It’s a truism that there isn’t one election on May 7th, there are 650. However, the brutal reality is that lots of them will behave much the same in terms of swing, and that in lots of them the outcome is a virtual certainty and they won’t matter. A good 450 or so seats we can be pretty confident won’t change hands this Thursday unless the polls are very wrong. We can actually boil down the election to four battlegrounds. Here’s where they are and what we know about them from the polling so far.

Conservative vs Labour battleground


The main battleground in determining which party will lead the government is that between Labour and Conservative. It’s also by far the largest – it’s true to say that the political geography of Britain has become ever more diverse since the days when almost every race was just Lab-v-Con, but the biggest single chunk of winnable marginals is still just that.

It’s also the battleground where good old uniform national swing remains a fairly good guide. It won’t predict individual seats – there will always be some seats with much bigger swings, some with more smaller ones – but in aggregate it should give a good picture. Overall current polls show a swing of about 3% or 3.5% from Conservative to Labour. In the Con-Lab battleground that should win Labour roughly forty seats.

However, there are two important caveats to this. The first is that almost all the Con-Lab battleground is in England & Wales, and GB polls are distorted by the completely different swing in Scotland. Labour’s vote is up by around 5 or 6 points in England & Wales, down by about 15 to 20 points in Scotland. If you look at the data in just England & Wales you find a Con>Lab swing nearer 5 points, which would win Labour around sixty seats.

The second is whether the swing in the marginal seats is the same as the swing in England and Wales as a whole. Looking at the historical data there is good reason to expect it won’t be. The vast majority of the Con-Lab battleground seats are being fought by first time Conservative incumbents who won the seat in 2010, this means they will be gaining an incumbent advantage they didn’t have last time, while in many cases Labour will be losing an incumbent advantage they enjoyed in 2010. Looking at data from past elections this impact is pretty consistent even if it is worth only a couple of percentage points (it’s worth far more for the Lib Dems). There is some evidence to support this – the recent ComRes poll of Con-Lab marginals found a swing of 3.5%. Looking at the broad sweep of Lord Ashcroft’s polls in these seats and adjusting the older Ashcroft polls to account for changes in the national polls since they were done the average swing comes out around 3.8%.

In practice this means the swing in the Con-Lab marginals may well be similar to that in the national polls, but only because Labour’s over-performance in England & Wales is cancelled out by Conservative over-performance in Con-Lab marginals. That means Labour gains from the Tories of around 40 seats, if the national polls are neck-and-neck (if the Conservatives are a point or two better, the gains will obviously be less)

Of course there will be variation between seats, so not all Con-Lab marginals with majorities below 7% will fall, there have been some constituency polls suggesting good chances of Conservative holds in marginals like Loughborough, Worcester or Kingswood. Equally though there will be some seats with larger majorities that do fall – London constituency polls in particularly have shown larger swings, so watch for places like Ealing Central & Acton or Finchley & Golders Green.

The SNP Landslide


The second biggest focus on election night will probably be the Scottish seats. What the story will be in Scotland is not in dispute, it will be a SNP landslide. The question is only the scale of that landslide. All the polling evidence gives the SNP a very large lead, varying between 20 and 35 points. The questions are where it ends up in that range, how accurate it is and how it translates into seats.

To deal with the overall polls first, I can well imagine that some polls in Scotland will overestimate SNP support. There have been huge shifts in party support since previous elections (and probably significant changes in the drivers of voting intention in Scotland) making it hard to model and weight Scottish samples. Equally SNP support is extremely enthusiastic – I can well imagine differential response rates becoming a problem. That said, polling error in Scotland probably won’t cause much of an upset because of the sheer size of the SNP lead – to put it bluntly, if polls give a party a 5 point lead and it turns out its actually a draw then it makes a huge difference. If polls give a party a 25 point lead and it turns out that lead is actually only 20 points it is not, in practice, such a big deal, even if the scale of the error is the same. The difference will only be between “vast landslide” and “huge landslide”. I cannot see the polls being so wrong that the SNP don’t get a crushing victory.

