When you sit down to do a marginals polls one consideration is where you draw the line: what is a marginal? The thing you want to avoid is under or overshooting the real battleground – the risk is that you poll lots of seats that need a swing of up to 5% and find a swing of 10%, enough to win lots of seats you didn’t bother polling.

That’s the sort of thing that’s happened in the third of Lord Ashcroft’s three sets of marginal polls – full details here. He polled the four most marginal LD -v- Lab seats, Norwich South, Bradford East, Brent Central and Manchester Withington. These need a swing of up to 2.1% to go from LD to Lab, which unsurprisingly Labour get easily. The average LD => Lab swing in these seats was 15%, confirming that the Lib Dems are doing much worse where they are up against Labour and easily enough to unseat almost all Lib Dem MPs with Labour in second place. In practice of course we can’t actually be that confident that voters in a tight LD-Lab marginal will behave the same way as in a seat where the Lib Dems have a 20% majority, so it’s a bit of a shame Ashcroft didn’t include some more challenging LD-Lab fights like Cambridge, Hornsey & Wood Green or Bermondsey.

An interesting thing to note is that the Greens are doing notably well in a couple of these seats. In Norwich South they are in second place on 20%, but that was one of their target seats anyway, they are also doing well in Manchester Withington, up 8 points on 10%.

While it’s hardly a LD-Lab battle, Lord Ashcroft also polled Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas’s seat. Voting intentions there with changes from the general election are CON 18%(-6), LAB 33%(+4), LDEM 5%(-9), GREEN 32%(+1), suggesting an extremely tight race between Labour and the Green party.


Yesterday we had a selection of ICM polls in Liberal Democrat seats, initially released anonymously but eventually confirmed as having been commissioned by Lord Oakeshott. Oakeshott has now resigned, but left saying that Cable knew about the polls. The political row rolls on, but I’m just going to look at the polls.

Lord Oakeshott commissioned 6 constituency polls. The first was in Twickenham, and only asked about current voting intention. The other five were in Sheffield Hallam, Redcar, Wells, Cambridge and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey and also asked about voting intention with alternate leaders. The tables are here, here and here.

All six showed the Lib Dems losing (to the Conservatives, Labour or SNP respectively). However, I’m always slightly wary of constituency polls in Liberal Democrat held seats – the effect of incumbency and tactical voting is far higher for Lib Dem MPs, and when you ask a generic voting intention I think many people give their national preference, rather than how they would actually vote in their own constituency. In most seats this is only a marginal difference – in Lib Dem held seats it can be substantial, as repeatedly shown in polls of Lib Dem marginal seats using a two-stage national-then-constituency voting intention questions (see here by Lord Ashcroft, and here by YouGov). It’s also worth noting that ICM didn’t do their usual reallocation of don’t knows according to the party they voted for the last election, and given there are a lot of past Lib Dems now saying don’t know that makes a difference. ICM specifically provided the data necessary to do the calculation ourselves in their tables, and with normal reallocation the Lib Dems would have been ahead in Twickenham and only one point behind in Sheffield Hallam.

The second part of Oakeshott’s polling was to ask how people in those seats would vote with different party leaders, which in these seats suggested they would do better with Vince Cable as leader. This is in contrast to a YouGov poll in the Times today which asked a nationwide sample how people would vote with Vince Cable as leader – in YouGov’s control question asking how people would vote with the existing party leaders the Lib Dems were on 8%, if the leaders were Cameron, Miliband and Cable the Lib Dems would still be on 8%. No change.

That aside, how would you vote if X was leader are incredibly crude tools. When a would-be leader is little known to the public they are as good as useless. Even when the would-be leader is relatively well known to the public, like Gordon Brown was pre-2007 or Vince Cable is now, they are of dubious use.

Essentially, an ordinary poll respondent who doesn’t closely follow politics might know what the would-be leader looks and sounds like, might have a pre-existing positive or negative view, they might have a vague perception of competence or incompetence. What they don’t know is what policies that new leader would announce, what direction they’d take the party, how the media would react to them and so on.

If the Liberal Democrats change leader it probably won’t be the personality and image of the new leader that makes the difference… it will be everything else that comes with it. Would it mean them leaving the coalition? Would it mean them repudiating the coalition and their role in it? Would it mean them opposing some of the policies they supported until now? And what would be the impact of that – would it win back supporters they’ve lost, or risk alienating their pro-coalition supporters too? While the departure of Nick Clegg may be a requirement for a change of direction, the big strategic question for the Lib Dems is really what attitude they take to their record in government – not which politician is voicing it.


