I remember that a year ago my referral logs in the days running up to the local elections were full of people searching for local election opinion polls. They must have come away disappointed, because there were practically none. It looks as though they’ll be similarly disappointed this year. Local election polls are actually pretty rare because of the difficulty of identifying people in areas that do have elections and the problems of doing a bog standard poll giving people the choice of all the main parties when in thousands upon thousands of seats not all the main parties are standing.
The only real prediction based on evidence that we have is Ralling and Thrasher’s prediction, based upon analysis of recent local authority by-elections. Rallings and Thrasher predict local shares of the vote of CON 39%, LAB 24%, LDEM 29%, compared to 2003 when the seats were last fought this has the Conservatives up 4 points, Labour down 6 points and the Lib Dems up 2 points (these, it should be noted, are notional shares of the vote based on what they think would happen if there were local elections across the whole country, not actual shares of the vote. The notional shares of the vote on the BBC on the night of the election will be calculated on the same basis.) Rallings and Thrasher project that this would result in the Conservatives gaining around 330 seats, Labour losing around 500 and the Lib Dems gaining around 110.
Rallings and Thrasher’s local election predictions got some bad publicity last year after their initial prediction on Newsnight went horribly wrong – they predicted that the Conservatives would lose 95 seats, Labour lose 130 and the Lib Dems gain 190. In the event the Conservatives gained 317, Labour lost 320 and the Lib Dems stayed almost static. Rallings and Thrasher had produced revised predictions closer to the 2006 elections, but even they showed the Tories only gaining around 100 seats.
Despite last year’s mistake this doesn’t mean that the Rallings and Thrasher predictions should be ignored. In 2006, between the local by-elections that Rallings and Thrasher based their projections upon and the elections themselves Labour suffered the foreign prisoner release scandal and the revelation of John Prescott’s affair – a week that did a great deal of damage to their image. Perhaps if they hadn’t suffered those scandals the results would have been closer to Rallings and Thrasher’s prediction, we’ll never know. In both 2003 and 2004 Rallings and Thrasher’s predictions for the likely notional national shares of the vote in the local elections were actually very accurate so, assuming no scandals or other events break in the next couple of days, Rallings and Thrasher’s predictions are the best we have.
UPDATE: There is a useful list on 18 Doughty Street of which councils are counting on Thursday night and which are counting on Friday morning.