Having polled Lab -v- Con seats last month, Lord Ashcroft has now done a similar exercise in ultra-marginal seats between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. He polled 17 seats. 6 are Conservative held seats where the Lib Dems came a close second last time and need not unduly delay us, all show a shift from Lib Dem to Conservative and Conservative holds, the most interesting ones being Watford (which was a three way marginal in 2010 and remains so in this poll) and the two Cornish seats in the sample which both put UKIP in second place, more on that later.

Turning to the Lib Dem seats polled, Lord Ashcroft did fieldwork in the ten most marginal Lib Dem seats with the Conservatives in second place. He also polled the special case of Eastleigh because of the by-election and UKIP, but we’ll set that aside for now. The ten Lib Dem ultra-marginals represent seats with majorities of up to 6.4%, so they’d need a swing of 3.2% from LD to Con for the Tories to take them all at the next election. Based on national polling the Conservatives should do that easily (the national LD=>Con swing is about 5.5%), but as we know, Liberal Democrat MPs rely far more upon their personal support and tactical voting than MPs from other parties, and tend to be better able to confound a national swing.

Across the ten LD ultra-marginals the average swing from LD to Con was 3.4, so the Lib Dems continue to do far better in their own seats than in the country as a whole. However, “doing better” doesn’t mean completely immune from loss. If that was repeated across all LD-Con marginals they’d still lose all those ten to the Tories plus perhaps Eastborne. In practice there is variation between seats, so some seats with smaller majorities the Lib Dems would cling on to, some more distant targets they’d probably lose. Looking at these particular seats Ashcroft found the Lib Dems doing far better than average in Sutton & Cheam, which this suggests they’d hold with ease, and better than average in Cheadle which this also suggests they’d hold. Those two are the most urban of the two seats polled – but with limited data points its difficult to tell if that’s significant. North Cornwall’s swing isn’t far from the average, but would be too close to call.

If the Liberal Democrats lost only 10 or 11 seats at the next election they’d probably be quite pleased… but remember, the Lib Dems also have around 10 English seats where Labour is the challenger and 11 seats in Scotland that could be vulnerable to either Labour or the SNP, so this is not the only battleground for them. It’s the largest Lib Dem battleground, but not the one where they are most vulnerable.

Two other things to note. Seats that have had a by-election are changed by it, so Eastleigh is probably representative of nothing but itself, but for the record Ashcroft found voting intentions there of CON 27%, LAB 10%, LDEM 39%, UKIP 22%. Also worth noting is how well UKIP are doing in the Cornish seats included here. Because it’s a close LD v Con battleground Ashcroft’s sample happened to include five of the six Cornish constituencies, and UKIP were running in second place in three of them. Take the UKIP scores with a slight pinch of salt because the timing of the fieldwork (it was mostly done during or in the fortnight following the European elections, so when UKIP were on a bit of a publicity high), but it’s another potential pointer as to where they could do well.

330 Responses to “Ashcroft poll of Lib Dem marginals”

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  1. Anthony – you say the national LD to CON swing is 5.5 (presumably based on your average) but in Ashcroft national polling it looks a lot less (across all the polls I make it 3.8) which looks very close to the swing in the marginals… Isn’t that the comparison to be making?

  2. The polling was carried out from 11th May to 14th June so it straddles the Euro election period and should be seen in the context of the polling then more than now.

  3. “All” meaning “all Ashcroft national polls”

  4. @Number Cruncher – That assumes that his national polls are biased in the same way as his marginal polls. Given how different the necessary methodologies are, and how few national polls he’s conducted so far to give us a sufficient sample, it does make sense to compare against the wider national figure.

  5. I think the LDs are vulnerable to losing more than these 8 to the Conservatives, simply because swings are always variable between seats due to specific factors such as local campaigning. Allowing for some variation in the long shots I suggest that on this poll they’re on course to lose about 12-14 to the Conservatives, and that together with losing perhaps 10 to Lab and perhaps 5 to the SNP/Plaid.

    That said, LD supporters will still greet this with a bit of optimism and think they can do better. The significance of this poll may be the LDs have done just about well enough to bolster Clegg’s position as LD leader.

