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6a00d83451b31c69e2017ee875fc47970d-150wiLord Ashcroft KCMG, PC describes the findings of a new poll that he is launching at ConservativeHome's Victory 2015 Conference.

Marginal
constituencies decide the outcome of elections. In 2010, though the
Conservatives did not achieve the national vote share they wanted, the party’s
targeting strategy meant it won 23 more Labour seats and 9 more Liberal
Democrat seats than it would have done on a uniform swing. Had it not been for
the Conservative performance in the marginals, Labour would have been the
largest parliament and would have continued in government.

The
voters in marginal seats receive, no doubt to their delight, a great deal more
attention from the parties than anyone else. But not all marginal seats are the
same. Not only are they contested by different parties, they are home to
different kinds of people and face a variety of different circumstances. Not
only can the state of play in the marginals look rather different from the national
polls, different kinds of marginal seat can look rather different from each
other.

Now
that we are past the midway point in the parliament – and now that it’s clear
that the constituency boundaries will not be changing before the next election
– I decided it was time for a proper look at the marginal territory where it
will be decided who enters 10 Downing Street on 8 May 2015 and whether or not
they have an overall majority at their command. This study is based on over
19,000 online interviews in 213 constituencies throughout Great Britain –
mainly those for which the Conservatives and Labour will be competing directly,
and those the Liberal Democrats will be defending against either of the bigger
parties.


At
first glance the findings seem to offer little encouragement for the
Conservatives. Labour is ahead in all the clusters of Tory-held seats Ed
Miliband will be targeting, and at this stage of the parliament the figures
suggest there is little prospect of Cameron gaining further seats from Labour.
With two years to go this study is a snapshot not a prediction, but on the
basis of this poll Labour would be elected with a large majority.

It
is notable, though, that the swing to Labour in the seats the party will be
aiming to take from the Conservatives is lower than that implied by the
national polls. In particular, Labour are moving fewer voters in the Tory-held
Southern Towns & Suburbs, London and parts of the North they might hope.
The swings in different clusters of seats suggest that Labour would gain all
but 16 of the 109 most marginal seats (requiring a swing of up to 11%) the
Tories are defending against them. But if, as often happens, the race tightens
as the election approaches, the evidence is that Labour will find it harder to
move votes in these places than it does elsewhere.

The
data will make uncomfortable reading for the Liberal Democrats. As is often the
case, very different results emerge from Lib Dem-held seats according to
whether you ask the standard voting intention question – “if there were an election tomorrow, which
party would you vote?” – or a version which reminds them of their local
circumstances – “and thinking specifically about your own constituency and the
candidates who are likely to stand there, which party’s candidate do you think
you will vote for?” Even on this second question, the results imply a swing to
the Conservatives of around 5 points. On these figures, Cameron stands to gain
17 seats from his coalition colleague in England and Wales. The findings
suggest that one of these would be Eastleigh, which would fall to the
Conservatives on the basis of the swing the cluster of similar seats. This
backs up the findings of my election-day poll which showed the by-election
result would not necessarily be repeated at a general election.

In
reality, as Eastleigh showed, an election against the Lib Dems is never over
until it’s over, and there will be a large number of very fierce fights. But
things look a good deal bleaker for the party in seats where Labour are second.
The implied 17-point swing would deprive Nick Clegg of all but two Lib Dem
seats where Labour are currently second: Ross, Skye & Lochaber, and Orkney
& Shetland (where in 2010 Alistair Carmichael received nearly six times as
many votes as his nearest challenger). Labour also stand to gain two seats –
Cambridge and Leeds North West – where they are currently third.

In
the urban English seats where Labour are challenging the Liberal Democrats
there was less difference between the standard and local voting intention questions
than elsewhere. In these seats only 55% of voters knew they had a Lib Dem MP,
well below the 69% in seats the party is defending against the Conservatives.
And as I found in my recent study What
Are The Liberal Democrats For?
, the party’s performance either locally or
nationally matters less for people who voted Lib Dem thinking it a left-wing
alternative to Labour who are angry it joined the coalition in the first place.

Overall,
though, Liberal Democrat MPs outscore their Labour and Conservative
counterparts on most positive attributes, especially being a local person with
roots in the area, and staying in touch with constituents through newsletters
and leaflets. This was reflected in measures of local campaign action: voters
in Lib Dem seats have noticed more activity from their incumbent party than is
the case in Labour or Conservative-held marginals.

Across
the Battlegrounds the Conservatives’ biggest asset remains David Cameron, who
leads as best Prime Minister everywhere except the Lib Dem-Labour Battleground,
and having the clearest vision of where they want to take the country, where
they lead across the board (though substantial numbers say this is not true of
any party). The Tories also lead on the economy everywhere except the Lib Dem-Labour
seats.

Despite
Labour’s clear lead on voting intention throughout the seats it is defending or
challenging, the Lib Dem-Labour Battleground was the only one in which the
proportion saying the party had learned the right lessons from its time in
government and could be trusted to run the country again, or had done a pretty
good job and had no lessons to learn, was greater than the proportion saying
they could not yet be trusted – and then by only 40% to 39%. 7% of all those
who said they were going to vote Labour said the party had not learned its
lessons and could not yet be trusted to govern.

Meanwhile,
only just over half of 2010 Liberal Democrat voters (54%) said the party did
the responsible thing by entering the coalition, and only 40% said they had
shown they were a responsible party of government. More than half, though, said
they had managed to get some of their policies put into action, and three
quarters said they had made the government more moderate than if the
Conservatives were governing alone.

Asked
about their expectations of what would happen after 2015 under different
governments, people were strikingly pessimistic, thinking most things would
stay the same or get worse whatever the result. More expected an increase in
unemployment, and that NHS care would get worse, under a Conservative
government than under Labour; more thought that public spending and debt, and
the numbers claiming benefits when they could work, would rise under Labour
than the Tories.

Overall,
just under a quarter of the full sample (24%) said a Conservative government
with an overall majority would be their preferred election outcome. 30% said
they wanted a Labour government. 12% said they wanted a coalition between the
Liberal Democrats and Labour, and only 7% wanted more of what we have now.

According
to recent national published polls, on a uniform swing Labour would win a
majority of 114. According to the results of this survey of the marginals,
Labour would gain 109 seats, and the Conservatives would suffer at net loss of
75. This would give Ed Miliband 367 seats in the House of Commons – a Labour
majority of 84.

While
this hardly sounds like good news for the Tories, it shows that things are at
least a little less bad than the national polls suggest.

> Visit LordAshcroftPolls.com for full details of the
marginal seats polling and to sign up to receive alerts as soon as new stories
are published.

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