Lewis Baston on the polls and ‘How the Lib Dems will actually do’

by Stephen Tall on February 1, 2014

I wrote last October about election expert Lewis Baston’s forecast for the next election, based on his analysis not only of the polls, but also of the trends in the ‘swing seats’, the battlegrounds which, in a first-past-the-post voting system, actually matter. His forecast for May 2015 was that Labour would edge the Tories by 36% to 34%, with the Lib Dems on 16%, and relatively few seats changing hands.

Over at Progress Online, Lewis has returned to the fray, and asked the question, ‘How will the Lib Dems actually do?’. Here’s his conclusion:

It is always troublesome to translate Liberal Democrat votes into seats. The party can have elections where it gains seats despite losing votes (as in 1997) and vice versa (as in 2010). But, even if the party struggles back up to 15-17 per cent, there is no way it will not result in a loss of seats. Local election results suggest that it will be near-impossible for the party to hold a number of metropolitan seats against Labour (Manchester Withington being the most drastic example).

Scotland is also a huge problem. Although their polling support is down by the same 12 points or so there as in England, they were already at rock bottom in half of Scotland in 2010 (losing 12 points would give them negative votes in 30 Scottish seats). The drop must be concentrated in the seats where they polled reasonably well in 2010. They are in serious danger of losing up to 10 of their 11 Scottish seats.

The crucial thing for the Liberal Democrats is whether differentiating themselves from the Conservatives, the visceral anti-Toryism of progressive voters, and Ukip, can save the suburban and south-western seats they hold against the Tories. Last year I ventured that the Liberal Democrats would get 35-40 seats. That still feels about right, but a bit of a closer look at the history and at Scotland makes me think that 35 is more likely than 40.

My own instinct – and Lewis is kind enough to reference me as a “reality-based” Lib Dem – is that the current range is a little higher, say 35-45 seats – not least because I think some of our Scottish MPs could well hold on in spite of the undoubtedly tough time the party there is enduring.

And, of course, as Nick Clegg’s top strategy adviser Ryan Coetzee always reminds us:

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.