue relatively static, is it time to worry.

    The shorter the time, the harder the task. At some point it will be too late. If there is some movement showing, maybe during the campaign it can be enhanced. If not, maybe it isn’t going to move at all.

  18. The future looks bright id you were previously a Lib Dem in ‘two taxi load’ frame of mind.

    Given what LD support is really for, current polling means stalemate and uncertainty as worst case.

    So , no expectation that EM will promote a more proportional voting system if he has an overall majority, but could be tempted if looking to the long term.

    Secondly, no great advance on EU integration but even less chance of withdrawal (from that advance or even the status quo),

    Those are the two LD goals (what they are for, to answer an earlier discussion) so it looks politically rosy for them, comparatively speaking, well, compared with a year ago.

  19. RIN
    ‘Odd that AW thinks that 25 seats is not a disaster. It takes the dems back to 1983!!’

    Maybe worth remembering that LibDems had fewer than 20 seats in 1992. On that basis, 25 might not seem too bad an outcome for them.

  20. 25 seats for Lib Dem. It would be a disaster really unless the other parties come in neck and neck. From the speeches at today’s conference the Lib Dems are surely counting on a hung parliament with their seats being the difference that makes a government. If that doesn’t happen then their strategy will be in disarray.

  21. As I have just written Clare, one has to consider the bottom line, which I tried to do. The chances of a hung chamber situation look remote at present and I agree with TF that any other speculation is purely that.

  22. No great surprise in the Ashcroft poll. but how will it affect the Lib Dems campaign ?

    The is NO WAY they will be allowed to fudge the issue of who they will support if there is a hung parliament

    Most of 25 of the MPs who have a chance of retaining their seats and logically the 14 who will lose their seats to the Tories will need to woo Labour supporters.
    So do they come out and say we will effectively Labour Lite?

    Where does this leave Clegg? these MPs must see their chances enhanced if they have a different leader

    Could we even get the situation where individual Lib Dems promised to support different parties come a hung parliament (or at least rule out supporting the Tories)?

  23. If the LibDems publicly rule out supporting the Tories, then it makes a Tory “vote LibDem, get Labour” slogan much more effective in anti-Labour areas of the country. I suppose the question is whether this would be counteracted by improvements in their support elsewhere.

    It rather dissolves the longterm LibDem strategy politically though. After all what’s the point of a separate party if they are permanently welded to a larger sister-party? I suppose they could because a sort of Christian Social Union of the Southwest….

  24. Neil A – I think your analysis would be sound had Cameron won the last election and we could be facing a re-run of 1992 where the voters returned to the Tory party and Major got just a few % less than Thatcher.

    But the Tories need to gain votes to get a majority and the re-alignment of the Lab-Lib Dem vote would probably be enough for a Labour majority or a Labour lead coalition – even if the Tories still got 36%

  25. Neil A – was answering your previous post – not your reply to me

  26. Neil A

    “After all, Brown didn’t lose badly in 2010 because of the global crash, he lost badly despite it. His polling position was far worse at the start of the crisis. ”

    Forgive me for being blunt, but that is nonsense.

    Labour polled 29% in GE10.

    When the economic crisis started in Summer 07, Labour were on 37-40% in the polls. By the time the crisis went catastrophic with the Lehman’s collapse, Labour were down to about 25% in the polls, it’s true, but by the the crisis was biting hard and we were already deep in recession. Labour’s lowest poll figures came straight after Budget 09, when the extent of the carnage that the crisis had wreaked on our economy was laid bare.

    Brown clearly, understandably and unarguably took a huge hit because of the global crisis. To argue otherwise is perverse.

    Consider the counterfactual. Having taken over in 07, had he presided over mill-pond like economic conditions, with 3% growth and sub-1M unemployment, do you reckon he would have led Labour to a poll result of 29% in 2010?

  27. Neil A and Redfish

    I know exactly what NC will say (sounds like the BBC at 0600 when DC is to make a speech at 1400 but of course in that case DC has already sent them a copy) and that is that ‘the largest party has the right to form a government if it can reach a deal with others’.

    Incidentally Neil, such a CSU as you describe it will exclude my membership as I will have nothing to do with religion and many LD members I meet feel the same. But we need a poll on that (well, probably not).

  28. Labour vote in GB in 2010 was actually 29.7%!

  29. If Labour were offered, today, an 84 seat majority (with LDs on 25 seats) of course they would bite your hand off; even though it is 20 seats less than the UKPR polling average.

    The current incumbency advantage to the Tories is not much of a boost when compared to the apparent willingness of Lab/LDs &/or LD/Labs to vote tactically in Con/LD & LD/Con seats.

    Personally, if I were a Tory, I’d actually find this more ‘depressing’ than before this poll because it shows that LD/Con targets are probably less winnable than may have previously been assumed.

  30. I didn’t think Ashcroft was trying to make any partisan point. he simply stated the result of his findings which was the UNS gives a better result for Labour than his marginals poll. Fair enough. (Er, but so what?).

