Lord Ashcorft has published some new polling of marginal seats, full details here. As with the ComRes marginal poll in the week the seats polled were mostly ultra-marginal seats – in this case, the 12 most marginal Con-Lab seats, the 12 most marginal Lab-Con seats, but whereas the ComRes poll was a single sample representing the most marginal 40, these were 24 individual samples, one from each seat. Ashcroft also added two seats that are less marginal, but thought to be good for UKIP: Thanet South and Great Yarmouth.

The fieldwork for Ashcroft polls was done between the 31st March and the 18th May. During that period the average Labour lead in the national polls was about 3.5 points: that’s the equivalent of a uniform swing of 5.25%. The average swing in the twelve CONSERVATIVE ultra-marginals seats was 5.5%, The average swing in the twelve LABOUR ultra-marginals was 6.5%.

That means that in contrast to the the ComRes poll in the week, the swing from Con-to-Lab in Conservative ultra-marginals is pretty much in line with the national swing, a fraction of a percentage point better for Labour compared to the national figure. In Labour-held ultra-marginals the swing is a little larger, which is what we’d expect to find (parties do a little better in seats they hold due to the incumbency effect of the local MP).

It’s not a very exciting finding – swing in Conservative marginals not vastly different to other seats – but it’s one that gives me some confidence in the poll. The reality is that come general elections marginals as a group are not usually vastly different to other seats. The swing is sometimes a little bigger or smaller, new incumbents normally do a little better, but the contrast isn’t normally vast.

While I excluded them from the sums above (as they were selected because they were unusual, so would have skewed the sample) I should comment on those two extra seats polled – Thanet South and Great Yarmouth. Both were chosen because there was an expectation that UKIP would be doing well, and in both cases it proved to be true – both had them in a very strong third place, with 28% in Great Yarmouth and 27% in Thanet South. Their strongest performance though came in a seat that was part of the normal sample of ultra marginals – Thurrock, where Ashcroft found them at 29% and in second place behind Labour. Thurrock was also one of the seats where UKIP did extremely well in Thursday’s local elections.

UPDATE: Actually I’ve just spotted that the fieldwork in the Tory held seats was done earlier than the fieldwork in the Labour held seats. So comparing the swing in Con-Lab seats to the swing in national polls at the time the polls were done shows no difference at all (both show swing of 5.5%). Comparing the swing in Lab-Con seats to the swing in national polls at the time those polls were done shows Lab doing about 1.5 points better in seats they already hold.

241 Responses to “Ashcroft poll of marginal seats”

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  1. @ Gray

    Thanks for the data! Press not emphasised the way in which UKIP has hoovered up far-right vote.

    You argue that low UKIP vote in London might reflect lack of organisation; but is there a danger of circularity ?
    There is no organisation because there is little or no latent support?

    UKIP lost all the councillors they had in: Barking and Dag., Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow, Merton, Rich.-Upon-Thames.
    Does this not suggest a real drop in support? [The Barking ones were Lab defectors?]

  2. @Robin

    Labour took 15 seats from LibDem in Brent and 11 seats from the Conservatives in Hammersmith and Fulham. I think they were the best performances of the night.

  3. Partisanity: an unanticipated and temporary outbreak of sanity in the activities or policies of a political party.

  4. @RobbieAlive

    As a Londoner I can say that there is no real prospect of UKIP gaining any support in London proper – they have some strength in Havering that is Essex really, and up in the North West which is almost Buckinghamshire. Londoners are far more equated with multiculturalism and far less likely to be interested in UKIP issues. Demographically they are also younger, less white etc.

    The drop in support is probably a paradoxical effect of UKIP doing well elsewhere and getting more attention. Four years ago many viewed them simply as an anti-Europe party somewhere to the right of the Tories. All the coverage of them has probably hardened anti-UKIP sentiment among Londoners. It is worth noting that many of those cllrs you quote were defectors.


    I would put the million quid on the Tories, on the basis of the polling movements, the likely development of the economy, and my own gut feeling.

  6. TOH

    Yes it will be tough to get to majority territory for Cameron even with the very aggressive campaign that we and others are planning, but Cameron to still be PM after the election is a very good bet in my eyes.

