According to the most recent polls, the damage the government is doing to itself is not playing out in the London elections. Â Today Populus published a poll showing Boris Johnson 12 points ahead of Ken Livingstone on both the first and second rounds. Â That is double Boris’ winning margin in 2008 in the second round.
Now, at the risk of having to eat my hat again Bradford West style, I am going to put my gut instincts on the line and call that nonsense. Â Other polls have been closer (YouGov’s poll today shows a more credible 4% lead for Johnson). Â Before explaining further, let’s look at what happened in 2008.
First, how the first preference votes fell last time:
This translated to the following in the final round:
And finally, where those votes came from: the map below shows the first round results at a borough level (final round results by borough were not tallied in the count).
Comparing this to 2004, it looks as if turnout is key. Â Turnout in the 2004 mayoral election was 37%; this increased to 45% in 2008 to Johnson’s benefit. Â The chart below shows that both Livingstone and the Tories gained votes from the increased turnout, but Johnson gained far more.
The map below shows the borough results from the first round in 2004.
Comparing the map, what is clear is an intensification of the 2008 Tory vote in those places that voted Conservative in 2004, and less shift in stronger Labour areas. Â Indeed, In strong Muslim areas such as Newham and Tower Hamlets, Labour did better in 2008.
That said, there were a few odd ‘wins’ for Boris in 2008: most notably Greenwich, but also Hounslow and Merton where Livingstone won by over 10% in 2004.
One thing I think few commentators are doubting is that turnout will be down this time on 2008. Â The temperature of the contest is a lot cooler this time around: none of the candidates has shined and although the Evening Standard came out today in support of Johnson, there has been no where near the level of anti-Ken vitriol on its front pages that disfigured the 2008 contest.
That lower turnout would look to harm Johnson more. Â Polls of course measure the intentions of voters, not whether they actually get to vote – the turnout work of parties will be critical, and the Conservatives are not in a good place to do that in the current climate.
This is not just guesswork: we have heard reports from well-informed sources that the early postal votes opened in one inner-London borough looked surprisingly good for Livingstone and certainly at odds with what the polls are showing. Â Such a significant swing from Johnson to Livingstone is very different to the narrative illustrated by the polls.
Now, there are all kinds of reasons why that sample might not extrapolate across: perhaps the sample was unrepresentative, or there is a better turnout operation for Labour there, or there is further polarisation going on between inner and outer boroughs.
But it does suggest that the election is not all over yet. Â The election will be a lot closer than the Populus poll suggests.
I’ll follow up with a separate post on the London Assembly elections tomorrow.