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Polls keep Conservatives in the lead but Labour is closing the gap

Louise Wilson

Prime Minister, Theresa May, looks set to continue her stint at Downing Street come 9th June. But the interesting factor in this election is not who will win – but how much of a majority she will have. In fact, much of this General Election has the feel of the Holyrood election last year, when SNP victory was inevitable.

Before this election was called, polling indicated that Labour was languishing roughly 20 points behind the Conservatives. Indeed, this was one of the main reasons why Theresa May called the election – in order to become that “strong and stable” Government with a huge parliamentary majority behind her.

Since that day in late April though, Labour has managed to recover somewhat from its poor showing. The party is still a good many points behind, but its trajectory is on the increase while the Conservatives’ polling results have remained, er, strong and stable in the mid-to-late 40s.

This isn’t just one polling agency either, with the data used for the above graph coming from a variety of sources via UKPollingReport, plus a handful of more recent ones thrown in.

Labour, it seems, is closing the gap.

I know what you’re thinking. We’ve been here before. In the run up to the General Election in 2015, hung parliaments were predicted all round. No one expected a majority government. Many commentators put this down to the “shy Tory” effect – when Conservative voters tended to keep their preference under wraps. After this happened, and amid declarations that “the polls were lying to us!”, the British Polling Council launched an inquiry.

What the Council concluded was not that the pollsters had interpreted the data wrong, nor was it that Conservative voters were “shy Tories”. Rather, it was an issue with the samples.

“Our conclusion is that the primary cause of the polling miss in 2015 was unrepresentative samples. The methods the pollsters used to collect samples of voters systematically over-represented Labour supporters and under-represented Conservative supporters.”

(p.4 of the BPC final report)

Several recommendations were made to tackle this, which pollsters have responded to. YouGov has even proven some success in boosting polling accuracy since its new measures were implemented. Polls now are probably the most reliable they have been in a couple of decades.

The upward swing for Labour is unlikely to install Jeremy Corbyn at Number 10 though. The stability of the Conservative numbers suggest that few voters are switching their support, meaning the growth for Labour is coming from the Don’t Know pile. Many of these are probably people who have voted Labour in the past, are not fans of Corbyn but feel they must back the red corner in the face of May’s Government.

Others may be first time (or first-in-a-long-time) voters which Corbyn has successfully managed to galvanise into action – a narrative many “Corbynistas” prefer. But given the effort required to encourage consistent non-voters to vote, the campaign is fast running out of time.

The question remains, how much of a majority will May secure? Smaller than she originally hoped, if the polls are anything to go by, but probably still sizeable enough so she won’t have to make nine U-turns in 12 months again.

Another question is: will Labour secure enough seats for Corbyn to maintain the leadership? If Labour is not absolutely trashed – as even some supporters have anticipated – it may give the beleaguered leader enough leverage to stay. He and his supporters may argue that they only need more time to convince the masses to move away from the centre ground.

One would be wise not to count one’s political chickens before they’ve hatched though. Polling day is still two weeks away – enough time for a few surprises come results day.

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