The poll findings which should encourage (some) Lib Dems and worry Labour

I highlighted during Lib Dem conference season an interesting finding from Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling of marginal seats:

Lord Ashcroft – the former deputy Tory chairman and the man who spends more on polling than all the political parties combined – released his latest findings this week. 13,000 voters in the 40 Conservative seats with the smallest majorities were surveyed, including eight where the Liberal Democrats came second in 2010: Watford, St Albans, Oxford West & Abingdon, Harrogate & Knaresborough, Camborne & Redruth, Truro & Falmouth, Newton Abbot and Montgomeryshire.

Remember: these are seats which are potential Lib Dem gains in 2015. The result? Overall, across the eight seats, the Lib Dems are just 3% behind the Conservatives, 32% to 29% (with Labour third on 18%). The reason? Not hard to guess: Ukip, which is polling 12%. None of us know if the rise of Ukip is a bubble, or a permanent feature. But I’m struck by the number of senior Lib Dems who tell me they expect to make gains (plural) from the Tories at the next election (though not necessarily net gains from them).

He’s now published the text of his presentation at the ConservativeHome conference fringe in Manchester this week — well worth reading in its own right — which links to some of the charts of his findings. First, here’s the poll result above:

ashcroft poll - ld-con marginals - sept 2013

As you can see above, the Tory share of the vote has plunged by 12% (and yes, the Lib Dems are also down by 8%, though we’re more used to that downwards pressure between elections and will be optimistic about squeezing down that Labour vote). You might expect that Tory drop is pretty much a direct transfer to Ukip — but you’d be wrong. In fact, the Lib Dems have benefited almost as much as Ukip from Tory defections in these eight marginal Conservative-held seats:

ashcroft poll - con-ld defectors - sept 2013

Overall, this is encouraging news for the Lib Dems. These are seats held by the Tories and we are still 18 months from the election: if the party can get its act together and is able to re-inforce the message to Labour-leaning voters that it’s a straight choice between the Lib Dems and Conservatives in their area then there are undoubtedly gains to be made.

In seats where the party came third last time, the picture is a lot less rosy: our vote share has halved (in line with the national polls) in Conservative/Labour marginals:

ashcroft poll - con-lab marginals - sept 2013

However, the poll finding which stuck me most — and which if I were a Labour guy would have me reaching for the smelling salts — is this one on economic trust:

econ trust - ashcroft poll - oct 2013

I know some Labour commentators (such as my New Statesman friend George Eaton) take solace in the fact that their party won in 1997 even though the Tories led in economic competence. But times were very different then.

The Tories were at the fag-end of their 18-year stretch of uninterrupted rule; the electorate was knackered by their bumbling and disunity; and, with the economy recovered, folk felt safe to sample Tony Blair’s centrist social democracy.

Today, Labour is still blamed more for the cuts than the Coalition; the financial collapse happened on New Labour’s 13-year-long watch; and austerity will continue be with us for the whole of the next parliament irrespective of the victor.

Though the Tories have gone out of their way over the last three years to narrow their base of support, I find it hard to imagine Labour winning a majority when it’s so distrusted on the issue most central to voters’ lives.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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This entry was posted in Polls.


  • Don’t these figures show that, despite Labour being trusted less on the economy, they will win target Con held seats?

    If I were a Labour party member I would still be concerned by that, not least because it implies the Coalition are successful in their strategy of blaming Labour, not the banks, traders and businesses, for problems in the global economy. That might take the edge of a majority, but I’d also take solace in the polling of target seats suggesting, that at a local level, it makes no difference.

    If I were a Lib Dem I would be panicking that the increased Labour vote in marginal Lib Dem/Tory seats suggests that, despite a relative levelling of the Tory vs Lib Dem vote, these seats would be lost as tactical voting no longer seems to work.

    All a bit of a mess, but frankly, the decline in tactical voting is yet another argument for the wishes of former tactical voters to be accepted via some form of proportional representation.

  • I think that Trust on the Economy chart is the most worrying. It suggests the Tories walking away with all the credit for any revival and the Lib Dems left with the electoral crumbs, whereas of course we all know there is a huge amount being done due to Lib Dem ministers that is crucial in leading the economic revival.

    We have a very strong message to put across on the economy of a balanced, fair and sustainable recovery but so far there is zero recognition of this among voters. It is both a huge challenge to put that right and an opportunity as well.

  • Unfortunately, RC, by going down the thatcherite neoliberal line so clearly – along with Tories, UKIP, and of course, nuLabour – we have thrown away any advantage of difference we could have argued. We are left, I am afraid, as pale tories, and that is how the Cleggites will be remembered.

  • Yorkshire Guidon 5th Oct '13 - 11:06am

    Have Liberal Democrat PPCs been selected in all of those seats?

  • “As you can see above, the Tory share of the vote has plunged by 12% (and yes, the Lib Dems are also down by 8%”

    I think you mean 9 and 10 points respectively (since 2010).

  • It’s rather striking how uniform the changes in percentage points since 2010 are, between two quite different groups of constituencies. That’s actually fortunate for the Lib Dems, because if the party had lost (say) half its vote uniformly across all constituencies, that would be a far worse result in the seats that matter. It would be interesting to see figures in LD/Lab marginals, though.