  7. @ MIM

    You have to be careful about Kingston because part of it is Zac Goldsmith. The LD’s certainly got slaughtered in those seats (and it wasn’t their strong bit anyway in 2010) in terms of vote loss but held up a bit better in Ed Davey’s bit- still lost seats but much more marginal losses. Could be symptomatic of them digging in where they have to.

  8. @Grey

    “Why didn’t UKIP do better in places like Barking and Dagenham (where the BNP pulled 12 seats in 2006, and where in Barking in 2010 UKIP+BNP was 17.7%)?”

    A guess. Anti-Lab/Left protests. No basis, other than supposition.

  9. @Gray

    …and I misspelled ‘Gray’. Sorry bout that.

  10. The biggest switch on Sunday surely would be Lab to Green?

    I am sure I am not representative but that it was I did and I know of other friends who did that too and the difference in polling between Euros and GE/Locals for the Greens means those Euro votes had to come from somewhere- could have come from LD’s I guess but no-one is too sure about the LD and Green percentages anyway- anything from 5% to 10% for either or both.

    Anyway, from Anthony’s comments and analysis it seems like YouGov are still expecting their polls to have been closer than Comres :-)

  11. @ Jack Sheldon

    I agree. In Mancs UKIP did best in some pretty grim, mainly white areas.
    Of course if most previous London UKIP councillors were defectors [I knew the ones in Barking were] then there will be no organisation.

    Anyway my opinion of Londoners has gone up since Thursday!

  12. The boundary changes mean that the Cons have little chance of an OM. I have never understood why DC didnt push them through.

    My theory is the Clegg knew that, without the boundary changes – DC would need him after the GE to form a gov’t and so dug his heels in and maybe DC likes Clegg, Alexander, Laws more than his own folk and is happy to work with them. I think the Cons and LDs will discreetly work and co-ordinate media together during the GE campaign.

  13. @ Phil Haines

    “I did spot something that would add further to the mix when the Euro papers were sorted yesterday. I’ll try and comment on Sunday once the polls are closed, before the results are announced”

    I haven’t seen any ballot papers or been to any counts so I guess that I can say what I like as it is just conjecture!

    I would not be surprised if a lot of people who thought they were voting UKIP actually voted for the party at the top of the ballot paper with a similar sounding name.


    @”Partisanity: an unanticipated and temporary outbreak of sanity in the activities or policies of a political party.”


    I prefer it to the conventional “partisanship”-a boat crewed by members of the same political party.

  15. Interesting fact (IMO):

    The last prime minister to increase his share of the vote following a full term was Lord Salisbury in 1906 – i.e. it’s never happened under universal suffrage.

  16. @TOH

    Wings over Scotland is a man after your own heart. He too believes that the Cons will win and likely win a majority. He bases it on re-allocating the UKIP respondents who say they will vote for party X in the GE, and the swing back to the gov’t over the next year as the economy improves.


    6 months ago I was confident in a Lab OM but now I am worried that you could be right – only a year until we find out

  17. No Labour supporter should trust Lord Ashcroft or his polls.

    These poll results are too good to be true and are presumably setting the ground for his “Labour lead collapsing” followed by “Labour now behind” and then “Tories set for overall majority” polls over the next 12 months.

  18. Thinking about UKIPs new councillors, I think the others parties need not worry about matters in the medium term.

    The usual route to become a councillor involves winning a ward by repeatedly challenging, year upon year. It’s a slog, but the apprenticeship means that when you win, you are well versed in local issues and the workings of the council.

    When a party emerges quickly, many of the people who win probably never thought they would win, or fully understand what is involved. Where I live we had a raft BNP councillors elected, but they most fell away and were generally poor councillors. They were fairly quickly voted out for not being good representatives.

    Getting voted in on a surge of public support, by having a popular policy on the EU, immigration and the like doesn’t help sort out the bread and butter issues that a council are involved with.

    I therefore wonder how many of the new intake will last the course and be duly re-elected?

  19. @ Killary

    Ashcroft polls are done under exactly the same standards as any other polling and have to abide by various rules. Obviously it is up to him what questions he asks (within reason) but the top line figures on voting intention are unquestionably correct within the usual margins of error.

