The Tories have a bigger problem than just UKIP

9:00 am - September 16th 2013

by Leo Barasi    

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Lord Ashcroft’s mega poll of key marginals, released yesterday, has been interpreted as showing three things:

1) Labour are doing very well against the Tories in the Tory-Labour battlegrounds

2) The Lib Dems are doing less well but still ok against the Tories in the Tory-LD battlegrounds

3) The Tories’ problems are a result of their voters defecting to UKIP

I agree with the first two interpretations, but the third looks to me to be a misreading of the data. Its extensive coverage in papers that would prefer Cameron to be more UKIP-like – the Telegraph, Mail & Express – suggests wishful thinking.

I’m going to focus on the poll of Tory-Labour marginals because that’s got more constituencies (32 vs 8) and a much bigger sample size – and it’s the one the coverage has focused on.

This is a poll of constituencies the Tories hold, so at the last election, Labour were slightly behind in all of them. Yet now the headline voting intent figure has Labour 13pts ahead*:

But UKIP’s vote is 14% and Labour’s lead is only 13pts, so that means UKIP are the reason Labour are leading in the constituencies, right?


Not even two in five of that 14% who would vote UKIP in the next election voted Tory in 2010:

If UKIP were to disappear after the EU elections and the Tories were to be reunited with their lost voters, they would gain just 5.3pts – not nearly enough to overhaul Labour’s lead. And of course if UKIP were to disappear, some of those Labour defectors could return, potentially adding 2pts to Labour’s score. Put those together and the UKIP damage to the Tories is just over 3pts: less than a quarter of Labour’s lead.

This isn’t to say Labour’s lead in these constituencies is secure. Out of the main parties it has kept the highest proportion of its 2010 voters, and of course it’s had a sizeable chunk of people who abandoned the Lib Dems after the coalition was agreed. But it also has the largest number of people who didn’t vote in 2010**:

These people have already said in the poll that they’re going to vote at the next election, but the high proportion of people who didn’t vote in 2010 is a risk if they regularly don’t turn up at elections (though some are probably first-time voters). And of course there are other reasons the Labour vote may fall.

But the idea that UKIP is the reason the Tories are behind in these key marginals is just not true – or at best it’s a quarter of the truth.

* There’s a separate voting intent question that encourages respondents to think about their particular constituency. This might be a better guide of how people will actually vote when push comes to shove, but I’m not using it here because I’d rather stick with something that’s comparable with other polls. Anyway, UKIP’s vote is smaller there and Labour’s lead is larger.

** The tables don’t show exactly what proportion of those “Other/Didn’t vote” were non-voters in 2010 (they need to be weighted by turnout), but the raw numbers suggest they’re overwhelmingly non-voters and that more than half of those who didn’t vote in 2010 but would now, would now vote Labour.

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About the author
Leo is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He manages communications for a small policy organisation, and writes about polling and info from public opinion surveys at Noise of the Crowd
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. AndyRayWimbledon

Excellently incisive analysis!

If I am ever declared Supreme Ruler Of The Universe the second thing I will do after disembowelling George Osborne with a corkscrew will be to ban opinion polls. They have destroyed politics, leaving politicians in thrall to the bloody things and 93% of the population agree.

3. Paul Peter Smith

I wouldn’t be too smug if I were Labour, the word on the street in the province’s is that UKIP are looking pretty attractive to your traditional Labour voter (the white working class kind, remember them?). Has any serious polling happened in Labour heartlands with regard to this?

I suspect that the findings of Lord Ashcroft’s poll of marginal seats have more than a little to do with the increasing number of personal attacks on Ed Miliband – so much less intellectually challenging to orchestrate than debates over government policies – and now the threat of Jeremy Clarkson to stand in the election against Miliband in his Doncaster seat.

Btw is it any wonder why Salmond prefers to debate against Cameron on independence for Scotland than to debate against Alistair Darling? Perhaps one of the surprises to emerge in this Parliament is that Cameron really isn’t very bright for an Oxford PPE graduate. There were early clues: “There is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state,” is not a statement that withstands close analysis by the Oxford tradition of analytical philosophy.

IMO the Tories do have a bigger problem than just UKIP.

Btw in tonight’s news: Vince Cable says early coalition divorce possible

News update on LibDem party conference in Glasgow:

Shameless treachery: Mr Cable is the most disloyal and devious politician of our times

Yesterday, Vince Cable delivered a speech at the Liberal Party Conference which for sheer bile was without precedent in modern times. No Cabinet minister has ever attacked the Government of which he is part in such vitriolic terms.

Very evidently, UKIP is not the only problem the Conservatives have.


Clarkson isn’t very popular in Doncaster but after the recent union bashing by Ed, he isn’t that popular either. Doncaster, along with a few other safe Labour seats in South Yorkshire, could throw up some unwelcome results for Labour, UKIP, IMO, are a far bigger risk to Labour than the tories.

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