When the general election was announced on 18 April, the Conservative Party was roughly 20 points ahead of Labour, a lead so commanding that the pundits were predicting a crushing victory of historic proportions. Theresa May wasn’t going to win an election, she was heading for a coronation, and she and Donald Trump would at last be free to rule the world.
Seven weeks later, things aren’t quite so simple for supreme leader May, whose creepy rictus grin and total inability to relate to the electorate have helped slash the polling deficit week on week. Jeremy Corbyn, for whom 24% of people in April said they would cast their vote, has steered his party to a polling average in the mid-to-high 30s, even as his counterpart has seen her ratings tumble to the low 40s. There’s still a gap, but many companies are estimating it at between four and six points.
If this were an American election, it would still more than likely be game over for Labour. But due to the bloody-minded British habit of sticking to bizarre, ancient traditions that no longer make any rational sense in the modern world, one poll is now suggesting that the election could even deliver a hung parliament – where no party wins enough MPs to secure a majority, and no easy coalition can be formed.
A new seat-by-seat analysis by the polling firm YouGov has predicted that the Conservatives will win just 310 seats at the election – losing 20 and leaving them 16 short of the absolute majority of 326 seats needed to form a government. The poll, published in The Times, used an unusual methodology, interviewing around 50,000 voters on their intentions, and reckons Labour will win 29 more seats for a total or 257, with the Liberal Democrats up to 10 and the SNP down four seats on 50.
We get here despite a split of 42% to 38% in favour of the Tories simply because leaders are elected according to how many MPs they have, and constituencies don’t vote uniformly. YouGov’s analysis seems to show that Conservative voters will vote very heavily in some safe seats, but that they’re wavering in many key marginals.
And if it does come to pass – a big if, considering the failures of polling in recent years (see: the 2015 election, Brexit, Donald Trump) – it’s quite hard to see how a government could be formed: even if Labour were joined by the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens (predicted to win one seat), such a coalition would fall short of a sufficient majority. Similarly, the Conservatives would also fall short even with the help of the Lib Dems.
In short, it’s beginning to look like the British public is not yet sick of political snafus.
Of course, polling is more of an art than a science. Another company is considerably more modest in its appraisal of Labour’s chances: ICM is currently putting the Tories 12 points ahead, a situation in which it is safe to say we would not experience a hung parliament.
Still, the YouGov poll has rattled a few cages, and people on both sides have dismissed it for its experimental nature and strange findings. What’s more, pollsters in general do not have a great reputation for accuracy – as one particular victim of false predictions has pointed out. Ed Miliband, the previous Labour leader, was predicted by more than a few polls to win the 2015 elections. Spoiler alert: he didn’t win, and has instead been relegated to sending out some surprisingly sassy tweets:
His former colleague Ed Balls, meanwhile, who had been tipped as the next chancellor but who was so stung by voters in 2015 that he actually lost his seat, also remains sceptical over pollsters’ predictions.
YouGov has allowed itself a substantial margin for error, and according to The Times, the current figures suggest the Conservatives could win as many as 345 seats, or as few as 274 on a particularly terrible night.
The best way for you to have an effect on the results is to vote on 8 June. Simple really.