This morning’s Mail on Sunday had a new poll of South Thanet which they built up into a UKIP “covering up” an unfavourable poll showing them headed for defeat. ComRes have subsequently released the tables for the poll here, revealing it was actually commissioned by ChartwellPolitical, an agency founded by two former UKIP staffers.

First let’s cut away the Mail’s hyperbole – it’s really not a “LOSER POLL!” and doesn’t show Farage heading for a humiliating defeat. UKIP are one point behind the Conservatives, with Labour one point behind them – CON 31%, UKIP 30%, LAB 29%, LDEM 5%. Given the margin of error, one couldn’t confidently say which of the three parties are ahead. What it actually shows is an extremely tight race. However it’s significantly less positive for UKIP than the previous polling in Thanet South – a Survation poll back in February that showed UKIP ten points ahead, and it resulted in UKIP attempts to rubbish the poll and its methodology last night.

In terms of methodology, the poll is mostly done using the same methods ComRes use in their national telephone polls – same turnout weighting and filtering, same squeeze question, same treatment of don’t knows. There are two important differences between the way ComRes do their national and constituency polls though. First respondents were prompted with the individual candidate names, secondly the poll was NOT politically weighted (if it had been, it would probably have been better for the Tories to some degree, depending on how much false recall ComRes allowed for in setting targets).

Most of the criticism of the poll last night (including some from UKIP themselves) was frankly complete nonsense. I can only assume a lot of it was sourced from “what some bloke on Twitter reckoned”. To sum up, the difference isn’t because candidates weren’t named – they were. It isn’t because 2010 political or turnout weights were used – they weren’t. It wasn’t because people who are unlikely to vote were included – they weren’t. It wasn’t because ComRes reallocated people by 2010 vote – they don’t. The idea that the question wording mentioning “your local MP” favoured Laura Sandys seems somewhat stretched, given the question included candidate names and Laura Sandys wasn’t one of those candidates.

To look at the more substantive things people have asked though, the initial voting intention question in the poll found Nigel Farage ahead. What put him behind in the final figures was weighting by turnout and squeezing the don’t knows. Neither of these are strange and unusual, they are ComRes’s normal method and are perfectly justifiable.

Looking at turnout first, ComRes found that Labour and Conservative voters said they were more likely to vote than UKIP voters. In Survation’s poll in February they actually found just the same thing, and their approach to weighting by likelihood to vote is very similar to ComRes’s (there is a difference in how they treat people who are very unlikely to vote – Survation weight them down very heavily, ComRes exclude them. In practice this difference has minimal effect). The difference between the Survation poll showing a ten point UKIP lead and the ComRes one showing a one point Tory lead is NOT turnout weighting.

The other difference is don’t knows. In the Survation poll people who said they didn’t know how they would vote were ignored. In ComRes, they were asked a follow up “squeeze” question – how would they vote if they legally HAD to. For people who still didn’t give an answer, ComRes asked if they identified with any party, and took that as their most likely vote. In practice these squeeze questions helped Labour and the Conservatives, but didn’t squeeze out much in the way of extra UKIP support.

There is nothing at all methodologically “wrong” with this poll… but then, there wasn’t anything “wrong” with the Survation poll in February either. There are different methodological approaches, and there are good arguments to be made for and against them, but we don’t have the evidence to say which is right. More importantly, a lot of the difference here isn’t because of methodology… it’s just because ComRes found fewer Ukippers and more Labour and Conservative voters than Survation did. Perhaps that’s because UKIP have lost support since February. Perhaps that’s just normal sample variation. We can’t tell, we can only say that South Thanet may still be a tight race after all.


Lord Ashcroft released another batch of constituency polls earlier today, this time revisiting some of the Lib Dem seats where he had previously found close battles. In Lord Ashcroft’s previous polling in Lib Dem seats he’s often found wide variation from one seat to another, and it’s the same here – in some seats the Lib Dems are holding on against the national tide, in other seats they are doing very badly indeed.

Camborne and Redruth was an ultra marginal between the Conservatives and Lib Dems at the last election. In June 2014 Ashcroft polled the seat and found a close three way battle between the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP. The picture in this poll is far less exciting – a very lead 13 point Tory lead.

North Devon and St Austell and Newquay both had narrow one point Tory leads last time, this time they had more comfortable seven and six point leads for the Tories.

North Cornwall, St Ives and Torbay all saw much less movement. Torbay and North Cornwall both had neck-and-neck ties when Ashcroft last polled them, this time he found a one point Lib Dem lead and a two point Lib Dem lead. St Ives has gone from a one point Lib Dem lead to three points, showing almost no swing from LD to Con at all since the general election.

Turning to the two Lib Dem seats where Labour is the main challenger, Julian Huppert in Cambridge has now opened up a nine point lead over Labour, reducing the swing from LD>Lab to just three points, which would be exceptionally good in a LD/Lab seat.

Finally Lord Ashcroft re-polled Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg’s own seat. Naturally this is the poll that got the most attention, as he continues to show Clegg trailing Labour. Voting intentions were CON 16%, LAB 36%, LDEM 34%, UKIP 7%, GRN 6% – a whopping great swing of 19.5% from LibDem to Labour. The Lib Dems criticised the poll for not including candidate names, saying this would have boosted Clegg. Lord Ashcroft pre-empted the criticism by saying that he already asked the constituency specific question and feared putting candidate names in the question would give too much prominence to that as a factor and would risk showing too much of a candidate effect. Both are perfectly justifiable arguments – the reality is we don’t know. Constituency polls have been very rare in the past, so we don’t have lots of constituency polls with and without candidate prompting from previous elections that we can compare to results to make a judgement. There is simply no evidence that would allow us to judge whether candidate prompting in constituency polling is less or more accurate.


-->

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.

Scotland

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.