How long before the Tories overtake Labour in the polls?

by Jonathan Todd

Conservative Home recently highlighted an analysis by YouGov that shows a shortening of Labour’s lead over the Conservatives.

In parallel, the economy has continued its improvement. It grew by 0.8% in the third quarter of this year, building upon 0.7% in the second quarter and 0.4% in the first quarter.

Are the two connected? Logic would suggest so.

The trend identified by YouGov reminded me of one that I have spotted myself in one of the trackers that they run.

Roughly once a week YouGov ask voters whether they think the British economy is doing good, bad or neither. Until 25 July, never more than 10% of the electorate answered good in 2013. Since then, never less than 10% have done.

I resolved to bring some econometrics to Uncut to look more deeply into this.

I put together two time series over 2013: one on the Conservatives lead over Labour, which was my dependent variable, and another on the proportion of the electorate who think the economy is doing well, which was my independent variable. When the dependent was regressed on the independent, the co-efficient on the independent variable was just under 0.6. The p-test indicated that the regression was accurate with more than 99% certainty.

This is telling us that for every 1% increase in the proportion of the electorate that think the economy is doing well, there should be a 0.6% increase in the Conservatives lead over Labour.

Over October, according to the YouGov tracker, Labour’s poll lead over the Conservatives has averaged just under 5%.

Our regression indicates that the Conservatives require around a 9% increase in the proportion of the electorate describing the economy as doing well for them to retake a polling lead over Labour.

As we’ve seen a 6% increase in the proportion of the electorate reporting the economy as doing well since July, a further 9% increase in this proportion may not be infeasible over the next 6 months or so.

14% of the electorate currently describe the economy as doing well, so a further 9% would take us to around a quarter of the electorate being of this view. Is this possible? If it is, and the relationship that our regression establishes between improving economic sentiment and growing Tory support holds, then we are looking at the Tories being ahead in the polls within the next 6 months or so.

Tom Watson is, of course, right when he notes: “I don’t see optimism on the faces of the people I represent in West Bromwich, that’s for sure”.

The 9% increase in economic optimism that the Tories need to take a lead in the polls won’t come from his constituents. Or elsewhere in the swathes of the country ill-served by a government doing little to lay the foundations for sustainable growth and robust rebalancing.

But maybe this 9% can be found amid the home owners who feel wealthier as Help to Buy stokes a housing bubble. Or amid the Royal Mail shareholders, experiencing a quick return on their investment. Or shareholders in RBS and Lloyds who may be granted a similar return by privatisations in advance of the election.

Help to Buy revisits exactly the problems that led to the 2008 crash. The Royal Mail was sold for £6bn less than the government was told it was worth. The public stakes in the banks have not been used to recast the financial sector as one to make the most of Britain’s economic potential.

None of this makes any sense from the perspective of what is best for most of the British people. But that won’t stop the Tories being ahead in the polls if they can convince a quarter of the electorate that the economy is doing well.

From this perspective, Help to Buy and botched privatisations of Royal Mail and the banks are not evidence of a failure to learn any lessons from 2008, but evil genius.

The Labour slogan rings true: the Tories are for the few (the extra 9% of economically content voters that they are seeking by any means necessary) and we are for the many (the interests of the country as a whole). Pointing to the division and injustice inherent in this Tory strategy may not enough for Labour, though.

We may need to reach out to the few, as well as the many, and convince them that they’d be better off with Labour. That way the relationship that has held over 2013 between improving economic sentiment and growing Tory support will break down. And with it the Tory strategy for victory.

The harsh truth is that depression in West Bromwich is compatible with Tory victory if enough people in places like Watford feel good about the economy. If we want to change West Bromwich, we need to convince Watford that Labour will better serve them.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist


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13 Responses to “How long before the Tories overtake Labour in the polls?”

  1. swatantra says:

    The green shoots have just turned round the corner and things are looking up and the Tories will be claiming that its them that dun it. But I may be an old skeptik but have always been of the opinion that the British Economy is pretty resilient and can withstand any efforts of Osborne and Balls to wreck it. Can we have a Debate on whether we actually need a Chancellor or Shadow Chancellor any more?
    I can give you the exact date when Tories will overtake Labour: May 30 2014. after both Labour and Conservatives settle down to normal politics after getting a drubbing from the euroskeptic public who should know better but don’t, and we get the Euro Elections out of the way, and forget about UKIP.

  2. I have fond memories of West Bromwich, I lived there from 2000-2004. In the past ten years it has enjoyed a few face lifts, albeit that the spanking new Art Gallery in the town centre was a classic example of liberal optimism going haywire, needless to say it didn’t take long for the locals to run off to Tipton for their entertainment!

    I would have to disagree with Mr Watson, denizens of West Brom are always able to laugh no matter what life throws at them, and believe me I know, I used to manage Legal Aid contracts at Sandwell CAB – at that time the fourth most derived area in the country.

    Further, Mr Watson is more renowned for his sneaky political allegiances than fine art or its contemporary playmate for that matter. I cannot help but observe whether he has ever been ‘sure’ about anything in his life?

    I hear from locals that thay are more than happy with all the new regeneration etc (mainly under Labour), so perhaps Mr Watson is getting his Art Gallery wires crossed – again.

    Julian Ruck

    PS His claiming of the maximum yearly food allowance of £4,800 back in 2005 doesn’t surprise either, this princely sum would certainly help to fund a few more free curries at one of the many Sikh ‘canteens’ (Guru Nanak style) that pepper the area.

  3. Felix says:

    Jonathan Todd probably organises circle jerks willing the Tories to overtake Labour in the polls.

