Both the Conservative and Labour leaderships have been quietly trying to apply the result of America’s last Presidential election to our own poll next May. They draw opposite conclusions – at least in public.
Downing Street and CCHQ claim that Obama won on the economy – and that David Cameron can, too. One of their set texts is John Sides and Lynn Vavrecks’s The Gamble, which suggests that economics and incumbency gave the President an advantage that the challenger was never likely to overhaul.
The Labour leadership, meanwhile, argues that Obama won on values, and that Ed Miliband can follow where the President led. A book they point to is David Frum’s Why Romney Lost, which claims that the Republicans didn’t win because they are out of touch with modern America.
These cases are not incompatible. It looks as though Obama won on both – in other words, that enough voters trusted him to deliver a recovery that would benefit them. A question that Lord Ashcroft’s polling of marginal seats from yesterday re-raises is: which factor will matter more next year?
I am suspicious of reading across America results and applying them to Britain: the two countries are very different. But there does seem to be a parallel between Republican problems in Presidential elections and Conservative difficulties in general elections.
A key finding of the Ashcroft polling reiterates that the pool of potential Conservative voters is smaller than that Labour ones (see above). It would be easy to write this finding off as a one-off result from a few marginal seats. None the less, it matches evidence from elsewhere.
The Ashcroft polling also suggests again that what voters currently want is a Labour Government headed by Cameron. Admittedly, that’s a caricature – but it’s an accurate one. Labour lead the Tories in every marginal seat bar one. But Cameron’s ratings out-shine Miliband’s.
I believe there is every chance that the Conservatives will be ahead in the polls by Christmas, and that Cameron can return to Downing Street after the next election – either at the head of a second coalition or, more likely, a minority government.
But one thing is certain. If he doesn’t make it back, it will be a sign that values are more important in elections than ever – and that the Tory reputational problem is as heavy a millstone as ever.