Tory unease grows: why are opinion polls not budging?

Where’s the swing to Conservatives everyone was predicting? They’re leaving it very late…

Columnist Don Brind

With the latest YouGov poll showing Labour and the Conservatives tied on 34 per cent, and Opinium giving Labour a one-point lead (35 to 34 per cent), the frustration of Tory supporters at their party’s failure to make a breakthrough is becoming increasingly evident.

Take the tweet from Rupert Murdoch. David Cameron and the Tories have been bashing “vulnerable Miliband” for months, the media tycoon observes, with no effects on the polls. There’s a need, he says, for new “aspirational policies to have any hope of winning”.

Or take the Sunday Times’ page one story about a ‘Save Dave’ rescue plan being mounted in case Cameron fails to lead his troops to outright victory. A party that's contemplating back-up plans is not a party confident of victory.

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Tories and many commentators on the right and left had assumed that there would an inevitable swing from Labour to the Conservatives as the election drew closer.

In fact the polls are barely moving and haven’t been for months, says independent analyst Ian Jones. He has averaged out all the polls released in February and shows that support for each party has changed by only fractions of a percentage point. The Tories, incidentally, are exactly whether they were at the start of 2014.

The implications are highlighted in the latest update from Electoral Calculus, predicting a hung parliament. Despite the SNP surge, expected to net them 46 seats at the expense of Labour and the Lib Dems, Labour would be the largest party at Westminster, with 301 seats to the Tories’ 265. The Lib Dems would be reduced to just 15 seats, while the Greens and Ukip would have only one MP apiece.

There are many other academic and journalistic forecasts around at the moment, but Baxter has been in the game a long time. His site has been predicting elections for 20 years and was “the most accurate pre-poll predictor” at the 2010 general election.

If the Tories are to prove Baxter wrong, they have to achieve in the remaining 9.5 weeks what they have failed to do in the last 60 weeks. They need a game-changer: the blinkered focus on economic competence is not enough.

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is a former BBC lobby correspondent and Labour press officer who is watching the polls for The Week in the run-up to the 2015 election.