  4. Warren Ward says:

    You are making the old error of presuming correlation is cause: and over a very short timeline. Extrapolate over a couple of decades, with a good few actual elections thrown in, and you might have an interesting thesis. Otherwise many might suspect you are on the right of the party and are pushing for a Blairite policy agenda. All the best.

  5. Ex-Labour says:

    The big factor as I have mentioned previously is the UKIP effect. If, and to be honest I think its more “when”, the UKIP protest vote fades and the majority realise voting UKIP may produce a Labour government, there will be a boost for the Tories.

    The public are also Euroskeptic and Labour offer nothing to these voters except more Europe, more regulation, more expense and more immigration, and as the ecomony continues to improve, this will also push more towards Cameron.

  6. John reid says:

    Swatantra, if the Tories Are massacred after the EU elections it’ll take more than a week for them to recover,the date the Tories over take labour in the polls will be may 1st 2015

  7. Robert says:

    I will not be surprised if the Tories are the biggest party in 2015 but I cannot see them getting a majority. They will need more than 40% of the vote and they have not achieved that since 1992.

  8. steve says:

    “We may need to reach out to the few, as well as the many, and convince them that they’d be better off with Labour.”

    Never have truer words been written. But, realising who is going to butter their bread, ‘the few’ will gravitate towards to Tories. Labour must prevent this not only by offering to butter their bread but also by providing jam as well.

    Let’s be frank, Labour voters have nowhere else to go – Labour is their only option so their vote is as good as in the bag. Labour should focus only on preparing a lavish a bread and jam feast for ‘the few.’

    We’re already taken a step in the right direction – the Trade Unions will be dumped after the Special Conference next spring. This will help emphasise our pro-corporate credentials and show we mean business, let’s not forget: Labour must really show it means busine$$!

    Next we must scrap HS2 and instead use the money for tax cuts. Then, we should promise to accelerate the privatisation of the NHS (we’ve already got a good track record on this so let’s shout it from the roof-tops). And let’s reduce rates by selling off municipal land – playfields/parks etc. There’s no reason why these so called ‘amenties’ should be a burden on hard-working rate-payers. And after all, the hard-working ‘few’ mostly have gardens already so why should they be expected to subsidise free leisure facilities for benefit cheats?

    Finally, LET’S PRIVATISE THE BBC and save hard-working families the expense of the license!

    This is the way to a Labour victory in 2015. You know it makes sense. Forward!

  9. uglyfatbloke says:

    National averages are misleading anyway. Under FPTP it is perfectly possible for the party that gets the most votes to still lose the election. Regional variation that makes no real difference in a national opinion poll can have a profound effect on the outcome of a General Election. UKIP probably will have a good night in the Euro elections and wither on the vine almost immediately. There is very little chance that they will get any MPs at all in the GE, though they may weaken the tory vote enough to let Labour win the odd constituency. OTH, they take more voted from Labour than we like to think, so it won’t make as much difference as all that. I’ve no idea about Wales, but my impression is that Plaid are hardly likley to make a lot of gains, but in Scotland the gnats may well get 40% or more of the vote and in the 4-party Scottish system that will give them a raft of MPs. Several will be at the expense of the glib-dumbs (awwww….how sad…..) partly because they are just plain worn out but also because they have gone into a coalition with the tories, but a lot of Labour MPs will be under threat as well. None of that will show up in a national poll, but it could be very significant.

  10. Rallan says:

    “… I think its more ‘when’, the UKIP protest vote fades …”

    “… get the Euro Elections out of the way, and forget about UKIP.”

    “… UKIP probably will have a good night in the Euro elections and wither on the vine almost immediately.”

    Saying it with conviction doesn’t make it true. You’re all just guessing / hoping.

    UKIP is a new wildcard with proven appeal in Tory, Labour & LibDem areas. It’s depth of support that is very hard to judge but UKIP represents widespread views that the main parties have ignored for decades, and gives voice to (richly deserved) general public contempt for our political “leaders”. UKIP has confounded most “expert” predictions over the last 2 years.

    Whatever you say, the 2015 UKIP vote is very unlikely to diminish to the insignificant levels you seem to expect. Don’t (want to) believe me? Take a look at the changes in betting odds for UKIP in 2015.

  11. steve says:

    @ Rallan

    UKIP support remains firm – even following what Farage regarded as a disastrous conference. Now that Labour, LibDem and Tories are indistinguishable from one another we can expect UKIP to pick up votes from all mainstream parties as well as winning votes from those who are simply fed up with the elite clones of Westminster.

    There’s something King Canute-like about the section within the LP who believe UKIP will wither after the Euro elections – as if the concerns that led voters to support UKIP are suddenly going to disappear. But then these are the people who believed they’d achieved the end of boom and bust and that the Iraq intervention was a great success. Best to put it down to a combination of political naivety and wishful thinking.

  12. Geoff J says:

    “… Let’s be frank, Labour voters have nowhere else to go – Labour is their only option so their vote is as good as in the bag.”

    Whilst agreeing that UKIP get more votes from Tories than elsewhere, there are possibly more disaffected Labour voters than you may realise. Gordon Brown upset many back in 2010 when he failed to be in touch with popular feeling.
    As a lifelong Labour voter, I’m switching my allegiance to UKIP, until we’re out of the EU. I also need Labour to reconnect with the people, something that UKIP is doing more successfully.
    Nothing’s in the bag, I’m afraid.

  13. Mike Homfray says:

    Given that growth has largely been felt by those in the south east, I think the assumption that those in other areas will share in the southern optimism is mistaken

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