Lord AshcroftLabour are on course for a comfortable victory in this week’s Heywood & Middleton by-election. In a poll completed at the weekend I found the party on 47 per cent, 19 points ahead of UKIP on 28 per cent, with the Conservatives in third place on 16 per cent.

Nearly eight in ten local voters, including 77 per cent of those supporting UKIP, said a large part of the reason for their voting decision was that their party “have the best policies on issues I care about”. Not surprisingly UKIP voters were more likely than others to say they were making a “a protest to show I’m unhappy with all the main parties at the moment” (61 per cent) or sending “a message that I’m unhappy with the party I usually support” (49 per cent). Unlike in Clacton, UKIP voters were less likely than average to say they had made their choice because the party “has the best candidate locally”.

Only around one in six voters (17 per cent) said they were already feeling some of the benefits of an economic recovery. While most Labour voters said they were either already feeling some benefits (10 per cent) or expected to do so at some point (48 per cent), a majority of UKIP supporters (54 per cent) said they were not feeling any such benefits and nor did they expect to.

The local campaign seems to have been closely fought by the principal contenders, with more than two thirds saying they had received visits, phone calls, literature, letters or emails from Labour (69 per cent) and UKIP (68 per cent).

Nationally, the Conservatives are ahead in this week’s Ashcroft National Poll, conducted over the past weekend. Though the Tories are unchanged since last week on 32 per cent, Labour have fallen to 30 per cent, with the Lib Dems down a point on 7 per cent and UKIP static at 17 per cent.

The result probably reflects a successful party conference and the positive coverage of David Cameron’s speech, especially in contrast to the slating endured by Ed Miliband. Perhaps the Lib Dems will use their week in Glasgow to good effect.

The figures also continue a consistent feature of the ANP, which is that the combined score for Labour and the Conservatives has regularly been lower than that found by the regular online pollsters, who often find the two parties dividing 70 per cent of the vote between them. The corollary is that UKIP tend to remain a few points higher in the ANP than in most online polls – indeed for the last three weeks I have found them within two points of their Euro-election peak in June. We will see whether this pattern continues as the election approaches and voters begin to focus on the choice at hand.

The coming weeks will also show whether the Tory lead is a short-term blip or the start of a new pattern in public opinion that can be sustained. As I observed after Cameron’s speech last week, the popular themes he expounded will need to be developed over the remaining months, and as I explained in my own conference presentation, many voters who are considering voting Conservative still need a good deal of reassurance.

Despite a good week for the Conservatives voters remain divided over whether or not Britain is heading in the right direction. This weekend number saying “right direction” was up one point to 45 per cent since I last asked this question in May, but the proportion saying “wrong direction” was also up a point, to 50 per cent. Five per cent said they didn’t know. UKIP voters were the most pessimistic, with nearly three quarters (72 per cent) saying the country was heading the wrong way. Swing voters, who do not know how they will vote or say they may change their mind, remained evenly split: 47 per cent said “right”, 48 per cent said “wrong”: both figures were unchanged since five months ago.

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36 comments for: Lord Ashcroft: The Conservatives are two points ahead in my weekly poll – plus, a new poll of Heywood & Middleton

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