Friday, 30 January 2015



This week we passed the “100 days” Election milestone. While it may be nothing more than a psychological benchmark, it is a significant moment in the election race. As the Conservatives took the lead in ComRes’s poll for the Independent, a deeper dig reveals an electorate divided on their preferred outcome.
You will have heard this described as “the most unpredictable” General Election in living memory, and just one of the factors in making it so difficult to call is Scotland. Since the independence referendum in September 2014, not only have SNP made significant gains but debate has centred on more powers being devolved to Scotland. In this Pollwatch we look at the views of MSPs in an exclusive ComRes poll.

For the first time since 2011 the Conservatives are back in the lead in ComRes’s monthly telephone poll series for The Independent. While that lead is only one point at the moment, the trend is unmistakeable. Ever since Labour’s high-water mark in mid-late 2012, their lead over the Tories has been steadily declining to the point where it has now all but entirely evaporated and the two are neck and neck. An average of all polls taken in January so far puts Labour ahead by just one point, while the two parties are tied on 32% if you average all 5 polls published in this week alone. In contrast, Labour enjoyed average leads of 3% in 2014, 5% in 2013 and 8% in 2012.
This race is too close to call, and adding further to the intrigue is the prospect that even if the ComRes poll with a one point Conservative lead were reflected at the General Election on May 7th, we would still see Labour as the largest party in the House of Commons.
That January poll average sees the Liberal Democrats on 8%, UKIP on 15% and the Greens on 7%. While the battle over the right to take part in the debates has clearly helped the Green cause – at least in the short term – it will be tougher for them to cope with the increased scrutiny that comes with the increased exposure.

Despite the polls pointing towards a hung parliament being the most likely outcome in May (which would be only the second successive hung parliament in 183 years), it seems that experience of Coalition has done nothing to endear the concept to voters. In figures which echo the widespread scepticism before 2010’s inconclusive election result, three quarters of people (72%) would prefer one party with a majority over another coalition. Yet the 28% who would prefer a coalition of two or more parties are more likely to get their wish.
Voters do however disagree over who should run the country. While a majority would rather have David Cameron behind the black door of Number 10, voters are split down the line between the Conservatives and Labour on which party they want filling the government front benches within Parliament.
This difference in perception between leader and party is yet another reason behind the cigarette-paper gap in the polls between the top two parties. Ordinarily, you’d expect the Opposition to be hoovering up disaffected government supporters (and there are two government parties from which to scoop voters up this time). But Labour are struggling to stay above water and their leader, and the team around him, will ultimately be held responsible for that.
One clear manifestation of this is when it comes to the current number one voter priority: the NHS. When asked which party is most trusted to manage the NHS Labour come out on top, although the seven point lead is lower than they would like. However, when the public are asked to choose between Messrs Miliband and Cameron to manage the NHS, the two are level pegging.
How much of the leadership issue has already been priced into Labour’s vote share remains to be seen, but the final 98 days will be all about trust and credibility, and motivating a distinctly underwhelmed electorate.

While the “Better Together” campaign may have succeeded in holding off Scottish independence for now, the issue of devolved powers is by no means settled. When the three leaders of the Westminster parties rushed up to Scotland to pledge greater powers to Scotland as part of “The Vow” they cannot have known what they had opened the gates to.
An exclusive ComRes poll of MSPs reveals that a majority in Holyrood support devolving power on every policy area from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament, from foreign policy and defence to abortion and medicines. However, income tax is the number one issue MSPs want devolving north of the border with 82% supporting this change.
Scotland will receive perhaps more focus than usual at this General Election because of the SNP’s post-referendum surge and Labour’s heavy reliance on the 41 Westminster seats they currently hold in Scotland.
Not only do these findings ask questions of the current system and where powers might be devolved, but inevitably it leads to questions over what impact any further devolution will have on England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 
Follow ComRes on Twitter for the latest polls and analysis:
Tom Mludzinski
Head of Political Polling

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