The Lib Dem bubble hasn't burst

Latest polls put Lib Dems ahead of Labour and show little decline in support.

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Latest poll (YouGov/Sunday Times) Conservatives 43 seats short of a majority.

There are no fewer than six new opinion polls out today, most of which show the Conservatives' lead beginning to recover.

The latest Ipsos MORI/News of the World poll will undoubtedly attract the most attention. It puts the Tories up four points to 36 per cent, Labour up two to 30 per cent and the Lib Dems down nine to a pre-debate level of 23 per cent. But since none of the remaining five show a similar decline in Lib Dem support, I think it's safe to assume this is a rogue poll (around one in twenty are).

Elsewhere, the YouGov daily tracker has the Tories on 35 per cent (+1), the Lib Dems on 28 per cent (-1) and Labour on 27 per cent (-2). If repeated on a uniform swing at the election, the figures would leave David Cameron 43 seats short of a majority in a hung parliament.

It's worth noting that after reaching a peak of 34 per cent last week, the Lib Dems' share of the vote has settled at around 28-29. This is still unusually high, but it does suggest that the surge may have peaked.

Meanwhile, the latest ComRes survey for the Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday shows the Conservative lead falling back to five points after two earlier polls put it at eight-nine points. The poll puts the Tories down one to 34 per cent, the Lib Dems up two 29 per cent and Labour up three to 28 per cent.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament, Conservatives 54 seats short.

Like ComRes, the latest ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll also suggests support for the Lib Dems remains healthy, with Clegg's party up one to 31 per cent. The Tories are on 35 per cent (+2) and Labour on 26 per cent (-2). On a uniform swing, the figures would leave Cameron 50 seats short of an overall majority.

There is also a new BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday which has topline figures of Con 34 per cent (+3), Lib Dems 30 per cent (-2) and Lab 26 per cent (-2). Finally, a OnePoll survey for the People has the Tories on 32 per cent, the Lib Dems also 32 per cent and Labour on just 23 per cent. But it's currently unclear whether the company uses proper weighting, so I'm leaving it out of our Poll of Polls for now.

Overall, it looks the right-wing smears against Nick Clegg have failed to dent Lib Dem support and that his party is still set for a record-breaking performance at the election. Meanwhile, several of the polls suggest that the extraordinary possibility of Labour falling into third place at the election cannot be ignored.

In the case of the Tories, a significant amount of progress is needed in the remaining two weeks if they are to prevent Britain's first hung parliament since 1974.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.