Forced choices

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
January 12, 2011, 9:06 PM GMT+0

Our latest daily voting intention shows the Conservatives at 40%, Labour at 41% and the Liberal Democrats at 7% - the second time in a week they have hit this new low.

While our polling is now giving Labour a consistent lead in the polls, if asked a forced choice question on whether people would rather have a Conservative government led by David Cameron or a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, the Conservatives lead by 41% to 36%. Partially this is probably the effect of including the leaders' names in the question, as David Cameron has much higher net approval ratings than Ed Miliband. Mostly, however, the difference comes down to how the preferences of supporters of the Liberal Democrats and other parties split between Labour and the Conservatives.

This is more than just of academic interest, it is also a good rough guide towards which parties the alternative vote would help. The alternative vote is generally perceived to be most helpful to the electoral chances of the Liberal Democrats and to Labour, a belief that is backed up by polling at past general elections. This is because as a centrist party, the Liberal Democrats have been well placed to get second preferences from both Labour and Conservative voters, and because historically Liberal Democrat supporters have tended to say they are far more likely to give their second preferences to the Labour party.

In our recent polls the remaining Liberal Democrat supporters say they would prefer a Conservative government to a Labour one by 51% to 16%. This is not a reflection of shifting Liberal Democrat opinion, rather it is that many Labour-sympathising Liberal Democrats have deserted the party. Regardless of the reasons though, it suggests that if AV were to be introduced, the remaining Liberal Democrat voters would tend to give their second preferences to the Conservative party. AV may in fact end up helping the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives rather than Labour.

See the survey details and full results