So what’s the election result going to be? That’s the question I am asked most often nowadays, and I am sure it’s the one my fellow political commentators also find the most difficult to answer. “Oh, it’s going to be very exciting,” we all say, laughing nervously, because nobody has a clue what the real answer is.
The truth is that this is the most unpredictable election in recent memory and for one very simple reason – for the first time in British political history, we’re now in five-party politics. For the first time ever it’s conceivable that the joint vote share of the two main parties might be under 60 per cent.
The only thing we can say with certainty is that the days of the election night swingometer are well and truly behind us. There is no such thing as a national swing. National opinion polls have been rendered almost redundant. The various internet election forecasting sites have little relevance. Tip O’Neill once said that “all politics is local” and boy was he right.
I have taken him at his word and taken on the mammoth task of predicting the result in each of the UK’s 650 constituencies. Clearly only an idiot or a massive political geek would undertake such a task and put his money where his mouth is. I’ll leave you to decide which I am.
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
Obviously I am not an expert on each seat. But there’s a lot of information out there if you look for it. Sites such as PoliticalBetting.com and UKPollingReport are mines of useful statistics and opinion. Lord Ashcroft’s excellent constituency-based polls also provide useful data along with other local factors I have researched. I’ve made the predictions as scientific as I can make them on the evidence I have available to me. In the end you also have to sniff the political wind and rely on your own political instinct. And that’s what I have done. It’s served me well over the last year when I got the European election results bang on and made the most accurate predictions in Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle.
I don’t expect to have got every prediction right, which will come as a relief to several MP friends from all parties who I have predicted will lose their seats. But this is an ongoing process, and I fully expect to revise some of these predictions between now and 7 May.
Having completed the task I am so glad I undertook it, as it has confirmed several theories.
In Scotland I just cannot see how the Scottish National Party can gain the number of seats many people are predicting. Some pundits predict with straight faces that the SNP will sweep the electoral board and end up with 30 to 40 seats. They have six at the moment, and try as I might I can’t get them above 18. If they do achieve more than that it would be a political earthquake of epic proportions. They would be overturning Labour majorities of 15-20,000.
The most difficult thing to predict is how well the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Green Party will do. Both could deny each of the major parties victory in many marginal seats. Labour ought to be gaining seats in North Wales, for example, but the strong Ukip vote there – where they are taking more Labour votes than Tory ones – may well mean they don’t take any at all. Indeed, in the North-west of England that same phenomenon could mean the Tories picking up the odd Labour marginal.
The one prediction I am 100 per cent confident in making is that the Liberal Democrats will lose more than half of their 57 seats. A year ago I thought they would end up with 30-35. In October I revised that to 28-30. Now I have them on 24. It could get even worse, but I reckon Nick Clegg will be safe in Sheffield Hallam.
The most recent political phenomenon is the growth of the Greens. While I don’t see them winning any extra seats, it is possible for an increase in their vote to stop Labour winning in some key marginals. If the Lib Dem vote transfers to the Greens instead of Labour, Ed Miliband is in much bigger trouble than my headline prediction suggests.
If my overall prediction is anywhere near correct, Britain is on the verge of months, or maybe years of political uncertainty. It would take three parties to form a coalition, and I doubt whether many of us can see that happening. A safer bet would be that no one could form a sustainable government and we could be in for a second election in the autumn which none but the main two parties could afford – and even Labour would find it difficult to raise the necessary money in such a short time. In the meantime, the markets will get the jitters and the fragile economic recovery could well be threatened.
Welcome to five-party politics. It’s not going to be an easy ride.
Iain Dale presents LBC Radio’s Drive-time show. All his seat by seat election predictions can be found at iaindale.com