YouGov marginals poll: what it means for the Lib Dems

PoliticsHome has today published its YouGov survey of some 240 marginal seats, with a sample of around 35,000 voters, providing the most complete picture of regional polling trends, and likely constituency results. The results are fascinating – but, as with any polls, it comes with health warnings.

The most important is that, even with the large sample size, the number of people in each individual seat is not high enough to give reliable voting intention figures for individual constituencies. This is an especially relevant consideration when looking at Lib Dem MPs and target seats, as the ability of a local party to organise an effective ‘ground-war’ campaign often marks the difference between a successful hold / gain and a near-miss.

For example, the PoliticsHome survey predicts that Chris Huhne’s seat of Eastleigh will be a Tory gain based on the Lib Dem – Tory swing in the south and south-west. However, I will eat my hat (really, I will) if Chris is unseated.

You can find the full survey results here. Let’s have a look at the implications for the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems’ overall position

The first thing to note is the Lib Dem position is considerably improved on 2008, the last time PoliticsHome surveyed the same marginal constituencies. Last year, the party was predicted to drop from its current 63 seats to 44; this year it’s predicted the party will emerge with 55 seats. Personally, I think both figures, last year’s and this year’s, are underestimates, as the general election campaign usually solidifies and increases the Lib Dem vote, in particular in the party’s key seats.

The local factor

YouGov, who conducted the poll for PoliticsHome, ask specifically about how people will vote in their area, and prompt respondents to think about their tactical voting considerations to try and get a more accurate picture than the simple ‘who would you vote for if there were a general election tomorrow’ formulation. This is especially relevant for the Lib Dems, who often benefit disproportionately from Labour / Tory voters being willing to ‘lend’ their preference to the party, either out of loyalty to the local Lib Dem MP, or because of their antipathy to Labour / Tory. The survey found, unsurprisingly, that:

The locally prompted question made the biggest difference in seats where the battle is between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the level of Liberal Democrat support increasing by 10 points when people were prompted to consider their own constituency, taking their support from both Labour and the Conservatives, suggesting that sitting Liberal Democrat MPs continue to benefit from both anti-Conservative tactical voting and a personal vote. National polls show the level of Liberal Democrat support far below what they achieved in 2005, but our poll shows that they are holding their own in the seats that matter.

Lib Dem campaigning

Given the disparity of financial resources – with the Tories pouring money into their target seats, aided and abetted by PoliticsHome’s new owner Lord Ashcroft – it’s especially encouraging to note that Lib Dem campaigning is proving far more effective than Tory campaigning in the Lib Dem / Tory marginal seats:

Respondents are far more likely to recall having received literature or seen adverts from the Liberal Democrats than the Conservatives.

Perceptions of the Lib Dems

The strengthening Lib Dem position revealed in the survey is also highlighted by the improved response to two questions asked about the party both in 2009 (and 2008):

A strong Liberal Democrat presence in the House of Commons would help moderate a future Tory government – Agree 50% (49%), Disagree 33% (39%), +17% (+10%)
I would vote Liberal Democrat if I thought they could win here – Agree 37% (34%), Disagree 48% (49%), -11% (-15%)

However, on one question there has been no change at all:
The Liberal Democrats seem like decent people but their policies wouldn’t work – Agree 50% (50%), Disagree 33% (33%), -17% (-17%)

Lib Dem performance in the south-west

Here’s the 2005 result:
Con 36%, Lab 14%, Lib Dem 45%, Others 5%

And here’s the 2009 projection:
Con 40%, Lab 10%, Lib Dem 40%, Others 10%

Projected Lib Dem losses to the Tories: Chippenham (notional LD seat currently), Cheltenham, Eastleigh, Hereford and North Herefordshire, Romsey and Southampton North, Somerton and Frome (notional Tory seat currently), St Austell and Newquay, Taunton Deane and Torbay.
Projected Lib Dem holds against the Tories: Bath, Camborne and Redruth, Mid Dorset and North Poole, Newton Abbott, North Cornwall, North Devon, Portsmouth South, South East Cornwall, Truro and Falmouth, Winchester and Yeovil.

Overall the c.4% swing from Lib Dem to Tory would result in a net loss for the party of eight seats. However, please note my earlier caveat – this is based on a regional swing: the survey is not a constituency poll.

Lib Dem performance against the Tories elsewhere

The news from the survey is much more positive elsewhere. In other areas where there is a concentration of Lib Dem / Tory marginals (eg, south-west London, Greater Manchester and Sheffield), the party is holdings its own.