So how will the SNP landslide in votes translate into seats? Well, with a swing of this scale Uniform National Swing really does break down completely. UNS assumes parties shares of the vote go up and down by the same amount in each seat, but Labour cannot lose 20 percentage points in every seat in Scotland, it would give them a negative share of the vote in nine seats. The same applies to the Liberal Democrats. As a result of this floor effect, Labour and the Liberal Democrats must be losing more support in seats where they had more to begin with – their vote has fallen too much to be evenly spread across all of Scotland. This means that Labour and the Lib Dems could lose even more seats than suggested by uniform swing (and means even if the national share of the vote for the SNP isn’t as good as polls suggest, they could still get the sort of landslide in seats that the polls suggest).

The scale of the SNP surge is such that very few seats have any realistic chance of withstanding it. The most plausible ones are the very largest Labour majorities, the Glasgow North East, Kirkcaldys of the world, Jim Murphy in Renfrewshire East, the Lib Dem stronghold of Orkney & Shetland and perhaps the border seats (if the SNP don’t take Berwickshire, it is also a marginal between the Lib Dems and Conservatives).

Liberal Democrat Defence


Given the Conservative party’s most viable coalition partner is the Liberal Democrats how many seats change hands between the two parties doesn’t make much difference to the electoral maths after the election. It is still obviously important for negotiations, party morale, the psychologically and politically important issue of who is the biggest party (and, of course, for who is the MP in those seats!). Liberal Democrat battles against Labour are far more important in terms of the hung Parliament maths.

The Liberal Democrats’ ability to win and hold seats has a famously limited relationship with their national vote share. In 1992 they got 18% of the vote and won 20 seats, in 1997 their vote went down to 17% but they more than doubled their number of seats to 46. In 2010 they gained votes, but lost 5 seats. How many seats they win has always been largely reliant upon their ability to harness tactical and personal votes in their areas of strength. That said, it’s not realistic to expect a party to lose half their national support and emerge unscathed. While I’ve seen a few claims for potential Lib Dem gains that aren’t completely ludicrous (Watford or Maidstone & the Weald, for example), generally speaking the Liberal Democrat election aim is to limit their inevitable losses as much as they can. This depends upon the demographics and political opponents in their seats, and the incumbency and entrenchment of their individual MPs.

In England and Wales the Liberal Democrats have 46 seats. In eleven Labour are the second placed party, in thirty-four the Conservatives are second placed (though in at least two of them, Sheffield Hallam and Cambridge, Labour are probably the bigger threat) and in Ceredigion Plaid Cymru are second placed. In the vast majority of the seats we have individual polls from Lord Ashcroft to give us an idea of how the race is looking. There are two extremely obvious trends – one is that the Liberal Democrats are collapsing where their main challenger is Labour, but holding up well where the main challenger is the Conservatives. The second is the sheer variation between seats, even within the LD-Con battleground and the LD-Lab battleground.

Ashcroft has polled all the LD/Con marginals that might feasibly change hands. The average swing in these seats was just over 2 points from LD>Con, enough to take about seven seats. However the swings ranged from ten percent LD>CON in Chippenham, to swings of seven percent from CON>LD in Eastbourne and Sutton & Cheam, and in practice this meant ten of the constituency polls had the Conservatives ahead – but these are just snapshot polls with margins of error, so many of these seats are in play. Note also, that many of the polls were last year and the Liberal Democrats have recovered slightly since then.

