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The marginals of the Midlands and the North hold the key for May

Much has been made of the narrowing Conservative lead over this campaign, and rightly so. Just over a month ago we were looking at a wipeout victory for Mrs May and now we could potentially be looking at an increased but modest Conservative majority.

Previously the heat was off the opinion polls as the margin of victory looked like it might be so large that the exact number almost didn’t matter – who would quibble over a lead of 18 instead of 20 points? Fast forward to June and some polls suggest the Tories could even lose their majority, even if we don’t think this is a likely scenario. Now, even if the Tories gain seats as previously assumed, every incremental change in their poll lead could have a large impact on how the result is viewed purely by giving the Conservatives a majority of 80 rather than 50.

We have seen the Conservatives go from having a 19 point lead over Labour to a mere 7 point lead in our final poll, although from what we can see Labour seems to have plateaued. The reason for this is the re-alignment of politics that we have seen as a result of the fallout from the referendum last year.

Voting intention

The Conservatives have remained in the mid-40s for the duration of the campaign, as a result of Leave voters and the more socially conservative rallying to Theresa May and her calls to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. The full details of this we’ve explored in more detail in our Political Tribes research. However, early in the campaign it appeared that this realignment was one sided, but Jeremy Corbyn appears to have almost accidentally consolidated many Remainers. Oddly, he’s done this by talking about almost anything but Brexit.

Party most trusted to lead Brexit negotiations
(amongst Remain voters)

Adding to Labour’s success appears to have been a poor campaign from the Conservatives, who have very easily been drawn from their key issues of Brexit and leadership onto a series of arguments which are far from their natural territory. In the final weeks we have even seen some working class Leavers, who might have originally been Labour, questioning their current support of the Conservatives. However, if the Tories can hold off their doubts for a few days longer then Mrs May should be safely back in Downing Street by winning a string of marginals in the Midlands and the North.

Finally, something no-one has had adequate time to explore is the effect of the appalling events in Manchester and London. Terrorism, although prominent, was not a key issue in this election until the Manchester attack, and the attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market have only served to bring the issue home for voters. The Conservatives are by far the most trusted party on dealing with the threat of terrorism. In theory this should further solidify the Conservative vote and make those swinging to Labour think twice, but whether voters are responding to these events in the way we expect is something we will only know after the 8th June.

Most important issues facing Britain

The extraordinary campaign means that we could be studying the 2017 general election for a lot longer than we might have imagined, as the unexpected has happened at every turn. It’s one of the first campaigns where an open and shut case in April turned into an uncertain outcome. Setting aside the experiences from 2010, where Cleggmania ultimately translated into to only a 1% increase in Lib Dem vote share, there seems to be no parallel for this large a shift in opinion over the course of a campaign.

Ultimately we still expect to wake up on Friday with a Conservative government, but what pollsters, professors, pundits and politicians take from this campaign will probably be very different from what we all expected when this election was called.

Written by James Crouch, Senior Research Executive & Head of Omnibus, Opinium Research

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