Exclusive: Tory lead shrinks in key marginals
Updated on 04 March 2010
The Conservative party has seen its lead cut to just two points in 60 key marginal seats, in an exclusive Channel 4 News/YouGov poll released today which shows we could be heading for a hung parliament.
The poll shows the gap between the two main parties has narrowed to its closest since shortly after Gordon Brown became prime minster in the autumn of 2007. 39 per cent of voters said they would vote Conservative and 37 per cent said they would vote Labour.
In February last year, when we last did a poll in these marginal seats, the Tories had a seven point lead. Now it is just two points, a swing of 2.5 per cent to Labour.
The Liberal Democrats' rating went up by two points to 15 per cent.
The research took place in the 60 constituencies where Labour achieved a majority of between 6 and 14 per cent in the 2005 general election. Though they are not the most marginal seats in the country, David Cameron must win over their voters if the Tories are to win a working majority in the House of Commons.
Our political editor Gary Gibbon says it "translates to a Conservative minority government, 11 short of a majority.
"The 2 per cent advantage in the marginals - whether thanks to Ashcroft money or not - is there, according to our poll."
YouGov carried out our poll earlier this week. In 2005 Labour enjoyed an 11 point lead in these seats. When we first polled them 18 months ago the Tories had a 13 point lead. "The swing is down to 6.5 per cent," says Peter Kellner from YouGov. "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."
Not enough to win an overall majority.
Studio discussion: Lord Razzall, Tim Montgomerie, David
Lord Razzall, Tim Montgomerie and David Hill joined Jon Snow in the studio to discuss the poll's findings.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tim Razzall stressed that the 60 marginals featured in the polls were not seats that the Lib Dems could win. He said the poll nonetheless gave the lie to Conservative claims that they were doing better in marginal seats than elsewhere.
ConservativeHome website editor Tim Montgomerie said the overall national swing in the latest YouGov poll was 4.5 per cent from Labour to the Conservatives and 6.5 per cent in the marginals. "This poll…," he said, "will crystallise the choice for lots of voters, and particularly the Liberal-Conservative marginals."
For Labour, the party’s former director of communications, David Hill, told Jon Snow: "This is about momentum. What has happened is that the electorate have now started to look at the Conservative party for the first time for over a decade… They've started to think about the choice in a way that they've not been doing – and I think that’s why the momentum is starting to go against them."
Tim Montgomerie said that the fact that the poll showed the Conservatives with a 2 per cent lead on the economy – "the number one issue for voters" – was "a building block for winning in the seats we need to win".
On the question of when to cut the deficit, he conceded that the unpopularity of the Conservative position – which advocates cuts earlier rather than later – was a worry.
And Tim Razzall suggested that the Tories' problem on the economy was that they were not clear as to what they were saying. "One day they're saying they're going to have absolutely stringent cuts, the next day they're saying 'Maybe not quite yet.'"
Discussing the row over Lord Ashcroft's non-dom status, Tim Montgomerie conceded that "I would not be honest with you, Jon, if I said this has been a good week for the Conservatives." But he claimed Labour has actually had more money from non-doms like Lord Paul than the Conservatives. And he said the Lord Ashcroft issue was not an issued being raised "on the doorstep".
On the economy and jobs
On key questions such as which party would be best for Britain's economy, 33 per cent believed the Conservatives would be best, also a two point lead over Labour. But Gordon Brown does have a three point lead over David Cameron in the question which party leader is best equipped to lead Britain out of its current economic difficulties, on 31 per cent.
Labour also has a considerable lead over who would be best for jobs. 34 per cent believe Labour would be, compared to 26 per cent for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems polled just 9 per cent.
On the leaders
Since the last poll, Britain is struggling to emerge from the longest recession on record. And with a rise in GDP also comes a rise in Gordon Brown's approval rating. That has gone up to 48 per cent, compared to 46 per cent just over a year ago.
