Lib Dems and Labour neck-and-neck on 28%, says voting study

by Stephen Tall on December 27, 2009

Today’s Times publishes a study by Professor Colin Rallings and Professor Michael Thrasher of Plymouth University based on actual votes cast in the dozens of by-elections that take place for council seats each month. Here are the headline findings:

It shows that although David Cameron’s Conservatives have a 10-point lead over Labour as the year draws to a close, the gap has been narrowing since the summer. The by-election model, which has been reworked to take account of different patterns of competition between the parties, has the Tories on 38%, with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats on 28%.

The calculations for December are based on an analysis of voting patterns in 61 contests across the country over the past three months, in which nearly 85,000 votes were cast in total.

And how does this compare with the equivalent period in 1996, the year before Tony Blair came to power?

Rallings and Thrasher have compared the results now with the period a few months before the 1997 election. Then, Labour was on 43%, the Tories 31% and the Lib Dems 23%.

And how would such voting percentages translate into Parliamentary seats, according to Prof. Thrasher?

Translated across the country on the basis of the new constituency boundaries that come into force in 2010, such a result would certainly see David Cameron installed as prime minister but heading a minority government. The Tories would have won over 60 more seats than Labour, with Labour losing more than 100 constituencies — nearly one in three of its current complement of MPs. Cameron, however, with just 311 seats, would be 15 short of the 326 needed for an overall parliamentary majority.”

No Lib Dem figure is given, but if we assume ‘Others’ (Northern Ireland, SNP, Plaid et al) are at roughly 30-35, then Thrasher and Rawlings model appears to place the Lib Dems on c.50 seats. That would seem to me a little on the low side for a model showing a 10% swing from Labour to the Lib Dems since 1997, and only a minimal swing from the Lib Dems to Tories. We shall see.