The mid-term effects look to be finally wearing off
Two months out from the election and from the Politicalbetting Polling Average, the Tories look to be coming into form at the right time. I say ‘look to be’ because there is a little more to it than meets the eye, but first the numbers for February, which are:
Con 34.0 (+2.5), Lab 33.6 (+1.0), UKIP 12.0 (-2.5), LD 7.6 (-0.4), Grn 7.0 (-0.3), Oth 5.8 (-0.3)
While we should be cautious about excessive hyperbole, these are pretty spectacular figures: the first Tory lead since Jan 2012, the highest Tory share since March 2012, the lowest UKIP score in a year, the lowest Lib Dem share of the parliament and the closest the Greens have been to fourth place.
What’s caused them? Well, here is where we need to exercise that caution. The most extraordinary poll of the year so far has been ICM’s February one, which gave the Tories a four point lead on a share of 36%; the highest share and highest lead reported by any company. And the Tories’ lead overall rests solely on that poll – had ICM been level-pegging, Labour would have been just ahead in the Average, though the Conservatives would still be up by a four full points since December.
So is crossover a rogue-poll effect? This is where I’m a bit confused. The PBPA is a weighted average of the monthly averages of the five pollsters to have consistently reported since the start of 2011: YouGov, ICM, Ipsos-Mori, Comres (phone), and Opinium. This gives the index consistency and allows us to compare movement over the length of the parliament without having to worry too much about methodological issues or fluctuating composition. The other pollsters have either been sporadic, have significantly changed methodology or are newcomers. Strangely, however, while all five in the index have shown increases for Con, four of the five not in it have shown declines (the other, Ashcroft, is near enough no change). Indeed, Populus has virtually every party travelling in the opposite direction to those in the Average, though their divergence from the rest can at least be in part explained by their starting to prompt for UKIP in February.
Even so, the Average contains those firms which it does because of their consistency and track record, so while some caution might be due given the other companies’ findings last month, it’s only caution; we shouldn’t dismiss them entirely.
What does seem to be happening is the mid-term protest effect is wearing off. UKIP slid for the fourth consecutive month, after a difficult time in the media. While minor parties can get away with poor likability scores if they have a strong enough core, it does appear that UKIP’s and Farage’s declining approval ratings are now feeding through to their VI scores.
Significantly, that decline does not appear to have fed into an increase in another minor party but to the Big Two, which are up 3.5% on the month and 5% since December (I’d be very sceptical about equating the 2.5% drop in UKIP and the 2.5% increase in the Con share; it’s more complex than that). However, while we’re still a very long way away from where we were in 2010, we are at least heading in that direction. But with only two months to go, the polls imply that Labour’s lead is gone, the Tories wouldn’t have most seats, the Lib Dems would be annihilated, UKIP is on the slide and the Greens won’t break through. Interesting times.