Final Eastleigh poll puts Lib Dems narrowly ahead of Tories – but all within margin of error!

What will (I assume) be the final poll of the Eastleigh by-election was published this morning. Conducted by Populus and commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, it shows the Lib Dems sustaining a narrow lead — significant in itself, but the more so as Eastleigh voters were interviewed over the weekend during which the controversy over allegations against Lord Rennard were prominent. Figures shown are compared with the most recent Populus poll, published at the end of last week:

    Mike Thornton (Lib Dem) 33% (n/c)
    Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 28% (n/c)
    Diane James (UKIP) 21% (n/c)
    John O’Farrell (Labour) 12% (-1%)
    Others 6%

What’s most striking is the stability in Populus’s two polls. However, the Lib Dems’ 5% lead is within the poll’s margin of error — and of course follows a Survation poll which showed the Tories ahead by 4%. To all intents and purposes, this is a dead heat contest, with the Lib Dem campaign organiser yesterday predicting that as few as 500 votes could separate the Lib Dems and Tories on Thursday.

Only one conclusion to draw from all this: it’s too tight to call! So let’s keep campaigning…

Next Friday morning will be too late. There has rarely been a more important by-election for the party.

It’s up to us whether we remember it for the right reasons or not…

Finally, it’s worth highlighting Lord Ashcroft’s concluding point on the polling methodology used by Populus:

There is an intriguing methodological footnote to this series of by-election polls. The headline voting intention figures here, as with my previous poll, are based on the assumption that 30% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 but now say they don’t know how they will vote, or refuse to say, will vote for the party again on Thursday, compared with 50% of don’t knows and refusers who voted Labour or Conservative at the last general election. This has been a standard assumption in my polls, and is based on reliable national data. However, it is debatable whether this holds true in a Lib Dem stronghold like Eastleigh, where the party’s support is so entrenched that it ought perhaps to be treated on the same basis as that of Labour and the Conservatives. On this assumption, the Lib Dem share increases to 34%, a 6-point lead over the Tories. Even if it is true that half of guarded or supposedly undecided voters will vote for the same party as last time, a total of 27% of Eastleigh voters remain impossible to allocate – not least because nearly half of them refuse even to say how they voted in 2010. These people could yet produce a surprise.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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12 Comments

  • “However, it is debatable whether this holds true in a Lib Dem stronghold like Eastleigh, where the party’s support is so entrenched that it ought perhaps to be treated on the same basis as that of Labour and the Conservatives.”

    Or in a by-election, where the Lib Dem door-knocking sounds to be well beyond saturation already.

    It’s remarkable that the first three parties have identical ratings to those in the last poll, which surely ought to be statistically very unlikely. Maybe it’s partly explained by large numbers of don’t knows/won’t says, who are just being allocated by formula as described above.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Feb '13 - 11:03am

    The UKIP vote is pivotal in my view – if their vote rises, it will hurt the Tories most – and this is a good thing for us.

    Good luck to Mike Thornton!

  • Tom Southern 26th Feb '13 - 11:55am

    UKIP’s increase may be good for us, but if it is carries on then it is very, very bad for the country. I’m very worried that no-one is a) taking them seriously or b) taking on the outright lies they peddle.

  • Tony Greaves 26th Feb '13 - 5:50pm

    Only 37% say they have had LDs at the door. I don’t know how this equates tohouseholds since lots of people are out when someone else answers the door and people don’t usually greet other members of hte family (when they get back) with “Oh I’m glad you’ve come, we had the Liberals at the door!”

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 26th Feb '13 - 5:51pm

    And why do you think this is the last poll? What will the Mail be cooking up for Thursday morning?

    Tony Greaves

  • nvelope2003 27th Feb '13 - 1:08pm

    The unadjusted figures still give the Liberal Democrats a 5% lead but place the Conservatives just 1% above UKIP meaning the latter two parties are neck and neck so there is still the chance of a surprise
    Apparently UKIP are promising to “reduce everyones taxes” – yes EVERYONE’S ! and to reintroduce free student grants, increase the size of the military, the police and pensions and put more people in prison although they do not say where the money is supposed to come from. These are the sort of plans which have caused the present financial problems as they could only be financed by massive borrowing.

    I guess UKIP’s intending voters have either not studied these plans or do not understand how they could be financed or just want to make a by election protest against the country’s difficulties while mostly intending to return to reality at the next General Election.

  • David Allen 27th Feb '13 - 1:32pm

    The unadjusted figures are the ones to believe. The adjustment wrongly assumes that UKIP will only get the same tiny fraction of the “don’t knows” that they got last time.

  • C/Ford Resident 27th Feb '13 - 1:45pm

    Who is actually voting in this by-election? Are residents of Chandlers Ford included? I haven’t seen a voting slip.

  • Peter Watson 27th Feb '13 - 4:03pm

    @nvelope2003
    “I guess UKIP’s intending voters have either not studied these plans or do not understand how they could be financed or just want to make a by election protest against the country’s difficulties while mostly intending to return to reality at the next General Election.”
    Sadly, there is a certain irony in a Lib Dem accusing UKIP of this in the context of their policy to “End the 50% university target for school leavers , scrap tuition fees and reintroduce student grants”.
    In the meantime, here are their policies on tax, etc. http://www.ukip.org/content/ukip-policies/2553-what-we-stand-for

  • @ Peter Watson

    I take your point but what I was trying to say was that UKIP are still putting forward such unrealistic policies. The policy statement you refer to seems to confirm this. UKIP’s policies are just as crazy as those of the other parties when in opposition. It is time for a reality check but maybe the public are not or never will be ready for this so all the political parties can be forgiven for pandering to it. Sad really.

  • Maybe if UKIP win or push the Conservatives into third place it will start a realignment of the parties on the right similar to that which occurred in the 80s on the left. There does seem to be a great feeling of disillusion with the present system, especially from the more traditional Conservatives, and a belief that the 3 main parties are virtually identical although this is probably because the options for policies are rather limited.

    Many people of all political backgrounds seem to feel we are like the defeated South after the American Civil War and that traditional Britain has Gone with the Wind but of course there does have to be change whether we like it or not, although it does depend what sort of change .

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