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24 January 2010

Voters are choosing the best of a bad bunch

Two very different opinion polls yield ultimately similar results

By Samira Shackle

Two very different opinion polls were published in the tabloids this morning.

A ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror shows the Tories on 38 per cent, Labour on 29 per cent, and the Lib Dems on 19. This is a drop of 4 points for the Tories since the last ComRes poll and, if repeated at the general election, would leave the Conservatives five seats short of an overall majority.

As Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report points out, this is a direct reversal of the 4-point gain seen in the last ComRes poll, and marks a return to the results shown in the previous poll.

This is in tune with the pattern that has emerged over the past few months of polling. Fluctuations of a few points that indicate either a hung parliament, or a skin-of-the-teeth majority for the Tories, are invariably heralded as a remarkable blow or triumph for one party or the other, depending on which paper you’re reading. Yet all these numbers really show is a depressing lack of conviction on the part of voters, and a continued sense that we’re just picking the best of a bad lot.

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An ICM poll for News of the World takes a different approach, focusing exclusively on 97 Labour-held marginal seats. For the uninitiated, marginal seats are those where the incumbent holds a small majority of votes; they are theoretically easier for the opposition to win. This poll gives the Conservatives 40 per cent, a 9.2 per cent hike on the last election. Labour gets 37 per cent, which is 7.4 per cent down from 2005, and the Liberal Democrats 14 per cent, a reduction of 3.8 per cent.

There is a slightly larger swing towards the Tories in the constituencies where they really need to win than in the country as a whole. But, as Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting points out, the poll excludes Liberal Democrat-held marginal seats, which might be tougher for the Conservatives to win.

Further details in the ICM poll confirm that the swing towards the Tories is more to do with disillusionment with the Labour government than any active enthusiasm for the Conservatives. Just 28 per cent of respondents recalled seeing signs of Conservative campaigning in their area — roughly equivalent to the 24 per cent who recalled seeing Labour campaigning.

Of two polls published on the same day, then, one shows encouragement for Labour and one hope for the Tories. The insistence of both parties that this is the election for change does not seem to have penetrated the inertia enveloping the electorate.

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