UK polls: Why experts are warning Keir Starmer not to take his ‘soft’ lead over the Conservatives for granted

On the face of it, Labour’s lead in the first major poll using the new constituent boundaries may look like a victory for the party, but the reality is that Sir Keir Starmer’s path to No 10 is far more uncertain.

Labour could win up to 470 seats at the next election, while the Conservatives will see their share slashed to just 129, according to baseline data collected by Focaldata for Best for Britain.

It uses the MRP (Multilevel Regression and Post-stratification) polling method, which is considered more accurate than a general opinion poll as it uses a larger sample and takes local factors into account.

In this case, the method has for the first time been applied to the new constituency boundaries, which will be applied at the next election, due to be held by January 2025 at the latest.

The MRP approach is considered fairly accurate – it correctly predicted Donald Trump’s US presidential victory in 2016 and Labour’s 30-seat gain in the 2017 general election – but isn’t without its flaws.

MRP often fails to accurately show the gains smaller parties, like the Liberal Democrats, might make at an election and can only give a snapshot of how current voter opinion might play out if an election were held today.

With this in mind, Best for Britain has set out a number of scenarios based on analysis of the polling ranging from a Labour landslide to a hung parliament.

This selection alone should be enough of a warning to Sir Keir and co that the 470 seats he’s predicted to get in scenario one – arguably, the one he hopes for – is far from a foregone conclusion.

In scenario two, which uses demographic trends to predict the allegiance of the 12 per cent of undecided voters, Labour would win 370 seats and the Tories 232.

Scenario three considers what would happen if Reform UK stood down its candidates in marginal Tory seats – the result: Labour would win 401 seats while the Tories would get 201.

Scenario four, a combination of two and three, is the most promising for the Tories. It would see Labour failing to reach the majority threshold of 325, winning 316 seats while the Tories would get 286 – in other words, a hung parliament.

In all of these eventualities, Labour would win the most seats, but the evaluation is based on the party’s current poll lead, which analysts warn is under threat from the Conservatives.

uk polls: why experts are warning keir starmer not to take his ‘soft’ lead over the conservatives for granted

Leading pollster Sir John Curtice said the “very substantial” drop for the Conservatives in the polls was largely due to “Partygate and the Liz Truss fiscal event”.

But he argued that there had been “a bit of a narrowing” of Labour’s lead since Rishi Sunak entered Downing Street.

Luke Tryl, UK director of the More in Common group, cautioned Labour not to be complacent that it would be “winning by default” at the next election, and that support for the party was “quite soft”.

“You’re in a situation where people at the moment are going to Labour by default, not because they love the Labour Party,” he said.

There were also mixed opinions on Sir Keir, Mr Tryl added, with with some questioning whether he “had the answers for the big issues” and repeating Conservative attack lines dubbing him “Captain Hindsight”.

He said an overriding theme of focus groups was that people “just want politics to stop”, and the party that wins the next election will be the one that can “best convince people its okay to turn on the six o’clock news and not be worried”.

Many believed this would not be the Conservative Party, Mr Tryl claimed, as they were seen as “to some degree the cause of that chaos”.

But, he said the steadying effect of Mr Sunak gives the Tories cause for hope, with voters viewing him as “quite competent” and that he was “outperforming the party” in terms of popularity.

Other still questioned, however, whether he was “strong enough” as PM, a perception that was “exacerbated by the constant returns to the stage of Boris Johnson”.

Such varied opinions of each leader and their parties could prove crucial at the next election as the main parties are set to battle it out in a number of very marginal seats.

Best for Britain has identified 206 seats that have less than a 5 per cent gap between the two parties, of which Labour are in first or second in 197 – mostly in Scotland, southeast England and east England.

It’s these battlegrounds that could make or break Sir Keir’s chance at entering Downing Street, and even a small dip in the polls could harm his chances of reaching a majority.

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