Sunday, 9 January 2011

Polling shows Labour ahead in OldE & Sad

The eagerly awaited polls for the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election have been published and it's good news for Labour. They are well ahead of the Liberal Democrats in polls by ICM and Populus, although one from a relatively unknown company Survation shows the race a lot tighter. The polling also confirms the Lib Dems are the main challengers to Labour, which should put to bed any notion that the Tories might come through the middle to take the seat.






Debbie Abrahams (LAB)





Elwyn Watkins (LD)





Kashif Ali (CON)





*Survation didn't reallocate undecideds. Published figures of LAB 31%, LD 30%, CON 6%, OTH 8%, [UND 25%].

Before I offer an ounce of analysis I feel obliged to put out a disclaimer. Polling individual constituencies is notoriously difficult because of the small population size. Furthermore, the nature by-elections mean the electorate is far more volatile than it would be in a General Election. Polls are only ever a snapshot of the current opinion and that can change quickly in a contest such as this.

Right now we can say one thing for definite; the order of the three main parties has been confirmed. Labour are leading, as expected, and the Liberal Democrats have managed to squeeze the Conservative vote sufficiently to make this a two horse race going into the final few days. Furthermore, Labour appear to have substantial lead over the Lib Dems which will be tough to overcome so close to polling day. The ICM and Populus polls are consistent with each other and they show a 17% lead for the Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams. Survation offers a glimmer of hope for the Lib Dems, but with a sample size of less than 300 the margin of error on their figures is considerably larger.

Although the Liberal Democrats are a long way behind Labour these polls could hold the key to producing a surprise victory. Despite some ramping about the Conservatives chances (mainly from Labour activists, it must be said) they were never very likely to challenge for the seat. They are not very strong at Council level in the constituency and they have a poor record in by-elections. To borrow a quote from Kavanagh and Cowley1, 'driving through the night to sleep on someone's sofa is not a traditional Tory value!' As a result some Conservative voters have already tactically switched to the Liberal Democrats, partly plugging the hole left by LD>LAB defections. Now Kashif Ali has been essentially ruled out of the running I expect a few more Tories to follow suit and get behind Watkins.

Of course, Liberal Democrats will not be able to win on Tory tactical votes alone. In the unlikely event that all the Tory voters swing behind Elwyn Watkins Labour would still hold the seat. Therefore the biggest threat to Labour is that their supporters see these polls and become complacent. Having such a lead is not going to help them get out their vote and with heavy rain forecast for Thursday turnout could be low. But with such a comfortable lead, if we ignore Survation, this is very much Labour's to lose.


1 Kavanagh, D & Cowley, P; The British General Election of 2010; p. 241.


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