Nick Clegg is predicted to lose his seat of Sheffield Hallam in the latest batch of polls commissioned by Lord Ashcroft setting out the state of the race for votes in eight key Liberal Democrat battleground seats.
The poll shows Clegg trailing Labour by two points, but on Wednesday the Lib Dem leader said he believed he would win in May – partly because of his name recognition with the local electorate.
The data also shows that the Conservatives may not be campaigning hard in the seat, in a potential sign that the Tory high command would like to see Clegg returned. The Tory contact rate is the lowest of any of the eight seats surveyed by Ashcroft.
According to the poll, 16% of voters will back the Conservative candidate in Sheffield Hallam and 6% will opt for the Greens.
Campaigning in Scotland on Wednesday, Clegg said: “ The poll, as it happens, didn’t even mention the candidates’ names and our own polling where it does it always shows a significant uplift in our support.
“And just if you look at the way people have voted rather than what they’ve said to Lord Ashcroft since 2010, people in Sheffield have consistently voted Liberal Democrat.”
The Ashcroft poll of the eight constituencies also shows the Conservative party has consolidated its position in battleground south-west seats such Camborne and Redruth, North Devon and St Austell and Newquay, where it leads by 13, seven and six points respectively.
However, in North Cornwall the Lib Dems lead the Tories by two points – 38 to 36 – with Ukip on 16%.
In Torbay, the Liberal Democrats, tied with the Tories in previous Ashcroft polls, have a one-point lead, with Ukip on 17 points. In St Ives, the Lib Dems lead by three points and Ukip is on 11 points, a vote that again could be squeezed by the Tories.
If all these seats fall, the Lib Dems will be in for a severe drubbing since the party has assumed it is likely to lose many of its 11 seats in Scotland as well as some Labour-facing seats.
The best news for the Lib Dems comes in Cambridge, where Julian Huppert leads by nine points, suggesting Labour is falling back. The polling shows a large personal vote for Huppert, but the Green vote could be decisive.
Clegg has persistently brushed aside suggestions that he might lose his seat despite three polls showing him trailing. At the very least, the poll underlines Clegg’s need to be present in his constituency during the election campaign to bolster his vote.
“Of the 16 local elections we’ve had since 2010, we’ve won 14 since 2010, so I’m confident, not complacent, but confident we’re going to win,” the party leader added.
Some senior Labour figures privately acknowledge they do not think they will win the seat, but there is a group of Labour campaigners such as Tom Watson determined to pin Clegg down.
In practice, even if Clegg were defeated, he would remain the deputy prime minister until a new government was formed, and would probably have a key role in any coalition talks.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor and Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st April 2015 13.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010