Sunday polls

No YouGov/Sunday Times poll tomorrow because of the Friday bank holiday, but there is an ICM European election poll in the Sunday Telegraph and a couple of Scottish polls.

The ICM European poll has voting intentions of CON 22%, LAB 30%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 27%. Labour first, UKIP a close second, the Conservatives in third is the same sort of pattern that Survation, ComRes, YouGov and TNS have all been showing… but is a contrast to ICM’s European poll for the Guardian earlier this week that had Labour six points higher, UKIP seven points lower. The difference is this one was conducted online, the ICM/Guardian poll by telephone.

The two Scottish polls are a new ICM for the Scotland on Sunday and a new Survation Scottish poll. I haven’t seen figures for either yet, so I’ll update tomorrow.

Survation also have another constituency poll done for Alan Bown, this time for Eastleigh, where UKIP came a close second in the by-election last year. Westminster voting intention in the Eastleigh poll stands at CON 28%, LAB 12%, LDEM 27%, UKIP 32% – which would certainly be a turnup for the books. It also asked about the borough elections in Eastleigh next month, and found local election voting intentions of CON 23%, LAB 9%, LDEM 40%, UKIP 27%.


The daily YouGov poll for the Sun tonight has topline figures of CON 36%, LAB 38%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 11%. The two point Labour lead is the lowest that YouGov have shown since October, and 36% is the highest they’ve shown since October. Usual caveats of course apply – it could be a further narrowing of Labour’s lead, or could just be normal margin of error. It does, however, underline the narrowing of the Labour lead that we saw in YouGov’s daily polling last week.

Meanwhile, as if to illustrate how much of the daily back and forth of polls is just random variation, this morning’s twice-weekly poll from Populus shows movement in the other direction. Topline figures there are back to CON 33%, LAB 40%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 8%. Tabs are here.

Finally there is another batch of UKIP donor Alan Bown’s Survation constituency polls, showing high levels of UKIP support in most of the seats selected – even compared to Survation’s national polls, which tend to show the highest levels of UKIP support to begin with. All four constituencies surveyed have much higher Con=>Lab swings than national polls imply, to a extent that looks somewhat doubtful to me. Swings at general elections aren’t uniform… but it’s a fair guide, parties perform a little better in one seat, a little worse in another seat, but if you’ve got a series of polls showing swings that are *all* substantially better than the national average, almost regardless of marginality, who holds the seat, etc, something’s not right. Somewhere or other they need to average out.

These seats where presumably selected as ones where they thought UKIP were doing particularly well, so perhaps that’s the reason – where UKIP are doing particularly well it results in a bigger swing (in which case they would by definition not be typical of other seats – so do be careful of extrapolation) but I’m dubious about constituency polling so far from the national picture, especially without political weighting. We shall see.

The most interesting thing I actually found there was the difference between the increase in the UKIP vote in the three coastal towns polled (up 23, 20 and 25 points) and in Crewe and Nantwich where it was up only 8. Now, leaving aside the prompting and the weighting and whether it’s a good measure of the actual level of UKIP support, all four were done on the same basis so should be comparable to each other. One interesting question about UKIP support at the next election is how uniform it will be – UKIP got comparative few council seats in 2013 for the level of support they achieved because it was spread so evenly, they just ended up coming second a lot. If their support in 2015 is the same they would struggle to translate support into any actual MPs. In terms of winning seats it’s much better to have areas of strength and weakness. Seaside towns were some of their better areas in the 2013 locals, and the contrast here between Crewe & Nantwich and the seaside towns suggests their support may be clumpier than thought… but again, don’t read too many conclusions into that single poll.


I’ve been a little bit run off my feet this week, so here’s a brief rundown on polls over the last three days.

In terms of voting intention, the Populus poll on Monday and the three daily YouGov/Sun polls so far this week are below, and show things still trundling along with a Labour lead of seven points or so (the interesting spike in UKIP scores in the YouGov polls at the end of last week looks like it was just a blip after all).

Populus (29th Nov-1st Dec) – CON 33%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 9%
YouGov/Sun (1st-2nd Dec) – CON 32%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 12%
YouGov/Sun (2nd-3rd Dec) – CON 32%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%
YouGov/Sun (3rd-4th Dec) – CON 34%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 10%

This morning two more of Alan Bown’s Survation constituency polls were published, this time of Great Grimsby and Dudley North. These two are both Labour held marginals with the Conservatives in close second place in 2010, presumably picked because they were also the two Lab-Con ultra-marginals where UKIP performed most strongly in 2010 (UKIP got 6.2% in Great Grimsby, 8.5% in Dudley North). Both seats found a swing of 9 percent from Con to Lab – so slightly larger than that suggested by Survation’s national polling in recent months.