Friday, 21 January 2011

A couple of things…

I have noticed a couple of interesting articles over the past couple of days that are worth a look at. Not matter what you political views on Lord Ashcroft, from an impartial point of view the polling he commissions is extremely useful. It provides evidence on topical subjects which seemed destined to be consigned to endless anecdotal debate. His latest gem is a call back poll from last week's Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election. In his commentary Ashcroft argues something we here at had felt all along – the Conservatives could not win.

Although there was strong evidence that the Tory voters from last May propped up the Liberal Democrat vote share it wasn't because of the alleged lack of campaigning on the blues part. 65% of CON>LD switchers said their decision was because of the 2010 General Election result. The fact Elwyn Watkins came just 103 votes shy of winning the seat last time framed the election as a straight Labour/Liberal Democrat fight. In my opinion, the 'low-key' campaign from the Tories was as much about saving pennies than saving the Lib Dems. Just because the Tories have more money than the other parties doesn't mean they should be wasting it on fruitless endeavours.

The other article that caught my eye was Nick Sparrow's Political Betting debut. If you're not familiar with the name, Sparrow is a former head of political polling at ICM as has been at the forefront of psephology for the past two decades. I could offer a more detailed introduction but it would look a lot like Mike Smithson's! The article offers hope to Liberal Democrats as he argues the Voting Intention question doesn't fit the current political climate. As the next General Election is over four years away, and we have no idea how the two coalition partners will present themselves, asking respondents how they would vote tomorrow is a bit academic.

"The question thus assumes that, at a stroke, the coalition has been formally wound up, or breaks down, that all the main parties have already gone their separate ways and have campaigned on different manifestos for votes in an election campaign ending tomorrow."

Sparrow argues a question along the lines of 'Do you think the Government is moving voters in the right or wrong direction' would be far better to track over time. Of course, the state of the economy in four years will play a huge part in how the three main parties will perform at the next general election, and I dare anyone to predict that right now!

My reading of both these is that although the Liberal Democrats' drop in support is very real, it is not quite as bad as VI polling is showing and may not produce the apocalyptic demise predicted by some of their political opponents. Right now it seems certain that they will lose votes in 2015 how this translates into seats is far trickier to predict. The Ashcroft poll indicates that the Lib Dems held on to just over half their vote from 2010, and there was clearly an appetite to support the best placed non-Labour candidate. Furthermore, this bye took place soon after the huge furore surrounding the Tuition fee rise, which will surely have dampened by the next General Election. Essentially, the fate of the Lib Dems rests in whether the Coalition is deemed a success in 2015, and how much credit they can take if it is. If the future looks bright in four years then even if they are sitting around 15% in the polls I'd fancy a fair few incumbent Lib Dem MPs to hang on against any UNS projections. As for UNS projections based on today's polls? I wonder why anyone bothers producing them!


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