When the 2017 snap election result came through, it proved a shock to many who had been covering the campaign in depth. The bulk of the polls had suggested Theresa May was on course for a comfortable majority. However, there was one poll that had predicted a hung parliament – YouGov's MRP model. This poll of 100,000 people uses a different method than normal – with predictions focussed on small geographic areas based on a mix of data and demographic.
In 2017, it suggested the Tories were on course to lose 20 seats. Tonight's poll paints a different picture – it suggests the Tories are on course for a large majority in the region of 68. The YouGov/Times poll says in an election held today, the Conservatives would win 359 seats, Labour 211, the SNP 43 and the Lib Dems 13. While this would mean a majority of 68 for the Tories, it would be less good news for Labour – counting as its second-worst post war defeat. It would also be very bad news for the Liberal Democrats. Far from Jo Swinson being prime minister, her party would technically lose seats – given the 20 they ended the parliament on thanks to prominent Tory and Labour switchers.
The MRP method offers seat-by-seat analysis. It suggests that the Tories' strategy to break the so-called 'red wall' of traditional Labour seats in the Wales, Midlands and North is coming to fruition. The biggest Tory gains are forecast to be in the Midlands. The poll predicts the Tories would pick up 44 seats in total from Labour including Tom Watson’s vacated seat of West Bromwich East and Caroline Flint’s Don Valley seat. The Tories could also win Barrow and Furness, Wakefield, Ashfield, Bishop Auckland and Dudley North among others. However, the threat of the Brexit Party has not gone away. YouGov’s MRP model points to the Brexit Party hurting the Tories more than Labour in marginals between the two main parties. Meanwhile, the Brexit Party are not predicted to win a single seat.
There are several reasons this polling ought not to be taken as gospel. Firstly, history tells us that polls are often wrong. Secondly, a lot could change in two weeks. Finally, the margins for a lot of these seats are tiny. In Scotland, Conservative-held seats are tight with a mix of predictions from a 1 point SNP lead to a 5 point Conservative lead. In Labour/Tory marginals, too, that the Tories are currently on course to win, the percentages are small. The Tories are set to win Workington by just one per cent.
Tonight's poll is a cause of worry to senior conservatives. It's not because they expected to fare better. In fact, it's the opposite. The Tories are generally happy with their campaign. What they are worried about is that a poll such as this makes voters feel complacent and thereby either stay at home or start to consider voting elsewhere to reduce the size of the majority. Likewise, it could kickstart opposition parties to think again about tactical voting.
Rather than celebrations in Conservative Campaign Headquarters, the mood will be one of trepidation as they work out how best to try to hold their lead until polling day. In a blog published today, Johnson's senior aide Dominic Cummings wrote: 'You will see many polls in the coming days. Some will say Boris will win. Trust me, as someone who has worked on lots of campaigns, things are MUCH tighter than they seem and there is a very real possibility of a hung parliament.' Expect more messages like this in the coming days.