Labour are ahead by six points in my latest general election voting intention poll, conducted over the past weekend. The survey puts Labour on 35% (up three points since last week), the Conservatives on 29% (down five), the Lib Dems unchanged on 9% and UKIP down one point at 14%. This looks like quite a reversal in the week since the inaugural Ashcroft National Poll found the first Tory lead since 2012. What is going on?
Ten general election voting intention surveys have been published between last Monday’s poll and today’s. Of those ten, two showed a Tory lead, one was a tie, and seven put Labour ahead. Baffling though this may look, it is not completely inexplicable. Statistics being what they are, and with all polls subject to margins of error, it is likely that these results are scattered around a mean; this currently looks like a very small advantage to Labour, and one which has undoubtedly narrowed since the half-way point in the parliament. While the Conservative share has held fairly steady over this time, Labour have receded. That said, there is also some volatility in voting intention related to the European election campaigns: over the last week Euro polls have been published suggesting leads for not two but three different parties.
All of these things are good reasons to look at the longer term trends in polling rather than individual surveys – which in turn is why I am running the Ashcroft National Poll every week. The tight national picture means more than ever that who ends up as the largest party will more than ever be determined by what happens in marginal constituencies. My first survey of individual battleground seats will be published on Saturday.
Today’s poll also gives some indication on some of the underlying attitudes that will help determine people’s ultimate voting decision. The foundation of the Tory campaign over the next year will undoubtedly be the claim that Britain is heading in the right direction. At it stands voters are quite evenly divided on the question, with 44% agreeing that this is the case and 49% saying the country is going in the wrong direction. Swing voters are almost exactly evenly split, with 47% saying “right” and 48% “wrong”. Conservative voters are predictably the most optimistic, with 83% saying “right”; perhaps more surprisingly, more than a third of Labour voters agree. UKIP voters are by far the most pessimistic: 70% of them say the country is heading the wrong way. Exactly half of men say the country is going in the right direction, compared to only 38% of women.
My question on which party has the best approach to various issues is also revealing. For much of this parliament my polling has found that while the Tories were thought best placed to tackle the deficit and the debt, Labour led on “getting the economy growing and creating jobs” (indeed Labour had the edge on this measure as recently as January). The Conservatives now lead by eight points on this question, by 27 points on “cutting the deficit and the debt” and by 17 points on “steering the economy through difficult times”. While Labour have a 13-point lead on “tackling the cost of living”, the Tories are six points ahead on “introducing practical policies that will work in the long run”. The Conservatives are also thought the best party when it comes to dealing with crime, welfare reform and immigration; Labour have the advantage on “improving standards in schools” (by eight points) and “improving the NHS” (by 21 points).
Swing voters give the Tories a slightly bigger lead on the deficit and the debt. However, they put the party ahead on the economy and jobs by a narrower margin than voters as a whole, and give Labour a bigger lead on the NHS, schools and the cost of living.
As for which party has the best approach when it comes to Britain’s relationship with the European Union – the question that is at least nominally being answered in this week’s elections – there is little to choose between Labour (27%), the Conservatives (25%) and UKIP (21%), with the Lib Dems languishing on 13%. Among swing voters there is even less to separate the top three (25% name the Tories, 25% Labour and 24% UKIP).
Fifteen per cent of Tories, 12% of Labour voters and one in ten Lib Dems prefer UKIP’s attitude to the EU. We will have to assume that the 3% of UKIP voters who think the Lib Dems have the best approach to Europe know what they are doing.