By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
Lord Ashcroft has just published the third edition of his 'Project Blueprint' polling* – polling which seeks to examine the snakes and ladders between where we are and the Tory majority we desire at the next election. It contains a mountain of evidence but in this post I highlight some of the key findings.
(1) WE SHOULD FOCUS ON THOSE WILLING TO VOTE TORY
One of the key benefits of Lord Ashcroft's research is the size of its samples. 8,000 plus on this occasion. More potent is the way he breaks voters down into four groups:
- Loyalists (those who basically always vote Conservative);
- Joiners (Those who've recently become Tory voters);
- Considerers (Those open to supporting our party); and
- Defectors (those supporters we've recently lost and need to win back).
Most polls give us the views of all people. The Conservative Party will never win all voters, especially the diehard Labour and Lib Dem voters. The Ashcroft research forces us to focus on the preferences of people who genuinely might support us. There are some big differences in attitude. Across the population as a whole, for example, the Cameron/Osborne economic ticket is preferred to the Miliband/Balls ticket by just 53% to 47%. Amongst 'considerers' the advantage is 81% to 19% and 76% to 24% amongst defectors.
(2) ECONOMIC ISSUES ARE KEY REASON WHY SOME VOTERS WHO DIDN'T SUPPORT PARTY IN 2010 ARE NOW DOING SO
Lord Ashcroft: "The most important factor attracting Joiners has been the view that the Conservatives are the best party to manage the economy; 95% of them say they most trust Cameron and Osborne rather than Miliband and Balls. They are impressed that the government is sticking to its guns over difficult policies, and are more likely than most voters to give high marks for Cameron’s performance. Two thirds of Joiners voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 and many will still consider the Lib Dems at the next election."
(3) 34% OF PEOPLE WHO VOTED CONSERVATIVE IN 2010 HAVE DEFECTED
14% of this group say they don't know who'll they support next time. 10% say they'll vote UKIP. The 10% remainder say they'll vote Labour, Liberal Democrat or for someone else.
(4) MOST PEOPLE DON'T APPRECIATE THE PROGRESS THAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS MADE IN CUTTING THE DEFICIT
Lord Ashcroft: "Most people greatly underestimate the proportion of the deficit that has been eliminated so far, and some even think it has grown. When told that the deficit has in fact been reduced by a quarter, they are pleasantly surprised. It tells them that the policy is working, and that there is an end in sight, even though it is some distance away. They cannot understand why the government does not make more of this achievement. The answer, I suspect, is that they fear it reminds people just how far there is to go and, by implication, how many cuts are still to come."
(5) THE U-TURNERY IS HURTING THE GOVERNMENT BUT…
Reports tell us that Downing Street has been relatively relaxed about the number of policy u-turns that it has had to make. Lord Ashcroft's polling suggests it should be less relaxed. While voters like u-turns if they suggest the government is in listening mode the frequency of the zig-zaggery has begun to plant the idea in voters' minds that policies aren't been thought through.
(6) …DESPITE THE U-TURN PROBLEM, LONG-TERMERY IS TORIES' BIGGEST ASSET
As the chart below shows, a willingness to take tough decisions for the long-term is a key asset for the Conservative Party. Key weaknesses include the perception that the Conservative Party isn't rooted in fairness and in a sense that it doesn't really represent the whole nation and all types of people.
Click on the table to enlarge.
(7) THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY IS STRONGEST ON WELFARE, DEFICIT AND EUROPE, WEAKEST ON NHS, ENVIRONMENT AND FAIRNESS
See answers to Question 15 in the PDF linked to at the bottom of this blog.
(8) CAMERON STILL AN ASSET FOR THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
Although his ratings are declining the Ashcroft research confirms something I wrote about yesterday – Cameron is still strongly preferred as 'best PM' when matched against Ed Miliband. People who are considering whether or not to vote Conservative think Cameron is a better PM by 69% to 12%. Even among those who've defected from the Tory column, Cameron enjoys a 69% to 21% advantage over Ed Miliband.
(9) OSBORNE, HOWEVER, IS NOT AN ASSET BUT BORIS IS A HUGE PLUS
The Ashcroft polling won't help George Osborne. Among all voters the Ashcroft research finds he has the second most negative rating of any senior UK politician. Boris and William Hague, in contrast, are very popular. The Mayor of London elicits more positive feelings among the voters that the Tories need to win (and have recently lost) than David Cameron. See table below.
Click on table to enlarge.
(10) AN "OVERTLY RIGHT-WING AGENDA" MIGHT BE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE
That's Lord Ashcroft's conclusion: "Intriguingly, our analysis found as many potential Conservatives who voted Lib Dem at the last election as 2010 Tories who now say they will vote UKIP. If we are to win a majority, these two groups are equally important. For these potential Joiners, as well as other Considerers and Loyalists, it is the economy that matters most. There are more votes to be lost by adopting a more overtly right-wing agenda than there are to be gained."
The report doesn't define what he means by "overtly right-wing". Are tax cuts for the low-paid "overtly right-wing"? Is cutting the aid budget right-wing? Is a tax allowance for married couples who look after dependents right-wing? Is a vote on the EU really right-wing?
I can't see any evidence that LibDem/Tory-inclined considerers are as likely to plump for the Conservatives as defectors to UKIP can be won back but the scale of the two numbers is a fact. While we need to win back Tory defectors to UKIP, that won't be enough for a majority – we also need to look to Lib Dem-inclined considerers.
* More than 8,000 voters took part in the survey, from 21st to 28th May.