Tuesday 18 November 2014

COMRES POLLWATCH: Rochester & Strood: Magnitude 5 on the Richter scale

Rochester & Strood: Magnitude 5 on the Richter scale
If the UKIP earthquake erupted in May at the European elections (as Nick Robinson reported), then there have been a number of aftershocks ever since. All the signs are that this week we’re due yet another such aftershock, although it perhaps a sign of how far UKIP have come in recent months that Mark Reckless’ victory at the Rochester and Strood by-election is being treated as a foregone conclusion.
Our polling in the Kent constituency last month had UKIP 13 points ahead of the Conservatives and the question in Rochester and Strood now appears to be not “will UKIP win?” but by how much? While the headline poll figures point to a substantial victory, a closer look at the data shows that UKIP are picking up many would-be voters who did not vote in 2010. UKIP have of course been making a point of galvanising those fed up with the status quo and Westminster politics. However, having 28% of their vote coming from people who did not turnout in 2010 is also risky: can they be counted on to vote on Thursday or indeed on 7th May?
​​The good news for UKIP is that voters across the political spectrum in Rochester and Strood want to use the by-election to kick David Cameron and his Government: fully six in ten (62%) voters there say that this is a “good opportunity for me to show David Cameron and the Conservative Party how unhappy I am with their government.” The bad news for UKIP is that it points to potential dangers in the General Election.
By-elections are fantastic opportunities for the self-styled “People’s Army” and UKIP have replaced the Liberal Democrats as the by-election party to beat. However, the danger for UKIP is being seen as simply a party of protest, a “none of the above” option. Their real challenge will be to hold on to their supporters at a national, General Election when they are up against the full might of the other parties’ campaign machines, both nationally and locally.
UKIP have, though, continued to confound expectations. Despite various false claims that their support has peaked at various times in this Parliament, their momentum has not been stopped. Rochester and Strood will be another significant milestone. By the end of this week they are likely to have doubled the number of MPs elected to the House of Commons. This will have a real impact, especially on broadcast coverage of the General Election including the case to include Nigel Farage in at least one Leaders debate.  It may also encourage other prospective defectors who, unlike Messrs Carswell and Reckless, and given the proximity of 7th May, could cross the floor of the House without necessarily having to fight a by-election.
As the political circus leaves Kent at the end of this week attentions will turn towards May 2015. We can expect rumblings among Conservative MPs but, just as Ed Miliband survived discontent from his Party over the last few weeks, so David Cameron will not face a serious threat to his leadership this close to the Big Day.
The Conservatives are within touching distance of Labour in most current polls. But that is due to a fall in Labour support rather than an increase in Tory popularity, and UKIP now pose a real threat not only to the Conservatives but also to Labour.  There is good evidence that the anti-Labour vote in some constituencies is coalescing around UKIP.
A purple victory in Rochester and Strood does not guarantee the seat for UKIP in 2015, but it does keep the good ship UKIP hurtling across the tired political seas. The question is how many more aftershocks will there be before 7th May 2015?
Our poll for the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror this weekend contained a gem of a question asking voters which movie actor they would like to see playing each of the main political leaders.  While both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were hot contenders to play either/both David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the preferred actor for both Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband was Rowan Atkinson.
Interestingly the perceptions of each party’s voters were slightly different.  In particular, Conservative voters were keener on having James Bond actor Daniel Craig play tDavid Cameron, while UKIP voters were noticeably keener on Sean Bean.  Perhaps it was his experience fighting the forces of Sauron as Boromir in Lord of the Rings which made him a suitable contender to play the leader of the People’s Army.
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Author:Tom Mludzinski

Head of Political Polling
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