  31. “So , no expectation that EM will promote a more proportional voting system if he has an overall majority, but could be tempted if looking to the long term.”
    Well Ed need only look to London, Wales or Scotland to see the benefits of AMS for Labour – all he’d have to do is argue for rolling that out across the country.

  32. I find all this election speculation pointless.
    The conservatives promised the earth in 2010 and only managed a hung parliament. Now do the math after 3 years of Tory rule.

  33. Graham

    I don’t do detail!

  34. @ RIN

    I don’t think the electorate is much interested in wars at the moment. In fact the only one they *liked* was the Falklands. Iraq was pretty neutral and given it was Labour in power probably cost them some votes (but not many in the scheme of things).

  35. I’m rather taken with the Tory Victory cartoon showing Lord Ashcroft flanked by Liz Truss and Theresa May:


    BBC have reported May’s speech today as that of a leader in waiting.

    Cameron’s chances of fighting the next election look no better than 50:50 atm. Janan Ganesh in the FT recently made the point about how he gives way to the right of the party time and again yet fails to stem the tide to UKIP.

    May as the stop Boris candidate would make a once and for all shift to the right – but from there be strong enough to face down the right flank?

    Ashcroft may privately have doubts about whether the next election can be won (he has recently taken to using the phrase “buyer’s remorse” in connection with 2010 gains) – damage limitation might be the order of the day. Above all he does not want to see a return to the long years of Hague and IDS – May (ie Howard) he could perhaps cope with if she opened the way to a second go at modernising the party.

  36. @Steve

    “I find all this election speculation pointless.”

    …but you’re on a polling site!

  37. Amber Star

    I’m a Tory voter I don’t find Ashcrofts poll particularly depressing it’s just a statement of facts of where we are today set against the back drop of two more years to go.
    As you well know the voting public can be a fickle thing even core voters and of course contributors to these pages can change there minds.
    I happen to believe we live in a new age were a much larger number of people don’t have strong allegiances to parties or have simply lost interest or faith in politics. Because of this I don’t believe so much emphasis can be placed on poll results this far out or looking at past polling results in years gone by as an indicator of what will happen in the future GE as was the case in the past..
    Having said that if Labour still have that 10% or more in the last 6 months to the next GE then they should win, unless there is a Clegg mania moment for Farage then all bets are off as to an outright winner.

  38. I am with Neil A and RC and believe the LDs will recover some VI between now and polling day. Of course some of this will be early tactical and incumbency transfers moderating the benefit a little.

    Reckon 35-40 seats rather than RCs 45 personally due to Scotland and Lab marginals mostly being lost.

  39. Turk
    “I happen to believe we live in a new age were a much larger number of people don’t have strong allegiances to parties or have simply lost interest or faith in politics.”

    Combined Con/Lab/Lib votes as % of electorate was 73.2% as recently as 1992. In 2010 it was 57.3% and that was actually an increase over the previous 2 elections (presumably because of increased use of postal votes). So 16% of the electorate have stopped backing any of the 3 main English parties. That’s a big potential pool for UKIP and others to go at.

  40. @ JimJam

    Reckon 35-40 seats rather than RCs 45 personally due to Scotland and Lab marginals mostly being lost.
    Are you thinking that Scotland will vote yes to independence?

  41. Pete B
    Under FPTP it won’t get them anywhere though will it?

  42. Observer Poll out:

    Lab 39 CON 27 UKIP 17 (Seventeen!) Lib Dem 8


  43. Amber
    If they read this blog they might do!

  44. Howard
    I know it’s a bit unlikely, but add say 10% of the electorate who are ‘lost’ voters to UKIP’s current 10% of those intending to vote plus a few more bandwagon defectors from other parties, and it begins to look interesting.

    I’m just saying that if any party finds a way of getting the trust of these lost voters it could change things round dramatically. UKIP seem the most likely to do that.

  45. SHEVII

  46. @ Howard

    Who are you calling an outlier? :-)

    Yes I’m sure it is but I think it will make for headlines.

  47. Pete B
    SHEVII report (thanks Shev) means Labour landslide. Not what you are looking for I am afraid.


    The two groups of Scottish seats show very different patterns. While I still think Charlie Kennedy’s personal vote will keep him in place regardless of party label, the numbers suggest the LDs losing every mainland seat,

    Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk would fall to the Tories, while Labour would pick up E Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh West.

    The other 7 would be won by the SNP – Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine; Argyll & Bute; Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross; North East Fife; Gordon; Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey; and Ross, Skye & Lochaber.

    In the SNP/Lab marginals, both parties have picked up about half of the collapsed LD vote, so no change in these seats would seem likely.

  49. Observer Opinium

    “But the findings on the economy will reverberate most at Westminster. Just 20% of all voters now believe the government’s economic policies have been beneficial to the economy, against 58% who say they have been harmful.

    “Even among Tory supporters only just over half (55%) think they have been beneficial, with 17% saying they have harmed the economy, and 22% either saying they have been neither harmful nor beneficial, or having no view.”

    Graun reporting.

  50. Why is it “wow!” that UKIP are on 17%?

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