  6. Ashcroft’s “preferred election result” table is interesting.

    The balance of people wanting a Con government or Con/LD coalition over a Lab government or Lab/LD coalition is as follows:

    Camborne -1
    Watford +1
    Truro +7
    St Ives +7
    Cheadle +8
    Oxford W +11
    Chippenham +14
    Eastleigh +16
    St Austell +16
    Sutton +16
    Harrogate +19
    N Cornwall +19
    Wells +19
    Newton Abbot +20
    Solihull +27
    Somerton +27
    Mid Dorset +29

    No surprises in most of these – they are Ashcroft’s list of Con/LD marginals after all, although Watford is in my view more of a Con/Lab marginal now. But it does suggest to me that Labour has the potential to make some headway in Cornwall in due course. In particular, it’s notable that Lab are in contention in Camborne which cries out for some targeting from them.

  7. @ Chris Green – Are the methodologies that different? When he started the national polls IIRC Ashcroft said (I can’t find the quote but I’ll keep looking) that the whole point was to provide a baseline comparator, so I would think they are as close as possible.

    I would suggest that we do have enough Ashcroft polls to see something of a house effect – not enormous, but in 5 of his six polls, he’s had CON below 30 (average 29%). Total margin of error across those polls is just over a point, so it’s statistically significant.

  8. I haven’t worked out the house effect using Anthony’s normalised YouGov rolling average method, but the average of all pollsters has certainly been higher than that.

  9. All suggests to me that the Tories and Labour will take a similar amount of LD seats – perhaps around 10.
    Clearly this is more meaningful for the Cons as it takes them closer to an OM (or viable minority plus LD and/or DUP C&S) but they will still need a dozen or so straight from Labour which looks unlikely.

    Labour will need 25 or so Tory-Lab and whilst there are always results behaving outside the national picture and Scotland will be more complicated the first 60 or so seats the cons are defending from Labour is the main battleground for the GE; if Lab get 30 of these they will surely be the largest party in Westminster.

    Should the national polls shift in the Tories favour the 30-40 seats Lab defending from Cons become the most vital.

  10. Two points to be added to Anthony’s piece and to Ashcroft’s own, mostly fair-minded, commentary. One is the effect of personal incumbency as well as political. In illustrating the variability of the seats, Ashcroft says “The swing to the Conservatives in Wells[1] (3%) was less than half than in neighbouring Somerton & Frome (7.5%)”. But in the latter the sitting Lib Dem MP has announced he is stepping down in 2015.

    The other point is to consider the effects of local elections taking place at the same time as the polling and not just the effect of the Euros. The smallest drops in Lib Dem vote and indeed swings from Conservatives were in Sutton and Eastleigh, where Lib Dems held the Council well and Watford (not even a current Lib Dem seat) where a popular Lib Dem executive Mayor was re-elected. Larger swings against the Lib Dems tended to happen in places such as Cornwall with no local election campaign going on.

    This may suggest that, if there is a locally-based campaign going on, as there will be for most of these seats in 2015, then there may be additional benefits for the Lib Dems on top of the incumbency factors we see here.

    [1] Wells also featured in the notorious Oakeshott polls and Ashcroft’s result shows just how important asking voters to consider their own constituency and the likely candidates is (as the ICM poll didn’t). In Wells, the latter question led to the Conservative lead in the seat dropping from +17 to +5 and that was without actually naming the current MP. (ICM found +20 without DK reallocation)

  11. This tends to add to the evidence of those of us who have been predicting for a long time now that 2015 won’t see the carnage of LD seats that some continually suggest.

    One other issue where it goes a bit quiet sometimes, in the guaranteed principle of polling that some follow, that there is _always_ a swing back to the governing party in the year before an election. Oddly, this is never touted in the case of the Lib Dems.

  12. @ Alec

    I think it depends what you mean by Carnage- if we are talking about the CIFers “you’ll be able to fit them all in a taxi” then yes you won’t see that level of carnage.

    But those results don’t seem that far away from the UNS predictions of 20 or so seats remaining. Simon Hughes seat is the number 17 LD seat for Lab to claim on their swingometer and until Ashcroft does a poll on it I am convinced he will lose it to Labour. Obviously at that point we start to be seeing 3 way marginals rather than Lab/LD straight fights (especially where the SNP can also challenge) so it gets complicated but if you add in 10 or so Tory gains and 15 Lab gains then we start to get quite close to 30 seats left.

    Even with these polls I don’t think it will be easy to predict and, more than any other party, the LD’s have in the past made a big difference to their vote during the campaign in the seats they are going for. Just not sure if it will be the same this time.

  13. FPT.

    EM? 90 seconds to do Rubik Cube?

    Pah! Lightweight! I used to be able to do it in 30 seconds as a 15 year old. We used to have timed competitions at school. we’d strip the cube down and rub graphite from a pencil all over the insides of the blocks to reduce friction, we were so fast at it.

