The Tory election strategy can’t just be about Cameron v Miliband – here’s why

There are many people, on both the Labour and Conservative side who are convinced that a Tory swingback is inevitable, and that the Tories could – despite having not led in a poll for 2 years – still end up as the largest party or even with a majority. The economy is often given as a reason – this is perfectly plausible, that is if people start to actually feel the benefits of a recovery in their pockets, rather than just being told it is happening.

However, the real Tory hope is that people will look at David Cameron, then look at Ed Miliband, and decide that the former is simply the better leader. I want to show some figures that dispute the idea that this will be a big factor at the next election.

Here are the last year of ‘net satisfaction’ ratings for Cameron and Miliband – that is to say, the number of voters happy with each leader’s performance, minus the number of voters unhappy. Cameron does have the edge over Miliband, as shown by the graph below:-

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However, note that both men are in negative territory – something which wasn’t the case for Cameron in the year or so before the 2010 election – see his comparative graph against Gordon Brown from the corresponding time:Image 

Cameron had huge leads over Brown at this corresponding time – yet it still didn’t translate into a Commons majority. Here is a third and final graph, showing Cameron’s ‘lead’ over Brown and Miliband in terms of Cameron’s rating minus the respective Labour leaders:

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The point is simple – if Cameron’s huge leads over Brown didn’t manage to secure the Tories a majority in 2010 – then why would smaller leads over Miliband be a decisive factor in 2015?

One final point I would make, which slightly counters that is the following – Cameron is the incumbent this time. The fact that he still has the edge over Miliband may show that voters may be less prepared to vote in a new prime minister on negative ratings, rather than the positive ratings Cameron held in the years before the 2010 election.

My own view is that a strategy of targeting Miliband personally will backfire on the Tories – only time will tell.

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This week’s GE2015 Projection

Based on the ComRes poll and two most recent YouGov polls (Opinium do not have 2010 vote in their data tables)

The LDs and Tories have both suffered at retaining their 2010 vote this week, mostly at the expense of UKIP. This has led to a larger predicted Labour majority.

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Sunday Poll Roundup

There were three polls last night, each one of them showed a Labour lead of 6:-

 

 

 

Obviously, all three of these polls are truly awful for the Lib Dems. They are into real core vote territory now, and it seems that debating Nigel Farage has actually made their already precarious position even worse. At a general election, I remain convinced that they will poll in double figures – but perhaps now the 10-11% range is looking more likely than the mid-teens.

Labour will be pleased that they have seen off the budget bounce – there is still danger for them with the high UKIP shares. It remains to be seen whether Cameron will have any more jokers left to play with regards to trying to win this UKIP vote back – it seemed that the budget would go some way to doing this, but any effect has dissipated extremely quickly.

UKIP themselves will be very pleased – especially with their 20% share with ComRes, which is their highest share with the pollster. There remains a disparity with the likes of YouGov, who have never shown UKIP anywhere near 20%, and I think this will remain a key talking point right up to the next election – measuring UKIP support is, in my opinion, the number one challenge for pollsters for 2015.

I’ll be posting up my weekly 2015 projection later, based on the current polling.

Should the Lib Dems be focusing on winning Tory votes?

In hindsight, the Liberal Democrats’ decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives looks like electoral suicide. Their vote – 22% in 2005, and 23% in 2010 – has been decimated according to the polls. Obviously, a large factor behind this is a big proportion of left-leaning Lib Dems switching their support to the Labour Party. It is likely that a large number of these switchers are lost for the foreseeable future – the idea of getting into bed with the Tories is, in their eyes, unforgivable. At the time, however, a perfectly rational spin could be put on it – and indeed Clegg still wheels the reasoning out now from time to time. 1) prove to the voters that you can be a responsible party of government, 2) appease the left by blocking some Tory proposals and 3) establish the Liberal Democrats firmly as the ‘centrist’ party between Labour and the Tories. This has failed – all of the polling shows that their vote is completely fragmenting, and they are being given very little credit by the voters for their role in government.
 
However, it may still be possible for the Lib Dems to recover their polling position slightly – and more importantly, save some more seats in 2015.
 
Firstly, forget any notion of a Lib Dem ‘wipeout’ in 2015. Their support bases in seats that they hold remain relatively strong – just see the Eastleigh by-election for proof – it was an impressive hold for a party in government. The Lib Dem vote will most likely be annihilated in Lab/Con marginals, and will also be hit hard in Lib Dem/Lab marginals. The crucial seats for the Lib Dems are the ones that they currently hold, where the Tories are in second place – there are 38 such seats, so there is plenty to play for.
 
The problem for the Lib Dems here is that they are also losing a number of voters directly to the Tories. The number is not as damaging as the flood of deserters to Labour, but it is certainly significant. Below is a chart of the % of LD>CON switchers over the past year, from the first Sunday Times/YouGov poll of each month.
 
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If the majority of LD seats are fought against the Tories, and the Lib Dems have been losing the Tories, then the plan seems obvious – do whatever it takes to win these voters back. They are an interesting group – why did they not vote Conservative in the last election, but now feel comfortable in doing so? If they were protest voters against governing parties, then why have they not switched to UKIP? The Lib Dems are also losing substantial numbers of voters directly to UKIP, so the issue of the EU doesn’t appear to be one that has much bearing on this.
 
