Boris vs Ken just got a lot more interesting

YouGov today have a poll that has radically changed expectations for this May’s London mayoral election.  Previous polls had suggested that Boris Johnson was on course for a comfortable re-election, but today’s poll has put Ken Livingstone narrowly ahead, give or take a margin of error.

Since polls on the vote have been relatively sparse, we can’t easily tell whether this is an outlier. But when looking at where Ken has got his boost, the results make intuitive sense.

Quite simply, Labour voters have shifted strongly into the Ken camp, as the charts below show.

The first shows how Tory supporters would vote in the London election, comparing last June with today’s poll.  There has been very little change, with Boris taking pretty much all their votes.

But when we do the same for Labour supporters, we see a large movement of Boris voters into Ken’s pile:

The reason this makes sense to me is that, in June last year, Ken was not greatly in the public eye. Many Labour identifiers may not have felt that he was their candidate. In contrast, Boris was very clearly due to run for re-election, and Tory voters would have known that he was standing for their party.

So what we’re seeing now is perhaps a more normal two-horse race, where each candidate commands the support of their party’s national voters, and competes for the swing voters.

The Boris camp may feel slightly reassured that they should expect to gain votes from the incumbency effect: as the election draws closer, undecideds (currently 11%) tend to opt for the devil they know. But perhaps this won’t be so strong this time, since Ken is hardly an unknown quantity.

Other than voting intent, the point that may concern the camp most is the question of whether Boris is in touch with ordinary people. Since June, this has fallen from 20% to 13%, while Ken’s score has nudged up from 37% to 40%. Being seen to be out of touch at a time like this, against an opponent who’s fighting on cost of living, is risky ground.

For the Ken team, there may be encouragement that there remain 15% of Labour voters who aren’t supporting their candidate: 5pts more than the other side have. If these are winnable low-hanging fruit, Ken may be able to draw on them to extend his lead.

One other note of encouragement for Ken’s side is that this poll was taken when Labour’s support was slightly lower relative to the Tories than it has been for nearly all of the last year. If it drifts back up a couple of points, they could gain a few more votes. Of course this may not happen: it’s entirely possible that Labour’s national support could fall a little further.

At the time of writing, you can get 7/4 for Ken to win at a few bookmakers. Right now, this looks like much better odds than it would have done yesterday.

* This post was changed on 21 Feb 2012: the scores in the chart of Tory voters were previously slightly incorrect.

  1. […] A longer version of this article is at Noise of the Crowd […]

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    […]Noise of the Crowd » Blog Archive » Boris vs Ken just got a lot more interesting – Interesting things about public opinion[…]…

  3. […] the last poll came out, Ken’s lead seemed a real surprise. In retrospect, perhaps it shouldn’t have done. Despite the shocked reaction, previous polls had […]