Latest Ashcroft polls of Lib Dem seats: MP incumbency protects party in 10 out of 13 constituencies

Michael AshcroftThe Conservative peer and pollster Lord Ashcroft has released the results of his latest polling of key seats for the next general election, including 13 seats currently held by the Lib Dems and one (Watford) which the party is actively targeting. These seats are ones with bigger majorities than those he’s previously surveyed, and include MPs who commentators have speculated are under threat, such as Ed Davey in Kingston and Surbiton.

Across all Lib Dem / Conservative battleground seats, 11 of the 13, the standard voting intention question (“If there were a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?”) shows the Lib Dems trailing the Conservatives significantly: Con 33%, Lib Dem 22%, Ukip 20%, Lab 17%. Based on this, the Lib Dems would lose all the seats polled.

However, as is his tradition, Ashcroft has also asked the really important voting intention question: “And thinking specifically about your own parliamentary constituency at the next general election and the candidates who are likely to stand for election to Westminster there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency?”

This produces a very different result: Lib Dem 36%, Con 27%, Ukip 17%, Lab 13%. On this basis, the Lib Dems hold 10 of the 13 seats surveyed:

ashcroft poll - ld-con marginals - nov 2014

Five quick points:

  • Most of these Lib Dem-held seats show okay majorities on the basis of the second constituency question: 7 of the 10 seats would be held with majorities greater than 5% according to this polling;
  • Of the 3 seats where the Lib Dem candidate is currently behind, 2 are by small margins: Nick Harvey in North Devon (trailing by just 1%) and Gerald Vernon Jackson in Portsmouth South (5%). In the latter seat, the circumstances are exceptional as the current MP, Mike Hancock, is suspended from the party and the Lib Dems there will clearly have a fight on their hands;
  • Two seats show a swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems – Tom Brake in Carshalton and Wallington and Steve Webb in Thornbury and Yate – though this is due to the intervention of Ukip, which hits the Tory vote harder;
  • In the two Lib Dem / Labour battleground seats surveyed, the Lib Dems would hold one, John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley), and lose one, Gordon Birtwhistle (Burnley);
  • In Watford – which the Lib Dems will be hoping the popular mayor Dorothy Thornhill will win for the party – the Lib Dems are very closely behind the Conservatives in what looks like being a tight contest.
  • All of the above comes with a couple of caveats I insert every time I cover Lord Ashcroft’s fascinating polling. First, the point he continually makes: these are snapshots, not forecasts. Secondly, while his focus on the second constituency voting intention question is commendable, it remains a shame he is not naming candidates. When done in private constituency polls commissioned for the party, I’m told this boosts Lib Dem MPs further.

    PS: if you’re wondering why Wyre Forest was included in the mix by Lord Ashcroft even though it isn’t part of the Lib Dem battleground, it’s because he was curious given it has previously voted for an independent MP, Dr Richard Taylor.

    * 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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    38 Comments

    • David Evans 27th Nov '14 - 2:55pm

      Ashcroft also polled three leader’s seats (Nick, Ed and Nigel – but strangely not David). Nigel is not likely to win Thanet South (5% behind); Ed will hold Doncaster North (+12%), but even in his own constituency only 24% think he would make the best prime minister; and 23% David C. Nick only has a 3% lead over Labour in Hallam. Tough times ahead.

    • @Moggy are the people you’ve spoken to people who actually know the constituency? My sense is that Nick is much more than 3% ahead and most people who think he can’t win have no idea of the demographics of the constituency or the amount of work that Nick and the team have put in locally.

    • David Evans 27th Nov '14 - 3:53pm

      Anders – Hallam going Labour is not beyond the bounds of probability and I am sure the Lib Dems in Sheffield are doing everything they to stop it. But do remember, in Liverpool, when the Lib Dems took the last three Tory seats on the council they were in Walton, an area so blue you wouldn’t believe it. Now it has one Lib Dem and two Labour Councillors. Where Liverpool leads, do not assume Sheffield cannot follow. That is what leads to complacency and failure.

    • Glenn Andrews 27th Nov '14 - 3:53pm

      Difficult as it is to guage the mood of absolutely everyone within any given constituency, but as a Cheltonian that looks about right to me.

    • David Evans 27th Nov '14 - 3:55pm

      Apologies – Woolton not Walton.

    • @David Evans: “Nick only has a 3% lead over Labour in Hallam. Tough times ahead.”

      What’s interesting is how much more effort the Lib Dems are putting in to get that result, 49% of respondents had heard from the Lib Dems in the last few weeks. That dwarfs what the other parties are putting in, even in Thanet were UKIP is desperate to get Nige in, half that number recalled being contacted. This suggests, to me at least, that the seat would be very vulnerable to a concerted push from Labour.

    • Fair doos. These polls are better than I expected, but there is a special effort being made to get Clegg out, Labour saying they will pile in resources, whether they do remains to be seen, but they are clearly within shouting distance.
      We still do not know how things will develop during the campaign, I think in the end it will come down to a Con v Labour struggle and the other parties third, fourth, and fifth parties will struggle to hold onto their people.

    • Only three constituencies where the LD support polls above 40% even with the incumbency advantage so that holding these seats depends critically on UKIP taking a big part of the Conservative vote.

      On a crude reading of the figures this means that incumbency is worth around 14% (i.e. 36% – 22%) on average or a little more than a third of the polled support, perhaps reducing to a third when the candidate name is included in the question. Or, to put that the other way round, the national party’s ‘added value’ is minus 14%.

      That’s catastrophic and is not sustainable in a democratic system. So how does it continue?

    • Southport 13% lead and still Lab vote to squeeze……..

    • Anders – saying “I don’t believe the polls – it’s not like that on the doorstep” is step one to having a surprise loss.

      Of the published polls for Hallam Nick (in a named poll) was on 33% in Oct 2010 (2% ahead of Labour) and now 31% (unnamed) in this one.

      Our local election vote share fell in 2014 compared to 2011/12 – and that was with no Tory candidates in two wards.

      The Oakeshott poll (very unreliable as regards voting intention but less so as regards this question) had 45% of people saying Nick doing a Very/Quite good job and 45% doing a very/quite poor job as local MP (by some way the worst of any of the MPs Oakeshott pollled) and Nick is 4th out of 4 in terms of doing a good job of the 4 party leaders in this recent Ashcroft poll.

      And remember that 3% poll lead is with a activity rate of 49% for the Lib Dems (higher than any other seat in this round of polling). So yes there is a lot of work going on but it isn’t making anywhere near as big a difference as it is in other seats. What happens if Labour go “hey what the hell lets create some mayhem” and chuck £60,000 into Hallam over the next 6 months and that activity rate goes up to 40%+?

      You sound dreadfully complacent to be honest. If I were his organiser I would be rolling out the crisis plan.

      Stephen – “When done in private constituency polls commissioned for the party, I’m told this boosts Lib Dem MPs further.” Quite possibly but that question wasn’t asked in the polls I’ve seen. And didn’t you link to a story last week suggesting the incumbency boost was a first term thing?

    • Stephen Hesketh 27th Nov '14 - 8:09pm

      IainBB 27th Nov ’14 – 7:04pm

      That squeeze would be made so much easier if we had a decent mainstream Lib Dem centre-left manifesto to campaign on.

      One might usefully question however how many Labour voters have actually switched directly to UKIP with Labour losses being made up by former tactical Lib Dem voters removing their support and switching to Labour due to not being able to stomach us (nationally) appearing to support so many essentially Tory economic policies.

      Thank goodness John Pugh was always one of the most sceptical observers of the now clearly failed centre-right strategy.

      I only hope our quite dreadful transport links for once work in our favour by helping keep away unwanted visitors from east of the Pennines.

    • I have to say I am surprised that Sheffield Hallam is under threat but the logic of Hywel’s comment is indisputable.

      Normally in the constituency of a party leader the additional media coverage guarantees that the leader will stride home in their own patch even if their party does badly elsewhere.

      Hallam is traditionally the right-wing (formerly Conservative) seat in Sheffield and therefore ought to be natural territory for the right-wing Clegg.

