The first Ashcroft National Poll of 2015 has produced an unexpected result. The Conservatives lead Labour by six points, by 34% to 28%, with the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 8%, UKIP down three points at 16%, the Greens up three points at 8% and the SNP down one point at 4%.
It is important to keep results like this in perspective, and to look at the overall trend rather than any individual poll. The ANP is subject to a margin of error of 3% – meaning the Conservative share could be low enough, and the Labour score high enough, for the parties to be tied on 31%. Indeed only the Conservative score, up four points, has moved outside the margin of error since the last ANP in December. Alternatively, we could be seeing the start of a shift in opinion as the choice looms larger at the start of an election year. Let us see what future results tell us.
I must also report a methodological change the ANP for 2015. For the first time in my national polling I have decided to prompt for UKIP in the main voting intention question, along with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Decisions like this are always a fine judgment. However, along with a number of other pollsters, most recently YouGov, I have concluded that the party are now sufficiently established in the public mind (and will remain so, not least because Ofcom propose to treat UKIP as a “major party” for the purposes of the allocation of broadcast coverage), that prompting is unlikely to inflate their share artificially – a point that seems to be confirmed that their ANP score has fallen from the 19% they achieved unprompted in December.
The Conservatives’ election campaign, launched last week, rests on the proposition that Britain is on the right track and must not be diverted. I found people more likely to think the country is heading in the wrong direction (52%, up three points since last May), than the right direction (40%, down four points). Women were more pessimistic than men – only 35% thought Britain was heading in the right direction. UKIP voters were the most pessimistic of all, with more than three quarters (76%) thinking the country is going the wrong way. (Of course, if someone thinks the country is on the wrong track it does not necessarily follow that they think a Miliband-led Labour government would put it on the right one).
On the question of the economy and people’s personal circumstances, nearly a quarter (23%) of voters said they thought the economy was still not recovering from the recession, while a further two fifths (39%) said a recovery was underway but they did not feel any better off. Meanwhile, 38% said either that they were benefiting personally from a recovery (14%) or that the recession did not make them any worse off in the first place (24%).
This represents a combined eight-point drop since September in the proportion saying there was no recovery or that they were not feeling the benefits of one, and a seven-point rise in the total saying either that they were benefiting or had been no worse off in the first place.
As I have often noted the success of the Tories’ economic message relies on people feeling that, at the end of the road to a stronger economy, there will be something in it for them.