Looking at the LD-Lab battleground the average swing was a crushing 12 points from LD>Lab, meaning many of these seats are almost nailed on certainties for Labour. The exceptions are Birmingham Yardley, where John Hemming polled surprisingly well, Bermondsey where Simon Hughes was protected by a huge majority, Cambridge and Sheffield Hallam where Labour are coming from third and I expect the Lib Dems will benefit from tactical voting (Ashcroft showed Clegg behind in Hallam, but more recent ICM polling has him ahead). Hornsey and Wood Green is also interesting – the Lib Dem own polling has them doing better there and both the Lib Dems and Labour seem to be targetting it heavily, so it may be much more of a toss up than Ashcroft suggested.

UKIP Targets


There is no easy way to come up with a list of UKIP targets – demographics, local and European election results can give us a steer, so can some of UKIP’s published statements about which seats they are targeting. Realistically though when a party has more than tripled their vote it is hard to accurately judge where their positions of strength and weakness are. The seats below are my best guesses of their most plausible gains (there are other seats where they have strength like Waveney, Great Yarmouth or Redcar that are in the Con-Lab battleground list… but I don’t think they stand much chance of actually winning any others, and constituency polling in some of those seats has shown them on the wane. As to how they will do in these seats – I don’t think any are necessarily easy to call. Everyone assumes Douglas Carswell will hold Clacton given his margin of victory in the by-election, Mark Reckless in Rochester looks more vulnerable. Thurrock looks too close to call, as does Thanet South with its contradictory polling. Great Grimsby was a plausible UKIP gain, but recent polling has Labour with a healthy lead. Polling commissioned by UKIP donor Alan Bown gave them a stonking lead in Boston & Skegness last year, but this year an Ashcroft poll found the Tories ahead. My own guess is that Clacton will probably be a hold, and they have a chance in these other seats… but they won’t strike home in all of them.

And the rest

That leaves a few other interesting seats that don’t fit into any of the main battleground categories, but could change hands. Two are the seats held by smaller parties – I expect the Greens to hold on in Brighton Pavilion (but not gain anywhere else), how George Galloway will do in Bradford West is anyone’s guess. Watford appears to be the only Con-Lab-LD three way marginal that is still a three way marginal for the three parties – it could go either of the three ways.

And so, a prediction

I generally hold to the pollsters’ maxim of snapshot not prediction, so I avoid predictions like the plague for most of the Parliament as the polls may yet change. In 2010 I waited until after the final polls were done before getting off the fence, but it gave me very little time to actually write anything, so this year I’ve done it up front. Obviously if Wednesday’s final polls do show the Conservatives eeking out a small lead I’ll reconsider and make my prediction more Conservative – when the facts change, I changed my mind. As it is though, my personal best guess is Conservatives around 277 seats, Labour around 267, the Lib Dems around 29 and the SNP around 52. I’ll revisit those once we have the final polls.

742 Responses to “The election battlegrounds… and a prediction”

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  1. Foolberry, Mike N

    Yep, it’s likely that Lib Dem types who are a bit miffed at LCegg’s blatant positioning for the continuation of the coalition are hassling Cable, and would prefer him to make that break than having to lurch all the way to (eg) Farron. Their internal politics will be fascinating. If there were more of them, we might see a split in the party as there was way back (1950s? Might have to look that up).

  2. MIKE N

    Agreed, we had enough yesterday…

    I’m also going to take this opportunity to predict a 64.1% turnout. Just for the hell of it.

  3. BlueBob,

    Surely we’ve got a few weeks of wrangling about why the polls were right/wrong, why the PM is\isn’t legitimate, why the bookies are always right/wrong and so on… Especially if Cameron tries to go for a Queens Speech with an uncertain majority, that could keep us going right up to the end of May.

  4. Thanks @ V Lenthan,

    Looks like the increase in Lab lead is probably still not quite enough to get Finchley at a 6.5% swing. There’s clearly a big gap between a 4% swing to Ealing C and then the next London seat in Finchley.

    So I think that means they’ve maxed out London now. Probably need to ask a few people to re-register quickly!


  5. @Mark Kersten

    Yes, the penalty shootout was exactly what I was referring to!