  20. @Shevi
    “The biggest switch on Sunday surely would be Lab to Green?”

    Well in Ashcroft’s polling of the Euro voters who voted for “other” on Thursday, 4% think they’ll vote Con at the GE, 21% Lab and 5% LD. That does suggest that a fair few will have been temporary Lab switchers to Green.

    For comparison, of the Euro UKIP voters, 21% think they’ll vote Con at the GE, 11% Lab and 1% LD.

  21. I think to get a majority next time, it will help enormously if either largest party can avoid piling up useless votes in already-won constituencies. When the vote is this tight, getting the votes in the right places will be even much more important than usual.

    There’s going to be a lot of attention on those marginals.

  22. @KeithP

    Of course, that leaves those living in safe seats feeling more isolated from the parties, as they get no decent contact, whereas the marginal elector might get 6 phone calls.

  23. KEITH P.
    I agree with you.
    In 1951 Labour that mistake in piling up huge majorities in their heartlands.

    The marginal were neglected, in the year of the new electoral boundaries, which had a rural bias anyway.

    Thirteen Years of opposition and internecine war followed.

  24. Killary

    ‘No Labour supporter should trust Lord Ashcroft or his polls.
    These poll results are too good to be true and are presumably setting the ground for his “Labour lead collapsing” followed by “Labour now behind” and then “Tories set for overall majority” polls over the next 12 months.’

    If it is a conspiracy, he’s messed it up a bit today, hasn’t he? A bit of Labour infighting building up, with the prospect of more to come if UKIP lead in the Euros, and what does Ashcroft do but settle Labour’s nerves with a quite a nice poll! Or maybe it is all part of his cunning plan!

  25. @Robbiealive:
    First of all, with defectors things are always a bit odd, so I wouldn’t consider it to be particularly telling to lose a seat like that. Sometimes a defector can carry personal votes over, but as often as not a defector incumbent isn’t going to do /that/ much better than a non-incumbent.

    The BBC doesn’t list UKIP as having had councilors in Barking, Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow, Merton or Richmond. The Tories got torn up in Hounslow and Ealing, it is true. So did the LibDems in Richmond. But at least from the 2010 elections, UKIP didn’t have any seats in any of those boroughs…and in some cases, it looks like they didn’t even have any candidates on the ballot. Likewise, I’d have to get down in the data in individual boroughs to say whether the Tory issues in some of those areas had more to do with UKIP rising or the LibDems collapsing and their votes going to Labour (thus consolidating the center-left vote in those areas).

    On circularity: I can see the chicken-and-egg problem, and London was likely problematic for the sheer number of candidates UKIP would needed to have rounded up (since the councils were all-up…30 boroughs would mean 1500+ candidates). I don’t expect them to get that far in the West End; it’s more that they weren’t in better shape in more of the East End that surprises me…though there may be a lot of places in the East End that they did well, just not well enough.

    There’s another possibility that I’d consider as well: UKIP may be getting the ex-BNP vote, but Farage is likely smart enough to keep ex-BNP members off the ballot. That would be a tactical loss (not fighting some seats) but a strategic gain (since the bad press would be hell).

    Actually, I thought it over…based on what happened in the area, after the Barking and Dagenham fiasco in 2006 I suspect Labour made a point of organizing in those “safe” areas to head off a repeat disaster.

    Also, don’t sweat the misspelling.


    It would take an annoying amount of time, but I’d be interested to sort out constituencies by “consolidated right” vote (i.e. UKIP+BNP+ED, and I’ll add in the NF where relevant) and then overlay the local elections from 2013 and 2014. The mix would indicate areas where UKIP have a lot of support they can count on (i.e. a bedrock base of 10-15% from 2010) as well as areas that such support has been sustained for a while. It might also be worth checking if there’s substantial support from 2005 as well (some seats will have this; others won’t, simply because all the parties were running fewer candidates then, and most of the support in 2005 was for UKIP anyway).


    UKIP have lost 12 of 139 from last year’s intake, while their councillors have the best attendance record of any party. I’m not sure how that compares to other parties but it feels disproportionately high. Though it may not be a fair comparison, for the reason you stated concerning new guys on the block.

  27. Anthony et al:

    By crunching some numbers I’ve potentially found something very interesting indeed.

