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

Conchart2

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

SNPchart

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

LDchart

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

UKIPchart

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. @CATOSWYN

    My prediction based on the polls being neck and neck but the pollsters and forecasters all expecting a movement towards the Conservatives on the day. But I think this movement might be countered by Labours use of social media (re Brand) and their army of supporters on the ground knocking on doors:

    Labour 273
    Conservative 273
    LibDem 26
    SNP 52
    UKIP 2

  2. Forecast: swingback & crossover – any day now!

  3. @AW

    That’s a mega post. Thanks so much. Think I’ll be printing those charts out as my companion for when the BBC start talking about everything other than marginal results as they come in.

  4. The combined total of the four parties you predict for seems a smidgeon high by my spreadsheet AW. Bercow, Lucas and NI account for 20 seats, implying that the combined total of UKIP, Plaid, outside shot of Greens in Bristol West and maybe Galloway holding will total 5 seats. Though the balance between the four main seat-winning parties seems sound.

    My lower estimate for each party is:

    Con 269
    Lab 268
    LD 28
    Scottish Separatists 50
    UKIP 2
    Plaid 3
    Green 1
    Speaker 1
    NI 18

    The lower numbers for each party add up to 640. I’m not pretending that I know precisely which marginals will go in the big two’s column, but think the numbers will break very close to that. The relatively interesting ones to look out for are:

    Con-UKIP – Castle Point, Boston & Skegness, Rochester & Strood. I won’t trust constituency polling involving UKIP until they’ve gotten through a General Election as a seat-winning party and methodologies have been adjusted as necessary.

    Lab-UKIP – Thurrock. I know -the Conservatives are the incumbents – but I think they’ll be unseated one way or the other; that this could be the seat seized on as “vote Miliband, get Farage”. Same rationale as above in remaining on the fence between Lab and UKIP.

    LD-Con – Watford. Plenty from me on that page.

    LD-Plaid – Ceredigion.

    Green-Lab. I’m 90% sure Ashcroft has got Bristol West right in terms of the winner, and equally sure it will be closer than his poll suggests. But in my experience when the Greens actually believe they can win they make Lib Dem incumbents look like part-time campaigns by comparison.

    Lab-Respect – Bradford West.

    Scottosh Separatist contests will make up the balance of the shortfall – I’ve long given up trying to cut through propaganda and figure out where the battle lines really are, though accept that they’re on for a gargantuan percentage of all Scottish seats.

    Interestingly the Scottish Separatists (suggested abbreviation welcome) have by complete accident countered the boundary-related electoral bias between Labour and Conservative which AW has quite a long page on somewhere. Albeit at the expense of creating a more noticeable disparity between UKIP, LD, Green, SNP and Plaid, who UK-wide could do something like:

    UKIP – 12% and 2-3 seats on AW’s prediction.
    LD – 9% and 29 or so.
    Green – 5% and 1.
    SNP – 4% and 50+
    PC – 1% and 3.

  5. @Sunreada

    Those percentages in last night’s YouGov could be Con 33.6%, Lab 34.4% (I haven’t calculated it).

    The rounding balances out over a number of polls, but it does look like a raw Lab lead of around 0.8%.

  6. Having just heaped praise on AW I’ve had a quick glance at his 2010 prediction… “my guess is we are going to see the Conservatives between 300-310, Labour between 220-230, the Liberal Democrats between 80-90 (though I warn you, I may be a pollster, but my personal powers of election prediction are notoriously poor!)” I suppose that matched polls at the time but goes to show polls and expert predictions aren’t always spot on.

  7. My prediction:-

    Conservative – 270
    Labour – 277
    Lib Dem – 28
    SNP – 50
    UKIP – 2
    Green – 1
    Plaid – 3
    Others – 1
    (+18 NI)

  8. CASCLC

    Yes but its a snapshot remember so at this point you wouldnt think balancing out should be a priority for any pollster.

    With so much at stake in terms of forward contracts its your final poll that matters not the 1500 that preceded it in this parliament.

  9. My view for the last three years has been that the most likely outcome of this election was another Con/LD coalition or something similar. I still think this is the most likely outcome, albeit that it will probably need DUP votes to pass important votes and legislation. As a Labour supporter, I fear the Tories will outperform their polling numbers quite significantly (the scars of 1992, but there also appears to be some evidence that this will occur). I hope I am wrong, then, but I would go for:

    Conservatives – 298
    Labour –263
    Lib Dem 20
    SNP – 48
    Plaid – 3
    UKIP – 2
    Green – 1
    Other – 18

  10. PS – this is a competition that I would be very happy to lose!!!

  11. UKIP to Tory swing with LibDem tactical voting for Tories:

    Labour: 261
    Conservative: 302

  12. @Sunreada

    But they have their methodology (rounding to the nearest integer). Changing that right now would be out of line with all other polling companies, and also gives a false sense of accuracy. Remember the MoE is still far greater than 1% either way.

