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Analysis: Tories short of overall majority

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 04 March 2010

Peter Kellner, the president of polling organisation YouGov, gives his analysis of the results of the latest Channel 4 News poll.

David Cameron

The latest Channel 4 News poll, carried out by YouGov, contains both good news and bad news for David Cameron.

The good news is that the swing from Labour to Conservative is higher in the key Labour marginals than in the rest of Britain.

The bad news is that the swing is lower than in previous polls in this series – and would probably leave the Tories just short of an overall majority in the new House of Commons.

Full poll results
To get a breakdown of the full poll results, and to download them for yourself, click here

As before, YouGov questioned people in the 60 Labour-Conservative marginals in those seats that Labour  won by a margin of between 6 and 14 percentage points. These are the vital seats that the Tories must win – and Labour can’t afford to lose.

In 2005, Labour enjoyed an 11-point lead overall in these seats. When we first polled them eighteen months ago, the Tories had moved into a 13-point lead.
That amounted to a 12 per cent swing to the Tories – enough to capture all the key marginals and enough extra to ensure a comfortable overall majority. Two subsequent polls that autumn and winter recorded swings of 8 per cent and 9 per cent.

Our latest poll shows that the Tory lead is now down to just two points.

In our latest poll, the swing is down to 6.5 per cent. That is higher than the national swing – 4.5 per cent in YouGov's latest Britain-wide poll – but not enough to win every target seat.

If we apply this swing to each Labour marginal, the Tories would win 52 out of the 60 seats.

Add that to the 43 Labour super-marginals, where Labour’s majority last time was below 6 percentage points, and the Tories would capture 95 seats overall from Labour.

That would make the Tories easily the largest party, with more than 300 seats, while Labour would struggle to reach 250.

But would it be enough to give David Cameron an outright majority? The new House of Commons will contain 650 MPs. So 326 are needed for an overall majority.

Taking  account of boundary changes, the Tories’ baseline figure is 210 seats – that’s the number they would have won in 2005 had the new boundaries been in operation.

For more Channel 4 News opinion poll coverage
- Exclusive poll: economic recovery will not save Labour
- Brown poll lead cut to 4 per cent
- Poll shows 11 point Labour lead
- Feb 2009: 'bailout bounce' can't save Brown
- Oct 2008: 'Churchill effect' for Brown
- Nov 2007: poll blames Brown for data fiasco

Add in 95 gains from Labour, and they would have 305. To secure an overall majority, they would need to gain another 21 seats from the Liberal Democrats.

With the Lib Dems national support down since the last election, and the Tories up, that looks feasible.

But in the past, many Lib Dem (and previously Liberal) MPs have managed to build up a personal following that has provided them with some protection against adverse national trends.

I believe the Tories would be doing well to unseat more than 10 Lib Dem MPs.

What can Mr Cameron do to reclaim the big lead he enjoyed 18 months ago? One task is to improve his personal standing. In September 2008, 38 per cent rated his performance as "good" or "excellent". That is down to 24 per cent.

Over the same period, the number giving Mr Brown that accolade has climbed from 10 per cent to 18 per cent.

So the massive 28-point advantage that the Tory leader enjoyed 18 months ago has shrunk to just six points.

If Mr Cameron can’t turn that round, and if the general election results are exactly in line with our poll, then the Tory leader would unquestionably become prime minister, but he may need to call an early second election to seek a clearer mandate from Britain's voters.

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