Some straws to clutch at
If the Tories want to think positively there are a number of factors that could mean the election outcome will not be as bad as seems at the moment.
“Conventional polls that use interviewers have got it wrong.“ There is a strong argument for saying that poll surveys that use interviewers are overplaying Labour and underplaying the Tories. The difference in Tory shares in interviewer-free polls like YouGov and Rasmussen in 2001 over the normal surveys was substantial. The final week ICM survey that was nearly right has to be read in the context of its other survey, which started at the same time, that reported a 17% margin aganist the actual 9.3%. People seem much more ready to be frank when dealing with a computer questionaire or answering points over the phone in an automated survey.
The most recent elections where polls could be compared with actual results – the Scottish Parliament vote in 2003 and the Euros in 2004 – further underlined this trend that was seen at the 2001 General Election.
“Even YouGov might be under-stating the Tories.” The polling commentator, Anthony Wells, has raised interesting questions about the age profile in YouGov surveys which seems to indicate that they are including less than half the proportion of over-65s than they should. Given that this group is much more likely to be Tory this could have an effect.
“The desire to keep the Tories out might not be as strong.” A key aspect of 2001 was how well Labour performed in the seats it won in the previous election compared with its strongholds. Here it did more than 3% better and meant that Tony Blair was able to secure another 160+ majority even though his lead over the Tories was cut substantially. Will this happen again? This is very hard call because issues like Iraq, student fees, and “trust” could have a salami-slice effect on the Labour vote. We still think that Labour will do better in its marginals but by not the same extent.
“Michael Howard will have a good campaign.” The Tory leader certainly looks more “prime minsterial” than his predecessor but one, William Hague, and can often win the argument over Blair. But he has also a propensity to make mis-judgements like in the days before the publication of the Hutton report last year and these might show up during the frenzied pressure of the campaign.
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