Here’s the 2005 result:
Con 36%, Lab 14%, Lib Dem 48%, Others 4%

And here’s the 2009 projection:

Con 36%, Lab 11%, Lib Dem 46%, Others 7%

This projected swing of just 1% from Lib Dem to Tory across the 17 seats polled would be sufficient for the party to lose only one seat, Solihull. However, please note my earlier caveat – this is based on a regional swing: the survey is not a constituency poll.

Lib Dem performance against Labour

Here the news is more mixed, the survey finding “there is still little evidence of a Liberal Democrat advance in those seats where they are best positioned to beat Labour”. Though there is some tactical voting in the Lib Dems’ favour “it is the Conservatives who are gaining most from Labour’s unpopularity and they are projected to take seven seats from third place”.

Here’s the 2005 result:
Con 18%, Lab 39%, Lib Dem 35%, Others 8%

And here’s the 2009 projection:
Con 27%, Lab 30%, Lib Dem 32%, Others 11%

Projected Lib Dem gains from Labour: Islington South and Finsbury.
Projected Lib Dem holds against Labour: Manchester Withington, Oxford East (currently notional Lib Dem seat), Rochdale.
Projected Tory gains from Labour from third place: Derby North, Hampstead and Kilburn, Leeds North West
Labour holds: Birmingham Hall Green, City of Durham, Leicester South, Liverpool Wavertree, Oldham East and Saddleworth.

However, please note my earlier caveat – this is based on a regional swing: the survey is not a constituency poll.

Lib Dems in Scotland and Wales

In Wales, here’s the 2005 result:
Con 27%, Lab 37%, Lib Dem 18%, Plaid 13%, Others 4%

And here’s the 2009 projection:
Con 34%, Lab 26%, Lib Dem 15%, Plaid 17%, Others 11%

No Lib Dem gains projected, and one loss: Ceredigion (to Plaid).

In Scotland, here’s the 2005 result:
Con 23%, Lab 33%, Lib Dem 23%, SNP 19%, Others 3%

And here’s the 2009 projection:
Con 23%, Lab 25%, Lib Dem 17%, SNP 30%, Others 6%

Despite the projected drop in Lib Dem support, there are no projected losses of seats, and one predicted Lib Dem gain: Edinburgh South.

However, please note my earlier caveat – this is based on a regional swing: the survey is not a constituency poll.

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This entry was posted in General Election and Polls.


  • I can understand why Torbay is down as a loss, on the 2005 result; however I believe Adrian will win with a bigger majority. In 2005 there was an unpopular Lib Dem council and a newspaper editor out to get the Lib Dems.

  • Martin Kinsella 3rd Oct '09 - 1:00pm

    I think it is 50/50 for Chris Huhne. I am more surprised at the SW London Seats. It shows no losses. Personally I am braced to lose 3 and I do not think the Mansion Tax, although I love the policy, would not play well here.

    Still it is good fun and one for the political anoraks.

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 3rd Oct '09 - 1:56pm

    There is time to increase upwards in marginal L/D Seats and across the Country, as Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have generated a post Conference boost in support that is solid and growing. Vince Cable and Nick Clegg being voted the most trusted politicians and 24% in that Mori Poll.

    The electoral inequality paradox remains under FPTP if the L/D`s if polling 30% would not win equivalent Seats as Labour, as the latter will benefit unfairly in many constituencies and would only only win equality in terms of votes cast and Seats Won if STV was introduced.

    The important task is to convince the Electorate that the L/D`s can Win here that was stated repeatedly at Conference by our MP`s and talented PPC`s challenging to `Break the Mould’ .

    I am surprised that `MP`s Expenses’ is not higher on the radar and Nick Clegg has stood head and shoulders above the pack on this one.

    I agree that Crime and Anti-social Behaviour is most important and ABC`s is L/D Policy and works better than ASBO `s .

    Housing is not seen as being as important when it was one of the Emergency Motions debated at Conference.It is clear that issues between Country and Cities are going to be different and that is why we need to vote for `Localism’ .

  • Mark Williams 3rd Oct '09 - 2:51pm

    2 questions:
    1. What sort of hat?
    2. Will you be selling tickets?

  • Abbot. Newton ABBOT, there’s only one ‘t’ in the second word! (although as an error perpetuated by YouGov, PoliticsHome, UKPollingReport etc, I’m fully expecting it to appear incorrectly in the BBC’s election night coverage…..)

  • Joe Taylor Condliffe 3rd Oct '09 - 4:08pm

    We’d have to trip over our own shoelaces not to win Edinburgh South, Islington South, and Oxford East from Labour. 😉

    They’ve not really thought this through though, have they? I can think of a few bankers for gains from Labour that they haven’t even touched. Burnley anyone? Bradford East?

    Still, at least this’ll keep them guessing! 😀

    I remember on election night 2005 the BBC confidently predicted we’d get no more than 52-53 seats based on its exit polls. They hadn’t reckoned on strong Lib Dem performances in the likes of Manchester Withington, Hornsey & Wood Green, and Brent East (btw, Brent Central not even included in this poll!?)

    If we could score 12 gains from Labour at a time when they were still in the mid-30s, would anyone really bet on us getting less this time?

  • Andrew Lewin 3rd Oct '09 - 4:38pm

    I find this exercise absolutely fascinating and this poll will probably be the most comprehensive prediction we receive before the GE.

    I agree with the comments on Chris Huhne and Easteigh; but just as these regional swings will underplay our strength in some individual seats, they will overplay our hand in others.

    On the surface it is very encouraging that there is just a 0.7% swing to the Conservatives in LD-Con marginals outside of the South West. On these numbers we would not lose a single seat and even hold on in hyper marginals such as Richmond Park.

    My caveat is that I expect that underneath the headline 0.7% swing to the Tories there will be a significant amount of variation. For instance, I am convinced that in Sheffiled Hallam and Twickenham we will see marked swings to Messers Clegg and Cable. There could easily be an 8% swing to the Lib Dems in these two seats, but an 8.7% swing to the Tories in Sutton and Cheam and Richmond Park, averaging out as a 0.7% swing away. A bigger swing in their more achievable targets is enough to comfortably to give these two constituencies to the Tories.

    Much to ponder on and despite my unease about trusting too much in these regional swings, it is clear that our support is holding up far more strongly than many pundits and pollsters would have the public believe.

    Certainly a poll that should give us heart, but not an excuse for complacency!

  • Lost LibDem 3rd Oct '09 - 5:12pm

    I can see the Lib Dems losing many seats especially after the recent Vince Cable “Mansion Tax” fiasco. How can a party, which coherently argues for a local income tax to replace council tax, think that a mansion tax is either acceptable or practical? This one policy has made the Lib Dems look stupid. On top of other stange policies (e.g. energy), I can only see a downward slide in the next election. Sorry to say, my Lib Dem vote has now been lost..

  • Although not mentioned in the text, Chesterfield is shown on the map as a hold against Labour.

  • Anyone know why we’ve lost so much support in scotland and wales?

    @”Lost LibDem” as I understand it the mansion tax is an emergency measure which would only remain in place until the local income tax can be implemented. At any rate you’ll never find anyone to vote for if you judge them based soley on your impressions of a single policy, besides its not as if labour or the tories want to gt rid of the council tax.

    Or is this just a form of trolling and you don’t actualy give a **** about property tax.

  • Martin Kinsella 3rd Oct '09 - 7:32pm

    I do think Sarah Teather will see off New Labour Lobby fodder and serial trougher Dawn Butler but by the same token I cannot see us retaining Carshalton, Sutton and Richmond.

    Also Solihull is technically not a loss as it is notionally Tory on the new boundaries.

    LostLibDem has a point and he/she is not alone as in the poll on this forum others had the same view.

    Personally I like the policy but it will play badly in some of the seats we hold and are challenging in as it will be seen as counter-aspirational. However it is still the right thing to do. As is a local income tax and that played badly for us last time as the Tories were able to lie and mislead about it.

    How some people can call it “Tory biased” is beyond me. It is a poll conducted by a respected organisation where the methodology and rationale is fully publicised as to how they arrived at their conclusions. It is not in their interests to skew the poll in favour of one party or the other. To accuse it of bias simply because it does not show this seat or that seat going to us is stupid. The Tories could make the same claim about a seat like Carshalton and Wallington.

  • Lost LibDem 3rd Oct '09 - 7:47pm

    David L.G, I am not a troll and an enthusiastic Lib Dem supporter until recently (leaflet deliverer, election helper, etc), but the “Mansion Tax” is an inconsistent retrograde step backwards from a local income tax. As it was presented, it looked like Vince Cable had no clue about the praciticalities or cost … as witnessed by the horrified remarks of several senior Lib Dems who had obviously not been consulted. You say that the mansion tax is only an emergency measure… but this makes things worse. Why go to all this effort and cost and not go directly to local income tax? I am afraid this looks just like an opportunistic policy plucked out of the air to wrong-foot the Tories. Nobody will be fooled by this and it will play badly with the electorate in the election when the inconisistencies will be spelt out (and they will be).

