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Reuters Marginal Constituencies poll - wave 3

Lib Dem surge in the marginals, but the Labour-Conservative fight is still the key battleground

Published:22 April 2010
Fieldwork:16 - 19 April 2010
Sub-Theme:Voting Intention (only those 'certain to vote')
Source:Ipsos MORI
Keywords:2010 British general election, Marginals
(Click on keywords to find related Research)

Con 32% (-6), Lab 36% (-5), Lib Dem 23% (+12)


The third of our polls in key marginal constituencies, Ipsos MORI’s new poll for Reuters shows a doubling of support for the Liberal Democrats. This has come mostly from people who were previously not sure whether they would vote, rather than from the Conservative or Labour core vote.


Interviews were conducted on 16th-19th April 2010.


Voting intentions


Voting intentions (among those absolutely certain to vote) in these key constituencies are Conservative 32%, Labour 36%, Liberal Democrat 23%, Others 9%. These figures represent a doubling of Liberal Democrat support in the last fortnight (two weeks ago in these same constituencies the Liberal Democrats stood at 11%). This matches the sharp increase in LibDem support that the national polls have shown since the first leaders' debate. But in almost all the constituencies included in this series of polls, the Liberal Democrats have no realistic chance of winning with or without this boost in support.


Even though the Conservative and Labour shares of the vote have both fallen, the numbers who say they will vote Conservative and Labour are almost unchanged since the last poll. The Liberal Democrat gains have come almost completely from people who were not sure they would vote a fortnight ago and now say they are sure that they will. Overall, the number saying they are absolutely certain to vote has also increased from 59% two weeks ago to 68%.


The relative position in these constituencies between Labour and the Conservatives is therefore effectively unchanged: the Conservatives have achieved a 5% swing from Labour since 2005, not enough to win enough of these constituencies and pointing to a hung Parliament in which the Conservatives would be the largest party.


This is gives a different angle to most of the recent national polls, based on assumptions of uniform national swing. They imply that the recent LibDem surge has been more damaging to the Tories than to Labour; but this poll finds that in these key marginals this is not the case and that if the Tories are losing votes disproportionately to the Liberal Democrats it is not happening in the constituencies where it would do most danger to their chance of winning seats from Labour (although equally, neither is the Lib Dem surge damaging Labour’s relative lead in these seats).


Leaders debate


Three-quarters of the public in these constituencies say that they either watched at least some of the first leaders' debate, or saw news coverage of it afterwards – more than a quarter (28%) claim to have watched the whole debate. Half of those who saw the debate or some coverage of it (a third of all adults) say it has had some effect on their voting – but half of these say it has encouraged them to vote for the party they already support rather than encouraging them to change their vote or to make up their minds.


Just as the national polls have found, most people in these marginal constituencies thought Nick Clegg performed best in the debate: 59% felt Clegg was best, 7% that David Cameron was and 8% that Gordon Brown was. A quarter (most of whom didn't watch the debate) said they didn't know. (A fortnight ago, almost half, 45%, thought David Cameron would gain most public support as a result of the debates and only 22% expected a Clegg victory.)


The Liberal Democrats were much the biggest gainers from the debate, and almost half their supporters say the debate either encouraged them to switch support from another party or to make up their mind to support the Liberal Democrats, having previously been undecided.


Almost half those who give a voting intention, 47%, still say they might change their mind and vote for a different party. This is particularly true of Liberal Democrats (68% might change their mind). The Labour vote is slightly more solid than the Conservative vote (60% of Labour and 55% of Conservative supporters say they have definitely decided), but there is still plenty of scope for a decisive change during the last two-and-a-half weeks of the election.


Tactical voting


One in eight (12%) of those supporting a party say they are voting tactically, and a further 14% say they would do so if they thought their preferred party did not stand much chance of winning in their constituency. However, as many Liberal Democrats (13%) as Labour (10%) and Conservative (13%) say they are voting tactically, suggesting that many have little real knowledge of the tactical situation in their constituency.


This fits with the finding, almost unchanged from the previous poll, that 30% think they live in a marginal constituency, 30% that they don't and 40% that they don't know. It is possible that there could still be significant voting changes if voters find out more about their local situation before polling day.


Domestic policies


Labour has a convincing lead as the party with the best policies on healthcare (picked by 35%, ahead of the Conservatives on 26% and Liberal Democrats on 13%), but the Conservatives have almost as big a lead over Labour on immigration (25% to 18%, with the Liberal Democrats pushing Labour into third by scoring 20%).


The Conservative lead on crime is narrower, 29% to Labour's 24% and 12% for the Liberal Democrats.


The leaders’ debate with its focus on domestic issues appears to have boosted the Lib Dems’ ratings on all four of the policy areas asked about in this poll; in addition to immigration and healthcare, the proportion of people who think they have the best polices on education and crime has doubled.




Despite Nick Clegg's "victory" in the leaders' debate, he still trails David Cameron and Gordon Brown in the voters' ratings of two key leadership qualities. Almost two in five (38%) think that Gordon Brown is the most capable of the three and 32% David Cameron, while only 16% pick Nick Clegg (an increase for Clegg of 7 percentage points since the last wave). A similar proportion (41%) say Gordon Brown would be best in a crisis, 34% that David Cameron would be and 12% that Nick Clegg would be (again, Clegg’s ratings have more than doubled since wave 2). However, Cameron and Brown are equally ranked as being "most likely to promise anything to win votes", on 39% each, with Clegg only named by 10%.


Tax and spending policies


A wide majority expect a Labour government to increase National Insurance (81%), as they have said that they will do; while on balance more think a Conservative government would not (49% compared to 40%), a significant minority still expect NI to increase under the Tories. But majorities expect both parties would cut spending on frontline spending on public services (70% think a Conservative government would do and 56% a Labour government), would increase income tax (54% think the Tories would, 68% that Labour would) and would increase VAT (58% Conservative, 60% Labour).


So even though expectations are slightly higher that Labour will increase taxes and the Conservatives will cut frontline spending, the majority think both major parties will do both – which will prove unpopular: 67% think that the next government should not increase national insurance, 64% that it should not cut spending on frontline public services, 62% that it should not increase income tax and 77% that it should not increase VAT.


Election outcome


Two-thirds of voters now say they expect the outcome of the election to be a hung Parliament. Most, 42%, predict the Conservatives will be the biggest party in a hung Parliament while 25% say they think Labour will be biggest. Only 15% expect a Conservative majority and 8% a Labour majority. But they are almost evenly split on whether a hung Parliament would be desirable or not: 43% think it would be a good thing for the country if no party achieves an overall majority but 48% that it would be a bad thing.


Technical details


This data is based on 1,001 adults aged 18+ across 57 marginal constituencies in Great Britain. These are Labour-held constituencies which the Conservatives need a swing of between 5% and 9% to win. Fieldwork took place between 16th and 19th April.

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