Yes, you did read that headline correctly, it wasn’t a typo, I am going to discuss whether the Lib Dems can make net gains in parliamentary seats at the 2015 General election, which might seem odd, given the Lib Dems current travails in the polls.
Since the start of April, of the 37 polls conducted by YouGov, the Lib Dems have only led UKIP in four of them, averaging 10.4% to UKIP’s 12.8% in that period.
In the 16 non YouGov polls published since April, The Lib Dems have only led UKIP in one poll, that was the April ICM poll for the Guardian, where they led UKIP by 6%, by the time of May Guardian ICM poll, UKIP led the Lib Dems by 7% in that poll.
In these non YouGov polls, the Lib Dems averaged 9.4% to UKIP’s 16.1%
So why am I suggesting the Lib Dems could make net gains at the next election?
It was said UKIP cost the Tories anywhere from 5 to 10 seats in the 2010 General Election.
That was when they polled a little over 3% nationwide in The General Election.
Just imagine how many seats they can cost the Conservatives if they poll on election day anything like they are currently polling.
Even if they poll on election day half of what they are currently polling with ICM, that would be 9%, three times what they achieved in 2010.
There is evidence that UKIP surge is coming disproportionately from people who voted Conservative in 2010, per the ICM poll for the Guardian this month
Over a quarter of Cameron’s 2010 backers, 27%, had switched to Ukip by May. Some 13% of 2010 Labour supporters have gone the same way, together with 12% of 2010 Lib Dems.
(I’m making the assumption that the UKIP will do better in the South of England, than in other parts of the UK, hence the focus on the Southern seats)
The graph below shows the number of seats in the South of England where the Tories are the incumbents, the Lib Dems are second and the majority is less than 10%.
You can see exactly what seats could be in the Lib Dem sights here
If UKIP maintain their current polling performance at the General Election, then those seats have the potential to become gains for the Lib Dems.
There is precedent for the nationwide Lib Dem share of the vote to decline, but for the seat numbers to go up. In the 1997 General Election, the Lib Dem share of the vote declined by 1%, but in terms of seats, they went from 18 MPs to 46 MPs.
At the last General Election, the Lib Dem share of the vote went up 1%, but they suffered a net loss in seats, going from having 62 MPs to 57 MPs.
The Eastleigh by-election showed how effective the Lib Dem ground game is, particularly in the seats they hold, as Lord Ashcroft noted in January
The Lib Dems will almost certainly do better on the day than their poll numbers currently suggest, since local factors and popular MPs are a more important part of their appeal.
A few weeks prior to the by-election, the Lib Dems were polling 7% with phone pollster Mori, and trailing UKIP.
The irony that a mixture of first past the post and UKIP, could benefit the Lib Dems, will not be lost on some.
Currently the Lib Dems have 57 MPs, Ladbrokes have the following odds on the Lib Dem seat ranges at the next General Election
- 0-10, 12/1
- 11-20, 5/1
- 21-30, 4/1
- 31-40, 3/1
- 41-50, 4/1
- 51-60, 10/1
- 61-70, 20/1
- 71+, 10/1
The 51+ odds look enticing to me.