My latest round of constituency polling includes an assortment of seats and some intriguing results.
Of the eighteen seats I have polled over the past four weeks, eleven are held by the Liberal Democrats with the Conservatives in second place. These have bigger majorities than those I have previously surveyed on the Lib Dem battleground, from 9.3 per cent (Cheltenham) to 15.2 per cent (Hazel Grove). To these I have added Watford, the most closely contested of the Conservative seats I have polled where the Lib Dems were second in 2010.
I have also looked at Burnley and Birmingham Yardley, two Lib Dem-held Labour targets not yet covered in my research. And though it does not fit easily into any category, having had an independent MP over two parliaments who finished second at the last election, I have also looked at Wyre Forest.
In addition to these I thought it would be interesting to poll the constituencies of the three leaders of the opposition: Ed Miliband’s Doncaster North, Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam (the electoral opposition, if not technically the Opposition) and Thanet South, where Nigel Farage hopes to be elected next May.
First, the Lib Dem battleground. Having found Labour ahead in Watford in September, this time the Conservatives were back in the lead, by two points. There is little to choose between the parties and the result could still go any of three ways.
In the Lib Dem-held Conservative targets I found an overall swing of two points to the Tories – but only because the fall in the Lib Dem vote (13 points) was even bigger than that in the Conservative vote (9 points). As is often the case, this overall swing masks significant variations between seats – indeed the swings were not even in the same direction.
There was some good news for the Conservatives – I found the party a point ahead in North Devon, where the Lib Dems are defending a majority of 5,821, and five points ahead in Portsmouth South, where the nine-point swing to the Tories suggest the sitting MP’s antics have generated the opposite of an incumbency effect.
Elsewhere in this selection, most of the Lib Dem MPs concerned seem quite well entrenched. Outside Portsmouth South, the biggest swing to the Conservatives was 4.5 per cent in Hazel Grove, which still leaves the Lib Dems with a 6-point lead. At the other end of the scale, I found swings to the Lib Dems in both Carshalton & Wallington and Thornbury & Yate, where Tom Brake and Steve Webb each saw their vote share fall by just 5 points compared to 2010, while the Tory share was down by nearly three times as much.
In the Lib Dem-held Labour targets I found the challengers comfortably ahead in Burnley, with a 13-point lead and a 10 per cent swing, but the Lib Dems holding on by three points in Birmingham Yardley. In Wyre Forest I found the Conservatives ahead and UKIP second with 27 per cent of the vote, evidently benefiting from circumstances in which many local people have not voted for one of the main parties since 1997.
In the eleven Lib Dem-Conservative seats the powerful incumbency factor enjoyed by many Lib Dem MPs is clearly on display. A quarter of those saying they would vote Labour in the standard voting intention question (“which party would you vote for in an election tomorrow?”) switched to the Lib Dems when asked the localised question (“thinking about your own parliamentary constituency at the next general election and the candidates who are likely to stand for Westminster there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for?”) Seventeen per cent of those initially saying they would vote Tory did the same, as did 12 per cent of those saying they would vote UKIP.
Interestingly, 15 per cent of 2010 Conservative voters who said they would vote UKIP in the first question switched back to the Tories in the second question. Even so, I found 17 per cent of 2010 Conservative voters saying they would switch to UKIP in their own constituency – as would 13 per cent of 2010 Labour voters and 10 per cent of former Lib Dems.
Conservative switchers to UKIP were less optimistic about the economy, both for themselves and for the country as a whole, than remaining Tories. However, 92 per cent of Conservative-UKIP defectors said they would rather have Cameron as Prime Minister than Miliband, and two thirds said their preferred outcome of the next election was a Conservative overall majority.
Mr Miliband may be relieved to hear he is 12 points ahead in Doncaster North, a seat he won by 26 points in 2010. I found Labour on 40 per cent, with UKIP second on 28 per cent and the Conservatives third on 23 per cent. That being the case, I wonder how many Doncaster Tories would be prepared to lend UKIP their vote, just this once?
In Sheffield Hallam, I found Nick Clegg ahead by just three points (and only on the second question where voters were reminded to think of their own constituency – on the standard voting intention question Labour were ahead). I would be amazed if the Lib Dem leader ended up losing his seat, but remember he won 53 per cent of the vote in Hallam at the height of Cleggmania.
Now seems a good time to issue my customary reminder that these polls are snapshots not predictions – but on the basis of this snapshot Nigel Farage may not find himself in parliament at all. I found the Tories five points ahead in Thanet South, with 34 per cent to UKIP’s 29 per cent.
There is little good news for Miliband in the Doncaster poll, but it is not all bad: his constituents think he is performing nearly as well as David Cameron. Asked how good a job each leader was doing on a scale from zero to ten, they awarded a mean score of 4.40 to the PM, and to 4.27 to their MP. On the whole they thought Farage was doing best, giving him 4.83. Still, nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of Miliband’s constituents thought he would make the best Prime Minister of the four, compared to only 23 per cent who chose David Cameron.
When it came to a straight choice, the local news was less good. Only 18 per cent in Doncaster North said they were satisfied with Cameron’s performance as PM; a further 27 per cent said they were dissatisfied but preferred him to the alternative. Only 35 per cent of his constituents said they would rather have Miliband as PM than the incumbent.
In Sheffield Hallam, Cameron was the highest-rated leader with a performance rating of 5.10, followed by Farage on 4.35. Ed Miliband was third. Nick Clegg was not.
In Thanet South, the local candidate again came second to Cameron, with 4.61 to the PM’s 4.94. Indeed his own potential constituents awarded him a slightly lower score than the people of Doncaster North. Perhaps he should swap seats?
When it comes to managing the economy in the best interests of Britain, 35 per cent of North Doncastrians most trusted Miliband and Ed Balls – which, to be fair to the Eds, is only a fraction behind the 38 per cent who said they most trusted Cameron and George Osborne.
Finally, nearly one third (32 per cent) of Miliband’s constituents said their preferred election outcome was a Labour government. But only 24 per cent of them expected one.
>Visit LordAshcroftPolls.com for full details of Lord Ashcroft’s research and to sign up for news alerts.