by Stephen Tall on October 15, 2014
The Guardian published its latest ICM poll — commonly regarded as the ‘gold standard’ — this week. The top-line (with changes on the previous months) was: Labour 35% (=), Conservatives 31% (-2), Ukip 14% (+5), Lib Dems 11% (+1) and Others 10% (-3).
Polling in September/October tends to fluctuate, as the noise of conference season often leads to spikes in support for each party in turn which soon fade. There have been two additional events which may have further confused matters: the Scottish independence referendum and last week’s Clacton by-election.
It’s the latter event which is probably responsible for Ukip’s surge (up from 9% to 14%), especially as ICM polled in the two days immediately after Douglas Carswell’s victory, and his party’s near-miss in Heywood and Middleton, were dominating the news headlines. Let’s see what happens to the party’s support in November (which will be in the lead-up to Mark Reckless’s defence of his Rochester and Strood seat following his defection from the Tories).
The Lib Dems will be relieved to see ICM continuing to show the party’s support in double figures. This is at variance with other pollsters, in particular YouGov whose daily polls dominate discussion, which tend to show the Lib Dems a little lower, at 7-9%. This is due to the different methodologies used by the polling companies as noted in July here. I stand by my comment then:
ICM is a combination of a snapshot poll and also a forecast. What has happened in previous elections is that pollsters begin to converge the closer it gets to polling day. Lib Dem voters who are least likely to say they are certain to vote for the party make up their minds later; and we are more likely to benefit from tactical votes in key seats. Of course, no-one knows if what’s held true in previous elections will also hold true in 2015. But for the moment at least I’d be more inclined to bet that ICM and YouGov won’t be far apart come May 2015 and that will be because YouGov has moved towards ICM rather than the reverse.
There has been much internal anguish in Labour since its (by all accounts) depressingly flat conference, Ed Miliband’s fluffed leader’s speech, and their poor showing in the Heywood by-election. Yet on the basis of this poll the party would win an overall majority of 36 according to UKPollingReport’s swing calculator. Add to that Lord Ashcroft’s findings that Labour is winning better in the key marginals and it’s enough to wonder why its supporters are quite so in the doldrums.
The explanation is here, from Labour blogger Hopi Sen:
In the last thirty years, only one opposition has improved their poll ratings between the final conference season of the political cycle and the subsequent general election. In every other instance, the opposition has declined by between three and thirteen points. I’d put my expectation on the low side of this, because when oppositions have declined by larger amounts, they have enjoyed larger starting poll shares than Labour does now – going from 49% to 35% in 1991-92 and from 52% to 44% in 1997. I don’t expect that sort of dip. Absent a ‘Winter of Discontent’, you’d expect Labour’s vote share to fall perhaps three to five points between now and the election, putting Labour somewhere between 29-33%. This is more or less in line with what Stephen Fishers’ election predictors suggest.
Labour’s prime consolation can be explained in one noun: Tories. David Cameron and his party show no apparent interest in exploiting either Labour’s absent opposition — or the Lib Dems’ own difficulties — to win the centre ground of British politics. Instead they’ve retreated to their traditional terra firma of Europe, immigration and benefits. Long gone are the days when David Cameron’s brand of compassionate Conservatism was winning 49% of the vote (not that long ago: summer 2008). My best guess is they’ll beat Labour in the popular vote; but my best guess is also that won’t be good enough.
* 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.