What the papers say

What the papers say

With the ending of the party conference season in the UK and the US election barely three weeks away there’s lots of meat for political gamblers in the papers this morning.

The Sunday Times’s Andrew Sullivan, in our view the best commentator on the US scene, has a good description of how the White House race is going and the impact of the TV debates. His piece starts-

Presidential campaigns have issues, candidates and polls. They also have something intangible called momentum. That’s what John Kerry has right now.

In the 10 days since the first debate, you can feel the Democrat slowly gaining what the first president Bush called the “Big Mo”. The polls have turned around in as little as a week from a clear and growing Bush lead into what is, by most measurements, a tie. That’s a very striking shift this late in the game and the Bush-Cheney campaign tried all week to reverse it. They failed.

The Observer’s Nick Cohen returns to his theme of a few weeks ago challenging the assumption of the Westminster Village that Tony Blair’s third term is just there for the taking and refers to politicalbetting.com.

It’s still easy to imagine Labour supporters voting Lib Dem to keep the Tories out but hard to see how most opponents of the war can vote for Tony Blair. The demise of tactical voting will reinvigorate the Tories as certainly as its rise destroyed them. In St Albans and Welwyn and many tight seats like them, the Tories don’t need to increase their vote to win. They just need Lib Dems, Greens and the rest to stop voting Labour.

Westminster wisdom holds that there are scarcely any Labour/Lib Dem marginals. But again the standard line feels all wrong. If the Lib Dems are taking safe Labour seats in by-elections, why should it be different at the general election? Put it this way, if you woke up the morning after to hear that the Lib Dems had replaced 20 Labour MPs in constituencies with large student, liberal middle-class and Muslim populations, would it be such a shock?

Peter Hain is alone among Labour leaders in realising that his party could be caught in a pincer movement. His colleagues and most of the media don’t grasp the possibility because their extrapolations from poll findings are based on a set of voting assumptions which predict that the pattern of tactical anti-Tory voting of 2001 won’t break down in 2005. (They are known as the ‘Baxter assumptions’ if you want to impress your friends.)

An ICM Poll in the Sunday Telegraph shows that Labour is benefitting strongly from Tony Blair’s announcement that he will step down at the end of his next term provided that he wins the election. The ICM figures will be a disappointment to Michael Howard although the survey took place before his closing speech. CON 30% LAB 39% LD 23% UKIP 3%

The Independent is now using NOP to do opinion polls – the first was published yesterday and had LAB 36: CON 34: LIBD 21. We hope that this does not mean that the Indy has abandoned the revolutionary US pollster Rasmussen which was the polling success of the 2001 election and contrasted sharply with conventional firms who prodced exaggerated Labour leads.

Rasmussen uses computers rather than interviewers to talk to people who use the telephone key-pad to give their answers. It was the only pollster to get the Tory share precisely right. It gave Labour an 11% margin against the 9.3% that actually happened. By contrast NOP’s final poll had a 17% Labour lead – the same margin as one of the two final week ICM surveys. In a much tighter contest such variations could be criticial.

    The flaw of conventional polls using interviewers is that they do not replicate the anonymous nature of the secret ballot and Tories seem much more reluctant than other voters to admit their allegiances to another human being. Rasmussen had cracked this. It would be a real pity if they are not used for the coming General Election.

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