The election gets interesting

The election looked like it would be a choice between a Conservative overall majority and a hung parliament. Then came the first leaders’ debate on TV. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg did well, and now voters are flocking to him.

Here are the opinion polls taken after the TV debate:

Publication Survey End

Date Date Poller For Con Lab LD others
Mon Apr 19 ICM Guardian 33 28 30 9
Mon Apr 19 YG Sun 32 26 33 9
Sun Apr 18 Sat Apr 17 CR S Mirror 31 27 29 13
Sun Apr 18 Thu Apr 15 ICM S Telegraph 34 29 27 10
Sat Apr 17 Fri Apr 16 YG Sun 33 28 30 9
Sun Apr 18 Sat Apr 17 YG S Times 33 30 29 8
Sun Apr 18 Sat Apr 17 BPIX Mail on S 31 28 32 9

In two of these (highlighted), the Lib Dems came first and in most of the others they came second.

The average of these is Conservative 32.4%, Lib dems on 30%, and Labour trailing on 28%. On a uniform swing this would give the Tories 242 seats, the Lib Dems 100, and Labour 277. (Note how the undemocratic FPTP voting system gives the party that came third the most number of seats).

I wasn’t expecting a big surge for the Lib Dems, and nor was anyone else. So why did it happen? I think this goes back to the expenses scandal last year, when voters got disillusioned with the political establishment. Coming in to the election they had decided they didn’t like Labour, but they hadn’t yet been sold on the Conservatives. Charlotte Gore expresses this in more detail.

So while the Tories had a lead, it was a very soft one. When Nick Clegg did well in the debate lots of voters decided to get behind him. A lot of voters had been plumping for minor parties in the opinion polls; 3rd and smaller parties doing increasingly well is a trend that goes back to the 1950s. After the debate, a lot of the support for minor parties went to the Lib Dems, who had traditionally been a home of those voters disillusioned with the establishment.

The main question now is will the Lib dem surge hold up, or will it burst before May the 6th? I think it will hold up because:

  • there are 2 more leadership debates, which Brown and Cameron must be dreading but Clegg eagerly anticipating.
  • attempts to rubbish the Lib Dems won’t work, they’ll just make the Labservatives look nasty and scared
  • attempts to rubbish the Lib Dems’ policies won’t work either, they’ll just result in the Lib Dems getting more publicity
  • the election is only 16 days away, which isn’t long enough for the Clegg surge to dissipate

So look forward to a hung parliament, constitutional reform, and a sensible voting system.

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