LONODN, February 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --
The Conservatives start the Eastleigh by-election campaign with a 3-point lead over the Liberal Democrats, according to a new poll from Lord Ashcroft.
The survey, conducted on 4 and 5 February immediately after the resignation of Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne, puts the Conservatives on 34%, with the Lib Dems on 31% and Labour on 19%. UKIP are in fourth place with 13%. The result points to a closely fought campaign, with the by-election scheduled for 28 February.
The results will be published on the Conservative Home website on Friday.
The figures represent a 16-point fall in the Liberal Democrat vote since the 2010 general election, and a 9-point rise for Labour. UKIP have also gained 9 points since 2010.
Though Eastleigh voters rate the Tories as the best party to manage the economy and give David Cameron a strong lead as best Prime Minister, there is strong support for the Liberal Democrats' performance locally.
Lord Ashcroft's commentary on the results, to be published on Conservative Home, is as follows:
TORIES START AHEAD IN EASTLEIGH, BUT IT'S GOING TO BE A BATTLE
The Conservatives enter the Eastleigh by-election campaign with a narrow lead over the Liberal Democrats. A poll conducted over the two evenings immediately following Chris Huhne's resignation put the Tories on 34%, with the Lib Dems on 31% and Labour on 19%. The result shows that both coalition parties have everything to play for in the three weeks to polling day on 28 February.
Though the Conservative share is six points lower than the 40% achieved at the 2010 election, the Lib Dems are down sixteen points and Labour are up nine. UKIP start with 13%, also up nine points since 2010.
There is some more encouraging news for the Tories. Conservative voters are the most likely to be sure how they will vote, and Lib Dems who say they may change their minds are more likely to switch to the Tories than any other party. However, Labour voters are more likely to be open to changing, and are more likely to move to the Lib Dems if they do.
Only a fifth of Eastleigh voters would rather see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister than David Cameron, and the Conservatives lead on getting the economy growing and creating jobs, as well as dealing with the deficit.
Though voters in the constituency are on balance pessimistic about prospects for the economy over the next few years, they back the coalition's 'Plan A' for deficit reduction by a wide margin.
Moreover, voters tend to credit these policies to the Conservatives, not their junior partners. Only just over a fifth of Lib Dem voters think their party has much influence within the coalition - indeed Conservative voters are more than twice as likely to think Nick Clegg is influential than his own supporters. Overall, Cameron and Osborne are more trusted to run the economy than Miliband and Balls by a wide margin - but Lib Dem voters are no more likely to choose the government team when Nick Clegg is mentioned alongside his coalition colleagues.
If voters see the campaign in terms of national issues, then, the Conservatives are in a very strong position. But as always, the Liberal Democrats will focus on the local. This is where the danger lies. Two thirds of Eastleigh voters - including a majority of Tories and 97% of Lib Dems - agree that "the Lib Dems do a good job locally in my area". It is notable that despite the Conservative lead in voting intention, half the constituency's voters expect the Lib Dems to win the by-election; indeed, Conservatives are more likely to expect this than a Tory victory.
Winning a seat from the Liberal Democrats is much easier when the incumbent is out of the picture. But Eastleigh has been in Lib Dem hands for a long time, and the party has a strong local government base in the borough. Huhne was a popular and, by all accounts, assiduous MP, and many in Eastleigh will be sad to see him go and circumstances of his departure. The Tories should not expect many to switch out of disgust.
So: the Conservatives, with an initial lead and reasonable support for their national performance, versus the Liberal Democrats on home territory. This is going to be bruising - but fascinating.
Notes to Editors
1. 1,006 adults were interviewed by telephone in the Eastleigh constituency on 4 and 5 February 2013. Results have been weighted to be representative of all adults in the constituency. Full data tables will be available at lordashcroftpolls.com on Friday 8 February.
2. Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, author and philanthropist. He is founder and Chairman of the Board of Crimestoppers, a member of the Board of the Imperial War Museum and a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum Foundation, Chairman of the Trustees of Ashcroft Technology Academy, Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University and Treasurer of the International Democrat Union. From 2005 to 2010 he was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.
3. His political books and research papers include Smell The Coffee (2005), Minority Verdict (2010), What Future For Labour? (2010), What Future For The Liberal Democrats? (2010), Crime, Punishment & The People (2011), Project Blueprint (2011 & 2012), The Leadership Factor (2011), Degrees of Separation (2012), The Armed Forces & Society (2012), Blue Collar Tories (2012), Project Red Alert (2012), and They're Thinking What We're Thinking: Understanding The UKIP Temptation (2012).