LONDON — The British Conservative Party Campaign believes the election results in up to 30 or 40 seats are now in doubt, as unexpectedly high numbers of voters switch back and forth between backing the Tories and Labour.
One senior Conservative campaign source told Business Insider that there are now a far higher number of unpredictable seats than they had expected to be dealing with at this late stage. There were dozens of seats “switching between us and them in key battlegrounds,” a senior strategist for the Conservatives told Business Insider.
In a normal election, about 10% of voters are likely to change their vote at this stage before the election, the source says. But this time around the percentage of voters potentially switching their loyalty between Labour and Conservative is around 20%, according to intelligence being examined inside Tory party HQ. That means that 30 to 40 seats where the result would normally be safe are now in doubt.
Elector volatility is so high this year that one in five voters is “extremely likely to change” their vote, the source says. This number has surprised Tory strategists.
It implies that recent opinion polls showing a narrowing gap between the Conservatives and Labour are being taken seriously inside CCHQ. Despite some senior campaign figures dismissing polls showing a narrow Tory lead, the campaign appears to be treating the trend as real, and not merely a pre-election blip.
Labour has gained on the Tories in the polls recently. One YouGov poll put the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 39%, a result that could lead to a hung parliament in June. While the media have been excited by the sudden and surprising upswing for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, Tory campaign veterans have been more sanguine. They believe it is normal, between elections when there is nothing at stake, for polls to show wide gaps between the parties. And it is equally normal, when people face the real possibility of actually voting, for voters to take it more seriously — and to slip back into old habits. They say the collapse of Labour in the polls over the last year, and the party’s sudden resurgence, should not be a surprise.
Labour sources have also poured cold water on the narrowing polls. One party source told Business Insider that while they were now doing better in some parts of the country, they were hearing “very bad reports” from other regions.
One Labour source campaigning in a top target marginal seat for the Conservatives told BI that whereas at the start of the campaign they had all but given up hope of retaining the seat for Labour, they now believed the result was too close to call.
“It’s definitely feeling more like 2010 than 2015 here,” the source said, although they added that Labour may see some surprising losses in their former northern heartlands.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we held onto some southern marginal seats against the Tories but lost some other safe seats with 6,000 vote majorities elsewhere,” they said.
The other fear among some people in Labour is that while their support has risen in recent weeks, they may be merely piling up votes in safe Labour seats and safe Tory seats, while continuing to do badly in the sort of marginal seats that will decide the election.
The fact that dozens of seats are not behaving the way they were expected to will undoubtedly make uncomfortable reading for Prime Minister Theresa May. She called the election in April when she was far ahead in the polls, with the aim of massively increasing her majority of 17 seats. Pundits predicted she might add 100-200 seats to her side of the House of Commons, and Labour might sink to as few as 150 seats. Currently, the Tories have 330 seats and Labour has 229; the rest go to the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, and other smaller parties.
However, the huge swings in voter intention seen during this campaign appears to have put paid to those expectations.
The Conservatives’ own internal polling suggesting high voter volatility is backed up by a new poll conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Evening Standard which shows one in five voters could still change their mind.
Interstingly, that figure rockets to around 50% among Liberal Democrat voters, suggesting that Tim Farron’s party could end up doing significantly worse on polling day than polls suggest, with either Labour or the Conservatives set to benefit.
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