UKIP lead the Conservatives by 44% to 32% in the Rochester & Strood by-election, according to my poll of the constituency completed yesterday. Labour are a distant third with 17%, with the Liberal Democrats on 2%.
The previous three polls of the campaign have all found the Conservatives on between 30% and 33%. While UKIP appear to have consolidated their position over the course of the campaign, Labour have declined from the mid-twenties to the mid-teens.
In my poll just over half (54%) of 2010 Conservative voters naming a party said they would stay with the Tories in the by-election, while 44% would switch to UKIP. The proportion of former Labour voters moving to UKIP was nearly as high, at 40%. Only one in ten of those who voted Lib Dem at the last election said they would do so again next week. Nearly one third (32%) said they would vote Conservative, with the remainder as likely to go to UKIP (23%) as Labour (23%). Twelve per cent said they would vote Green.
For Rochester voters as a whole the biggest reason for their choice of party was that “they have the best policies on particular issues I care about”. UKIP voters were more likely than most to say a large part of their decision had been that the party “has the best candidate locally” (70%), that they were making “a protest to show I’m unhappy with all the main parties at the moment” (62%) and that they were sending “a message that I’m unhappy with the party I usually support” (57%).
In the constituency as a whole just under a quarter (24%) of voters said they would rather see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. Nearly two thirds of UKIP voters said they would rather see David Cameron as PM than the alternative. Though only one in ten said they were satisfied with his performance, a majority (53%) said they were dissatisfied but would rather see him in Downing Street than Miliband.
Not surprisingly, the local campaign has been intense and closely fought. More than four out of five voters said they had received literature, direct mail, visits, telephone calls or emails from the Conservatives (81%) and UKIP (84%). Labour had reached just under two thirds of voters (63%) and the Lib Dems less than a quarter (24%).
Though Mark Reckless looks set to be returned to parliament next Thursday, the evidence is that he can expect a battle next May. Of those naming a party, 36% of Rochester voters said they would probably vote Conservative at the general election, 35% UKIP and 21% Labour. Just under three quarters (72%) of UKIP by-election voters said they would stay with their party next year, with 11% saying they would switch to the Tories and a further 11% saying they did not know what they would do.
As ever, it is important to remember that this poll is a snapshot with more than a week of campaigning still to go. We could see further repercussions from current dramas including the European Arrest Warrant saga and the rumbling Labour leadership crisis and, as we have seen in some previous by-elections, there is still time for UKIP to hoover up uncommitted voters from parties who are out of the running.