The factors that point to a healthy Tory majority
When Theresa May called the election she was touching 50% in some polls while Labour was down to 25%. No longer. The gap has now narrowed so much that some polls, most notably from YouGov, have pointed to a hung parliament.
So are we in for a big shock? The evidence suggests not.
A number of significant factors point to an increased Tory majority:
Tory support is solid and bolstered by UKIP switchers
Despite a narrowing lead the Tories have remained ahead in the polls and their level of support has remained consistently high. An important reason for that is the movement of a large chunk of former UKIP voters behind Theresa May.
Nearly four million people voted UKIP in 2015, giving them a final vote share of 12.6%. Speaking at a Lexington event earlier this morning, ComRes chief Andrew Hawkins explained that 50% of those people now say they will vote Conservative.
That would be worth six extra percentage points to the Tory vote share, which when allied to the six-point lead they held in 2015, accounts for the 12-point advantage the Conservatives hold in the last two ComRes polls. Although 23% of 2015 UKIP voters still support the party, the party is not standing candidates in many seats and a proportion of these votes are likely to also go to the Conservatives.
Labour’s new support is unreliable
The striking rise in support for Labour – which is the reason why the polls have narrowed – rests to a large degree on first time voters or people who have not voted before. Given the historically low level of voting amongst those groups, there must be a significant question mark about the likelihood that these electors will actually turnout. To illustrate the point, Professor Philip Cowley referred our audience to a recent poll that found one in ten of current Labour supporters failed to turn out either in 2015 or in the EU referendum.
Those findings are leading some, including on the Labour side, to conclude that the inflation in support the party has seen during the campaign will eventually dissolve in a similar fashion to the way in which ‘Cleggmania’ drained away in 2010.
In any event, even if Labour’s first time and non-voting supporters do materialise at the polls, that will not guarantee more seats. These electors are not uniformly spread across the country. Many are concentrated in constituencies where Labour is already the incumbent, notably in University seats. But Labour needs younger voters to turnout in Darlington, not just in Cambridge.
The SNP may be past their peak – but Scottish Labour is still on the floor
The assumption that Scotland will return at least 45 SNP MPs on Friday is having a subtle, but significant, impact on the narrative in this election. In a parallel universe where the Scottish Labour vote had not all but collapsed, we could be even be talking about the possibility of a Jeremy Corbyn Government, not just a hung parliament. The Conservatives and the Lib Dems may make some advances and the SNP, which has been on the defensive throughout this campaign, will be some way below its 2015 peak, but they are still likely to take around 45 out of 59 Scottish MPs on Friday morning to be nationalist. The loss of what was once its electoral heartland means Labour cannot even dream about forming a majority government.
Polling during the campaign has made the election less certain and more interesting than anyone expected. The Tory share has remained solid, helped by new backing from former UKIPers. But Labour has also benefited from the collapse of smaller parties, such as the Lib Dems and the Greens, and is enjoying backing from younger voters and those who previously haven’t voted. Indeed a key feature of the campaign is the return – perhaps temporary – of two party politics.
Polls suggest they are going to share over 80% of the total vote – which Andrew Hawkins reminded us would be the highest two-party share since 1970. But the polls are divided on what the eventual gap between the two main parties will be. Pollsters differ depending on the precise turnout model they have used and this has contributed to uncertainty about the final result. However, for the reasons outlined above the central expectation remains that the Conservatives will win with an increased majority. An emboldened Theresa May is likely to be shaping her new Cabinet by Friday afternoon.