Ashcroft battlegrounds poll: both Tories and Lib Dems down on 2010, but it’s the Tories who’d make gains

by Stephen Tall on June 19, 2014

lib toryLord Aschroft, the Tory peer and pollster, has published the results of a large survey of 17 Lib Dem / Conservative battleground seats. Six are Tory-held seats where the Lib Dems were runners-up in 2010; 11 are Lib Dem-held seats where the Tories were runners-up.

Across those seats the voting intention (compared with the 2010 general election) is: Con 33% (-8%), Lib Dem 28% (-15%), Labour 14% (+5%), Ukip 18% (+14%). However, that conceals a lot of individual seat-by-seat variation. Here’s the constituency overview. The headlines are that:

  • all six Tory-held seats would remain Tory – Camborne and Redruth, Harrogate and Knaresborough, Newton Abbot, Oxford West and Abingdon, Truro and Falmouth, and Watford;
  • seven of the 11 Lib Dem-held seats would be Tory gains – Chippenham, Mid-Dorset and North Poole, Solihull, Somerton and Frome, St Austell and Newquay, St Ives, and Wells;
  • three of the other 11 would be Lib Dem holds – Cheadle, Eastleigh, and Sutton and Cheam – and one is a tie (North Cornwall).
  • ashcroft poll 2014

    For all that Ashcroft is a card-carrying Tory, that’s no reason to disregard his polling. He publishes his results for all to see, even when they’re inconvenient to his own party.

    Credit to him, too, for acknowledging the Lib Dem incumbency boost we see in constituencies where the Lib Dems have a well-known MP or campaigner. Instead of only asking the standard national voting intention question, he also asked the more reliable follow-up (similar to that used by ICM): ‘thinking specifically about your own parliamentary constituency at the next general election and the candidates who are likely to stand for election to Westminster there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency?’

    It’s a shame he didn’t go a step further and name the candidates, as that would have made his polling much more ‘real world’ – after all, the names of the candidates, not just the parties’, will be on the ballot papers next May, and there is past evidence that this further boosts the incumbency effect which is especially important to Lib Dems. I’ve no idea whether that would have made an overall difference to the headline findings, but I hope it’s an improvement Ashcroft (or any other pollsters conducting constituency polls) will consider in the future.

    Another graph is particularly interesting – ‘Local campaign activity’, recording whether voters have heard from any of the parties in the last few weeks. The polling was conducted between 11 May and 14 June 2014, coinciding with European elections and probably local elections too, so the figures for all parties are perhaps more even than they would have been outside of an election period. Nonetheless they show considerable variation among our held seats, from 42% in Newquay and St Austell (named as a likely Tory gain) to 74% in Sutton and Cheam (named as a Lib Dem hold).

    ashcroft poll 2014 - activity

    Finally, here’s the Lib Dem dilemma encapsulated… Coalition is the preferred outcome for between 25% to 33% of those polled. That’s a substantial proportion, but one which is pretty evenly split between those voters wanting a Lib/Con coalition and those wanting a Lib/Lab coalition. Whichever partner the Lib Dems choose will antagonise the half of Coalition-inclined voters who wanted the Lib Dems to team up with the other lot.

    ashcroft poll 2014 - preferred result

    As Ashcroft himself rightly points out, polls are snapshots, not predictions. In particular, I’m interested to see Ukip polling so well across the battlegrounds. That’s not surprising given where they stand in the national polls now, and given the survey was conducted at the peak of the European elections. I very much doubt, however, that Ukip will poll 18% across these seats in May 2015, so one of the key questions is where the votes they shed between now and then go.

    Also key, of course, will be whether the Labour vote can be squeezed back down, as those 2010 Lib Dem voters who’ve switched realise that doing so may well let back in the Tories.

    Historical footnote: in 2009, PoliticsHome conducted a large regional poll of marginal seats. It wasn’t, unlike this Ashcroft poll, a constituency battlegrounds poll. It did, however, project heavy losses for the Lib Dems in the south-west of England. In the actual general election a year later, the Lib Dems held a number of the seats the poll found to be under threat.

    * 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.