    Kids these days! Bloody slackers.

  14. Shevi – yes definition of carnage will be different for every poster but 30 or more seats for the LDs seems likey but less than 40.

    I doubt Bermandsey will go and would be staisfied with 10 lab gains from LD personally.

  15. sory aboot typoos and spelin

  16. My personal projections of the LD seat count from May 2015 has never been (as far as I remember) much less than 25, being as I normally use the trend figures from this site, only lower when I use LD outliers (eg, 6%, which I doubt will happen). Yes, that is “Carnage” but not wipeout and still leaves the LD’s as prime candidates for forming a coalition.

    Sure their marginals are going to be extremely vulnerable what with losing about half their popular vote. However, if we think what conditions are needed to swing rather less vulnerable seats, I would think we would also need at least one of Labour or Conservatives to be conversely much more popular (say, 40% or more) as well as the incumbent party thereabouts being unpopular. The fact that the two larger parties are both currently wallowing around mid-30’s has much to do with the UKIP effect. So perversely I think UKIP might help save some LD seats.

  17. As always with discussion of Lib Dem seats, we also have to remember that Scotland is another country and what we are really talking about here is the 46 English and Welsh seats.

    Of the Scottish seats only Orkney and Shetland could be considered safe (they even won the Euros there) though it’s possible that personal votes (Kennedy, Thurso?) and ABT (in Moore’s seat) might help them hang on to a few more. But it means they won’t have to lose many more seats elsewhere to fall below 40 or 35.

  18. If Perchance the Next General Election produces a Labour total around the 300 mark I wonder How much influence 20 LD’s with around 25%-30% of the Vote that Labour had achieved could expect to influence in a Coalition

    Fortunately the party polices as opposed to party leadership are in many ways similar so probably wouldn’t be insurmountable.

    For example the LD’s could claim credit for a Mansion tax and Putting the Top rate of tax back up to 50%

  19. The Independent claims that “Ed Miliband has insisted he can “defy the odds” and win next year’s general election”. Yet again, rather strong evidence of the preferences of the media class.

  20. The parallel headline in the Telegraph being “I shouldn’t win the election” – no surprise there.

  21. Lefty

    “EM? 90 seconds to do Rubik Cube?

    Pah! Lightweight! I used to be able to do it in 30 seconds as a 15 year old ”

    Owr Daisie can destroy one in 7 seconds – and she’s oany WON !!!!!!

    [aged TOO]

  22. I agree with almost all the posts I have read on this thread and Ashcroft’s and Anthony’s commentaries.

    Many of the factors already mentioned are far more significant (incumbancy factor, campaigning records etc.) than what I am about to mention.

    However, that something I have not seen mentioned thus far is a further unpredictable factor.

    LibDems always seem to find it easier to hold onto LD v Con seats if there is an overall Con to Lab swing going on nationally, and harder to hold on if the swing is the other way.

    This pattern has actually been true to a greater or lesser extent since, unbelievably consistantly, 1923!

    I believe it is why the LibDems actually lost seats in 2010 (from 63 down to 57) despite Cleggmania and a higher national share of the vote to 2005.

    So, if the election swings Labour’s way the LibDems will hold onto many more of their LD v Con marginals than if the election swings from Lab to Con nationally.

  23. I’ve had a Rubik’s Cube since the 1980s and I’ve nearly finished it. 30 years can’t be bad.

  24. The oddity at the moment is that in the last months the Lib Dems have been polling substantially worse than they’ve otherwise done for the last three years. It’s all very well claiming it’s because the Lib Dems went into a COALITION [jarring chord] with the TORIES [another jarring chord], but that’s been factored into the polls before, so what’s changed now.

    I suspect that Clegg’s decision to sell itself as the pro-EU party was, in hindsight, a big tactical error. When you’ve struggling that badly in the polls, the last thing you want to do it make a big thing of supporting something that’s got an even more toxic reputation.

  25. I agree with most of the comments.

    Some factors that haven’t been discussed extensively:

    1) Much of London has gone very red, very abruptly, at least at the council level. I would never have imagined Simon Hughes’ seat was in contention two years ago- after May’s results I think he’s going to struggle to hold it. Featherstone is toast. Teather is so doomed she’s not even bothering to stand.

    I don’t know what this means for the three London Lib/Con seats Ashcroft didn’t poll. The Sutton and Cheam result would suggest they’re safe, but I’m not sure we can extrapolate.

