The fledgling “yes” campaign for AV says it is too early to make premature judgments. The Electoral Reform Society, for example, says that polls will inevitably jump around given that the formal campaigns have not yet started. The referendum is not until May – and could even be in September if rebel Tory MPs and Labour MPs unite to amend the relevant bill.
But our analysis for today’s FT shows that the yes campaign was ahead by 28 points in May (according to ComRes) and as little as 1 point ahead in recent weeks (says YouGov). It may not be a co-incidence that support has dwindled just as backing for the Lib Dems (the main proponents of electoral reform) has also fallen sharply.
A poll by Newsnight last week suggested that 4 in 10 Lib Dem voters would not have backed the party if they had known it would have gone into coalition with the Tories.
Scepticism about the advantages of scrapping first past the post must be very alarming for Nick Clegg, who has staked so much on winning the AV referendum. (We also revealed that pollsters including Peter Kellner of YouGov believe he is facing an uphill battle). The consequences of defeat are so alarming for Lib Dems that few if any will even countenance the possibility of a no vote in public. They are also furious that the supposedly pre-reform Labour will vote against the bill.
Rob Hayward, the respected psephologist who advised the Tories during the election campaign (on boundary reform) tells me that the polls are likely to worsen for the yes campaign. He points out that half of Tory voters polled by YouGov were not against* AV at the last poll – early last week. That is unlikely to be sustained given the number of Tories who will soon be making a strident case against changing the way we vote.
Tighten your seatbelts; this is going to get rather exciting.
* 51 per cent of Tories were anti-AV with about 30 per cent in favour. The rest were neutral.