The President of one of the UK’s most reputable polling companies YouGov, Peter Kellner, was in Belfast at an event hosted by Chambre Public Affairs and Lucid Talk.
I began by asking him what we should be looking out for at this point in the parliamentary year?
Kellner highlighted a few things to watch out for. Can either Labour or the Conservatives break the dead lock that they are currently facing in the polls? Over the last few months both parties have polled within a few percentage points of one another, but unless we begin seeing a sustained lead of around 6% from either party then we are likely to end up with a messy outcome.
The other critical factor is Scotland due to the surge of the SNP post the Independence Referendum. Kellner does expect Labour to recover a bit in Scotland, but the longer that it takes them to do so simply gives the SNP more chance of removing Labour as the dominant party at Westminster.
What about the two main leaders? David Cameron and Ed Miliband, how are they polling compared to other leaders this far out from a general election?
On Cameron, the YouGov President points out that historically Conservative Prime Minister’s pick up 2-3% in the run up to an election which should in theory put Cameron ahead. Likewise, the Conservatives are well ahead in who is best placed to run the economy and in the preferred Prime Minister ratings.
However, Kellner points out that the main reason why it is still neck and neck is due to the fact that the Tories are polling poorly due to their credibility in running the NHS and their image as being a party of the rich.
What about Ed Miliband?
Historically to be confident of victory Labour would need to be well out in front. Kellner points out that Miliband is still seen as not really Prime Ministerial material, but has pluses in terms of how people relate to him and how they regard him personally. He does warn though that Miliband needs to start building on his strengths he needs to start doing it soon.
Who should be included in the debates has been a major topic over the last week, but I was interested to know whether TV debates really had that much of an impact last time?
Kellner argues that the first debate had a “seismic” impact on the election due to the surge in support it gave the Liberal Democrats. According to the YouGov President, were it not for the TV debates it would have been likely that the Conservatives would have won an outright victory as the Liberal Democrat result would have been 2-3% lower than what they ended up receiving on polling day.
The key question; could the DUP hold the balance of power after the next election?
For Kellner it really isn’t that simple. He doesn’t believe it will be likely that situation will arise were the DUP has to make a straight choice to make either Miliband or Cameron, Prime Minister but if a party gets above 300 seats, it could put the DUP in an interesting position where a confidence and supply arrangement could prop up a minority government for a period of time.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs