This morning Interel hosted YouGov’s Director of Political and Social Research Anthony Wells at one of our regular breakfast briefings.
Anthony provided us with an overview of the current state of the polls ahead of next week’s General Election, including insight into the findings of YouGov’s MRP poll, which predicted that the Conservatives were on course to win a majority of 68 seats.
The following are they key points from Anthony’s presentation and the discussion afterwards.
1. Polling shows the Conservatives are still on course for a majority, but the gap is narrowing
The past two weeks has seen a narrowing of the gap between the Conservatives and Labour. However, this process is not as significant as last time, and has occurred later in the election campaign than in 2017. While Labour have improved their position marginally, Conservative support has grown and plateaued.
The biggest change has been the fall in the Brexit Party vote, caused by Nigel Farage’s decision to withdraw his party from all Conservative held seats.
The other factor to consider is the leaders’ personal ratings. The story of 2017 was that Jeremy Corbyn went from extremely unpopular to neck and neck with Theresa May in the space of a month. However, the polling does not suggest a similar pattern this time.
2. Brexit, health, crime and the environment are the top issues
In 2017 Brexit, health and immigration were seen to be the issues of most importance to voters.
This time round, polling suggests immigration is less of an issue, while the environment and crime have risen up the list of voters’ concerns. While the Conservatives are perceived to be stronger on Brexit and crime, the NHS is still the second most important issue this time around and this favours Labour. Both parties are fighting to promote their green credentials.
3. There are now two separate electorates
Voter modelling suggests there are two parallel electorates, one for Leave supporters, and another for those who voted Remain in the EU referendum.
The Tory lead has been driven by their ability to monopolise Leave inclined voters at this election. In this, they have been boosted by the steep decline in support for the Brexit Party. In contrast, the Remain electorate is fragmented between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and smaller parties like the SNP and Greens.
The split in the electorate is replicated in Scotland, although on different lines as the main political dividing line continues to be between the two sides in the 2014 independence referendum. On current projections, the Scottish Tories are expected to do better than anticipated at the start of the campaign, and they remain the leading unionist party.
4. The Liberal Democrats are facing the traditional third party squeeze
Just over a month ago the Liberal Democrats were riding a wave of popularity and predicting gains in the double figures. Jo Swinson was even able to confidently position herself as a credible candidate for Prime Minister. However, a week before polling day those hopes look dashed.
There are different explanations for the Liberal Democrats’ current predicament. One explanation is that they have simply suffered the usual squeeze that the third party faces in every election. Another theory is that, by renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement in October, Boris Johnson has succeeded in winning back Remain inclined Tory voters who were hostile to a no deal Brexit. There will clearly be a debate about whether the Liberal Democrat pledge to revoke Article 50 has backfired, alienating voters suffering from over three years of Brexit fatigue.
Nonetheless, given the impact of local factors and tactical voting, it is still possible that the Liberal Democrats may overshoot expectations. Small variations in vote share in individual constituencies could make a big difference to their final result. Today’s polls suggest they are still on course to make gains in Remain voting Richmond Park and St Albans, although they face a tough fight in Leave supporting Eastbourne and Carshalton and Wallington.
If the Liberal Democrats leapfrog Labour in some of their London target seats, this suggests they may poll at a level that will position them in a better place to be competitive in the election after this one.
5. The Conservative road to victory runs through the ‘red wall’
Modelling shows that the Conservative path to victory lies on them picking up Labour seats in the North and Midlands.
Key battleground seats are those in traditional areas which have long voted Labour but inclined towards Leave during the referendum.
Key seats to watch this time around will be Bishop Auckland, and constituencies such as Dudley North, Stockton South, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Crewe and Nantwich.
6. Polling is an inexact science
Notwithstanding that a lot can happen in the week before polling day, polls can only provide a snapshot and not a definitive prediction.
In 2015, polls failed to predict the result because the way in which different sections of the population were sampled gave excessive weighting to those who were more politically engaged than others.
While lessons have been learned from 2017, particularly around polling young people, there are other hard to reach groups which might mean that current projections may not match the final result.