Lord Ashcroft put out a new batch of constituency polls today, this time revisiting some Conservative -vs- Labour marginals that were very close the last time he polled them. The average swing across the seats polled is 4.4 from Con to Lab, the equivalent of a two point lead in a GB poll. This is obviously bigger that the position in most national polls, but I suspect it’s more of an England effect than a marginal effect – all the seats polled by Ashcroft were in England, and because of the collapse of Labour in Scotland the Con>Lab swing in England is actually bigger than in GB as a whole. Full details of the polls are here.

Most of the seats Ashcroft polled showed results that were pretty similar to the last time he polled them at the tail end of last year, with changes well within the margin of error. The only big shifts were Labour doing much better in Chester than before, the Conservatives doing much better in Worcester than before, and Labour doing much better in Southampton Itchen. I expect the last one is just a reversion to the mean after the previous Southampton Itchen poll produced figures that stuck out like a sore thumb – this poll showed a fairly typical swing in the seat, when Ashcroft’s previous Southampton Itchen poll had shown a very dubious looking swing from Lab to Con.

TNS also released a new poll today with CON 33%, LAB 32%, LD 7%, UKIP 17%, GREEN 4%, OTHER 7%. TNS typically show a significantly larger Labour lead than other pollsters, so the small Tory lead is slightly surprising. It may be a methodology effect – TNS seem to have dropped the weighting by European vote that they introduced earlier this year (though its introduction didn’t seem to make much difference, so its dropping really shouldn’t), and have started reallocating UKIP and Green supporters in constituencies that don’t have UKIP or Green

Finally, tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 36%, LD 7%, UKIP 12%, GRN 6% – so a couple of Labour leads from YouGov so far this week. For the record, today’s poll has Labour at their highest this year, UKIP at their lowest this year… but of course, all the normal caveats apply, don’t get overexcited about individual unusual polls, watch the trend across all the pollsters.

Lord Ashcroft has released another batch of constituency polls: four Conservative seats in England & Wales, and eight more Scottish constituencies. All the detailled results are here.

England and Wales

The four Conservative seats all have majorities between 8.8% and 10.6%, but other than the similarity in majority don’t have a huge amount in common. Two are relatively straightforward marginals: in High Peak Ashcroft finds a swing of five points from Con to Lab, bigger than the national average and enough to give Labour a one point lead; in Vale of Glamorgan Ashcroft finds a swing of only 1.5 points from Con to Lab, well short of the national average and hence leaving the Conservatives with a six point lead.

The other two seats are a bit more unusual. Colne Valley actually had the Liberal Democrats in second place in 2010 and could be fairly described as a three-way marginal. Given the Liberal Democrats’ national woes though Labour are obviously the main threat to the Conservatives – Ashcroft found a five point swing to Lab, leaving them just a point behind the Conservatives. Finally there was Norwich North – most of the Con-Lab marginals Ashcroft has polled are seats the Conservatives gained in 2010, so places where the Conservatives can reasonably expect to benefit from new incumbency. Norwich North is an exception, it was gained in a 2009 by-election so Labour had already lost their incumbency, and any Conservative incumbency was already factored into the equation in 2010. Here Ashcroft found a swing of 5.5 to Labour, again bigger than the national picture suggests and enough to put Labour a single point ahead.


Moving to Scotland, Lord Ashcroft polled eight seats. Two Lib Dem seats, five Labour seats and the sole Tory seat in Scotland.

The first batch of Ashcroft’s Scottish polling last month concentrated upon Labour seats in those areas where there was a high YES vote in the referendum, leaving open the question of whether the SNP would be doing quite so well in those areas that had voted NO. Today’s polls are from areas that voted NO and show the SNP surge almost as strong here. In the NO areas polled in January Ashcroft found a swing from Lab to the SNP of 25%, here he finds a swing of 22%. It may be a little smaller, or it maybe a little movement back to Labour, but this is still a huge swing and would still see some extremely safe Labour seats fall, most notably Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the seat being vacated by Gordon Brown.

Ashcroft also polled East Renfrewshire, the seat of Labour’s Scottish leader Jim Murphy. This used to be a Tory seat, voted heavily NO in the referendum, and in 2010 the SNP were 42 points behind Labour. Ashcroft found Labour holding on by a single point over the SNP, with a 20.5% swing from Lab to the SNP.