  • I think another thing that is very striking considering the Labour lead in the polls, that is the fact that 37% are dissatisfied with Cameron but would still prefer him to EM. I think if I was in the Labour Party I’d be more worried about that than the economy figures.

  • Yorkshire Guidon
    The position as I know it for these candidates is:
    Selected Oxford West, Watford and Newton Abbot
    Currently in process of selecting Truro / Falmouth, Harrogate
    Not yet selected Camborne / Redruth
    Don’t know Montgomery and St Albans

  • Christine Headley 5th Oct '13 - 10:19pm

    We have candidates in Montgomery and St Albans.

  • Thanks, Christine.

  • As I pointed out the first time, the Lord Ashcroft figures you quote refer to a question which prompts people to vote tactically for the Lib Dems. Prior to that the poll put the Lib Dems in third place in these top target seats, Given the sample size and margin of error, it could well be the Lib Dems are down more than the Tories in these seats. The other obvious point is that overall the poll points to a massive Labour victory even if the Labour vote share stays where it was in 2010 – that is dire news for Lib Dems.

  • David Evans 6th Oct '13 - 2:54pm

    To quote fro m Lord Ashcroft’s Polls

    “In the 32 most marginal Conservative seats where Labour are second, Labour’s vote share has stagnated since 2011. Unfortunately, the Conservative share has eroded further, while UKIP’s has crept up to 11%, compared to just 3% in these seats at the last election.

    This represents an 8.5% swing from the Tories to Labour, enough to lose all 32 of them, plus 66 more if it were to be repeated in other Conservative-Labour contests.

    Things are looking rather less bad in the 8 most marginal seats we hold against the Lib Dems – though only because the Lib Dems’ vote share has fallen further than ours has.”

    Is this the bit that should encourage the Lib Dems and worry Labour?

  • Asking Labour voters to choose a Lib Dem MP or a Conservative MP at the next election will result in larger than usual numbers laughing us out, or choosing the Conservative. And UKIP voters receiving that squeeze will on balance also opt for the Tory than the Whig.

    It would be far better for Liberals in these seats to focus on keeping the Labour vote at home.

  • Tony Dawson 6th Oct '13 - 3:12pm

    I had not realised that the prospect of an overall Labour majority in the House of Commons after the 2015 General Election was meant to be encouraging for Liberal Democrats. For that would be the result of a 98 seat transfer on an 8.5% swing from Tory to Labour as picked up by Michael Ashcroft’s detailed polling.

  • Liberal Neil 6th Oct '13 - 6:54pm

    @g – the Labour vote is always higher in mid-term polls in LD v Con marginals. As election campaigning cranks up and Labour voters see that the local choice is LD or Con the Labour vote switches.

    @Chris -yes – possibly down to levels of campaigning on the ground – high in LD v Con marginals but low in Lab v Con marginals.

    @robson – that’s not what actual voting patterns suggest. All the evidence is that a large proportion of Labour inclined voters very much prefer to have a Lib Dem MP rather than a Tory MP. Look at the County results in some of the named LD v Con seats and you will see that the squeeze on Labour is still working generally.

  • paul barker 6th Oct '13 - 7:26pm

    Its worth looking at one of the very few Polls that ask about 2015 rather than a “Tomorow” that never arrives. In the latest figures just 23% expect a Majority Labour Government against 34% expecting a Coalition.

  • David Allen 6th Oct '13 - 7:57pm

    Paul Barker, people generally expect what they’re used to. Before 2010 absolutely nobody expected a coalition would ever happen. Now a lot of people think it’s a likely common occurrence. They’ll think differently when they see the third party in fourth place on votes, and roughly tied with the summated Celtic parties on seats.

  • If you are going to hold on to the economic competence figures for comfort it might be worth pointing out, as Mike Smithson recently did on PB, that the Tories had a 45% to 23% lead on the issue with ICM just 3 weeks before the 1997 election.

  • This shows that the only way anybody is going to win the 2015 election is through another coalition because the conservatives are hitting the poorest end of society and since 2010 the unemployment level as gone up from 1.7 million in 2010 to almost 2.7 million today this is a repeat of the Thather years when the unemployment level almost reached 3 million and attacking those on benefits could create 2.7 million votes for labour why not hit the top earners and leave the poor alone and as for lib dem they are no more than conservative puppets especially Nick Clegg put it this way i voted for Nick Clegg in 2010 im sorry he as lost my vote and i believe every student vote as well remember the old saying (Never Trust A Politician) how true my parents were when they told me that years ago

  • Simon Banks 7th Oct '13 - 2:54pm

    Why does g think tactical voting no longer seems to work? Are there really so few Labour supporters in Eastleigh, a socially mixed constituency? In fact, evidence from local contests is that tactical voting by Labour supporters is still happening when they can be convinced that the Liberal Democrats can win and it’s them or the Tories.

    Oddly enough, since 2010 tactical voting by Tories to beat Labour (except by voting UKIP) may have declined, but Ashcroft wasn’t interested in those seats.

  • I strongly beleive Cameron will remain PM after the next election, most likely heading another coalition. But it wont be Ed
    M who will lose it for Labour, it will be Ed B. Could you really see that man in No. 11?

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