Parliament is dissolved, David Cameron has returned from the Palace and has put the question to the country, do you want him or Ed Miliband as Prime Minister? If the question were only that simple. With the state of British politics as it is, things are far more complicated.
When given a straight choice between a Labour-led government and a Conservative-led government after the next election, the public are split: 41% favouring a blue tinted government and 42% preferring red.
However, when presented with a decision between a Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition and a Labour – SNP coalition, there is a clear preference for the partnership that has governed for the last five years: 45% of the general public say that they would prefer the Conservative - Liberal Democrat option, compared to just a third (33%) who prefer the Labour – SNP option.
The curtain rises on the campaign with our latest poll for ITV News and the Daily Mail showing a four point Conservative lead over Labour, their largest lead since September 2010.
In more good news for the Tories, the 36% they recorded is their highest share of the vote for more than three years. Last time they reached such dizzying heights was in February 2012, immediately before the Omnishambles budget.
The poll also sees UKIP remaining ahead of the Liberal Democrats by a small margin, with the Greens back down to 5%.
NO MILIBAND BOUNCE
Much has been made of the “Paxman effect” and what impact his grilling of the Prime Ministerial hopefuls may have had on the polls. It’s worth remembering only 3 million people watched the programme. Our poll suggests little evidence of the “Miliband bounce” that has been described elsewhere.
With the first telephone poll to be conducted since last Thursday’s non-debate, the ComRes / ITV News / Daily Mail contribution shows not only a Conservative lead, but also a fall in the proportion choosing Mr Miliband over Mr Cameron as their preferred Prime Minister. This suggests that any apparent “Miliband bounce” was most likely to be statistical variation.
In truth, it is unlikely that the Paxman interviews will have had any significant impact on the national election, at most it may have served to embolden each side’s own supporters. Type text here
THE TREND SAYS…
“Watch the trend not the lead” is the best bit of advice we can offer to all Pollwatchers over the coming 38 days. The four-point Conservative lead in our latest poll was not remarkable because it came after the interviews. But rather because, in this volatile election, it continued to show the longer term trend pointing towards the Conservatives beginning to dig in and strengthen their position.