    But of course being English, Cameron and Miliband would be exchanging missed penalties all day Friday!

  6. Robert Newark

    I did not accuse you of being a racist. Firstly, I did suggest that your words might be poorly chosen, and secondly I just said that, taken at face value, they are offensive, because I can only interpret them as saying that all Scots who still live in Scotland have “limited vision”. It did occur to me, since I knew nothing of your background, that you might be an expatriate Scot who feels superior because he has chosen to leave Scotland, an attitude which would clearly not be racist. You have confirmed that you are an expatriate, but I still can only speculate on your origins or attitudes as you have not explained these. But you do say that perhaps your comment could have been better worded, and I would like to believe that you did not intend to offend. Perhaps we should just leave it at that; maybe I am being a bit too touchy because so much of the UK press has, in their recent eagerness to demonise the SNP, insulted not just them but all Scots.

    “I live in France, I have a perfect right to vote in any UK election based on my last place of residence in the UK.”

    I agree that under current electoral law this is true, but I do not agree with the law; I do not believe anyone who is ‘non-resident for tax purposes’ should be entitled to vote. You quote the fact that American citizens living outside America are allowed to vote in US elections, but I understand that they are also required to pay American taxes unless they renounce their citizenship. Perhaps the principle should be no representation without taxation (or the liability to pay tax if one’s income is high enough, as no-one should be disenfranchised for being poor). I cannot feel that it is fair that someone who is legally resident in the UK, working here and paying UK tax, can be denied a vote while someone who is living abroad, not paying any UK tax, and may have no intention of ever returning to the UK, can vote.

    “Why should an independence referendum be treated any differently from an election, in terms of who can vote?”

    The rules for eligibility to vote are different for UK and Scottish elections. The Scottish Government chose to use the latter, which avoided disenfranchising the many citizens of other EU countries who are resident in Scotland, and who had more a more direct interest in the independence referendum than most expatriate Scots. Also, as I pointed out previously, allowing Scots not resident in Scotland to vote would have meant essentially compiling a completely new electoral register, making the referendum much more expensive.


    1931 I think.

    Whether the LDs split is an interesting question, given that precedent.

  8. RE: Cable.

    Positioning, if Cameron can make it with Clegg in another coalition, Clegg will retain the leadership and the Liberals will unHistory all the left-of-centre rhetoric from the campaign.

    If Cameron falls, Clegg will resign and a left-ish Liberal will take the leadership and work with Labour, although presumably not in coalition (C&S).

    They are very flexible bedfellows, and the two strands of the Lib Dems can exist in tandem – accentuating one over the other depending on circumstance.

  9. More in hope than belief,
    UKIP 3

  10. Incidentally I’m going for:

    LAB 277
    CON 273
    SNP 50
    LD 26
    UKIP 2
    GRN 1

  11. (First and last time poster. Can’t resist having a go…)

    Con 280
    Lab 275
    SNP 45
    LD 27
    UKIP 3
    Green 1
    Speaker 1
    (NI 18)

  12. @Andrew111

    By mid afternoon Sunday they’ll be down to Simon Danczuc vs Peter Bone.

  13. If it’s penalties can we have Gisela Stuart in goal?

  14. @CASCLC

    Yes good point – I think John Humphries should be asking the leaders what order they intend to use their MPs in in the penalty shootout!

    It would make a change from red lines….

  15. @Les

    Well said. If you don’t have to live with the results, you shouldn’t get a say (and especially if you don’t pay into the system).

  16. Re. Gisela Stuart:

    Farage’s wife is German as well – presumably he would use her as first penalty taker!

  17. @Catoswyn

    Someone may have already suggested this, but I think it’d be really interesting if you could use all the entries to your competition to give a last minute “Wisdom of Crowds” prediction. Given the collective wisdom of the crowd on these pages, if you publish the result just after polls close tomorrow we can all save ourselves a late night.

