Who will win the 2017 general election?

A Conservative win is predicted, but some polls suggest Theresa May's party may lose seats rather than gain them

Theresa May
Theresa May at 10 Downing Street as she announced her plan for a snap election
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood / GETTY)

Seven weeks ago Theresa May called the most unexpected general election in a generation – but for most of the campaign it looked like producing the most predictable since 1997.

A Conservative win was a "foregone conclusion", according to polling company ICM back in April, but the size of the party's likely majority was always harder to predict. In the past fortnight, however, Theresa May has been battling to halt a reversal of fortunes that could damage her claim to represent "strong and stable leadership".

Most opinion polls still give the Conservatives a comfortable lead, but "every single polling company has identified a clear swing to Labour", polling expert Professor John Curtice told The Times Red Box podcast. YouGov now says the Conservative lead over Labour has been cut to just four percentage points, which could mean that May is denied a majority in the Commons – a huge turnaround, given that May staked her reputation on a big win.

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For the other parties, the outcome is even less certain. Labour MPs had been braced for big losses, but Jeremy Corbyn's insistence that he will defy expectations and peg back the Tories is looking less fanciful than it once did. His opponents in the party may still be secretly hoping for electoral disaster, in the hope that it might provoke a change in leadership.

Ukip is also preparing for a difficult campaign. Its sole MP has defected back to the Conservatives and, after the Brexit vote and the resignation of Nigel Farage, the party's strategy is unclear.

In Scotland, the SNP has a clear goal – a second independence referendum – but it did so well at the last general election that it will struggle to hold its ground.

The Lib Dems, by contrast, have little to lose, and yet their campaign has not gone well. They had been hoping their pro-EU stance would win over a share of the 48 per cent of voters who backed Remain at last year's referendum, but few now expect them to add more than a few seats to the nine they hold.

General election hopes and fears

The Conservatives

A Conservative majority is still by far the most likely scenario, according to the pollsters and bookies – but May needs a big win to justify her gamble. "The key to a convincing result for the Prime Minister is to make a net gain of up to 50 seats," said The Sunday Times when the election was called.

That may turn out to be a vain hope, if YouGov's electoral model is correct. It says May's party will get 42 per cent of the vote, to Labour's 38, but the seat-by-seat projection gives the Tories just 302 MPs, 23 short of a majority.

Other polling companies are more bullish on May's prospects. Using an average of polls conducted in the past two weeks, Electoral Calculus predicts a modest Conservative landslide, giving them 44.9 per cent of the vote, 361 seats (30 more than in 2015), and a majority of 72.

If such a result transpires, most of the gains will come in northern England, where pro-Brexit sentiment may have assisted the Tories and Corbyn's unpopularity could have hamstrung Labour's rear-guard action. Scotland may also prove to be a surprisingly happy hunting ground. "The Conservatives are resurgent," said Buzzfeed a few weeks ago, and may "threaten as many as ten seats in Scotland, most of them held by the SNP" - although even that is now less certain.

The greatest risk for the Conservatives, says the New Statesman, may be their perceived strength. "In 2015, it was voters' sincere fear that Ed Miliband would win (and do a deal with the SNP) that carried the Tories to a majority," the magazine argues. "In 2017, the common belief that Corbyn cannot win may limit the Conservatives' gains," or else wipe them out entirely, if people who wouldn't want Corbyn as Prime Minister feel free to vote for him because they think he's bound to lose.

"Theresa May took a gamble when she called this election," says The Times, and it "has looked riskier as the campaign has gone on".


Electoral Calculus gives Jeremy Corbyn a 15 per cent chance of leading a majority government, up from three per cent six weeks ago, and forecasts that his party will end up with just 35.2 per cent of the vote and 216 seats.

Such were the low expectations of the Labour leader that even this would have been regarded as a triumph when the election was called. "When voters are offered a straight choice between May and Corbyn, the Labour leader comes a distant third – well behind 'don't know'," said The Observer at the time.

As the campaign has progressed, May's ratings have fallen as Corbyn's have risen, and YouGov says Labour can expect to win 38 per cent of the vote and 269 seats, 37 more than in 2015.

An underdog victory is not impossible, says Politico, but it is "hugely dependent on the June 8 election bucking a well-worn trend". Young voters will need to come out in unprecedented droves for Corbyn. One Tory candidate told HuffPost that this would prove the Labour leader's undoing. "Under-30s love Corbyn," the unnamed candidate said, "but they don't care enough to get off their lazy arses to vote for him."

Brexit also poses a huge challenge to the party, which campaigned to keep Britain in the EU, and has struggled to come up with a clear message since the referendum. "It's still unclear exactly how the issue of Brexit will affect Labour," says Buzzfeed. "The nightmare scenario for the party is that it ends up alienating both sides," losing to the Conservatives in pro-Brexit constituencies in northern England, the Midlands and the southern suburbs, and to the Lib Dems in pro-Remain cities.

Lib Dems

Tim Farron will hope that 2015 marked the low ebb of Lib Dem fortunes, but Electoral Calculus holds out little hope of a breakthrough. It suggests that the party will lose all but three of its seats. You Gov is more generous, forecasting the party will end up with 12 seats - still not much of a breakthrough.

But, says The Sunday Times, "the Liberal Democrats cannot be ruled out". The Richmond Park by-election result last year, in which they dislodged Zac Goldsmith, proved they can outperform their national polling figures where it matters. Top targets, says the BBC, include "seats like Conservative-held Twickenham in London, which voted heavily for Remain in last year's referendum and where Sir Vince Cable is returning to refight his old seat".

In other parts of the country, the promise of a referendum on the Brexit deal may be less of an asset. "The pro-EU message probably won't go down so well in Yeovil, which backed Leave in the referendum," says the BBC, but the Lib Dems can draw on voter loyalty in the city and its surrounds – and a highly organised local party.


Organisation is a quality not often associated with Ukip, and the party goes into the election in disarray.

That may helpt to explain why the Prime Minister called the election, says The Observer. The early vote lets her "seize the fleeting opportunity to recruit Ukip voters while they are briefly happy with the government's agenda on Brexit and immigration, and while Ukip is (even by its own standards) unusually weak and divided", the paper says.

Its new leader, Paul Nuttall, was damaged by his defeat in the Stoke Central by-election, and the defection of Douglas Carswell back to the Conservatives left it unrepresented in Westminster.

That may well continue. Although Electoral Calculus predicts that Ukip will attract 4.3 per cent of the vote (down from 8.5 per cent at the start of the campaign), it is not expected to win a seat. That's because its supporters are spread relatively evenly across the country.

The Scottish National Party

The rise of the SNP was one of the stories of the 2015 general election, when it won all but three of Scotland's 59 seats. Now Nicola Sturgeon's party looks set to be forced into a partial retreat.

Even though polling suggests SNP support has dropped by only a few percentage points, opposition has coalesced around a single party - the Scottish Tories, led by Ruth Davidson. "The prospect of the Conservatives causing severe damage to the SNP is increasingly likely," says the Daily Telegraph.

Electoral Calculus suggests that the Conservatives will end up with nine Scottish seats, gaining eight from the SNP. Sturgeon's party would retain 48 of the 59 Scottish seats - still an overwhelming majority.

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