Friday, 7 November 2014


With exactly six months to go until polling day, 2015 has set itself up to be one of the most hotly contested and least predictable General Elections in a generation.

Labour and the Conservatives are almost exactly tied in ComRes’s monthly polling average – Ed Miliband’s party nudging slightly in front but with eyes fixed firmly over its shoulder rather than on the road ahead. A surging UKIP has led a governing but faltering Liberal Democrat Party near consistently for two years. From their current positions on the grid, what can each expect from the next six months?

We’ve mapped the most likely best case, worse case and split the difference scenarios that, within the realms of possibility as they currently stand, each of the main four parties could now take between today and May 7th.

Conservatives – vote share has stayed broadly static for the past year; new four party system makes majority extremely unlikely; banking on a Prime Ministerial leader and effective campaign machine to bring them out on top. With potential vote share falling within a relatively small range, the party’s final position may well be more influenced by what goes on around them with other parties.
Win: Hold on to similar number of seats from 2010 (mostly likely by losing a few to Labour but winning as many back off the Lib Dems). Minimal vote loss (to around 35%), with UKIP gains mostly in Conservative or Labour safe seats with little impact on marginals. Labour lose as many votes to UKIP as well as being decimated by the SNP in Scotland. The Lib Dems receive low vote share giving them little legitimacy to make big demands in Coalition negotiations. All these scenarios happening together are pretty unlikely though.
Draw: Small net losses to Labour (20-30 seats) and some to UKIP. Conservatives make only minimal improvements on their current vote share to c.33%, just ahead of Labour who fall back from their current polling ratings to the c.30% mark. A toss-up which party has the most seats. This is all within the realms of possibility.
Loss: Medium losses to Labour (40-50 seats), who manage to quell the SNP surge in Scotland. The Conservatives see heavy vote losses to UKIP in safe seats as well as a number of seats fall to Nigel Farage’s party. Labour win the marginal seats war, leaving the Conservatives at around 30% of the vote and end up in Opposition. This is what the polling has been pointing to for much of this Parliament.
Labour – electoral arithmetic is in its favour, having a higher proportion of its vote spread across marginal seats rather than concentrated in safe seats. While much of the party’s increased vote share in the early days of the Parliament came from ex-Liberal Democrats, Labour has recently been bleeding support in every direction.
Win: Receive support from the one in three 2010 Liberal Democrats they had been receiving two years ago (which is currently down at around one in four). Traditional Labour voters in Scotland who have now moved en masse to the SNP heed the warnings that Labour are the only party that can stop the Tories in Westminster, and mostly return to the fold. As in 2010, they outperform their national result in marginal seats, seeing relatively strong seat gain. Tories lose a greater proportion of their votes to UKIP, allowing Labour to sneak through the middle in some seats. Labour end up with small majority. This outcome is what the polls broadly point to currently although Scotland looks a tough call.
Draw: Restore some, but not all, of their voters in Scotland currently lost to the SNP and lose few seats thanks to very large existing majorities. Hold on to the 25% of Lib Dem switchers they currently have. While UKIP come a good second in a number of Labour’s northern safe seats, they win very few or none at all, while hurting the Conservatives more than Labour in marginal seats. Conservative MPs with incumbent bonus and poorly motivated Labour vote however leaves the result a toss-up as to which party gets most votes / seats. Again, this is a distinctly possible outcome.
Loss: Continue to bleed current supporters to the Greens, SNP and UKIP. At election time, many who are sympathetic to Labour just can’t bring themselves to vote for Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. Losses in Scotland, countered by some gains in the rest of the UK, see vote share to a similar level as in 2010. For example, if half of the one million Scots who voted Labour in 2010 switch to the SNP, Labour’s “base” vote would fall to just a shade above 27% before 2010 Lib Dem switchers made up some of the difference. Although seat losses are to the SNP not the Tories, meaning Cameron does not get a majority, the Conservatives are in a clear position to form a Coalition. Less likely but entirely possible nonetheless.
Liberal Democrats - losses almost certain, but well known to do better in their own seats. Key issue will be whether one of the main parties will have enough seats to reach 326 or be forced to form either a minority government or coalition with Lib Dem MPs.