Moving to the two Lib Dem seats, Ashcroft found a 14 point SNP lead in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and a 5 point SNP lead in Ross, Skye and Lochaber. The latter is a seat that people often include in seats they would expect to withstand the SNP tide due to the solid majority and incumbency of Charlie Kennedy. His presence clearly does have a substantial effect – the Lib Dem share rises 10 points in the seat when people are asked to consider their own constituency and candidates – but not enough to put him ahead.

Finally the lone Conservative seat in Scotland, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale is spoken of as a potential hold for similar reasons to East Renfrewshire. It’s an area that voted heavily NO in the referendum where the SNP were in fourth place in 2010 and while Labour support has collapsed across Scotland, the rump Tory support seems broadly static. Even here though Ashcroft found the SNP competitive, equal with the Tories on 34% with a swing of 13.5% from Con to SNP.

In discussions of Scotland at the general election I keep seeing assumptions that the SNP will actually win 20 to 30 seats, that their support will naturally fall back to some extent as the election approaches, that this degree of landslide won’t really happen. That might end up being true – I am normally the first to sound a note of caution to people getting excited over polls showing some unbelievable shift in public opinion – but in this case, the polling is very steady and consistent in showing a surge in SNP support, the constituency polling backs up the national polls and the reality of First Past the Post is that a big lead in the vote can be exaggerated into an overwhelming dominance in seat numbers.

UPDATE: The YouGov/Sun poll tonight has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 34%, LD 8%, UKIP 14%, GRN 6%, so back to neck-and-neck after two Tory leads. Not, of course, that the day-to-day back and forth really matters – it almost certainly isn’t the case that the Conservatives moved ahead for two days and moved back, the question is actually whether the average that lies beneath the day-to-day noise is moving. Only time will answer that question.


Some interesting non-GB polls today. First up Lord Ashcroft has released four constituency polls in Conservative held seats targeted by UKIP. The four seats are Boston and Skegness, Castle Point, South Basildon and East Thurrock and North East Cambridgeshire.

  • North East Cambridgeshire seems like a rather odd choice to begin with, it doesn’t look like an obvious place for UKIP success and while Ashcroft doesid find UKIP in second place, the poll gives the Conservatives a very solid 21 point lead. (detailled tabs)The polls in the other three seats were much closer though…
  • In South Basildon and East Thurrock Ashcroft found a clear, but not entirely comfortable, Tory lead of 6 points – Conservatives 35%, UKIP 29%. Labour were in an extremely close third place on 28%, so it’s a fairly even split between the three parties with plenty of potential for tactical voting to change the result (detailled tabs)
  • In Boston and Skegness Ashcroft found a close race, with the Conservatives just ahead. Topline figures are CON 38%, LAB 17%, LDEM 5%, UKIP 35%. (detailled tabs) Note that this was one of the seats that Survation had previously polled for Alan Bown, the UKIP donor, back in September. Ashcroft’s three point Tory lead is in complete contrast to the Survation poll which showed a twenty point UKIP lead.
  • Castle Point was closest of all, essentially neck and neck between the Conservatives and UKIP. Topline figures there were CON 37%, LAB 16%, LDEM 3%, UKIP 36% (detailled tabs)

Meanwhile the latest Survation poll of Scotland was in this morning’s Daily Record. Topline figures for Westminster voting intention are CON 15%(+1), LAB 28%(+2), LDEM 5%(-2), SNP 45%(-1), UKIP 3%(-1), GRN 3%(nc) (tabs here). Compared to Survation’s other post-referendum polls it suggests a slight narrowing in the SNP lead (their previous three polls had SNP leads of 22, 24 and 20 points) Looking across Scottish polls from other companies though there’s no obvious consensus on whether the lead is narrowing or not… and even if it is narrowing a bit, a seventeen point lead is still firmly in landslide territory.

For the run up to the election Opinium have moved from fortnightly to weekly polls for the Observer, and tonight’s figures are CON 32%(nc), LAB 34%(+1), LDEM 7%(+2), UKIP 15%(-3), GRN 8%(+2).

