Polling and the local elections

Despite Ed Miliband’s poor personal polling – he’s on -38 according to YouGov, only 6% ahead of Nick Clegg – Labour have started to re-establish their lead in the polls. February had seen the Labour lead shrink as the Conservatives picked up, with both parties polling around 39% for a few weeks, but in March a steady 3-4% Labour lead has re-emerged.

So with the local elections on May 3rd now rumbling into view, is it likely that Labour’s poll lead will translate into a tangible gain?

The last time these seats were fought was in 2008, when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and the Tories were on 40% in the polls, over 10% ahead of Labour. Fast forward four years, and the Conservatives are on 37%, with Labour up on 42%.

Given that swing, the answer will almost certainly be yes. But, as with the local elections in 2011, it will be the scale of the victory that will determine how successful Labour has been.

Predictions of how many seats Labour might win have, to date, been few and far between. Local election pollster Rawlings and Thrasher has initially predicted that Labour will gain 717 seats, and Conservative Co-Chairman Baroness Warsi has similarly predicted that Labour’s haul will top 700. Labour MP Tom Watson – managing expectations as best he can – said that his party will probably win just 350 more seats.

It seems likely that Labour will look to take over 700 seats, particularly with the Lib Dems polling under 10% – a far cry from the 20% support they commanded in 2008. Yet even if they beat this forecast it’s unlikely that this will rejuvenate Miliband or his party, or deal a fatal blow to the Coalition. So while the elections will be useful as a gauge of political support, they’re not likely to be a defining moment.

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