By Gregory Taylor
Election time is almost upon us once again, and with the election comes the endless opinion polls.
Of course reading an opinion poll is good idea to work out what’s going on in the country and it gives the parties an idea of how well things are going, but people should not read too much into them.
Often you hear people talk about how UKIP is polling very high and the decline in support for the Lib Dems. There is no doubt that the Lib Dems are polling really badly, but I don’t think we should read too much into UKIP. Yes UKIP is polling high and it is taking votes from the Tories but of course it’s hard to work out if this would happen in a General Election next year.
UKIP have done well in the last few years local council elections and have been doing well in by-elections, it also looks like UKIP will poll well in the Euro election and the local elections in May, but I don’t think the Tories or Labour should read too much into this.
Local elections are important but are normally held midterm and they can show how well the government in office is doing, but history shows that you should not pay much heed to local elections. Labour had a mixed bag when it came to local elections and the Tories would normally poll well, even matching the Labour Party in the polls, but when It came to General Elections the Tories made very little if no gains. In 2001 they only gained six seats and in 2005 they did a bit better and gained 36 but still Labour had a majority of 66.
If you looked at the polls before the 2010 election the Lib Dems in most of the opinion polls were polling very high even pushing Labour into third place, but on the election day many (even myself) thought the Lib Dems would make bigger gains and in the end made only three gains and on the whole worse than in 2005 losing several seats to the Tories. Labour, which in 1992 were believed to be doing really well in the polls before the election and were on course for a Labour victory, also lost in the end.
The other thing to take into account is the history of polls. If you look at how high the SDP/Liberal party was polling before the 1983 election it was on course to make a big political break through but when it came to the vote itself the party only gained six seats. The SDP had much more support from the media and the general public than UKIP is ever going to have and they had around 30 or so Labour MPs join them before the 1983 election.
It’s often said that UKIP is on a high and that it is going to make big gains in the general election next year, and there is no doubt that UKIP will double it’s polling and it’s vote will go up, but those people who think that UKIP could gain a seat or a couple of seats need to rethink and look at the maths. Even if UKIP was polling at 18 per cent it still could not gain any seats because of the voting system we have in this country.
So, yes, of course take a look at the opinion polls as they do give people some idea of how well the parties are doing, but it’s becoming clear that we should not read too much into them, the polls only give a snap-shot of what is going on. The only poll which really matters is the Election Night Poll.