A couple of other updates. First, I have updated how the Uniform Swing Projection over on the sidebar is calculated. Up until now it has been a straight Uniform Swing across the whole of Great Britain. This was deliberately crude, a simple and uncontroversial uniform swing for reference, despite its know limitations. With the surge in SNP support through it had really become quite absurd – Scotland has often shown a different swing to the rest of Great Britain, but this is something in a new league. Hence from today I’ve switching to showing a figure based on a combination of a uniform swing across Scotland and a uniform swing across the rest of Great Britain. The Scottish UNS is based on an average of Scottish polls, the rest of GB UNS is based on an average of GB polls, adjusted to account for the absence of Scotland.

Second, I posted earlier in the week about the contrasting Survation/Unite and Ashcroft polls in Sheffield Hallam. One of the things I mentioned was that there was actually a slight error in the Ashcroft poll that had shown the Liberal Democrats ahead. Lord Ashcroft has now corrected the error (which was also repeated in his Thanet South and Doncaster North polls) and put up corrected tables on his website here. On the revised figures Lord Ashcroft’s Sheffield poll would also have shown Labour ahead of the Liberal Democrats, though by only 3 points. In Thanet South he would have shown a one point Tory lead, rather than the five points reported at the time. Ed Miliband would have been as safe as houses in Doncaster North with a thirty percent lead.

Lord Ashcroft doesn’t officially confirm who carries out the polls he commissions, but the reality is that most of his constituency polls are carried out by Populus – not that there are many companies who do constituency polling anyway (it can only be done on the telephone, and Ipsos MORI don’t do it, so that leaves very few options). In this case Populus did NOT carry out the poll, so the errors here shouldn’t be taken as a reflect on Populus or on Ashcroft’s other polls. In Lord Ashcroft’s own commentary he writes “I have not been in the habit of naming the polling companies I use, all of which are members of the British Polling Council, and I will not be naming this one. But I cannot allow this episode to cast doubt on the reliability of my polling more generally. So I must disclose that these three surveys last November are the first and only I have commissioned from a well-known but relatively new polling firm. And no, I won’t be using them again”.

The only other poll I know of in Sunday’s papers is the regular YouGov/Sunday Times polls.

UPDATE: Opinium have also made some changes to their methodology, detailled on their website here. There is a minor change to their age bands in their weighting to make sure they have enough under 25s, but the main change is to switch over to political weighting. Up until now Opinium and Ipsos MORI have been the only companies not to use some form of political weighting in their GB polls, Opinium are now introducing weighting by “Party propensity”, which seems to be similar in principle to the party ID weighting used by Populus and YouGov. Opinium’s weighting targets are based upon a rolling average of their recent polls and the European election result, which in practice means it should make figures less volatile and, according to Opinium, decrease their reported level of UKIP support.

Interestingly YouGov, Populus, ComRes and Lord Ashcroft have all made methodology changes in the last few months to get onto an election footing, and all started prompting for UKIP. Opinium are bucking the trend and look as if they are keeping UKIP in a second question for people who pick “other”.

Survation have a new poll out in Sheffield Hallam which gives a ten point lead to Labour. Naturally this has produced a lot of crowing from people who don’t much like Nick Clegg and some possibly unwise comments from Nick Clegg about the poll being “bilge”, commissioned by the Labour affiliated Unite (which is was, but it shouldn’t make any difference to the voting intention figures). Tabs are here.

The poll has been compared to Lord Ashcroft’s one last year which showed Nick Clegg ahead in his seat, albeit, only narrowly. The reason for the difference is nothing at all to do with who commissioned the polls though, and everything to do with differences between the methodology Ashcroft uses and the methodology Survation use for all their clients (Unite, and anyone else).

One difference that people commented on yesteday is that Lord Ashcroft uses political weighting in his constituency polls, but Survation do not. This has the potential to make a sizeable difference in the results, but I don’t think it is the case here – looking at the recalled vote in Survation’s poll it looks fairly close to what actually happened, weighting by past vote would probably have bumped up the Lib Dems a little, but the reason the Lib Dems are so far behind is not because of the weighting, it’s because more than half of the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 aren’t currently planning on doing so again.

However, there are other methodology differences that probably do explain the gap between the Ashcroft poll and the Survation one. If we start off with the basic figures each company found we get this:

In Survation’s poll the basic figures, weighted by likelihood to vote, were CON 22, LAB 33, LD 23, UKIP 9
In Ashcroft’s poll the basic figures, weighted for likelihood to vote, were CON 23, LAB 33, LD 17, UKIP 14

Both had a chunky Labour lead, in fact, Ashcroft’s was slightly bigger than Survation’s. Ashcroft however did two things that Survation did not do. He asked a two stage question, asking people their general voting intention and then their constituency question, and he reallocated don’t knows.

