Pollwatch – State of the Parties: Lib Dems 11%, Labour 40%, Tories 36% (May 2011)

by Stephen Tall on May 3, 2011

A total of 24 polls were published during April. Now, as our readers know, LDV doesn’t cover them with the same breathless excitements as other parts of the media. Most poll movements are within the margin of error, so it is only looked at over a period of time that you can detect whether there has really been any significant movements between the parties. With those caveats in place, let’s succomb to the inevitable and start poll-obsessing…

Here are the April averages for the parties across the six polling companies which conducted surveys:

  • Con 31%, Lab 42%, Lib Dem 11% (Angus Reid, 1 poll)
  • Con 35%, Lab 39%, Lib Dem 10% (ComRes, 1)
  • Con 35%, Lab 37%, Lib Dem 15% (ICM, 1)
  • Con 40%, Lab 40%, Lib Dem 9% (Ipsos-MORI/Reuters, 1)
  • Con 36%, Lab 40%, Lib Dem 11% (Populus, 1)
  • Con 36%, Lab 42%, Lib Dem 9% (YouGov, 19 polls)

All of which produces an average rating for the parties in April (compared with March) as follows:

    Conservatives 36% (n/c), Labour 40% (n/c), Lib Dems 11% (n/c)

Let’s take a look at the figures from each of the main parties’ perspectives…

Conservatives…

It continues to be the case that the Tories have most to be cheered by looking at the current polls. Though the economy is growing only sluggishly, and the party is embarking on drastic cuts in public spending, they remain within touching distance of the Labour party. Compared to the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher trailed the Labour party in the polls between elections by substantial margins, David Cameron is faring well (though opinion polling has also become more sophisticated).

And yet it is also the case that the Tories, at least on current polling figures, would not win an election if it were held tomorrow. That’s fine for now… there isn’t going to be a general election tomorrow. But Conservative supporters are going to become more agitated if the polls continue to show their party in a near dead heat situation with Labour. Parties rarely become more popular the longer they are in government, so if the Tories’ aim is to govern alone they will be needing to break that 40% ceiling. Their ability to achieve that will depend on the economy.

Labour…

Ed Miliband’s party continues to benefit from its status as the sole mainstream opposition to the Coalition, hovering either a little above or below the 40% mark according to pollster. If, as expected, Labour performs strongly in the English local elections on Thursday night, Mr Miliband’s position will be bolstered, and there may be a post-5th May bounce. As John Curtice observes in The Independent:

Labour will certainly crow, if as expected, it gains control of Sheffield where Nick Clegg is an MP. But this and other possible gains in the North, such as Bolton, Oldham and perhaps even Leeds, will make less impressive headlines than gains further south, and especially gains made at the expense of the Tories. However, the party is so weak in much of the South that such prospects look rather thin. But if outside chances of gains in Tory-controlled Gravesham and Thanet were realised, the party would reckon to have given David Cameron a bloody nose.

And of course the fillip of those gains in England may be offset by the potential failure of Labour in Scotland to curtail the cult of the SNP’s Alex Salmond.

Liberal Democrats…

Well, on the bright side, the party’s ratings have yet to plummet to the 5% famously envisaged by one of our cabinet ministers last summer when the Coalition was enjoying still its honeymoon. But the Lib Dems are only just in double figures (and not even quite there if YouGov is your polling Bible) — nor have we enjoyed what used to be a grand April tradition: a small, short boost to Lib Dem poll ratings as vast tracts of the country are festooned with Focus leaflets.

Not this year: our role as junior partner in the Government means not only do we now ‘enjoy’ year-round publicity, but we now kop the flak rather than being seen as the nice-and-safe repositories of none-of-the-above voters. It also means we’re contesting fewer seats than in the past, and therefore our message isn’t reaching as many voters.

What will this mean for this Thursday’s elections? Well, the party looks to be in for a bloody nose in Scotland and Wales (though the proportional voting systems may protect the party somewhat from total wipeout), and quite possibly in the north of England, too. The one thing which may help the party’s narative is the media’s obsession with the ‘expectations’ game.

The party is predicted by Rallings’ and Thrasher’s latest local government projections, based on their model using local by-election data, to gain 17% of the national vote on 5th May; well above our national poll ratings, but well below where we were in 2007 (24%), when these seats were last contested. If so, we will lose some 400 of the 1,800 council seats we are defending: a hefty blow for a party which lives and breathes localism.