The first Ashcroft National Poll of 2015 has produced an unexpected result. The Conservatives lead Labour by six points, by 34 per cent to 28 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 8 per cent, UKIP down three points at 16 per cent, the Greens up three points at 8 per cent and the SNP down one point at 4 per cent.

It is important to keep results like this in perspective, and to look at the overall trend rather than any individual poll. The ANP is subject to a margin of error of 3 per cent – meaning the Conservative share could be low enough, and the Labour score high enough, for the parties to be tied on 31 per cent. Indeed only the Conservative score, up four points, has moved outside the margin of error since the last ANP in December. Alternatively, we could be seeing the start of a shift in opinion as the choice looms larger at the start of an election year. Let us see what future results tell us.

I must also report a methodological change the ANP for 2015. For the first time in my national polling I have decided to prompt for UKIP in the main voting intention question, along with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Decisions like this are always a fine judgment. However, along with a number of other pollsters, most recently YouGov, I have concluded that the party are now sufficiently established in the public mind (and will remain so, not least because Ofcom propose to treat UKIP as a “major party” for the purposes of the allocation of broadcast coverage), that prompting is unlikely to inflate their share artificially – a point that seems to be confirmed that their ANP score has fallen from the 19 per cent they achieved unprompted in December.

The Conservatives’ election campaign, launched last week, rests on the proposition that Britain is on the right track and must not be diverted. I found people more likely to think the country is heading in the wrong direction (52 per cent, up three points since last May), than the right direction (40 per cent, down four points). Women were more pessimistic than men – only 35 per cent thought Britain was heading in the right direction. UKIP voters were the most pessimistic of all, with more than three quarters (76 per cent) thinking the country is going the wrong way. (Of course, if someone thinks the country is on the wrong track it does not necessarily follow that they think a Miliband-led Labour government would put it on the right one).

On the question of the economy and people’s personal circumstances, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of voters said they thought the economy was still not recovering from the recession, while a further two fifths (39 per cent) said a recovery was underway but they did not feel any better off. Meanwhile, 38 per cent said either that they were benefiting personally from a recovery (14 per cent) or that the recession did not make them any worse off in the first place (24 per cent).

This represents a combined eight-point drop since September in the proportion saying there was no recovery or that they were not feeling the benefits of one, and a seven-point rise in the total saying either that they were benefiting or had been no worse off in the first place.

As I have often noted the success of the Tories’ economic message relies on people feeling that, at the end of the road to a stronger economy, there will be something in it for them.

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