    2) If there is anti-Ukip tactical voting, the Lib Dems may be able to mobilise it to hold seats against the Conservatives. The Tories are second (or rather, first) in a lot of these places but that’s never stopped the Lib Dems from printing a dodgy bar chart before, and as the incumbents they have an advantage in presenting themselves as the most effective ABU vote.

  26. @ Chris Neville-Smith,

    It’s also possible that exposure of Clegg hurts them in and of itself, regardless of what he’s saying. He was higher profile in the debate against Farage than he has been for a while, and that combined with the fact he then proceeded to lose the debate may have made even people broadly favourable to the Lib Dems think twice about voting for them.

  27. Mili now playing down chances at GE ….this is a cautious game, just as Blair avoided triumphalism before ’97…not sure what he’s trying to achieve….


  28. The thing that makes me despair the most is the number of Lib Dems who think that the EU debate would have been a vote-winner if only there had been a different Lib Dem leader saying exactly the same thing Clegg was saying.

    Frankly, I’d say the best course of action (or at least the best one for damage limitation) is to drop this campaign quietly and go back to selling benefits of Lib Dems in coalition government, which might not have pushed polls up much but at least it wasn’t sending them down.

  29. @ Chris N-S,

    I dunno, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Clegg’s strategy of trying different insane things and seeing if any of them will help is marginally better for his party than just extolling the virtues of the coalition, although I suppose his former MEPs don’t think so.

    In other news, Watford Labour really need to get their act together. There’s no excuse for that poll result.

  30. Re reasons for recent further slump in LibDem support, I agree with Spearmint, the extra dedate publicity for Clegg may have been a bad thing for the Libs, just as Blair popping up recently to remind us all about Iraq is surely bad for Lab. Clegg must be nearly as toxic for the LibDem brand as Blair is for Labour.

    But I think a general perception of them as losers after the Euros may also be causing a further downward spiral. It looks like there were after all still a few desperate souls hanging on in the hope the Libs would find a bit of purpose, who have now given up and gone to Greens.

  31. @STEVE

    “For example the LD’s could claim credit for a Mansion tax and Putting the Top rate of tax back up to 50%”


    Well they might hope for that. Alternatively they might just get the blame for stuff, as per usual…

  32. What is clear is that the LDs at local level are still extremely clever operators. Witness the way they support popular local campaigns against the cuts to some services, despite the fact that they are directly implicated in the national decisons that have led to those cuts.

  33. “I dunno, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

    Unfortunately, that isn’t far off what some Lib Dems are saying. They seem to have the idea that you’d get a different result with a different leader saying the same things.

    Having said that, Clegg’s idea this would work the first time round seems pretty poor judgement, even without the benefit of hindsight. Defending the EU with barely any acknowledgement of the shortcomings seemed to me about as much a vote-winner as building a golden statue of Jimmy Savile.



    EM? 90 seconds to do Rubik Cube?

    Pah! Lightweight! I used to be able to do it in 30 seconds as a 15 year old. We used to have timed competitions at school. we’d strip the cube down and rub graphite from a pencil all over the insides of the blocks to reduce friction, we were so fast at it.”


    Yes but you’re an engineer tho’. Wouldn’t be surprised if you used supercooled Helium* or summat to reduce friction further…

    (* would just like to point out in case anyone thinks this is off-topic, that supercooled Helium is a Bose-Einstein Condensate, which involves statistics, Bose-Einstein statistics, so it relates to polling.)

  35. @ Spearmint

    Yes- that Watford one is a bit odd but I guess exceptional in the sense Labour need to come from 3rd despite it being theirs in the Blair years. Maybe they have the problem of ABT voters working out who to vote for?

    I also think we have to take this marginals polling with a bigger pinch of salt than standard voting especially for a single seat. MOE must be higher (I thought someone once said 4%?) and getting the balance of voters right must be a lot harder. AW has put aside the Eastleigh one for now but that is in contrast to the previous Eastleigh poll which I think was from Oakshott even accepting different weighting/questions.

  36. Interesting that UKIP have joined a right-wing group including Front National and Italy’s Five star. I thought they were adverse to this? Or did they realise they need to be in a group to do anything?

  37. Oh, I think there’s no question Clegg handled the debates very badly.

    But you can make a case for EU membership that’s not “I think everything about the EU is fantastic and I wouldn’t change a thing!” I don’t think the problem was necessarily the concept of running a pro-European campaign, the problem was the execution. The irony is the Lib Dems actually have a solid record to run on as far as localism and subsidiarity are concerned, but for some reason they decided to run on “Nick Clegg is the sole defender of Britain against the Faragist threat!” instead.