    There are 10/11 polls today. Some will round to one party’s advantage, some to a different party’s.

  13. Thanks AW-great stuff as usual.

  14. On vote share I think it will be 36%/32% or 37%/33% to the Tories. Can’t predict the seat share that this will deliver – depends on performance of the other parties in the marginals

  15. I’ve just run an interim forecast (waiting for today’s pollcoaster) but for the first time in over a week I have the Tories edging over Labour on seats. If my analysis is correct we’re going to see more Tory leads today (or at least moves to the Tories) as the polls come out. Remember, it’s not necessarily who wins a poll that indicates what’s happening, it’s the direction of travel.

  16. Anyone got the timings for today’s polls?

  17. I predict. …

    Oh, wait. No I don’t. There’s quite enough stress without the risk of piling personal humiliation on top of political disaster.

  18. Having looked at each seat carefully and made allowances for personal votes, taken polling into account and subjected the result to stringent scientific analysis I have decided it is best to just guess.
    Con 290
    Lab270
    Lib Dem 22
    SNP 47
    Plaid 3
    UKIP 2
    Green 1
    Others 18

    ish

  19. Colin – you not playing the great ukpr guessing game?

  20. Right, let’s have a go at this:

    CON 274
    LAB 281
    SNP 44
    LD 25
    UKIP 2
    PC 3
    Green 1
    Respect 1
    DUP 8
    Sinn Fein 5
    SDLP 3
    Alliance 1
    Ind 1
    Speaker 1

  21. I predict after the election, in the near future, a revisit to alternate voting methods.

    As it currently stands, If you look in simple terms of Tory/Labour, over 50% of the populaton would prefer ‘Conservative’ (Con + UKIP) , where as ‘Labour'(Lab + SNP) represents a much smaller percentage of the population.. Yet the probability is the minority of people will get the largest representation.

    I am not going to argue whether this is right or wrong, because under the current FPTP it is legitemate. But I certainly can see this being discussed after the election if DC doesn’t become PM.

    Coffee has been purhcased in preparation for Thursday night! Exciting times!

  22. I predict The Speaker will be a ‘hold’.

  23. Based on Comres last night there still seems to be divergence between Phone polls and Online polls.

    Depends on the scores today but I think this is the big unknown for polling day as to which one is right.

  24. Has anyone seen a downloadable, preferable excel-based, list of seats, incumbent, majorities, etc
    Thanks

  25. @Catoswyn

    Did you get my prediction on the previous thread?

  26. Good morning all…

    This time tomorrow we will all be voting.

    It’s getting exciting….

  27. AdamB

    “Has anyone seen a downloadable, preferable excel-based, list of seats, incumbent, majorities, etc”

    http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/our-work/our-research/electoral-data

  28. My prediction after much thought is:

    Con 302
    Lab 256
    LD 56
    DU 8
    SNP 6
    Others 21
    Speaker 1

  29. Been lurking for months.great site.first port of call last thing at night 1st thing in the morning.for what its worth I think tory slighty underestimated,snp slightly overestimated and lib Dems to hold a few more than predicted so,con 285 lab270 ld 25 snp 45,ukip nowhere maybe 2 and not farage

  30. Thank you for the detail AW, which I’ve printed off for reference.

    In terms of the question of whether Cameron stands any chance of carrying on (with Clegg in tow), I feel that it’s a bit simpler and boils down to how many net seats:

    – Con lose to Lab
    – the LDs lose to Lab, SNP and Plaid

    less

    – Lab lose to UKIP

    If the total of these is less than about 50, then Cameron has a good chance of remaining as PM.

  31. JIM JAM

    No-I don’t have the skills or knowledge of constituencies-or the inclination.

    Today’s Polls will be interesting though. !!

  32. PETE

    SNP 6??????????

  33. Just guess Colin like everyone else!

  34. When it was observed that UKIP “scored” lower in phone polling than internet based polling it was speculated on here, not unreasonably, that this may indicate that people were reluctant to admit directly to another person that they were intending to vote for the socially maligned UKIP, but were more honest…and therefor the results more accurate…in the silent anonymity of the computer monitor.

    As I understand it, the conservatives are doing BETTER in phone polling than online (?). Does the same reasoning apply?

    Is the speculation of a well..not just shy labour but shy opposition…effect, whereby a certain percentage of people are wary of admitting face to face – or rather voice to ear – that they’re NOT voting for the Cons?

    It may sound more than improbable that there would be any such reticence…but given the day in day out monstering of Miliband and/or Lab/SNP is it so implausible?

