John Curtice: All still to play for as a Tory majority is far from assured

Related Topics

Only one thing seems reasonably certain about what will be unveiled when the ballot boxes are opened on Thursday night: the Conservatives will win most votes. Beyond that, all is uncertainty and potential flux.

The latest clutch of polls, all conducted since the last of the three leaders' debates, suggests the Conservatives have edged a little further ahead. Their average poll rating is now 35 per cent, up one point on their position across all polls conducted between the second and the last leaders' debates. Liberal Democrat support has fallen back by a point for the second week in a row. Although most of the fallout from Nick Clegg's success in the first leaders' debate is still in evidence – at 28 per cent, his party's support is still as much as seven points up on before that debate – it has all the appearance of a slowly ebbing tide.

Labour's support, meanwhile, seems firmly stuck on just 27 per cent of the vote, leaving the party at risk of emerging with an even lower share than Michael Foot secured in 1983. Still, given the events of last week this might come as something of a relief to Labour. It appears that, despite the intense media frenzy the Prime Minister's encounter with Gillian Duffy in Rochdale generated, it has had no discernible impact on his party's fortunes (though the same may not be true of Mr Brown's personal popularity). Meanwhile, thanks to the decline in Liberal Democrat support, Labour now appears to have as much as an even chance of avoiding third place in votes.

Much rests on this apparently highly uncertain contest for second place in votes. If the Liberal Democrats can stay ahead, the argument for electoral reform, as well as the party's long-term prospects, will receive a substantial boost. But if Liberal Democrat support ebbs further away, then Thursday night could prove a damp squib for Mr Clegg – much as the Alliance's close third place in 1983 proved to be.

The slight improvement in the Conservatives' position has been in evidence for some days – polls conducted wholly between Monday and Thursday's debate were already putting the party on 35 per cent, on average. Nevertheless, it has helped create a sense of momentum for the party. And if Mr Cameron is to win an overall majority, he badly needs to advance further during the final four days of the campaign.

Despite the Tories' now substantial lead, the latest polls still point, on the conventional calculations, to a hung parliament in which the Conservatives are some 44 short of a majority – and probably unable to form a government without some understanding with Mr Clegg.

However, if the Tories could add another two points to their national tally, and at the same time secure an additional one-point swing in marginal Labour-held seats – as the latest polls of such seats suggest could well happen – they might just be home and dry.

They might be aided by the fact that voters are apparently coming to think of Mr Cameron as a likely Prime Minister. YouGov reports that 40 per cent felt he was the most "prime-ministerial" in the final leaders' debate, up 12 points and ahead of Mr Brown for the first time. But, equally, if in the last few days there were just a one-point swing back from the Conservatives to Labour, Mr Cameron could still find himself nervously waiting until late on Friday to see whether he has most seats. The result now rests on a knife-edge.

John Curtice is professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde. He is analysing election opinion polls for 'The Independent'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Alan Titchmarsh MP?  

Alan Titchmarsh MP? His independent manifesto gets my vote

Jane Merrick

I’ll support England’s women, but it’s not like men’s football – and that’s a good thing

Matthew Norman
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue