The Conservatives are ahead in this week’s Ashcroft National Poll, conducted over the past weekend. Though the Tories are unchanged since last week on 32%, Labour have fallen to 30%, with the Lib Dems down a point on 7% and UKIP static at 17%.
The result probably reflects a successful party conference and the positive coverage of David Cameron’s speech, especially in contrast to the slating endured by Ed Miliband. Perhaps the Lib Dems will use their week in Glasgow to good effect.
The figures also continue a consistent feature of the ANP, which is that the combined score for Labour and the Conservatives has regularly been lower than that found by the regular online pollsters, who often find the two parties dividing 70% of the vote between them. The corollary is that UKIP tend to remain a few points higher in the ANP than in most online polls – indeed for the last three weeks I have found them within two points of their Euro-election peak in June. We will see whether this pattern continues as the election approaches and voters begin to focus on the choice at hand.
The coming weeks will also show whether the Tory lead is a short-term blip or the start of a new pattern in public opinion that can be sustained. As I observed after Cameron’s speech last week, the popular themes he expounded will need to be developed over the remaining months, and as I explained in my own conference presentation, many voters who are considering voting Conservative still need a good deal of reassurance.
Despite a good week for the Conservatives voters remain divided over whether or not Britain is heading in the right direction. This weekend number saying “right direction” was up one point to 45% since I last asked this question in May, but the proportion saying “wrong direction” was also up a point, to 50%. Five per cent said they didn’t know. UKIP voters were the most pessimistic, with nearly three quarters (72%) saying the country was heading the wrong way. Swing voters, who do not know how they will vote or say they may change their mind, remained evenly split: 47% said “right”, 48% said “wrong”: both figures were unchanged since five months ago.