As you may have noticed, I have been away from Elections in Wales duty for a bit. While I was off re-charging my psephological batteries, Lord Ashcroft released another set of polls in key Labour-Conservative marginal seats. (The full results of all the polling are here.) As with his previous round of such polling (which was conducted in April and published in May), this round (which was conducted in June, and published last week) included one Welsh seat, Cardiff North.
Cardiff North is a very important seat at the next general election. As well as enjoying the singular honour of being my own constituency, it is one of the most marginal seats in the whole of the UK – the Tories having captured it by a mere 194 votes in 2010. If they were to have any serious hopes of advancing from their current position in the House of Commons towards an overall majority, the Conservatives really need to hold Cardiff North. On the other hand, if Labour is to stand any chance of winning an overall majority, then they certainly need to gain the seat.
The prospects for the parties, however, are somewhat complicated by the factor of incumbency. We know from copious research that popular sitting MPs can outperform the typical swings experienced by their parties. That was probably one reason why Cardiff North was so close in 2010. On the average swings seen across Britain, and Wales, the Conservatives should have gained the seat fairly comfortably. However, Labour’s popular incumbent MP, Julie Morgan, kept the swing from Labour to the Conservatives down to a mere 1.5%. With Julie Morgan not standing next year – she is now the AM for the constituency, having won it decisively in 2011 – that ought to hand a significant advantage to the Conservatives. However, the Tories’ own position has potentially been weakened by the fact that the victor in 2010, Jonathan Evans, has already announced his decision to stand down at the next general election. So while Labour will have lost any incumbency advantage they had in 2010, the Conservatives will not gain from incumbency as they might have expected.
So how are things shaping up for the parties? As with his previous polls, Lord Ashcroft asked two main voting intention questions. The first was the standard “If there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?” The results for this question (with changes on April’s poll in brackets) were:
Labour: 38% (-3)
Conservatives: 31% (-3)
UKIP: 14% (+6)
Plaid Cymru: 5% (-2)
Liberal Democrats: 5% (-3)
Thus, the modest Labour lead has remained exactly where it was on this question, even as both leading parties have lost some ground to UKIP.
However, Lord Ashcroft also asked a second, following up question on voting intention: “Thinking specifically about your own PARLIAMENTARY constituency at the next General Election and the candidates who are likely to stand FOR ELECTION TO WESTMINSTER there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency?”. (Emphasis in original. Note that although the question refers to the ‘candidates who are likely to stand’, it did not actually name them, as there was not a full list of candidates available for all parties in all the seats that were polled). Results for this question (with changes from April again in brackets) were:
Labour: 41% (+1)
Conservatives: 30% (-3)
UKIP: 12% (+4)
Plaid Cymru: 7% (no change)
Liberal Democrats: 6% (-4)
The results here are clearly somewhat more encouraging for Labour: they have actually slightly increased their lead over the Conservatives since April.
The poll contained a couple of other interesting questions. One asked respondents whether they recalled having been contacted by the parties ‘over the last few weeks’. Here, the Conservatives were slightly ahead of Labour in Cardiff North (with 31% of respondents recalling having been contacted by them, compared to 27% for Labour); however, this represents a halving of the Tory advantage on this measure from the previous poll.
A second interesting question asked people if there were any parties that they would definitely not vote for at the general election. Here, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP tied in first (or rather last) place, with 65% of respondents each naming them; Plaid Cymru scored 58%, the Conservatives 48%, while Labour did best with only 39% choosing them. Particularly damning for the Lib-Dems is that more than half of the Cardiff North sample who indicated that they voted Lib-Dem in 2010 now said that they definitely would not vote for them in 2015.
As I mentioned in my discussion of the previous Cardiff North poll, we should exercise some caution in interpreting these polls. Individual constituency polls have a distinctly mixed record; moreover, they can only gauge voting intentions now, and can’t tell us what might change over the next nine months. But at the moment Labour are in the lead in Cardiff North. Although their advantage is nowhere near sufficient for a Labour victory here to be a certainty, Mari Williams must now be the clear favourite to gain the seat.