    Also, it is not a single policy. The Lib Dem energy policy is aso crazy as outlined by Phil Woolas very recently. Here is another example where the Lib Dems have changed their minds (on the nuclear issue) and to have no serious understanding of the impending energy shortfall. I could of course also mention the income tax U turn in recent times (50%). How do you expect the electorate to take you seriously when there such inconsistent reversals of policy?

  • Burkesworks is right – the polling has missed out on some key marginals from its samples, showing an unduly pessimistic picture. As long as we fight hard we can win more in the North, particularly once we really start the “Labour is finished here” line.

    Still, it’s reasonably positive, considering you can still find polls showing us wiped out to 22 seats.

  • Martin Kinsella 3rd Oct '09 - 10:16pm

    So what Key Marginals are missed ? It has polled 232 and where a regional swing is so large it has extrapolated that to seats not polled as it did this year on the Urban West Midlands. It is pretty thorough and cherry picking by one or two seats where we think we can win is pointless. Certainly on the basis of the swing from Lab to us Bradford East would not fall next year.

    I do not think it is unduly pessimistic I think it is realistic. The risk is of a big squeeze next year by a resurgent Tories and a desperate Labour Party and this is why we need to have equi-distance between both parties and take both parties on.

  • @Lost LibDem

    I’m affraid that I don’t have a great understanding of economics but there is an arguement that it tax on property should’nt be replaced by taxes on income during a recession and I seem to recall somone saying in an interview that local income tax would take longer to calibrate.

    As for changes in policy, could peaple take us seriosly if we didn’t produce any policy at all until the election or rigidly stick to a discredited policy, the other parties might get away with this to some extent but thats not a good thing. We may have to agree to disagree but i think that producing policy but being open to changing it is the most mature approch, even if it isn’t perfect.

  • “I would vote Liberal Democrat if I thought they could win here – Agree 37% (34%), Disagree 48% (49%), -11% (-15%)”

    This question has been asked at every election I can remember. However in the past the “agree” %age was much higher – IIRC over 50%.

    It seems like the more credible we become (in terms of MPs won), more people think we can win, but fewer people will vote for us if they think we can win. A bit counter-intuitive but that’s the only way I can read it.

    The other way of looking at that is that under AV, if people thought we could win everywhere, we might lose everywhere 🙂

  • sanbikinoraion 5th Oct '09 - 12:56pm

    Everyone please note: the seats to sample have been picked because they are likely Tory target seats – Anthony Wells says as much over on ukpollingreport. UKPR is owned by the same folks as PolHome, IIRC, which is now Lord Ashcroft. So no surprise that the polling organization used was the also-Tory-owned YouGov.

    That’s not to say there’s nothing for us to learn here, but it’s unsurprising if the survey leaves out our own top target seats, since many of them will likely be unwinnable for the Tories, so there’s little point them paying for polling in them.

  • I see that YouGov is unable to locate Winchester on a map, placing it wrongly where Meon Valley should be. With a bit of luck, those busloads of Tory supporters will get lost in the hills next June.

  • Knowing a bit about seats in Hampshire I’d say Chris Huhne will be fine in Eastleigh (Council sewn-up, excellent local campaigners, reasonable Labour vote to squeeze) while Mike Hancock will hold Portsmouth South (he’s as canny a local campaigner as you’ll ever see).

    Not so sure about Winchester (excellent candidate in Martin Tod but I’d place more money on holding Eastleigh next door) and Romsey will be difficult (Sandra Gidley did very well to hold on last time).

    Expect Labour to lose Portsmouth North to the Tories (notional Tory seat on new boundaries anyway) while both Southampton seats could also go from Labour to Tory. Much could depend on who best targets resources into the right areas. Those of us living in unwinnable neighbouring constituencies should go and help where we can have most effect… though with local elections likely to be on the same day that might hamper the amount of help we can offer elsewhere.

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  • By The LDV Friday Five (ish): 9 October 2009 on Fri 9th October 2009 at 5:01 pm.

    […] YouGov marginals poll: what it means for the Lib Dems (35) by Stephen Tall 2. Iain Dale for Home Secretary? (10) by Richard Huzzey 3. Would slavery have […]

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