James Forsyth James Forsyth

Why do the Tories lead on the economy and leadership but trail overall?

One of the odd things about the polls at the moment is that the Tories lead on economic competence and leadership, traditionally the two most important issues, yet trail overall. There are, I argue in the column this week, three possible explanations for this polling paradox.

The first possibility is that Ed Miliband is right, that the link between GDP growth and voters’ living standards is broken. A consequence of this is that voters put less emphasis on economic management in the round. Instead, they want to know which party will do most to help them with their cost of living.

Then, there’s the possibility that the traditional political rules don’t apply in this era of coalitions and four party politics in England. This holds that the most important shift in British politics is that the left is now united with left-leaning Liberal Democrats having moved to Labour in disgust at coalition with the Tories while Ukip is nibbling away at the Tory base.

The third option, and the one that senior Tories believe to be true, is that voting intention numbers are a lagging indicator. They argue that when the campaign comes and people begin to really think about who they want to run the country, the Tory lead on the economy and Cameron’s lead over Miliband as best Prime Minister will translate into votes.

No party has ever won an election trailing on both the economy and leadership. But we are in politically uncharted waters now thanks to the coalition and the rise of Ukip. This is what makes the next election both so fascinating and so hard to predict.

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