The latest ICM poll for the Guardian has an 18-point Conservative lead. That ties with Ipsos MORI’s October poll for the biggest Tory lead while in government in any poll since 1987. ICM and other pollsters did record bigger leads when the Tories were in opposition, as you’d expect – governments polling badly and oppositions shaping up to replace them generally produce the absolute extremes (see Labour in the late 2000s and the Tories in the mid 1990s).
The polls over the last week have been demonstrating sampling variability well, with MORI showing a fractionally reduced Tory lead, YouGov showing no change, ICM showing a modest increase and Opinium showing a big widening. The surrounding short-term noise and gradual nature of the underlying trend has made is remarkably subtle. No blue surge or red collapse, just a steady movement over the last six months or so.
CON 44 (+2)
LAB 26 (-1)
LD 8 (-2)
UKIP 13 (+1)
GRN 4 (=)
— NumbrCrunchrPolitics (@NCPoliticsUK) February 20, 2017
And because that goes against normal electoral gravity, it makes 2020 very tricky to predict, even if you knew exactly what would happen with Brexit, the economy and everything else between now and then.
But what about Thursday? The betting markets have pretty much made their minds up on Copeland, with a 72 per implied probability of a Conservative gain at the close of play last night. In Stoke Central, Labour implies around 60 per cent. The Prime Minister’s visit to Stoke certainly raised a few eyebrows. Do the Tories really think they can win there too?
Well, maybe. But I suspect they’ve seen UKIP in trouble after a difficult week for Paul Nuttall and fancy a stab at second place, something that might matter if the next general election ends up being fought on the current boundaries.
We also have another odd-day local by-election tonight – Winklebury on Basingstoke and Deane (Hants). This was won 46-30 by the Conservatives over Labour in 2015. Which sounds safe enough, but the Lib Dems have had bigger swings than the (exactly) 20 per cent they need to take it. However the no-show by UKIP, which took 18 per cent task time, may help the Tories. We shall see.
And looking further ahead, Roger Scully has written on the local elections in Wales, plus some analysis and projections from Harry Hayfield.