Win:  History repeats itself and the party does better in the campaign time than mid-term, getting a vote share in the mid-teens. They do especially well in their own areas, end up with 35-40 seats and enough to form a majority Coalition with one of the main parties - or ideally either. Possible but not currently looking likely.
Draw: Poll around the 8-12% mark, do well in seats where they already have MPs. End up with c.30 seats and enough to form coalition or some form of confidence and supply agreement. Looking likely except for the coalition scenario which is heavily dependent on the performance of the main parties.
Loss: Nick Clegg has banked everything on making the Liberal Democrats a “party of Government”. With significant vote and seat loss almost certain, the worst case scenario for the party is therefore that it is not possible to form a coalition. This could actually happen if the party performed as well as in the medium outcome above, but the rest of the Parliament is so hung, no party can combine with the Liberal Democrats to reach an absolute majority. Alternatively, the Liberal Democrats could face electoral decimation, left with around 7% of the vote and only 20-25 MPs. Perhaps unlikely given the historical formidability of the Lib Dems’ local campaigning organisation.
UKIP – 2015’s big unknown. Gain almost certain, but by how much? At ComRes, we’ve long been relatively bullish on the UKIP trend: we called their dramatic rise from nowhere to finish in a shock second place at the 2013 Local Elections, we were the first pollster to call the 2014 European Elections for them and then produced polling immediately afterwards showing they were unlikely then to fall back to the single digit vote shares that many expected them to at the time. However, as the campaign gets under way and resource is diverted into trying to win individual seats, have they now hit a high point in terms of national voting intention?
Win: Their current voters remain loyal. Television debates go ahead, and Nigel Farage performs well, continuing their momentum. Receive high teens vote share, up to a dozen MPs. Possible.
Draw: Many supporters, who often have records of not voting, continue this trend and remain at home on election-day. Low to mid-teens vote share. 3-5 MPs. Probably the most likely scenario at present.
Loss: Conservative messaging on “going to bed with UKIP, waking up with Miliband” plays on the mind of a significant proportion of UKIP voters and the party loses significant share from its current polling ratings. Receive a vote share below 10%, 2 MPs (most likely Carswell plus either Reckless or Farage). Viewed from the lens of 2010, this would still be an incredible turnaround for the party – however given its current position, it would now represent a disappointing result. Unlikely given the current motivation levels of many UKIP voters.
The toss up – Conservatives or Labour?
​On current national and constituency polling in England, Labour are set to take roughly 50-60 seats off the Tories (once Liberal Democrats losses have be divvied up between the two). This would leave Labour comfortably ahead of the Tories (Tories 254, Labour 308).
However, Labour currently appears set to lose around 30 seats to the SNP, which would make things look slightly more even in Westminster (258 vs 278).
The Tories could realistically lose 3-4 seats to UKIP though (Rochester & Strood, Thanet South, Thurrock and either Boston & Skegness or Great Yarmouth), leaving Labour leading the Conservatives 278 to 255 and as the largest party.
As is well known however, there is often a swing from Opposition to governing parties as elections approach. Since 1979, in the six months before General Elections, this swing has averaged 2.9% (based on average polling ratings six months out compared to the result itself). If this swing were replicated nationally and Labour received no swing back from the SNP in Scotland, it would likely be enough to make the Conservatives the largest party.
However, there are good reasons to believe that the swing in 2015 will about half the average rate as it is usually (essentially due to few 2010 Conservatives switching to Labour in the past four years which halves the rate at which changes occur, see here): not enough for the Tories to overtake Labour. But there are also good reasons for thinking that the swing may be higher (for example, the historical average is distorted by abnormal swings away from the governing party in 2001 and 2005 when the Labour Government had already led for most of the Parliament). Quite where 2015 falls within this range is what makes the election so hard to predict. Whichever path ends up being taken though, we can expect the views to be dramatic.
A version of this article was first published on
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Author:Adam Ludlow
Political & Media Team

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