The Liberal Democrat Battleground

By Joshua Townsley

Lord Ashcroft has released a huge poll of 22 English Lib Dem battleground constituencies, 20 of which are currently held by the party, and 2 (Watford, Oxford West and Abingdon) are targets for the party. The large polling operation, conducted between July 31st and September 14th, has some interesting findings for the party.

Constituencies polled:
Oxford West & Abingdon, Watford, Berwick, Cheadle, Chippenham, Eastbourne, Eastleigh,  Mid Dorset & North Poole, North Cornwall, Solihull, Somerton & Frome, St Austell & Newquay, St Ives, Sutton & Cheam, Taunton Deane, Torbay, Wells, Bermondsey & Old Southwark, Cambridge, Cardiff Central, Hornsey & Wood Green, Redcar.

There are mixed results for the party. Most importantly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Lib Dem vote share is down on 2010 in all seats included in the poll. The only exception to this is in Eastleigh, where the party’s vote share is up on both 2010 and the 2013 by-election. In LD-Con seats, the voting intention figures are Con 36%, Lib Dem 20%, Labour 20% and UKIP 20%. In LD-Lab seats, voting intention figures stand at Con 19%, Lib Dem, 18%, Lab 42%, and UKIP 11%.

While this makes for glum reading for the party, there are some more positive numbers in Lord Ashcroft’s poll. In all 22 seats, the Lib Dem voting intention rises substantially when voters are prompted to “think specifically” about their own constituency. In LD-Con seats, the Lib Dem vote share rises from 20% to 32%, and from 18% to 28% in LD-Lab seats. This implies that the party is more popular locally than nationally. This could be due to a positive incumbency factor, or tactical considerations from Labour supporters. However, according to the poll, the Lib Dems would hold just 6 of the 20 held seats included, with Labour gaining 5, the Conservatives gaining 8 and holding Oxford West and Abingdon. North Cornwall and Torbay would see recounts.
Encouragingly for the party, there appears to be some room for the encouragement of greater tactical voting at the constituency level. Only 56% of Labour voters in LD-Con seats (seats in which the party will need tactical Labour voters), would “definitely not” vote for Nick Clegg’s party. This compares to 79% and 80% ruling out the Conservatives and UKIP respectively. Interestingly, in LD-Lab seats, only 51% of Conservative supporters would definitely not vote for the Lib Dems, suggesting an ‘anti-Labour vote’ could also be mobilised in these seats.

In terms of the ground war, the Lib Dems continue what Lord Ashcroft called in June, their “incessant leaflet-mongering”. In LD-Con seats, 22% of those polled have heard from the Lib Dems, just slightly less than the 25% who have heard from the Conservatives. In LD-Con seats, an impressive 30% of voters have heard from the Lib Dems, ahead of Labour on 22%. These figures are also broken down by constituency for those interested.
All in all, the poll does not reveal anything new in that it confirms the party has a tough fight on its hands. The relatively low percentage of both Labour and Conservative voters who would not rule out voting Lib Dem is surprising, and suggests that appeals for tactical votes would not fall entirely on deaf ears. A chameleon-like strategy of mobilising both anti-Conservative and anti-Labour votes in the appropriate constituencies may save a few more seats for the party. Less surprisingly, the poll reveals the resilience of the party’s activist base and campaigning vigour, with significant numbers of voters having heard from the local Lib Dem team.

22,003 adults were interviewed between 31 July and 14 September 2014 in 22 seats with 1,000 being polled in each seat. The full data tables are here.

Joshua Townsley is a PhD researcher at the University of Kent, specialising in political campaigning and electoral politics. For more information, see here:

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