Could the Tories miss out by just 5,357 votes?

The 16 constituencies that will deprive David Cameron of an overall majority.

Another day, another raft of opinion polls -- but how to interpret them? We know that applying a uniform national swing is unsatisfactory, as it takes no account of concentrated canvassing in marginals, regional issues, or the incumbency factor, likely to help popular sitting MPs regardless of the relative unpopularity of their party.

Yet, only the very occasional survey polls opinion on a constituency-by-constituency basis, and even then only in key marginals.

In an attempt to make more sense of national numbers as they apply across the country's 650 constituencies, Resolver Systems has developed a forecasting model that looks to make more of "where votes come from".

For example, Liberal Democrat voters in 2005 who say they are switching to another party are much more likely to vote for the Conservatives than they are not to vote at all. However, people who voted for parties that were not one of the "big three" are much more likely to stay home than they are to vote for the Conservatives. (The modellng is more complex than that, but that's the gist.)

16 seats that could deprive Cameron of his majority

 

Applying this method to the most recent Guardian/ICM poll (crucially ICM is one of the few polling firms to ask a question about past voting behaviour), the predicted outcome of the election would leave the Tories up by 100 seats but still 16 short of an overall majority.

The constituencies that would have deprived the Tories of power are listed above. The tiny majorities in all 16 amount to 5,357 -- in other words, the number of votes between a hung parliament and an overall majority.

It's worth noting that Populus has begun asking the "previous voting" question and Daniel Finkelstein and his Fink Tank team at the Times are attempting to do something similar. Yesterday, based on the latest Times/Populus poll, they predicted the Tories would be seven seats short of power.

We'll be returning to the Resolver numbers between now and election day.

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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