The arrival of six-party politics and an idiosyncratic general election result will “revive the debate about electoral reform”, according to one of Britain’s foremost polling experts.
Whereas elections used to be fairly predictable, with one of the two main parties prevailing and the Liberal Democrats rarely winning more than a handful of seats, this May’s election is agreed by many to be the most unpredictable in history, with the Scottish National Party set to take Labour seats and Ukip potentially getting the third most votes.
In “The Lottery Election”, a report commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) and published tomorrow, Professor John Curtice identifies a number of situations where a slight shift in the vote could result in a huge difference in the composition of the House of Commons.
The situation is so delicate that the SNP could secure a small number of seats – or more than 50, which would make it the third-biggest party.
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.
Labour could also secure an overall majority with a lower share of the vote than any single- party government in history. Unequal constituency sizes mean that Tories might need a lead of at least seven points to form a Government without the support of another party.
The report says: “Despite the continued use of an electoral system that is supposed to ensure that one party has an overall majority, a hung Parliament looks as likely an outcome as an overall majority, if not more so.”
Research by public relations firm Hanover Communications and polling group Populus yesterday put the chances of a second consecutive hung Parliament at 94.5 per cent. This is remarkable given that the current Government is the first coalition since the Second World War, and that the last election before 2010 to fail to establish an outright winner was in 1974.
“A second failure of the First Past the Post system to deliver an overall majority ... could in itself be expected to revive the debate about electoral reform,” the report says. Professor Curtice found that a fairly traditional analysis of the polls would suggest a 43-seat Labour lead over the Tories, with just 13 SNP and Plaid Cymru victories. However, the changing nature of SNP support means this could be a 30-seat Labour lead, with the two nationalist parties winning 56 seats.
Professor Curtice’s model suggests that even with 13 per cent of the vote, Ukip could outpoll the Lib Dems but end up with far fewer seats. He has also established Norwich South, currently held by Lib Dem Simon Wright, as the Green Party’s best hope for a second MP.
Darren Hughes, the ERS’s deputy chief executive, hopes that the chaotic election will mean the current voting system is “revealed for what it is – a relic from another age”.
The ERS wants changes to the voting system to be part of an overhaul of British politics established by a constitutional convention later this year. Scotland is set to get a raft of powers in a fresh devolution package, and the Conservatives want English MPs to have what amounts to a veto over laws that only affect England.
Labour and the Lib Dems want a constitutional convention, which has the support of the ERS and Unlock Democracy. These parties and groups, as well as the Greens and academics, met in Parliament last month to start thrashing out how this convention would work.