The election campaign is now well underway, with intense activity in the two weeks since our last update, including manifesto launches, party political broadcasts, a widely viewed leaders' debate, and high profile interviews on an almost daily basis. There is evidence this is starting to filter down to the electorate - Populus reported that, for the first time this election cycle, the upcoming general election was the most noticed news story among its poll respondents in the week ending April 10th, and Lord Ashcroft's polls of marginal seats are now showing high rates of contact by the main parties.
The intense political activity of the past two weeks is certainly helping to engage voters, but there is little evidence yet that it is changing minds. Although a couple of polls have shown Labour or the Conservatives with a decisive lead - and been widely shared by each party's supporters - this picture has not been backed by the majority of polling, suggesting they are outliers (or at the very edge of sampling error). Our Polling Observatory estimates, bringing together all the available polling data, indicate virtually no change in the balance of power between the "big two" in the first fortnight of April. Our vote forecast therefore continues to point to a narrow Conservative vote lead in an election which remains too close to call. We forecast the Conservatives to win 33.6% of the vote, down 0.4 points on the 1st of April, and back to the level forecast in early March. Labour are forecast to be 1.1 points behind on 32.5%, down 0.5 points since April 1st. The modest recovery in Liberal Democrat fortunes continued in the first half of the month - we now project them to win 10.3% of the vote, up 0.4% on April 1st.
The stability in the polling is also reflected in our latest seat estimates. The Conservatives' median estimate falls by 3 seats, Labour's rises by two, and the Liberal Democrats rise by one. This doubles the median Labour seat lead from 5 to 10 seats, but as the figures in brackets indicating the confidence in our estimates reveal, this projected lead is highly uncertain. A lead for either party in seats is quite possible, though a majority for either is at present very unlikely.
The small shifts in projected seat totals have little impact on the coalition arithmetic, as shown in Table 2. The likeliest Conservative-led combinations - with the Liberal Democrats, the DUP and UKIP - still fall well short of the 323 votes needed to be sure of winning a confidence vote (this is lower than the theoretical 325 votes for a majority as Sinn Fein's three MPs do not take their seats). Our projected numbers would not leave the Conservatives with many options for forming a government.
Labour continue to depend on support in some form from the Scottish National Party to form a government - a combination of all natural allies excluding the SNP falls 10 seats short of an effective majority. Even if Labour were to persuade the DUP to join such a rainbow alliance, they still would not be able to pass legislation or carry a confidence vote if the SNP joined the opposition. As such, our current central projection remains one of a Labour government supported by multiple parties. On our central projection, a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition provided with less formal support by the SNP (such as a "confidence and supply" arrangement) would have 355 seats - exactly equal to the number held by Labour alone after the 2005 election. This nicely illustrates the fragmentation of British politics since that time - the parliamentary power held by one party in 2005 would, on our projections, be shared between three parties in 2015.
Robert Ford, Will Jennings, Mark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien
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