      So what has gone so wrong that we are even talking about a realistic Labour challenge in Hallam?

      And does this explain the frenetic and rather eccentric efforts of Joe Otten today who according to the column on the right hand side of the LDV page has been ” Tweeting” every couple of minutes saying things like — “#CleggMust Stay or civilisation will come to an end”.

      Am I the only person to find this Twitter trivialisation a diversion away from real politics and a descent into the realm of delusion? Does Joe expect the people of Sheffield Hallam to be impressed by this sort of thing? It looks a bit like a panic reaction to the Ashcroft Poll. It is a very dramatic change of gear. This time last week Nick Clegg went into hidling for four days to avoid the media and any questions that might be put to him about the less than 1% result in Rochester. Now we get ritualised Twitter messages saying #CleggMustStay as if that’s a substitute for rational debate and political involvement of ordinary voters.

    • Interestingly, the lower projected UKIP shares in Cheltenham and Kingston don’t seem to be helping the Conservatives.

      Oh, and three cheers for John Hemming!

    • Enlight_bystand 27th Nov '14 - 11:45pm

      @johntilley the other point with the increased media coverage is that there tends to be a high volume of fringe candidates, who I’d guesss will more blunt the labour push rather than take away from Nick. The polls will have mentioned the four biggest players & ‘others’, the ballot paper will have 12-14 options I’d guess

      Interesting that the others in Wyre Forest is still so high this long on.

    • (1) Didn’t seem borne out by that article though (http://may2015.com/features/how-are-the-lib-dems-polling-and-will-they-survive-in-may-2015/) which says the pre 2005 (ie non-first term MPS) saw an average vote drop – set against an environment where the party had a net vote share increase.

    • I wonder whether asking the two intention questions, one after the other, biases respondents towards changing their answer? I don’t recall there being much of this kind of polling in previous elections – do we know how good a predictor it is?

    • Enlight_bystand 27th Nov ’14 – 11:45pm

      There should be no surprise about the continuing support for independent minded people in Wyre Forest.
      Anyone who knows of Fran Oborski will explain why.

    • Back to votes on the ground, see we managed 18 and 11 Oxford by elections yesterday. 11, is that one more than the total of nominees. Is it a record low?

    • Jayne Mansfield 28th Nov '14 - 12:08pm

      @ Enlight-bystand

      The NHS Action party is standing a, a disabilities campaigner in Hallam, and his comments seem to me, to indicate that he is making hard hitting criticisms of the current government and particularly Nick Clegg.

      I am not sure that you are correct in assuming that he will draw support from Labour. They have not been in the government that gave us the biggest top- down reorganisation of the health service in its history.

    • The obvious elephant in the room is the massive variation in the Lib Dem trends between constituencies. As with the 2010 General Election performance variation, you can be assured that no one objective/independent will be looking at the true reasons for this.

    • Chrisl 28th Nov ’14 – 10:05am
      “……the Greens will take more votes from the Lib Dems than from the other main parties …”

      Yes indeed, Chris, especially in seats where there are a few students. I believe there are a few students in Hallam in amongst the upper middle class professionals and natural Conservatives. Clegg may be facing a “perfect storm” having upset everyone and pleased no-one, not even the “Soft Tories” that his strategists promised him so consistently. Has anyone seen any of those “Soft Tories” ?

    • In 1989 the Greens polled 15% in the European Elections and the Liberal Democrats 6%. In the subsequent 1992 election Liberal Democrats polled 17.8 % and there were also 0.2 % for the Liberals. The Greens polled 0.5%. This year the Greens polled about 7% as did the Liberal Democrats. We shall have to wait until Friday 8th May to know the full results so why not leave it at that ?

    • David Evans 28th Nov '14 - 4:08pm

      nvelope – Sure wait till 8th May if you are happy to just let it all happen. Those of us determined to make things better know we have to change things, starting with the leader.

    • nvelope2003 28th Nov '14 - 6:29pm

      David Evans: I was not suggesting that we should do nothing – clearly there is a great deal to do – but all this speculation will not help win or hold any seats.

