If Nick Clegg loses in Sheffield Hallam, it would be the Portillo moment of the 2015 election. After several tight polls, a new survey from ICM this evening suggests that the Lib Dem leader might be safe after all. When the names of candidates are prompted, ICM puts Clegg on 42 per cent — seven points ahead of the Labour candidate Oliver Coppard on 35 per cent. Without promoting by candidate name, ICM has Labour taking the seat, narrowly ahead by two points on 34 per cent.
This is a rather different outlook to the one painted by Lord Ashcroft, who reported in his most recent marginal poll that Labour was on 37 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 36. In a sense there is nothing new here: it is generally assumed that not naming a high profile candidate like Clegg distorts the situation and favours the challenger who has no incumbency factor. If the ICM poll proves to be accurate, it’s good news for the Liberal Democrats, who are relying on well-known candidates to hold onto their seats, the Tories, who are hoping incumbency will save some of their MPs in tight marginals and Labour in Scotland.
Ashcroft has never named candidates in his marginal polls, not least because many of the candidates were not selected when he first began polling. But has he got it wrong by not naming once all the candidates were known? Stephen Bush over the Staggers thinks he might have — but this could be, as pollsters love to say, just one poll.
There are any number of factors that might explain the vast difference in numbers: methodologies, weightings, skewered samples and shy Tory voters emerging for example. Prompting the names of candidates is definitely one of them but it is unlikely to be the only one. Ashcroft has taken to Twitter to retweet ICM’s director Martin Boon, who has pointed out his techniques are the same as everyone else:
— Martin Boon (@martinboon) May 4, 2015
In reality, some of Lord Ashcroft’s polls will be right and others will be wrong. The Tory peer has spent considerable sums on marginal constituency polling, giving political observers an unprecedented insight into how the election is being fought in the key seats. By this time on Friday, we’ll know for sure how accurate Ashcroft has been.