The result might be in, but that doesn't mean there's nothing useful polls can tell us about the Eastleigh by-election. What swayed the voters? Why did they vote as they did? And — perhaps of most interest — how might they vote next time?
Yesterday, Lord Ashcroft's polling operation phoned 760 Eastleigh residents, 654 of whom had voted in the by-election. All sorts of warning labels need slapping across the figures: they aren't weighted, so are subject to a much higher risk of selection bias than other polls, and even if the sample were representative and random, the margin of error would be 3.5 points (and higher for subsets of those 760 respondents). But here are a few interesting nuggets from the data:
1. The Lib Dems won the ground game. 54 per cent of residents say the Lib Dems knocked on their door — more than the Tories (45 per cent) or Labour (37 per cent). And the Lib Dem operation was not only bigger, it was also better-targeted and more effective. The Lib Dems canvassed two-thirds of their 2010 voters (47 per cent of those they canvassed), while the Tories only managed half of theirs (30 per cent of those they canvassed). And 30 per cent of those the Lib Dems canvassed ended up voting for the party yesterday, compared to 23 per cent for the Tories.
2. The Lib Dems won on their local record. The number one issue among Tory voters was the economy. Among Ukip voters it was immigration. Among Lib Dem voters? Local services. 85 per cent of Lib Dem voters said having the best candidate locally influenced their vote, but only 25 per cent said Nick Clegg did. By contrast, 78 per cent of Tory voters said they were — at least in part — showing support for David Cameron.
3. Ukip is a protest vote. 83 per cent of those who voted Ukip said they did so to 'send a message' to the party they usually support, and 75 per cent said they did so 'as a general protest' against all the main parties.
4. Eastleigh will be close again next time. This one isn't a surprise: Eastleigh's been a close race in every election since 1997, twice being decided by fewer than 800 votes. Tories, including party chairman Grant Shapps, are taking heart from the responses to Ashcroft's question 'Which party do think you will end up voting for when it comes to the next general election?' They show the Tories leading on 21 per cent, with the Lib Dems and Labour both on 15 per cent and Ukip down on 10 per cent. (Stripping out 'don't know's' that's: Con 33, Lib Dem 24, Lab 24, Ukip 16).
Mainly, this is because 34 per cent of those who voted Lib Dem this time said they 'didn't know' who they'd vote for next time, compared to just 23 per cent of Tories. If they stuck with their 2013 choices in 2015, it'd be roughly even. And, of course, there's the incumbency advantage that Mike Thornton may well benefit from next time — usually worth 5 to 15 per cent to Lib Dem MPs. But it is unlikely Ukip will be nearly as strong in 2015 – just 43 per cent of their voters say they'll stick with them in the general election; 10 per cent say they'll vote Tory and 34 per cent are undecided.