    I appreciate you might want to keep the results close to your chest till then, or at least until you’ve made your last minute bet!

  18. @Jack, I honestly don’t understand your problem with our service men and women. You may think they don’t deserve a vote for living abroad, and I respect your opinion, but I can not see your justification for saying “if you don’t live in the country, you can not vote”. I have the upmost respect for our armed services, and these are people who are risking their life for my, and your, freedom. In my opinion, they deserve a vote more than I.

    I’m not a serviceman, but I grew up in a town which used to have an RAF base near – perhaps I have a biased view from seeing their hardwork firsthand.

  19. Opinium

    CON 35 (=)
    LAB 34 (=)
    LIB 8 (=)
    UKIP 12 (-1)
    GRN 6 (+1)

  20. Mike Smithson [email protected]
    Opinium final poll
    CON 35%
    LAB 34%
    UKIP 12%
    LD 8%
    GN 6

  21. @ Adrian B

    I’m relatively local and from what I understand Finchley is set to be v close indeed, the swing won’t be even over the whole city and LAB have been really getting out the ground troops in the group of 5 NW London marginals.


    Got that. :)

  23. Is there really a debate over whether members of the British armed services deployed abroad should be able to vote or not?


  24. Opinium E & W

    Con 37
    Lab 35
    UKIP 12
    LD 8


    I’ll be posting a link to the spreadsheet once I’ve got all the data in. This will let anyone then have a look at the wisdom indicated… including those with much more insight than I, I’m sure.

  26. @V Lenthan @Adrian B

    Left-wing bloggers here in Chipping Barnet seem to think LAB have a chance. I personally think they’re a little deluded but it isn’t quite as ridiculous a notion as the raw number suggest – unpopular council administration, big swing found by Ashcroft in Finch & GG, LAB did well at the council election (with Greens to squeeze), lots of 2010 LDs, Theresa Villiers’ local profile is virtually non-existent. As I say I don’t seriously think LAB have much of a realistic chance but if there is going to be a massive upset well, maybe it could be here.

    Personally I’m backing Mike Freer to edge F&GG and Matthew Offord to do better than expected in Hendon (probably not enough to stop Andrew Dismore returning to Parliament). Enfield North should be a close call too – demographically switching towards LAB which could scupper it for Nick de Bois; were it not for the demographics I’d back NDB who has proved to be an outstanding MP and has a less than outstanding opponent (re-tread Joan Ryan who claimed more expenses than any MP between ’05 and ’07 despite having a London constituency).

  27. ADRIAN B

    Labour should win:
    Brent Central
    Brentford and Isleworth
    Enfield North
    Hornsey and Wood Green

    They might also gain:
    Croydon Central

  28. @ Jack Sheldon

    I don’t recall anyone suggesting that Chipping Barnet would change hands (if it does, it would be a very hard night of the Conservatives). Finchley is different. It will largely depend on the UKIP and LibDem voters.

  29. Swingback still AWOL in Opinium’s latest poll.

  30. Jack Sheldon,

    I’m in Chipping Barnet, I think the left wing bloggers are indeed deluded, though if Labour take that seat then we may be looking at an outright majority…

  31. An interesting nugget from the Opinium tables posted above: EM’s approval rating for the 18-34 crossbreak is +14. This is the highest net approval for any age crossbreak for any leader (EM,DC,NC,NF). DC comes in at +9 for the 18-34s. Almost all other crossbreaks are negative.

  32. Given the large numbers of new SNP MPs likely to be elected there’s been v little written about this new intake. Anyone know anything about the SNP candidates – are they all broadly left of centre or are there are a few further to the right?

  33. Re: The penalty shootout

    I actually had a dream the other night where for some reason I was working on one of the campaigns (it was a bit unclear which one) and it ended up having to be decided by Cameron and Miliband having a best of three road running race.

