The polls in 2014: what they show with 133 days left til 7 May 2015

by Stephen Tall on December 24, 2014

The final polls of the year have been published — getting on for 500 have been commissioned in 2014 — and their story is told in the graph below.

It shows Labour’s declining (down from c.38% to c.33%), the Tories static (at c.32%), Ukip on the rise (up from c.12% to c.16%), and the Lib Dems dipping (down from c.10% to c.8%). I’ve added trendlines to cut through the noise and give us a signal:

2014 in polls

The last month has done little to alter this overall picture.

A handful of polls in December have shown Labour opening up a wider lead over the Tories, with Ukip’s support subsiding below 15%. It’s possible this is a reaction against George Osborne’s autumn statement and his signalling the Tory determination to continue slashing public spending after May if they’re in power. (It is, by the way, a mystery how the Chancellor is considered a strategic genius: many of the Tories’ woes can be laid at his door. His gloomy cuts ‘n austerity 2009 conference speech played a big part in losing his party its majority. His U-turn heavy 2012 budget which cut the top-rate of tax sealed the impression the Tories care more for the wealthy than the oppressed.) However, the polling movements are slight, and in any case appear to show the small Labour gain is chiefly at Ukip’s expense — perhaps Nigel Farage’s teflon coating is beginning to show signs of wear and tear?

For the Lib Dems, 2014 has been a grim year. For the past three Christmases our average rating has been 10%. Many would have hoped by now we’d be getting some credit for the (wobbling) economic recovery and for our stoic perseverance in government. For the record, I didn’t — here’s what I predicted would happen in the polls a year ago:

Labour will still lead the Conservatives in the polls in a year’s time, but it will be closer than the 5% the current average of polls shows – mostly as a result of Labour declining than the Tories’ attracting more support. The polling in 2014 is likely to be quite erratic, as Ukip’s expected strong showing in the Euros will spike their vote, hitting the Tories worst but also Labour. I don’t expect to see much, if any, uplift in the Lib Dems’ flat-lining 10% polling yet (I think it will happen, but much closer to the general election). I think 2014 will mark Ukip’s high point, however: support will drift away the closer we draw to the May 2015 general election. Okay, I’ll stick my neck out… The polling averages for the parties (according to UK Polling Report at 31 Dec 2014) will be Labour 36 per cent, Conservatives 33 per cent, Ukip 14 per cent, Lib Dems 10 per cent.

Not too shabby a prediction, eh? The current polling averages are Labour 34%, Conservative 31%, Ukip 15% and Lib Dems 8%.

Lib Dem hopes will have been raised by the most recent ICM poll showing the party at 14%, level-pegging with Ukip. I’d love to believe it, but it ‘feels’ a little generous to me.

As I’ve pointed out before, ICM’s methodology tends to be most generous to the Lib Dems because they re-allocate half the current ‘Don’t Knows’ to their previous party allegiance — and Lib Dem voters often least tribal and most likely to make their minds up late (often for tactical reasons). This makes it as much a prediction as a snapshot of current opinion, which is why the polling firms’ numbers tend to converge the closer we get to polling day itself.

Still, it indicates what’s possible for the Lib Dems: 14% is by no means an impossible target. Indeed, if you feed the latest ICM figures into ElectoralCalculus, the party would retain 43 of its current 57 seats. I don’t think there’s a Lib Dem activist around who wouldn’t take that as an early Christmas present right now (even though it would also mean a hefty Labour majority of 56).

Feed in today’s YouGov figures into ElectoralCalculus, though, and you’ll get a very different picture: the Lib Dems’ 6% would see us reduced to just 14 seats. I don’t, by the way, set huge stall by the ElectoralCalculus methodology — at one point in the last parliament it showed the Lib Dems would be entirely wiped out at the May 2010 election — but it does highlight the massive range of possible outcomes for the party.

How well/badly we do and the extent of liberal influence in the next parliament depends on what happens in our key seats in the 133 days between now and 7th May.

* 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.