    And it turns out, surprise surprise, that no one has much faith in Nick Clegg’s ability to defend them against anything. (For that you need Tom Watson.)

  38. ” when UKIP were on a bit of a publicity high)” and UKIP will get no publicity at the general election?
    I have harped on a bit about systematic errors, but if VI in 2015 is affected by publicity in some particular few days in 2014, then polling companies need to know how and how much, for there will surely be more publicity next year which can’t be ‘taken with a pinch of salt’.
    What you are attempting is to compare results obtained for UKIP when there was publicity, with results obtained for UKIP when there was less. Another way of looking at that is that it gives some measure of the effect of publicity on the UKIP VI (if only all the other factors were constant between polls at different times and perhaps even by different companies.)

  39. @KeithP

    Yes, Ukip need to be in a group to get various things, including committee seats and extra expenses money.

    They haven’t joined with Le Front National, just one French MEP who left the FN as soon as he was elected, to become an independent.

    But they have joined with a Swedish party who were founded by real Nazis, but who have now written a letter to Farage promising that is all behind them…

  40. Regarding Clegg and the decision to go for the “Pro-EU” stance, I think they probably looked at the polls beforehand and thought to themselves as follows:
    1. What will make us look distictly different?
    2. How will we get the maximum publicity for that stance?

    Not bad thinking tactically in theory – only trouble was Clegg clearly lost the debates with Farage, indeed, worse than that it consolidated the negative image that the LDs are now “establishment” rather than “insurgent”, and the pro-EU “as it is” constituency in the country is so small that it didn’t add value to the LD level of support.

    Gosh, thanks! I was waiting for some heavyweight factual journalism on Ed’s policy statement..

  42. @Spearmint

    Watford CLP’s main task is to establish themselves as the main challenger to the Tories. If they can do that they should win. Until then however anti-Tory voters might not know who they’re meant to vote for, and that Lib Dem vote will contain quite a few people who are very reluctantly putting planning to put their nosepegs on to vote.

  43. @KeithP

    No, no they have not.

  44. @Spearmint
    “Clegg handled the debates very badly.” Indeed he did, especially the second, in which he spent the whole time trying to bash Farage, and no time at all providing any independent evidence for why it is a good thing to be a member of the EU. I’m sure there must be a some, but NC gave none. I listened carefully.

  45. Just for the record ” 24 UKIP MEPs and the 17 MEPs from the Italian Five Star Movement of anti-establishment politician Beppe Grillo who were signed up last week. The EFD group will include two Lithuanians, one Czech, one French MEP, two Swedes, and one Latvian, putting the group at 48 members. ”
    So the last 7 are there to meet the EU requirement that a group must include MEPs from 7 nations before it gets funding etc.

    “Mili now playing down chances at GE ….this is a cautious game, just as Blair avoided triumphalism before ’97…not sure what he’s trying to achieve….”

    The quote from EM in that article is:

    “I knew when I took this job on that we were going to have a tough fight. We were trying, and are trying, to defy the historical odds, which is that Governments that lose elections don’t tend to be one-term oppositions,” Mr Miliband said. “We are in a position to defy those odds.”

    He added: “Millions of people feel that no political party speaks for them. That’s why I’m determined to turn around.”

    The words “I shouldn’t win the election” as stated in the headline is untrue.

    Surprising that a right-wing broadsheet could be as shoddy as to imply the headline is a quote then to print the exact quote thus showing the reader that what they said he said is nothing but a l*e.

    Funny way of doing business in my eyes – maybe they shouldn’t have sacked all those journalists yesterday.

  47. John Pilgrim
    today’s policy statement, perhaps unfortunately, will have precisely zero bearing on the outcome of the election.

    This is a polling website, if you wan’t lefty weighty journalistic policy analysis i suggest the huffington post or new statesman websites.

    EdM’s positioning as the underdog who need to “defy” the odds to win is interesting and may, I stress may, have an impact on people’s perceptions of labour

  48. want not wan’t obviously…the point being there is very little that actually “cuts through” to voters…most policies don’t.

  49. CARFEW
    You are talking a load of bosons and fermions.

  50. Spearmint
    “In other news, Watford Labour really need to get their act together. There’s no excuse for that poll result.”

    Why ? Didn’t Labour lose the seat in 2010 ? Ashcroft shows it being tight there doesn’t he ? The VI was Con 31, Lab 29.

    Are you implying that Watford shouldn’t vote tory because of the kind of town it is in the same way as it surprises me that Crawley has a tory MP ?

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