    • Stephen – an important point you’ve not mentioned which I’d not appreciated before is that Lord Ashcroft has selected a number of constituencies that would be regarded as fairly safe. (several have LD votes of over 50% in 2010). All bar one are (or were!) on my mental “not going to lose that unless there is a massive earthquake” list.

      When he polled more marginal seats earlier in the year LD holds were only “predicted” in 5 out of the 15 (6 out of 20 if you include the Labour facing ones.

      Add up all the Ashcroft polls and you have 38 seats polled, a LD hold “predicted” in 17. And none of those are in Scotland.

    • Stevan Rose 29th Nov '14 - 3:55pm

      I would take these polls with a hige handful of salt.

    • Stevan Rose 29th Nov '14 - 4:00pm

      Accidental premature post… UKIP are depressing the Tory vote and some of that may slip back to defeat the Lib Dem. The Labour vote may switch to Lib Dem to keep the Tory out. It is meaningless at this stage.

    • Stevan Rose wrote:

      “Accidental premature post… UKIP are depressing the Tory vote and some of that may slip back to defeat the Lib Dem.”

      I wonder. Clearly, the opinion polls are telling us that nationally, UKIP is taking more votes proportionately from the Tories. But is that true in constituencies with sitting Lib Dem MPs, where Lib Dem support is far higher than in the national polls? Look at North Devon. The Tories are down by 6% and the Lib Dems by 18%, while UKIP is up by 16%. It does look as though, in this constituency at least, UKIP is taking more votes from the Liberal Democrats than the Tories. And there are some indications that this may be the case elsewhere in the West Country, which is evidently a problem region for us this time round. In the other seats polled, UKIP seems to be hurting both parties more or less equally.

    • All polls are meaningless 5 months out from an election. And those are the two big imponderables that could change.

      However they aren’t showing much signs of changing at the moment. The important thing could be what happens in the last few days of an election campaign – particularly if the “Don’t let Ed sneak in by the back door” idea becomes well established. That is very similar to the “don’t risk Kinnock” line the Tories ran with great effect in 1992

    • Peter Chegwyn 29th Nov '14 - 6:34pm

      I agree with Hywel’s second paragraph. We may now have multi-party politics but the fear of a Miliband PM or another Tory-led Government may see a return to two-party loyalties as polling day approaches. That, of course, could be very bad news for the Lib. Dems. However you look at the polls there’s precious little good news for the Lib. Dems.

    • Jonathan Pile 29th Nov '14 - 7:06pm

      These polls do illustrate the potential for the incumbency factor to save individual MPs. How terrible that the Westminster factor (ie Nick Clegg) makes the only hope of survival that of running local campaigns and keeping Clegg away. If only the national party could think of something which might lesson the Clegg factor ?

    • Whilst the party standings are meaningless and no outcome can be confidently predicted with UKIP and the SNP in play, there is some fascinating stuff in there.

      Cameron/Osborne are rated more highly than Miliband/Balls in Doncaster North. And Cameron is rated more highly as PM than Miliband is as Opposition Leader in Miliband’s constituency, with 45% being satisfied with or prefering Cameron as PM, and only 35% prefering Miliband as PM. Miliband’s not in danger of losing his seat but it’s hardly a ringing endorsement from his own constituents.

    • Tsar Nicolas 2nd Dec '14 - 4:08am

      The Brecon & Radnorshire result is interesting, just a 4% lead, almost at the margin of error, with the Labour vote at 15%. This suggests that Labour voters, who are geographically concentrated in the south-west of the constituency around Ystradgynlais – at the top end of the Swansea Valley – might be less amenable to anti-Conservative tactical voting.

      I wonder what effect the fact that the boundaries of the parliamentary seat are coterminous with the Assembly seat may be having on the vote. Are the Lib Dems benefiting or suffering from the incumbency of the welsh party leader Kirsty Williams as AM rather than Roger Williams as MP? Are voters distinguishing between the two?

