Is electoral lightning about to strike twice?
Greg Cook, Lexington
All the polls published over the last week have shown an increase in the Labour share and most a reduction in the Conservative lead. That is encouraging many to draw parallels with the 2017 election when a large Conservative advantage at the start of the campaign was whittled down to just two percentage points by polling day.
|ICM Research||25 November 2019||34||41||13||4||3||5|
|Kantar||25 November 2019||32||43||14||3||4||4|
|YouGov||The Times/Sky||26 November 2019||32||43||13||4||2||6|
|ComRes||Daily Telegraph||26 November 2019||34||41||13||5||2||5|
|BMG||The Independent||27 November 2019||33||39||13||4||5||6|
|ComRes||Sunday Telegraph||28 November 2019||33||43||13||4||3||4|
|Panelbase||28 November 2019||34||42||13||4||3||4|
|YouGov||Sunday Times||29 November 2019||34||43||13||2||3||5|
|Opinium||The Observer||29 November 2019||31||46||13||2||3||5|
|Deltapoll||Mail on Sunday||30 November 2019||32||45||15||3||5|
|Survation||Good Morning Britain||30 November 2019||33||42||11||3||4||7|
|ICM Research||Reuters||2 December||35||42||13||3|
The comparison with 2017 is a valid one up to a point, as can be seen in these two charts which show all the polls published during the short campaign periods of both elections.BMG’s poll published in the Independent showed the Conservative lead at just six points and is the only recent survey to have them below 40% of the vote, but even this would almost certainly translate into a Conservative majority. Anything below that however would certainly have the potential to bring a hung parliament, depending on how the votes distributed between different parts of the country.
Similarities with 2017
Both elections were called “out-of-cycle” which meant that there were abnormally high numbers of undecided voters at the outset, particularly among previous Labour voters. In each case the calling of the election forced a choice on them and therefore brought a hike in Labour ratings as many voters returned to their natural home, albeit reluctantly. This same process is chiefly what has been driving the recent upward trend of Labour support, as the numbers of undecided voters has reduced.
In September and October, polls were showing up to 25% of previous Labour voters had switched to the Liberal Democrats. Labour has since been successful in attracting some of them back. There seems no doubt that the lack of any high profile Lib Dem politician to promote their message and their reliance on the essentially divisive issue of Brexit has hampered the party from making a breakthrough. The focus on two major parties and their leaders, who are deeply unattractive to all but their own supporters, has once again polarised the perceived choice and squeezed Lib Dem support.
The charts also show, however, that there are important differences from the 2017 campaign. The trendlines in 2019 show Labour and Conservative shares rising by similar amounts through the campaign, such that the Tory lead has barely been reduced (thanks to its own squeeze on the Brexit Party). By this point in the 2017 campaign there had already been surveys showing Labour support at 38% and the lead reducing, whereas this time they have yet to breach 35%.
Other important differences are less visible. One is that the turnout weightings being used by the pollsters are based on the patterns of 2017 rather than 2015 which means that the under-25s and Previous Non-Voters of all ages who were so pivotal to Labour’s coalition in 2017 are not being discounted to the extent that they were two years ago.
Perhaps most importantly however, the drift of Liberal Democrat switchers back to Labour makes it much less likely that there will be many, if any, of the spectacular Lib Dem gains from the Tories in heavily Remain constituencies that most had been expecting and which are probably necessary for a hung parliament.
While it is still very likely that the Liberals will do much better in these seats (another poll at the weekend showed them just seven points behind the Tories in Dominic Raab’s Esher and Walton constituency) the level of over-performance they would need if they are at 10% in the polls, as against 15% or 20%, means that actual gains would be few and far between.
With less than two weeks to polling day, the Conservatives are in a fundamentally stronger position than they were in 2017. Their vote is solid in the polls and their campaign has not run into the chaotic difficulties encountered two years ago. But the recent terror attack on London Bridge – a tragic echo of terrorism during the 2017 campaign – is a reminder that events can intervene in unpredictable ways and the Tories will be nervous that their lead has narrowed. Their main concern now is that Lib Dem support could completely collapse and slide to Labour. That is not yet evident but it will be the critical point to measure as more polls are published.