What should we conclude from these numbers?
The above poll questions on voter motivations are ones that are often included in the parties’ own private surveys but you don’t often see them in published polls.
As far as I can see the last time the findings appeared was in the September 2008 Populus poll for the Times and my understanding is that more up-to-date private research suggests that the broad picture has not changed much.
The big picture is that there’s a huge difference between the motivations of Labour supporters and those who say they’ll vote Tory or Lib Dem. For the former it’s very much a positive choice – for the later getting on for half the support is negative. This should have a major impact on the election strategies of all the parties.
The numbers mean, I contend, that a significant proportion of the Conservative and Lib Dem vote is soft with the potential for a high level of switching as we get closer to polling day and voters become more aware about the specific electoral situations in their constituencies. Both Labour and the Tories could benefit from Lib Dem movement. At the same time the Lib Dems have to keep their Labour tactical voters interested.
This means that the Lib Dems are going to find themselves squeezed in LAB>CON marginals. It also means that there’s a strong prospect of Tory switchers in LD-LAB marginals – those already in LD hands and those the party is hoping to get and they are clearly the challenger.
In three way marginals, even those where the Lib Dems are currently in second place, it’s going to be hard for Clegg’s party to make the progress they are hoping for and there should be hard thinking about targeting strategy.
The polling and the increasing understanding that voters develop of their local situations will affect the whole debate that’s being going on over Lib Dem incumbents.
Thus if a large part of the surge to the Tories has been because Labour is seen so negatively then it’s going to be much harder for Cameron and his team to make a switching case in the key LD>CON marginals where the Lib Dems hold the seat.
And what are the lessons for Labour from these poll findings? It’s simple – the election should be about reinforcing their supporters view of the party. Messages should be about social justice and how what the party is doing is in line with core principles even though being in power has meant that compromises have had to be made. Just attacking the Tories might not be enough.
There should be a new Populus poll out tonight. The February survey for the Times was carried out over the weekend.