The Newark by-election, set to take place on Thursday of this coming week, may actually a ‘neck and neck’ race according to one polling expert.
Despite polls showing a Tory lead of around 8 points, Mike Smithson of the PoliticalBetting website says that pollsters have previously underestimated UKIP’s performances in by-elections, citing Eastleigh as an example.
In February of last year, UKIP’s Diane James came within 1772 votes of taking the seat in Parliament from the Liberal Democrats. Throughout the run-up to the by-election, polls suggested that UKIP would end up with around 21 percent of the vote. In reality Nigel Farage’s party got 27.8 percent.
Applied to Newark, this would mean that the 8 point lead for Tory newbie Robert Jenrick is actually more like a 2 percent lead – within the margin of error.
Smithson writes: “…you have to go back to William Hague’s victory in the N Yorks seat of Richmond in 1989 to find the last time that the blues held on to a by-election seat whilst in office. UKIP, of course, have never managed to win a Westminster constituency either in a general or a by-election. Their best performance was the 27.8% at Eastleigh in February last year.
“It is important to recall that all the polls in that contest, as the chart shows, understated the purples by quite some margin. None of them had UKIP any higher than third place.
“It was a similar pattern in Corby in November 2012 when the Tories were trying to hang on to the seat following Louise Mensch’s decision to quit politics. The final Ashcroft poll had UKIP on just 6% – they ended up on 14.3%.”
Smithson puts the differential between final polls and the results down to the reallocation of “Don’t Know” responses in most polling.
UKIP has not just caused the political and media establishment confusion – it appears to have confounded Britain’s leading pollsters, too.