What the pollsters think will happen at the general election

Forget data sets, interquartile ranges and margin of error. The Guardian recently reported the collective wisdom of the wet-fingers-in-the-air of the UK’s pollsters, who met this past week “to refine their methods ahead of the election, and ended with off-the-cuff predictions for the final result.”

And here’s what they came up with:

Statisticians from most of Britain’s main polling companies attended the session, organised jointly by the British Polling Council and the National Centre for Research Methods.

Four of them were brave enough to come up with predicted vote shares for the main parties. Put together they average a shade under 40% for the Tories, just over 30% for Labour and 21% for the Liberal Democrats.

In terms of seats, one estimate suggests those figures would leave Cameron 10 short of a majority. That would make Nick Clegg, with about 53 seats, the most powerful Liberal leader since Lloyd George. It would also leave the Tories – hoping for a majority – reeling. But Labour would have suffered most, with a loss of 105 seats on election night and just 251 surviving MPs, against 316 Conservatives.

Most pollsters think the Tories will do better than that. Two stood apart from this consensus and skewed the overall average: Nick Moon, from GfK NOP, suggested the Tory lead would be a tight 8%. Ipsos Mori called an even closer result: 36% for the Conservatives and 32% for Labour – which if it happened would leave Gordon Brown clinging on as a minority prime minister.

Everyone else – including statisticians from YouGov, Populus, ICM and Strathclyde University – thought Cameron will get his majority, but only just.

The 40-30-21 split seems pretty plausible to me. It would represent a 6.5% swing from Labour to the Tories; and a 4% swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories. However, if the Lib Dems do poll 21%, I’d be surprised to see the party slip back to 53 seats, even if that’s what the national swing might indicate. Let’s recall that the Lib Dems won 52 seats in 2001 with 17% of the national vote.

And with the Tories reportedly giving up on marginal Lib Dem seats, such as Cheadle, and with Labour highly vulnerable in 12 seats where swings to the Lib Dems of less than 5% are needed, it seems more than possible that, even if the pollsters are right and the party’s national poll rating slips back slightly compared with 2005, the Lib Dems may well still end up making a net gain of seats in 2010.

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This entry was posted in General Election and Polls.


  • I think the Tories are concentrating their resources on targeting a certain number of seats they need to win, so that the national share of their vote matters less. The letter from David Cameron to LibDem/Tory marginals stating that whilst your libdem mp may be a jolly decent chap but only voting Tory changes the government is clearly designed to be part of their squeeze message.

  • Andrew Suffield 24th Jan '10 - 1:59pm

    It’s worth noting that due to the lack of proportional representation, Lib Dem polling figures don’t translate directly into seats. When dealing with numbers this close, the inaccuracy of the voting system becomes a major factor.

  • In 60% of seats since WW2 there as been no change. So given as the Tory party have target seats, their % should be higher in those seats.
    I also wonder how the % are just in England and Wales, because the Ave Lib/Dem % comes out to 20.5%

    1.ComRes/Sunday Mirror – geographical splits
    20-21 Jan 2010
    (sss = sub-sample size)
    SE England (sss = 246)
    Con 43%
    Lab 25%
    LD 20%
    Grn 6%
    BNP 3%
    UKIP 2%
    oth 2%
    Midlands (sss = 262)
    Con 43%
    Lab 25%
    LD 15%
    Grn 7%
    UKIP 4%
    BNP 3%
    oth 3%
    North England (sss = 265)
    Lab 34%
    Con 31%
    LD 23%
    BNP 5%
    Grn 5%
    UKIP 1%
    oth 1%
    Wales & SW England (sss = 144)
    Con 40%
    Lab 32%
    LD 24%
    PC 3%
    BNP 1%
    Grn 1%
    UKIP 0
    oth 0
    Scotland (sss = 87)
    (+/- change from UK GE 2005)
    Lab 39% (n/c)
    SNP 21% (+3)
    Con 20% (+4)
    LD 15% (-8)
    Grn 2% (+1)
    BNP 0 (n/c)
    UKIP 0 (n/c)
    oth 3%

    Have not seen the other poll that came out yesterday which gave a higher Tory lead.

  • Will we see the Leaders on TV? and if Brown gets his way how many Lib/Dems will be in the audience?


    Wooding writes: .“The PM wants the audience packed with almost twice as many Labour supporters as Tories, to reflect his Commons majority.

    But furious Mr Cameron is insisting there should be more of his followers as he is well ahead in the polls. Broadcasters fear the wrangling could derail Britain’s first TV leaders’ debate.

    An insider said last night: “We’ve had two months of talks about the format for the debates. There have been disagreements about which leader shakes hands first, where they stand on stage and how much camera time they get. But the audience has been the biggest sticking point so far.”

    Who can blame the party camps? These events could be game-changing and each wants to ensure that the formats suit their flag-bearers best.

    If agreement cannot be reached then there will be one mighty battle over who was to blame. If the Wooding suggestion is correct that Brown wants the audience to be split in line with the number of MPs then he’s surely onto a loser. That just sounds so unreasonable particularly as Labour got its majority last time with just 36.2% of the vote.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jan '10 - 9:34am

    The decline in newspaper reading and in serious political coverage on television means electoral politics is reverting to being decided more on local factors than on the national political images. Therefore, assumptions based on each constituency having the same proportion of votes for the parties as last time, modified by a national political swing, are much less accurate than has been the case for perhaps 50 years. Political pundits were always too willing to write off the effects of local campaigning because they are lazy and having to think and report about it would be too much like hard work, and because they live in the Westminster/City bubble which really does not know or understand how the world outside works. But when we all sat down watching serious political news on BBC and ITV and all read the big national newspapers which all carried serious political news, maybe it was reasonable to simplify things by working this way. Nowadays, leaflets through the door carry more weight because that is actually where people get their politics from – particularly those who will turn out and vote on the day. Expect some very surprising (except to those on the ground who know what’s happening) results in the general election.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Feb '10 - 1:05am

    With the latest ComRes poll showing a Tory lead of only 7 points, the UK Polling Report projection, based on an average of recent polls, has the Tories 12 seats short of a Commons majority.

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