    Lord Ashcroft also did a Euro ‘exit’ poll of people saying they voted, full results to be published tomorrow night, but in the meantime he published some ‘issues’ tabs:


    What’s interesting is the table on page 2, because it shows breaks by party and also for all voters. ‘All voters’ is of course a weighted average of each party’s voters (and ‘others’) but by applying an optimisation algorithm, we can estimate the weights used. These aren’t totally precise estimates because the published numbers will have been rounded, but the weights in the solution (x100) are:

    CON 23.8
    LAB 23.3
    LIB 5.8
    UKIP 29.3
    OTH 17.8

    Not sure whether these are weights are indicative of the toplines that will be published tomorrow, but if they’re in any way indicative, I’d say they look good for UKIP, as expected for CON, bad for LAB, shocking for LIB and probably very good for GRN (Others ex-GRN have averaged about 6.3 in the last week by my reckoning, so if that played out, GRN weight would be around 11.5).

    On this basis, a UNS would give these seats:

    CON 18
    LAB 19
    LIB 0
    UKIP 24
    GRN 6

    Make of this what you will, I haven’t had it peer reviewed! If you want to check the numbers it can easily be done in Excel

  28. @KeithP:
    While I agree with you in general, the problem is going to be figuring out what seats are still safe next spring. Look at places like Dudley North: Marginal in 2010. Might be safe Labour, UKIP-Labour marginal, or Labour-Tory marginal depending on where things go over the next year. Conversely, it is entirely possible that Labour is going to wake up and have a few seats in places like Sheffield turn into marginals out of the blue.

  29. So I’m not the only one who thinks this poll is too good to be true – it could be Ashcroft trying to boost Ed M who the Tories think is their secret weapon at GE2015?

    On the other hand he does have a decent track record and I don’t seriously question his integrity as a pollster – besides, I criticised his poll last week for being spun too favourably for the Tories so both accusations can’t be right.

    Probably safe to say his polling is honest and we can put the conspiracy theories to one side!

  30. @ Pressman

    “Yes it will be tough to get to majority territory for Cameron even with the very aggressive campaign that we and others are planning”

    You’ve never mentioned this before Pressman. What’s that about then? Surely not a sustained personal attack on Ed Miliband? Why haven’t you mentioned it before?

  31. “Probably safe to say his polling is honest and we can put the conspiracy theories to one side!”


  32. Re: Marginals/safe seats.
    I don’t see much danger of Labour neglecting the marginals in favour of the strongholds – the reverse has been true for decades and contributes to the percieved “bias” towards Labour in the electoral boundaries. I think Ashcroft believes that the Tories are not concentrating on the marginals and has paid the polling companies to support his contention. I’m not saying the poll is fake, of course, but it is intended as useful data for Tory strategists.

    Whether the Tory high command are able to agree on a strategy for advancing in the marginals is a different question. Whether they can persuade their dwindling troops on the ground of it is another. I also wonder if anything in the next 12 months of Parliamentary sloth can be a game changer. If they had listened to Ashcroft last year they would be fighting this battle alreadt. They didn’t.


    That’s very clever-I don’t begin to understand how you derived vote share from that table.

    I wonder how close you will be on Sunday?

  34. Thanks Colin :) To explain it simply, for each line in the table, we know that ‘all voters’ must be some combination of the parties and others. The are lots of different combinations of weights that could give the “all voters” number for each line.

    But the same weights have to give the ‘all voters’ number for EVERY line. So you could start with one of the polls and try adjusting by trial and error to see what gets closest… The algorithm is just a fancy way of getting the computer to do that faster instead.

    Of course, if these weights correspond to vote share, all they are telling you is what the poll’s toplines are… The poll could of course be wrong!

    Also it has an MoE as usual, of ±1.5%

  35. @COLIN

    I imagine the optimisation algorithm involves a sort of automated trial-and-error approach, plugging in particular sets of vote shares for each party and seeing which set (and therefore which weighting between parties) results in a score for All Voters which is closest to the score for All Voters on each issue mentioned on page 2. As there are 13 issues, it’s presumably close to the result of the Euro exit poll.


    Thanks-I couldn’t get past the number of variables for each line , but you have explained how the number of lines helps find the right one.