In my opinion, these are mainly anti-Labour voters. At the last election, perhaps they (misguidedly) saw Clegg as having a genuine chance of having power, and preferred him as an alternative to Cameron. Now that the next election is a two horse race, they prefer Cameron to Miliband. In this case, maybe these voters will be just as hard for the Lib Dems to get back. But, in an election that is already going to be incredibly hard for them, it is probably their best hope.
 
There are perhaps already some signs of Clegg adopting this strategy. He aggressively attacked Labour when he stood in for David Cameron at PMQs. There are also rumours of Clegg appointing Danny Alexander in place of Vince Cable for the election campaign. Alexander is – perhaps even more so than Clegg himself – the ‘willing Lib Dem’ face of the coalition. He is likely to completely turn off any potential LD>LAB switchers from returning back to the party, whereas Cable still holds some degree of sway with left-leaners.
 
There are also probably people who voted Tory in 2010 who are still very much out of step with the views of anti-gay marriage component of the Tory party for example, which reared its head in this Parliament. The Lib Dems have to show that they are socially liberal, but can also be trusted on the economy, which as stated earlier, is what Nick Clegg’s plan was all along when deciding to go into coalition. It hasn’t paid off for him so far – but the Lib Dems would probably be wiser now to stick out their current path, attack Labour, and hope that they can recover some proportion of that chunk that have defected from Lib Dem to Tory. It could be crucial to their number of MPs and potential influence on the next Parliament.

Labour’s lead is dropping – will it continue to drop?

The general perception recently is that the Tories have been making up ground on Labour – in the last couple of months, this is the case – though perhaps not to the extent people think.

Labour lead April/May – average lead of 9.05

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Labour Lead June/July: average lead of 7.7

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So, Labour’s lead has dropped by around a point and a half over the last two months – perhaps not as dramatic as some may have expected. The key thing that jumps out from the second graph however, is how much more often Labour’s lead is dropping below the 6 point mark – it only happened twice in the whole of April/May, but has happened regularly in June/July. This suggests that there is scope for Labour’s lead to fall further.

There are now less than two years until the general election, and Labour will need to seize the initiative if they want to consolidate a good lead going into the campaign. This is now a quiet period politically, and personally I would not put a huge amount of stock in the polling until after conference season. If the Tories have a good conference, and Labour fail to capture the narrative at their own, then as the year draws to a close, we could see the Tories fighting back and narrowing the lead even further. 

Sunday YouGov Round-up – with Ed Miliband questions

YouGov Issue Polling

Sunday Polling Roundup

ComRes:

Opinium:

YouGov:

Are Labour really doing ‘badly’ in the polls?

One accusation often levelled at Ed Miliband and the Labour Party in general, is that they are not establishing a big enough opinion poll lead during mid-term. From a personal point of view, I believe that the circumstances of this election are completely different to any in my (short) lifetime, and Labour do not necessarily have to rack up big leads to win in two years time. However, I did think it would be interesting to look at how the Conservatives were doing in the run up to 2010 at the same point.

I have looked at the polls from the first six months of 2008 (two years before the last election) and the first six months of 2013 (two years before the next election). I have excluded this year’s Tuesday-Friday YouGov polls, as they weren’t running back in 2008, and it would give 2013 a much bigger sample size. Here are the graphs showing the respective leads in the polls:

Conservative leads in first 6 months of 2008:-Image

Labour leads in first six months of 2013:Image

A couple of things stick out from the data. Firstly, it’s obvious that the Conservatives were getting higher highs in their mid-term – going up to the high 20s at one point. Conversely, Labour have never really pushed beyond the 15 point mark in terms of their own lead.

One could argue that these leads did not win the Conservatives a majority anyway – true, but you have to remember that Labour can win a majority with a far smaller lead over the Tories than vice-versa – just look at 2005 when Labour won a 66 seat majority on a 3% lead. Miliband’s task is not as great as Cameron’s was in 2010.

What happens when we average out those numbers though?

The average Conservative lead over the first six months of 2008 was 9.93.

The average Labour lead over the first six months of 2013 is 9.82.

The difference is minimal. As the graphs show, the Conservative leads only started to really hit big numbers towards the middle of 2008 – or roughly where we are now. Who is to say that Labour won’t start gradually increasing their lead over the next month or so?

A key thing to remember is that in all likelihood, no party is going to win the next election by 10 points. Another thing that we should remember is that the leads that the Tories were getting in 2008 were after 11 years of a Labour government – we have only had 3 years of the Coalition, and huge leads for Labour so soon after being kicked out of office were always going to be unlikely.

I am fairly sure that no matter how well Labour were currently doing in the polls, some would find a reason for doom and gloom – the economy will recover, Cameron will dominate the leaders’ debate, etc etc. The fact is that these things could happen with Labour on a 20 point lead, and it would be equally soft. If Labour’s lead is still at the 9-10 point mark over the next year, they will most likely be satisfied. It is a good base to fight from a year before a general election.

Today’s YouGov – with issue voting