When Lord Ashcroft does constituency polls he asks a standard voting intention question, then asks people to think about their own constituency. This makes a minimal difference in most seats, where people’s “real” support is normally the same as how they actually vote. In seats with Lib Dem MPs it often makes a massive difference, presumably because tactical voting and incumbency are so much more important for Lib Dem MPs than those from any other party.

This is a large part of the difference between Survation and Ashcroft. In Ashcroft’s second question, asking people to think about their own constituency, he found figures of CON 18%, LAB 32%, LD 26%, UKIP 14% – so the two-stage-constituency-question added 9 percentage points to the Lib Dems. Survation actually asked people to think about their constiuency in their question, probably explaining why they had the Lib Dems 6 points higher than Ashcroft in their first question, but I think the constituency prompt has more effect when it is asked as a second question, and respondents are given a chance to register their “national choice” first.

The other significant methodological difference is how Survation and Ashcroft treat people who say don’t know. In their local constituency polls Survation just ignore don’t knows, while Ashcroft reallocates them based on how they voted at the previous election, reallocating a proportion of them back to the party they previously voted for. Currently this helps the Liberal Democrats (something we also see in ICM’s national polls), as there a lot of former Lib Dems out there telling pollsters they don’t know how they will vote.

In this particular case the reallocation of don’t knows changed Ashcroft’s final figures to CON 19, LAB 28, LD 31, UKIP 11, pushing the Lib Dems up into a narrow first place. Technically I think there was an error in Ashcroft’s table – they seem to have reallocated all don’t knows, rather than the proportion they normally do. Done correctly the Lib Dems and Labour would probably have been closer together, or Labour a smidgin ahead, but the fact remains that Ashcroft’s method produces a tight race, Survation’s a healthy looking Labour lead.

So which one is right?

The short answer is we don’t know for sure.

Personally I have confidence in the two-stage constituency question. It’s something I originally used in marginal polling for PoliticsHome back in 2008 and 2009, to address the problem that any polling of Lib Dem seats always seems to show a big jump for Labour and a collapse for the Lib Dems. This would look completely normal these days of course, but you used to find the same thing in polls when Labour were doing badly nationally and the Lib Dems well. My theory was that when people were asked about their voting intention they did not factor in any tactical decisions they might actually make – that is, if you were a Labour supporter in a LD-v-Con seat you might tell a pollster you’d vote Labour because they were the party you really supported, but actually vote Lib Dem as a tactical anti-Tory vote. The way that it only has a significant effect in Lib Dem seats has always given me some confidence it is working, and people aren’t just feeling obliged to give as different answer – the overwhelming majority of people answer the same to both questions.

However the fact is the two-stage-constituency question is only theoretical – it hasn’t been well tested. Going back to it’s original use for the PoliticsHome marginal poll back in 2009, polling in Lib Dem seats using the normal question found vote shares of CON 41, LAB 17, LDEM 28. Using the locally prompted second question the figures became CON 37, LAB 12, LDEM 38. In really those seats ended up voting CON 39, LAB 9, LDEM 45. Clearly in that sense the prompted question gave a better steer to how well the Lib Dems were doing in their marginals… but the caveats are very heavy (it was 9 months before the election, so people could just have change their minds, and it’s only one data point anyway.) I trust the constituency prompted figures more, but that’s a personal opinion, the evidence isn’t there for us to be sure.

As to the reallocation of don’t knows, I’ve always said it is more a philosophical decision that a right or wrong one. Should pollsters only report how respondents say they would vote in an election tomorrow, or should they try and measure how they think people actually would vote in an election tomorrow? Is it better to only include those people who give an opinion, even if you know that those undecideds you’re ignoring appear more likely to favour one party than other, or is it better to make some educated guesses about how those don’t knows might split based on past behaviour?

Bottom line, if you ask people in Sheffield Hallam how they would vote in a general election tomorrow, Labour have a lead, varying in size depending on how you ask. However, there are lots of people who voted for Nick Clegg in 2010 who currently tell pollsters they don’t know how they would vote, and if a decent proportion of those people in fact end up backing Nick Clegg (as Ashcroft’s polling assumes they will) the race would be much closer.