Labour lead over Conservatives may be overstated, says Tory election expert | General election 2024

Several of the surveys preceding the general election could be inflating Labour’s significant lead over the Conservatives, a Tory election analyst has indicated.

According to Robert Hayward, a peer and ex-MP who initially recognized the occurrence of “shy Tories” before the 1992 election, his examination of local election outcomes implies that the Conservatives are obtaining more backing from voters who claim they are undecided than is being reflected in the polls.

“Roughly 33 years later, I am once more convinced that a statistical skew exists in the polls,” he stated. Polling in the lead-up to the election has revealed dominant leads for Labour of over 20 points in certain polls, like YouGov, while others, such as Opinium, display a gap of approximately 14.

Some constituency-focused polling by YouGov indicates the Conservatives are on the verge of near obliteration. Its April forecast points to Labour securing more than 400 seats out of 650.Many analysts, MPs, and political advisors across the parties concur that Labour is almost certainly on the path to victory, but the extent of its lead will determine its majority in parliament.

Hayward stated it was “not shy Tories” all over again, and that Labour still undoubtedly had a significant lead over the Conservatives, but he was concerned the polls were “getting it incorrect”.

“I believe the primary issue for me is how you allocate the Conservative 2019 voters who are now ‘undecided’. I do think the ‘undecided’ will vote in relatively large numbers, and the signals from local council results are that they are starting to shift towards the Conservatives.

“Due to the lack of commitment shown so far, I’m uncertain where things will ultimately settle, because events during this election could have a more significant impact than in many elections due to the high number of undecided.”One polling industry specialist also agreed there was a risk the polls might contain methodological or structural inaccuracies. They mentioned: “I think there are various reasons to be worried about a polling mistake this time around. There are critical data quality issues across the industry, where it’s getting harder to ensure the participants in surveys are genuine, taking the surveys seriously, and represent the broader population. Pollsters are striving harder to address it, but that task is becoming tougher, and there is a risk that it affects the precision of the polls this election.

“The other concern is undecided voters. There’s three times more individuals who voted Conservative and are undecided than those who voted Labour and are undecided, and where these voters end up going will significantly impact the outcome. The pollsters make varying assumptions about this group … The range of this could be like Labour 1997 to Canada 1993 – it’s a Conservative party historic defeat with one methodology, to complete wipeout with another approach.”

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They added: “The final point is that polls usually are less precise in elections with substantial change. Polls were relatively inaccurate in 1997, but it didn’t matter because the result was so decisive. When there are more voters switching between parties, polls become more erratic, and their precision tends to decline.”Anthony Wells, head of European political and social research at YouGov, stated it was likely that the disparities between each company’s surveys would reduce as polling day neared.

“There are still a significant number of individuals who voted Tory in 2019 saying ‘Undecided’ when asked how they will vote,” he mentioned. “A considerable portion of the difference in leads among various polling firms is due to different choices in handling that. Some companies choose to model or predict how those people will vote come election day, while others report solely what people currently say.

“It is as much a philosophical choice as anything else. Are we gauging how people say they will vote, or forecasting how we think they will vote? Regardless, it is a reasonable expectation that the variations among pollsters will narrow as the lead-up to July 4 approaches as the number of people saying ‘Undecided’ decreases. However, whether that results in a narrowing lead or not depends on to what extent, if at all, those voters return to the Tory party.”

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