    Thanks too-yes “automated trial & error” indeed.

  37. I’ll second the thanks to Number Cruncher. What clever people Anthony attracts on here!

    I made a guesstimate based on Ashcroft’s tables which came out with a rather higher UKIP figure, but 29.3% sounds plausible. I’d have assumed that the Tories would do worse vis-a-vis Labour, but who knows?

  38. “Automated Trial and Error”.

    Sounds like one or two court cases I’ve been involved in over the years…

  39. I think the Tories would settle for those figures, if they come to pass. They really would like to avoid coming third in a nationwide election for the first time in their history.

  40. The New Statesman asks “Why has the BNP collapsed”?


    Do avoid the comments section.

  41. Coming back to UKIPers and that “vote UKIP get Miliband message”.

    GO mentioned it this morning in his speech , though thankfully added an intention to “respond” to UKIP voters’ key issues.

    He is certainly right to put this message in its correct perspective ( & I admit that I thought it would be enough at one time)

    on pb , they pick this up from the Ashcroft UKIP poll:-

    What outcome would you most like to see at the next General Election?:-

    Preferred Government –
    Con 30%
    Lab 27%
    Con/LD 13%
    Lab/LD 10%

  42. Now that question Colin quotes is very interesting indeed, and perhaps suggests neither party should really console itself with the thought that the Kippers will come home – if they do, they’ll help the other lot just as much!

    Does anyone know if the relatively awful poll standings of the two main parties might be down to UKIP expanding the base through bringing in non-voters while they stand still?

  43. Ashcorft’s poll of marginal seats is all very well but it doesn’t take in the EM unelectability factor.

    Now about the North South divided in England.

    After yesterdays council results it’s very clear the south is staying blue and the North’s going purple.

    To those in the north… The futures bright…… the futures purple.

    Cmon Atletico

  44. @NC – Great spot! Simultaneous linear equations in 5 variables: now that’s not something you see on internet forums every day. At least not on the kind of forums I usually visit.

  45. ALLAN

    In the “Cons looking for comfort” stakes from Ashcroft I think I prefer this observation from pb:-

    “Before the Reds or Blues (and Kippers) get overexcited or too despondent by this poll, it is worth remembering, a poll in September 2009 of nearly 35,000 respondents had the Tories on course for a majority of 70, nine months later, we all know what the actual result of the General Election was.

    As the good Lord notes

    The research also found that most voters in these seats are optimistic about the economy, and only three in ten would rather see Mr Miliband as Prime Minister than David Cameron. As I have found in the Ashcroft National Poll, half of voters say they may change their mind before the election – and there is still a year to go.”

  46. @Allan Christie
    “After yesterdays council results it’s very clear the south is staying blue and the North’s going purple.”
    Crumbs! Fascinating! I must have nodded off when that was announced. Please put a link up or something so we can all see the evidence and benefit from your wisdom and foresight.

  47. @Number Cruncher
    Does your analysis depend on the assumption that the proportion answering all three choices (for the first table on issues) and avoiding a “don’t know” response (for the second on preferred party leader) is the same for each of the political parties?

  48. @NC

    Those numbers look plausible.

    I know anecdotally that many Labour supporters voted Green in the Euros, so around 11-12% looks quite plausible (and dare I say my Euro prediction had the Greens on 11%?)

    As for the other parties, UKIP on 29 seems right based on most polling (I had them on 28).

    Regarding Lab and the Tories – Tories on 24 seems reasonable if a bit high (I had 21). Lab on 23 would be a bad result for them (I had 26), although the Green vote would explain this.

  49. @NC

    Can I just add one caveat? I’m not sure whether Ashcroft’s data reflects the likely strong performance of Lab in London (Greens notwithstanding ).

  50. The results of tomorrow’s Ukrainian elections are released tonight in spite of the embargo. Mr Roshan won with 110% of the votes (3 million absentees due to being shelled by the armoured vehicles and shot at from helicopters of the government of Kiev) and every citizen will get a candy.

    Ms Ashton welcomed the result as a victory of democracy. Prince Charles added that it is only comparable to the 1932 German elections in terms of clarity of the will of the people.

    And now the EU election results.

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