Are the Tories really on course to beat Labour in Police Commissioner elections?

ConservativeHome has stuck its neck out with an analysis of voting preferences for the November elections for Police and Crime Commissioners. Based on work by the Police Foundation, the article suggests that “even on the current discouraging opinion poll trends the Conservatives would end up winning the election of 21 commissioners against 20 for Labour”.

The claim has been picked up by the Guardian. But such a high figure seems like an odd sort of reverse expectation management on the part of ConservativeHome – as if they have some anti-Cameron agenda.

The first reason why the figure of 21 Tory Commissioners seems too high is that it is based on out-dated opinion poll data. Through no fault other than bad luck, the Police Foundation used data from February, when Labour’s average lead over the Tories was 1.5pts; the current UK Polling Report lead for Labour is 10pts.

Given that Labour’s support, absolutely and relative to the Tories, is now several points higher than it was when the Police Foundation did their analysis, some of the marginals might now go the other way. The tightest ones projected in the Tory column are Avon and Somerset, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, and the same calculation, repeated now, might put all of these in Labour’s side, depending on exactly which polls are used.

I’m not sure whether ConservativeHome missed this or chose to ignore it, but the suggestion that the analysis incorporates “current” polling isn’t correct.

The second problem with the prediction of 21 Tory Commissioners is the unpredictability of the election.

Turnout is one issue. Of course it will be low, but at the moment there’s no way of knowing whether this will affect one side more than another.

There’s also the unpredictable impact of independent candidates. Plausible local campaigns could disrupt the Tory/Labour dominance, or they may just disappear without trace in an election that won’t get much national media coverage.

The other unpredictable factor, which could be crucial, is how voters will see the election.

ConservativeHome points out that the Tories are still ahead of Labour in being seen to have the best policies on law and order. Perhaps the electorate will take the opportunity to give Tories control over the police while continuing to prefer Labour for other policy areas.

Or it may be that voters won’t care that the election is about policing, but rather will take it as an opportunity to give the government a bloody nose. In which case, Labour’s poll lead would be more salient than the Tories’ lead on law and order.

Given this, we may see the parties doing what they can to get the election onto their terms: Labour trying to connect local PCC candidates to their national parties, with the Tories seeking to distance themselves.

So from what we know, 21 is a brave starting prediction for ConservativeHome to have repeated. But until we start getting some meaningful polling on how people see the elections and intend to vote, if at all, no predictions at the moment are much better than guesses.

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