    In the interests of full disclosure I can reveal that Cameron won 2-1, though there was some doubt as to whether there had been some cheating on the hidden sections of the route.

    Opinium E & W
    Con 37
    Lab 35
    UKIP 12
    LD 8

    That’s just England – big swing to lab from 2010

  35. Candy
    “It’s possible that the SNP removed the right to vote in the referendum for the 800,000 Scots living and working in England because they were going to grant them all non-dom status. So no problem with them not voting because they wouldn’t be paying tax to any Scottish govt. :-)”

    I think you had your tongue in your cheek when you said that. Much more likely that the SNP thought they had more chance of winning a Yes, if they disenfranchised them. And is it really 800,00? that’s twice as many as are French in the UK and they have their own French MP. Some things in life just are not fair!

  36. @Jack Sheldon I’ve not heard any serious suggestions of Chipping Barnet either but I really do think Finchley will be down to the wire.

  37. @Smithy

    If so, then approx 4.5% Con to Lab swing in England. Brings around 60 Con English seats into play for Lab poss wins (yes some won’t go Lab, but some further down the list probably will).


    have I missed the cut-off?

  39. @Cartoswyn

    I can’t resist any more so, FWIW, my prediction:

    CON 292
    LAB 255
    SNP 57
    LD 18
    DUP 9
    SF 6
    PC 4
    UKIP 3
    SDLP 2
    GRN 1
    Respect 1
    Lady Hermon 1
    Speaker 1


    Based on CON about 1.3% ahead and getting more LD seats in the South West than most expect… ‘Right block’ can only get to 322, however, even if you include UKIP. ‘Left block’ on 320 including Galloway and begging Hermon to vote with them (this isn’t the given some assume – though opposed to UUP/CON alliance in 2010 she’s hardly a raving leftie) … country awaits confidence vote with bated breath…

  40. Voters abroad is a tricky question.

    The current Hungarian government tried in all ways and manners to give voting rights to Hungarians (making them citizens) in the neighbouring countries, and made the arrangements (postal voting, embassies, etc) to achieve it. It probably helped, but I read in some opinion poll that the Hungarians in the UK (about 350,000 – much higher than the official Hungarian figure, but only a fraction of them voted) voted in an extremely different pattern than the homeland ones.

    I have lived in the UK since 1993, I have always felt that voting in the Hungarian elections by me would have been immoral, even when I saw that every vote counts …

  41. pa3yre


    have I missed the cut-off?
    10 pm tonight apparently

  42. One thing springs to mind given the rhetoric of more partisan Tories over the last 5 years.

    If that poll is accurate (and it is not the only one in that ballpark), it would be a massive irony if a larger swing in England put Miliband into Downing Street.

  43. Norbold
    I am rooting for you!

  44. PA3YRE

    Not at all. As Paul says it is 10pm tonight.


    Then you have to apply incumbency bonus (an unknown quantity) and the supposed superiority of Labour’s ground operation (another unknown quantity).

    and I make it 4.75

    so shall we call it 55 seats?

    Tories on 250 plus what they can win from the Lib Dems.

    It’s actually not a good poll for team blue


    Thanks. That’s 5am here so I hope to have it in before then..

  47. If you’re going to post the individual nations’ scores –


    Con 37
    Lab 35
    UKIP 12
    LDem 8
    Green 7
    Other 1

    SNP 43
    Lab 30
    Con 16
    LDem 5
    Green 3
    UKIP 2

    Lab 36
    Con 28
    UKIP 14 (!)
    Plaid 8
    LDem, Green 6, 6
    Other 3

  48. re voting abroad:

    I think if you are a citizen of a country you should have a right to vote, where-ever you live, provided you have not acquired the right to vote (in general elections) where you live!

    Does that make sense?

  49. Hawthorn

    I was thinking the same thing. Despite all the media hubbub about Red Ed it looks like Labour are going to ‘win’ middle england if the polls as they stand are to be believed.

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