Boris vs Ken: London polling 10 weeks from the election

Since we’ve now had three polls on the London mayoral election since mid-January, now seems a good time to look at what they tell us about the race.

When 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 suggested the race would be close: Ken’s January lead didn’t represent a sharp reversal in opinion, but actually a restatement of what we’d seen before.

So in this context it’s not hugely surprising that the two more recent polls have also found the race to be on a knife edge. Two of the three put Ken narrowly ahead, and the third gives it to Boris – but all are within the margin of error:

In terms of where these numbers might go, I would echo my previous suggestion that Boris could be boosted by an incumbency effect, but Ken might expect Labour’s overall showing to increase a couple of points in the next few months if, as seems likely, the Tories gradually lose the boosts they had from the EU walk-out and Miliband’s bad January (bad in terms of immediate poll reactions).

There also continues to be a ‘Labour for Boris’ vote as well as a ‘Tories for Ken’ crowd, as pointed out by Mark Gettleson at Politics Home.

But the ComRes poll in particular demonstrates an interesting point about where the polls might go from here.

A set of questions about each candidate suggest stark differences in their strengths and weaknesses. While Ken is seen as understanding ordinary Londoners’ concerns, it is Boris who is seen as the man with the plan, and the ability to deliver on his promises. This is reflected not just among the whole sample, but also in the opinions of each candidates’ own supporters:

This could be very interesting to watch. Were there to be an election tomorrow, Boris would be seen as the candidate who could actually make a difference. Ken would be seen as well meaning but ultimately a disappointment in the making.

But the election isn’t tomorrow: it’s in 10 weeks. Over that time, the Labour campaign will have the opportunity to argue that they do indeed have plans for the economy and to bring down crime. Election coverage and ground campaigns will give them an opportunity to communicate those plans. Since Boris’ weakness is an intangible – that he doesn’t understand ordinary people’s concerns – it might be harder for him to change his ratings in a couple of months.

If Ken is able to overcome Labour voters’ doubts about what he wants to do and whether he has the ability to do it, the campaign could go a long way to reducing the ‘Labour for Boris’ vote. For their part, the Boris camp will no doubt be trying to counter that threat with attacks on supposed wastefulness and incompetence under Ken. The campaign is unlikely to get any less negative between now and May.