Meanwhile David Cameron's approval rating as leader of the Conservative party has remained the same on 60 per cent. And apart from the narrowing of the polls, there was some bad news for the Tory leader, as 62 per cent of voters described him as a lightweight politician, compared to 57 per cent a year ago.
more Channel 4 News opinion poll coverage
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But when asked to put aside party preferences, 34 per cent of voters said Mr Cameron would make a better prime minister after the election, compared to 29 per cent for Gordon Brown.
And 25 per cent said David Cameron made them feel most optimistic about Britain's future, compared to 20 per cent for Brown and 8 per cent for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
Our poll was carried out between 2-4 March. In the past month scandals have rocked both parties. Gordon Brown was accused of being a bully, after reports his staff rang a bullying helpline. And the poll reflects this, with 39 per cent saying Brown can't work effectively with his colleagues, and 22 per cent of responses saying he is a bully.
Kate Davies, the political research manager at YouGov, told Channel 4 news she was surprised support from Brown had not gone down. "We expected to see a big drop in support for Brown and the Labour Party when 'Bullygate' erupted, but it just didn't happen," she told Channel 4 News.
"After the MPs' expenses scandal it could be that the British people are starting to expect these kinds of revelations."
The Conservatives have been hit by Ashcroft's tax status scandal in the past few days, coinciding with our polling. 53 per cent of voters believe the Conservative party is more interested in helping its own supporters, rather than people generally, compared to 41 per cent for Labour.
37 per cent also said David Cameron was too posh to understand what ordinary people want. 41 per cent said he was just a salesman, not a potential prime minister. Last week at the Conservative spring conference admitted he was a salesman, adding: "With all our difficulties, we are going to need some salesmanship... I want to get out there and sell our country to the world."
Polls in recent weeks reveal the election fight is closer than ever. The Sunday Times reported the Conservatives' poll lead was just 2 per cent. According to YouGov that is down from a 10 to 12 point lead last summer. "Overall the Tory majority is diminishing, whether in these seats or in Britain as a whole," says YouGov's Kate Davies.
"We've been reporting consistently lower poll leads recently for the Tories, at about five or six points – and this poll, in the seats they desperately need to win from Labour, is very much in line with that trend."
Change of government
Most worryingly for Brown, 58 per cent of voters believe it is time for a change in government, whilst only 36 per cent believe the economy is too fragile at the moment to have a change now.
The Liberal Democrats received a big thumbs up when voters were asked who would make the best chancellor, Vince Cable receiving 27 per cent of the vote, compared to 17 per cent for Alistair Darling and 15 per cent for George Osborne.
Poll results - the breakdown
Who we polled
We did not pick just any constituencies; we chose the Labour-held marginals where the Tories are in second place. They are not the wafer-thin majorities but the seats with 6-14 per cent majorities, the ones that David Cameron needs to form a majority government. We last did a similar poll in February last year - you can see those results in full here.
We asked 3481 adults in seats won by Labour in 2005 between 2-4 March, 2010.
Our poll shows in these marginals the Conservatives are just ahead, but their lead has been cut from seven points just over a year ago to two points now. In the 2005 elections, Labour enjoyed an 11-point lead overall in these seats. When we first polled 18 months ago, the Tories had moved into a 13 point lead.
Best leader in economic crisis
We asked voters who is best equipped to lead us out of Britain's current economic crisis. 31 per cent said Gordon Brown, 28 per cent said David Cameron. In February last year 34 per cent believed Gordon Brown was better suited to handling the crisis and 28 per cent wanted David Cameron.
Voters also felt Gordon Brown best understands the problems faced by ordinary people during the difficult economic times, with 27 per cent of votes compared to 18 per cent for David Cameron.
"Cameron will no doubt be worried about the downward trend these figures are
reporting in key Tory target seats," says Kate Davies. "He will want to get a
handle on before Britain goes to the polls in order to ensure the result he so