  35. I wonder what proportion of people will vote differently between their Westminster and their Council vote? I know I did last time and am likely to again. So in an election of small margins, could there be a significant group of UKIP or indeed Green-leaning voters who might feel happier to lend their national votes to Blue and Red respectively because they can vote locally for the party they really want – a kind of psychological AV?

  36. Alberta 2015 election results with 2012 in brackets:

    NDP (Labour) 53 (4)
    Wildrose (UKIP) 20 (17)
    Progressive Conservative 11 (61)
    Liberal 1 (5)
    Alberta Party 1 (0)

    Last November 2 and in December the then the Leader of Wildrose and 8 other MLAs defected back to the Progressive Conservatives, as newly annointed Premier Jim Prentice had been a member of the federal Conservative cabinet, which itself was a merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Reform (UKIP).

    There has not been a “progressive” government in Alberta since the United Farmers of Alberta were in government between 1921 and 1935, in what was known as a farmer-labour government.

    Premier Notley’s victory came directly as a result of voters rejecting a 43 year old government, the more neo-liberal alternative, and red tories, liberals, social democrats and greens getting behind one party to form a “progressive” government.

    Vote breakdown was as follows with 2012 in brackets:

    NDP 40.6% (9.8%)
    Wildrose 24.2% (34.3%)
    Progressive Conservative 27.8% (44%)
    Liberal 4.2% (9.9%)
    Alberta Party 2.3% (1.3%)
    Other .9% (7%)

  37. Whatever happens tomorrow, I would like to add my voice to the chorus of thanks for AW’s work on this site. It is an amazing resource, and we should not underestimate the skill and commitment required to moderate so brilliantly, to allow the cut and thrust which is for me a vital part of politics but (almost always) without the personal abuse that mars so many political sites.

    Thank you AW, and to the rest of you Good Luck with what you wish for tomorrow. As long as it’s what I wish for too…

  38. RICHARD
    http://election.pressassociation.com/Declaration_times/general_2015_by_time.php

    Many thanks.

    That list is in a perfect format to convert to CSV.

    This afternoon I should have time to add AW’s battlegrounds listed above and be able to post it in CSV format this evening, so that anyone with a spreadsheet program can sort or otherwise modify it to their heart’s content.

  39. I’ve just rethought my post above and realised I needn’t so speculate.. of course a reluctant to admit it ukipper would most likely say he was voting Tory instead.. so the two phenomena would account for each other.

  40. The weather forecast for Thursday is ‘intervals of clouds & sun’.

    Pollsters & politicos used to say that the weather made a difference to the election figures, I’m not sure it’s as true as it was, but I thought I’d mention it

    Does it make a difference now? If so how much of a difference and in whose favour?

  41. @Andy Shadrack

    “Premier Notley’s victory came directly as a result of voters rejecting a 43 year old government, the more neo-liberal alternative, and red tories, liberals, social democrats and greens getting behind one party to form a “progressive” government.”

    There might be a lesson there for the UK. Canada also has FPTP so “getting behind” means “voting for”.

  42. If the result of the election does lead to demands from the SNP for another independence vote, I sincerely hope that next time round, all Scots are given the right to vote, not just the limited vision ones who happen to live there. Scots retain their identity wherever they live and to deny them a vote on something so important as the breakup of the uk, is a travesty. Indeed many will be voting in this election under the 15 year rule.

  43. Norbold

    He is joking if you look carefully its the same result as 2010

  44. Norbold, oops sorry I thought the question was how many they had now, I did wonder why you lot were so far out haha

  45. People are understandably talking about voting reform, but I do hope as a priority the closed party list voting system the UK uses in the E.U. Elections is changed. Personally I find this worse than the FPTP system, appreciate it is probably a view not shared by many on here.

  46. @Barbazenzero

    That would be fantastic, and very generous.

  47. Here we go, fwiw:

    CON 278
    LAB 272
    SNP 54
    LD 21
    UKIP 2
    PC 3
    Green 1
    DUP 8
    Sinn Fein 5
    SDLP 3
    Alliance 1
    Ind 1
    Speaker 1

  48. Dan

    “He is joking if you look carefully its the same result as 2010”
    Ooops. Red face emoticon smilie thingie….

  49. Thomas

    “I wonder what proportion of people will vote differently between their Westminster and their Council vote?

    “Could there be a significant group of UKIP or indeed Green-leaning voters who might feel happier to lend their national votes to Blue and Red respectively because they can vote locally for the party they really want – a kind of psychological AV?”

    Funnily enough, I’ve had this the other way round. I’ve had people saying they will vote UKIP in the GE, but Labour in the Council Election. But then that’s what comes of living in the weird whacky world of Clacton…..

  50. @Robert Newark

    This was discussed to death before the referendum – what you are suggesting is bonkers. It would mean delineating the vote on an “ethnic” basis. Sorry, but that sort of nonsense belongs in the former Yugoslavia.

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