Support for immigration as the focal issue doubles

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The number of people naming immigration as the most important election issue has doubled since the start of the campaign - but Labour maintains a steady five-point lead in today's IoS poll.

The number of people naming immigration as the most important election issue has doubled since the start of the campaign - but Labour maintains a steady five-point lead in today's IoS poll.

We asked for the three most important issues "in determining which way you'll vote." Immigration was named by 24 per cent, up from 12 per cent at the end of March, making it the third most important issue after the NHS, named by 50 per cent, and education, named by 34 per cent.

But the poll shows that the immigration issue tends to reinforce Conservative support rather than shift allegiances. Labour's lead appears solid, with the party three points ahead even if sampling is restricted to the 62 per cent who say they are "absolutely certain to vote".

Turnout will also be lifted by the fact that 13 per cent of voters say they have applied for a postal vote, with a further 6 per cent intending to do so before the deadline on Tuesday. That compares with a total of 2 per cent who voted by post at the last election.

Despite Gordon Brown's popularity - as reported in last week's poll - this week's survey finds that people want Tony Blair to stay on as Prime Minister if Labour wins. While 37 per cent agreed he should hand over to the Chancellor "fairly quickly", 47 per cent disagreed. Among Labour voters only 30 per cent agreed and 60 per cent disagreed.

The poll also suggests that, whatever other problems he has with his image, Michael Howard's age is not a factor in the campaign. Asked whether "most people think" the fact that he is 63 is a disadvantage for the Conservatives, only 15 per cent agreed, while 79 per cent disagreed.

Nor does the election campaign seem to be turning off young people. The population is evenly split over whether there has been "too much media coverage" of the campaign - 46 per cent agree, 50 per cent disagree. But young people are less likely to agree than older ones. The poll shows that voters are arriving at the point of decision, with a seven-point jump since the start of the campaign in the proportion who say they are "fairly sure" how they will vote, to 76 per cent. Similarly, there has been an eight-point drop to 22 per cent in those who say they "may well" change their mind.

CommunicateResearch, a member of the British Polling Council, interviewed a random sample of 1,003 adults by telephone, 19-22 April. Details at www.communicateresearch.com

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