Pollwatch – State of the Parties: Lib Dems 18%, Labour 31%, Tories 38% (Mar. 2010 so far)

With 15 polls already published so far in March, it’s time for a mid-month reality check on the state of the parties. Some parts of the media watch the polls with breathless excitement, investing even the smallest fluctuations with a significance well beyond what they can bear: a bad-tempered PMQs, a 24-hour Westminster Village row, an ad campaign – any and all of these are sometimes said to have affected the polls.

Well, maybe. But most poll movements are within the margin of error, so it is only looked at over a reasonable period of time that you can detect whether there has really been any significant movements between the parties. So let’s look at the polls published in March to date, in chronological order of publication, to see if we can detect any trends:

    Tories 39.0, Labour 29.0, Lib Dem 15.0 (Opinium)
    Tories 38.0, Labour 33.0, Lib Dem 16.0 (3rd March, YouGov)
    Tories 38.0, Labour 32.0, Lib Dem 19.0 (4th, YouGov)
    Tories 38.0, Labour 32.0, Lib Dem 17.0 (5th, YouGov)
    Tories 40.0, Labour 31.0, Lib Dem 18.0 (7th, ICM)
    Tories 38.0, Labour 33.0, Lib Dem 17.0 (7th, YouGov)
    Tories 37.0, Labour 30.0, Lib Dem 16.0 (9th, Opinium)
    Tories 39.0, Labour 34.0, Lib Dem 16.0 (9th, YouGov)
    Tories 36.0, Labour 32.0, Lib Dem 20.0 (10th, YouGov)
    Tories 37.0, Labour 29.0, Lib Dem 18.0 (10th, Harris Metro)
    Tories 37.0, Labour 32.0, Lib Dem 17.0 (11th, YouGov)
    Tories 39.0, Labour 26.0, Lib Dem 18.0 (11th, Angus RS)
    Tories 37.0, Labour 34.0, Lib Dem 17.0 (12th, YouGov)
    Tories 38.0, Labour 31.0, Lib Dem 21.0 (14th, ICM)
    Tories 37.0, Labour 33.0, Lib Dem 17.0 (14th, YouGov)

All of which produces an average rating for the parties in March as follows (compared with February’s averages):

    Tories 38% (-1%), Labour 31% (n/c), Lib Dems 18% (-1%)

Let’s take a look at the figures from each of the main parties’ perspectives …

The Tories …
13 of the 15 the polls in the first fortnight of March place the Tories in the 37-39% range, which is about as definitive as you can get. For a long time, 40% has been seen as the threshold the Tories need to clear. Partly that figure is psychological; more importantly, it’s psephological. Assuming Labour clears the 30% barrier, the Tories need at least 40% to be sure of a working majority in the Commons. There are signs the Tories realise that they are now in a political scrap. But, still, the Tory message is failing to give voters a positive reason to choose Cameron & Co. As a Lib Dem I’m pleased; as a watcher of politics, I’m amazed.

Labour … The story is a little less clear-cut with Labour’s poll ratings, the party having ranged between 26% and 34% within days of each other. Chances are the polls will converge as we near election day: otherwise Angus RS – who consistently peg Labour in the mid-20s, alone among the pollsters – is going to be left looking smart, or embarrassed. Surprising as it is that Labour is in with a hcnace, how the party must be left wondering: how much better might we be doing with Anyone But Gordon as leader?

Lib Dems … So far, so okay for the Lib Dems. 18% is a small drop on where the party was in February – but given all the polls above were conducted before the avalanche of publicity surrounding the Birmingham spring conference, we may well see the party back up at 19-20% on average when we do our full March Pollwatch round-up. As with Labour, there’s a fair spread when it comes to Lib Dem ratings, ranging from 15% to 21%. As is now traditional, let’s compare the current 18% poll average with the equivalent points in the electoral cycle in the last four parliaments:

    Mar 1992: 17%
    Mar 1997: 12%
    Mar 2001: 13%
    Mar 2005: 20%

So a little better than in 1992 (when the election was in April), a little worse than in 2005. But what is clear is how much better shape the party is in in 2010 than it was in either 1997 or 2001. Few serious commentators now suggest the party faces a wipeout; even the most pessimistic reckon the party will retain at least 50 seats, with most expecting the Lib Dems to at least hold our own.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Polls.


  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Mar '10 - 4:49pm

    There’s a problem with a simple average of all the polls, though. With YouGov producing 5 polls a week, nearly two thirds of those you’re averaging come from a single pollster, and one which has generally seemed out of step with the others.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Mar '10 - 5:31pm


    I’m not saying I think YouGov is necessarily wrong – just that there are so many YouGov polls in the list that they will dominate the average, in a way they won’t have done in previous months.

  • paul barker 21st Mar '10 - 8:36pm

    What made you choose the 14th as a cut off point ? Theres been another 9 polls since then, averageing
    19.2%. Another 2 tonight, probably.

  • Stephen, I take your point that most of the poll results in this sample suggest a steady state up to mid March.

    The Tory series – given a leader who is still viewed favourably but a substantial part of the UK electorate – must make pretty depressing reading from their point of view. The apparent poll ceiling for them suggests that many electors simply don’t believe that the Tories have/can change their spots.

    Labour results are a different matter. The pollsters face practical as well as methodological problems in getting at Labour support. YouGov has made a change to boost the share of firm Labour in its polls. The problems of weighting to take account of differential turnout are harder than ever – especially where potential Labour voters are concerned.

    LibDem support, putting Opinium to one side, has been consistent and – if leader approval ratings are a measure of potential – then there is considerable scope for a LibDem campaign bounce.

    What hasn’t received all the attention it should have – and has been much less stable than the Tory and LibDem shares across polls – is support for Others. My guess is that dealignment /weakening of party identification and the related willingness to vote UKIP, BNP and Green in England is going to have a much bigger impact on the 2010 General Election than conventional (newsprint and TV) political commentaries have so far suggested.

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