The Liberal Democrats believe women and young voters switching from the Conservatives will help them secure enough seats to play a key role in another coalition government after the general election.
Over the last year the party has privately conducted just over 100 constituency polls that give it grounds to believe enough women and young voters have switched in recent months to make their participation in a further coalition the most likely outcome of the election in May.
The Lib Dems are spending £350,000 on constituency polling at the insistence of the party’s director of strategy, Ryan Coetzee. He demanded the unprecedented budget, telling the party leader and deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, if he did not poll in key seats he would be “just another person in Westminster with an opinion”.
It is understood the party has the capacity to conduct a marginal seat poll every day, although in practice it is unlikely to poll that much between now and election day.
The party strategists’ decision selectively to share the private polling conducted by Survation is in part an attempt to show strong local performance will prevent a serious wipeout despite dire national polls. The polls show a boost in the party standing in the last six months especially among women and voters aged 18 to 34. The switchers are mainly coming from Tories or undecideds, and predominantly in Tory-held seats.
In some seats there is a swing of as much as 18% to the Lib Dems among women and younger voters.
The polling is also being used to focus resources on winnable seats, but is also testing how many leaflet drops are getting to voters. It is also used to test the effect of mailshots.
The party even knows the popularity of all its current incumbent MPs that are standing again, and is capable of ranking their net positive ratings.
The scale of the positive ratings for some well dug-in Lib Dem MPs such as Norman Lamb, Tim Farron or Andrew George is high, with many hitting a net positive rating of 60%. The polling shows the party is squeezing the Tory vote in key seats by running a strong anti cuts message, but it is clear it is struggling to win back Lib Dems disillusioned by Clegg going into government with the Tories, making its retention of seats where Labour is the main challenger a much harder task.
On the basis of the projections, the party is on course to remain competitive in seats that would fall if there was landslide against the Lib Dems, such as Cheltenham, St Ives, Cardiff Central, Eastbourne, Solihull, Cheadle, Leeds North East, Cambridge and Bermondsey. The rise in the Lib Dem vote in these seats is almost entirely undetected in national polls where the party is becalmed, it claims.
The party has never polled so intensively in local seats. Party officials say they have conducted less polling in Scotland where the Lib Dems faces the risk of losing more than half of their 11 seats, including the one held by Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury.
It senses the best message is that the SNP are obsessing about independence and neglecting the state of public services.
Party officials are confident that Clegg will retain his seat in Sheffield Hallam despite three polls showing he is behind. They admit the seat has switched from being a Lib Dem/Tory fight to a contest against Labour, but are confident that the large Conservative vote in the seat can be squeezed by warning of the dangers of a Labour government with an overall majority.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, for theguardian.com on Thursday 19th February 2015 19.44 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010