Why UK national election polls flatter the Tories

The U.K. election campaign so far has been a story of two parallel squeezes.

The polls suggest that the Tories have been very successful at bringing together the Leave vote under their banner. At the same time, Labour has done the same with Remain voters — although not as successfully.

Yet one key point should give pause to anyone trying to predict the result: There are still large numbers of undecided voters.

When MPs voted on October 30 to hold the election in December, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives were on 38 percent with Labour on 26 percent. The Lib Dems were on 17 percent and the Brexit Party was on 10 percent (that’s according to an amalgamation of survey results for POLITICO’s poll of polls). Since Nigel Farage announced that his party would not contest Tory-held seats, his party’s support has collapsed to just 3 percent while the Lib Dems have drifted downwards to 12 percent.

With both main parties benefiting from this dual squeeze (they now stand at 43 percent and 34 percent) the difference between Labour and the Tories has mostly been a plus-10 point lead for the latter. This made an outright Conservative majority the most likely outcome, until very recently when the lead began to shrink.

A number of constituency races are in fact too close to call and could go either way.

In a first-past-the-post electoral system, national polls alone are a poor predictor of the actual seat distribution in the next parliament. In today’s fragmented political landscape there is no such thing as a national swing — so using it to produce a national seat projection will be way off the mark.

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