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June 21, 2011

Work to be done despite Boris’ seven-point lead.

A YouGov poll released today shows Boris to have a seven-point lead over Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. This is a pretty significant change from YouGov’s previous poll on the subject, which (if I remember correctly) showed Ken to be 45-43 ahead.

The poll – and its background figures – prompt various thoughts, which can be broken down into two groups – things which should encourage Boris, and things which Boris should be wary of.

Boris will be encouraged that just 63% of Labour supporters back Ken. 19% of them are more likely to back Boris. That’s a significant figure. If Ken can’t even muster the strong backing of Labour supporters, how can he reasonably expect to gain the necessary support of floating voters?

Boris will be encouraged that Lib Dem supporters (who still make up a not-insignificant 8% of the vote) split 46-33 in his favour. Only time will tell how important that is, but in a tight race – which I still expect it to be – second preferences could play a big role in deciding the outcome. What’s more – as MayorWatch suggested to him in an interview in March – Ken’s continued calls for Londoners to “deliver a body-blow to the government” will alienate Lib Dems (who, lest we forget, are part of that government) even further.

Boris will be encouraged that it is YouGov who have given him this lead. As Mike Smithson on Political Betting points out, YouGov predicted the outcome of the 2008 race to within 1%, when virtually all other pollsters said it was too close to call. It is their polls which we should pay most attention to over the next ten months.

Finally, Boris should be encouraged that he has developed this decent lead despite (or perhaps because of?) the unions’ threat of impending strikes and turmoil on the tubes. The figures would suggest that despite Ken’s desperate #GetAGripBoris campaign every time a tube is as much as a minute late, the public aren’t blaming Boris for the unions’ militancy. Indeed, with the strong support and funding that Ken’s campaign receives from the striking unions, there is an obvious association between the two. For as long as Ken gives the impression that he rubs his hands with glee whenever strikes occur, he will be unable to use any tube issues to his advantage.

And now for the things which Boris should be wary of – and which should prevent Boris backers from getting complacent. He will note that Labour lead the Tories by nineteen points (51-32) in London. That difference in support puts Ken at a massive advantage. Given most would expect the gap between the two parties to be even greater by next May, Boris still faces an almighty battle to convince London to give him another four years.

Boris will also note that the Labour leadership’s ratings are about as pitiful as they could be, right now. An improvement from – or a replacement of? – Ed Miliband would give Ken’s campaign a boost given the relatively major role you’d expect the leader to play in it.

Finally, Boris will note that the fieldwork for this poll was done in the week after his huge newspaper mailshot was sent out to two million London households (7th-9th June). One imagines it had an impact on these results. Whilst it is hugely positive that Londoners respond well to a detailed reminder of Boris’ achievements, it was perhaps partly responsible for the size of his lead. By the time of the election, Ken will be spending bucketloads of union cash in what will be a more level playing field.

All of which means that while this poll is an interesting guide to current opinion – and should give Boris backers a spring in their steps – it should not be used as ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’ that Boris is sailing comfortably towards a second term. The work has only just begun.

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