Polling Day In Oldham East & Saddleworth. Labour Landslide or Tight Tactical Two Horse Race?


Commentary – Damian Lyons Lowe – Just how Close are the Lib Dems to Labour in Oldham East and Saddleworth?

Thurs, 13/01/2011 – 10:45

Two polls from competitors over the weekend show Labour 17 points ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by election.  Our own survey, for The Mail On Sunday showed Labour just 1% in front of the Liberal Democrats with a significant 25% of voters still to make up their minds, while the Conservatives were a distant third.

We expect the margin of a potential Labour victory tonight to be a good deal narrower than 17 points and believe that Elwyn Watkins, the Liberal Democrat candidate could yet win the seat if the levels of tactically voting Conservative supporters we saw in our survey maintain their momentum.

An unprecedented by election – which Coalition candidate can stop Labour?

This will be the first by election since the 1940’s during a Coalition government. Although there is no official combined Coalition candidate, it clear that The Conservative Party wishes their Liberal Democrat partners well and David Cameron’s Conservatives are unlikely to want an opposition Labour win.

What our and the two other polls have established is that the Conservative candidate, Kashif Ali is trailing Elwyn Watkins to such a degree that it is clear to Oldham East & Saddleworth residents today that the only viable Coalition candidate to “stop” Labour is Elwyn Watkins.

Survation’s different approach in Oldham East & Saddleworth;

Given the very different circumstances of this by election, it was important to us in analysing and presenting our data that the potential effect of tactical voting would need to be quantified. While it may look “cleaner” to assign the 25% undecided voters in the constituency to the party they voted for in the last election, we believe that this hides the potential impact of tactical voting in what is likely to be a low-turnout by election.

We also asked respondents about postal voting (postal voters are more likely to vote and many of the people we interviewed had already voted. We applied a “postal vote premium” to postal voters (weighted them up 1.2x). Over 10,000 postal votes were sent to homes in Oldham East and Saddleworth, so this may be an important factor. Finally, we stated the candidate’s name AND party (vs simply the party alone – this is not simply a “national election” so the MP is very important).

Local or National Election?

One of the key questions on our minds is to what extent the voters in Oldham East & Saddleworth view the election as a local or national election. The Liberal Democrats have slumped in the national opinion polls since the General Election while Labour’s fortunes have improved.

Certainly the Lib Dems dominate local politics in the constituency. The 2010 local elections were held on the same day as the General Election. The Liberal Democrats secured 41% of the vote to Labour’s 27% and the Conservatives 24%. There is some detailed analysis on this on the excellent Britain-Votes website. It is also noteworthy that polls before the local elections in Oldham East & Saddleworth significantly under-estimated the strength of the Lib Dem vote.

Party Leader Pressure  – A big night for the Coalition

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg both have a lot to lose tonight. The media narrative is of a big Labour victory, anything less will be seen as disappointing to the party given their recent national polling lead.  Nick Clegg, is in the unenviable position of receiving a great deal of “help” from the Conservatives and their supporters in this seat. If the results tonight are not even close in what is historically is a strong area for Liberals, questions may be asked of the current Coalition strategy throughout the party.

Damian Lyons Lowe, CEO

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