      Back in May the whole of Powys (which is one half Lembit Opik’s former Montgomeyshire seat, and one half B & R ) saw the Lib Dems comes fourth behind Labour (UKIP 27.7; con 27.0; Lab 13.9; LD 12.9). If you can still get a result in May 2015 across the county of one Con MP and one LD MP, that says a lot more for the vagaries of the electoral system than anything else. Didn’t we used to be against the current electoral system?

      Historically, Roger Livsey held on by 56 votes in 1987 and lost in 1992, only to retake it in 1997. Party activity is in no way anything like its 1997/2001 level. Maybe this is because the seat has been regarded by the welsh Lib Dems for a number of years as ‘safe,’ and why there will be a loss in May. No surprise to many, but like Montgomeryshire in 2010 a surprise to the leadership when it happens.

    • Tsar Nicolas 2nd Dec '14 - 4:16am

      As regards Sheffield Hallam, instead of eulogising Lord Ashcroft, shouldn’t the Lib Dems be apologising to Lord Oakeshott, who was vilified after his poll back in the spring showed the Labour party winning there? After all, Ashcroft’s poll supports Oakeshott’s in substance.

      John Tilley has also alluded to the silence of the Dear Leader over the Rochester result (and Clacton too) which says to me that if the polls are dire in April, he will be unable to stave off charges of irrelevancy. It will be very much more difficult o go into hiding and just tweet about Formula one during the hurly burly of a general election campaign.

    • Paul In Wokingham 2nd Dec '14 - 6:50am

      Is this quite as surprising as it seems? If we retain 74% of our 2010 vote in held seats (which is what the Ashcroft poll is predicting as it takes our vote share in these seats from 47% to 35%) then I think that broadly means (depending on the vote split, of course) that we lose about 25 seats – so this is consistent with an expectation of 30-35 seats after the GE, But if we lose 26% of our 2010 vote – just a couple of percentage points more than Ashcroft’s poll is predicting – then many of the remaining seats could be on wafer-thin majorities and we could easily be down to less than 20 seats.

      The key message I take from this poll is the importance of targeting on that second tier of seats that are not shoo-ins but can be held if enough resources are committed to them.

    • Interesting and informed comments from Tsar Nicolas and Paul in Wokingham,
      The problem is that when things start to go down hill fast for a political party it is difficult to apply the brakes.
      In my days in folk clubs we used to sing a song “Going up Cambourne Hill, coming down”. There is maybe a lesson there.
      Look at the comment from Roisin Miller in her blog about Cambourne (all very loyal and positive from Roisin but she is not hiding the polling realities) we are at 6% in the Ashcroft poll!
      Take that with what seems like a deliberate attempt by Jeremy Browne to queer the pitch in Taunton see Stephen Tall’s blog –http://stephentall.org/2014/12/01/a-fabulously-passive-aggressive-tweet-exchange-between-jeremy-browne-and-nick-clegg/?wt=3
      Take that with what Tsar Nicolas says about Wales.
      One begins to ask where are the constituencies where we might have a chance of stopping the rot.
      If you start at the top of the UK and work down we can probably rely on Alistair Carmichael, Charles Kennedy and Tim Farron. After them is there anywhere at all north of Manchester where it looks as safe as houses?
      Manchester is a Labour one-party state, soon to be a one-party devolved Mayoral fiefdom (I know at this point Stockport will complain that one person out of the 11 person combined authority will not but Labour but I am talking about political realities rather than wishful thinking about the influence of one person from Stockport however brilliant they might be).
      After this May London looks very bleak with 18 of the 32 London Boroughs being a complete wipe out for us.
      The East Midlands Region was a write off in 2010 without a single MP — perhaps the legacy to that region from their former MEP young Mr Clegg.
      The extensive wastelands without Liberal Democrat party activity colour the vast majority of the UK map in December 2014. Athe General Election starts in March, three months from now. As Tsar Nicolas points out a leader who cannot comment on by-electons because he is more interested in Formula 1 racing cars is unlikely to be the one to stop the entire Liberal Democrat wagon from descending backwards down a variety of Cambourne Hills, wheels spinning, horses in panic, all being dragged backwards to oblivion.

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