As the phoney election campaign ends and in the week of the Grand National, let's look at the early form of the runners and riders. Today sees a whole raft of polls published looking at the party standings.
Remember that this follows the Budget and the Howard Flight affair, so the effects on both parties should be visible, but neither seems to have affected the performance of the two main parties.
The ICM/Guardian poll shows the Tories narrowing the gap to within three points of Labour (34% against 37%), Populous for the Times gives Labour 37% to the Tories 35% and NOP for the Indie puts Labour on 36% and the Tories on 33%. NOP asked voters about the Flight affair and 60% of those polled thought Michael Howard was wrong to sack him, although Tories reversed the trend, with almost 60% of them backing their leader.
The most interesting result comes from MORI for the FT and suggests that the Tories have a 5% lead with 39% compared to Labour's 34%. Ironically, when MORI asked the questions to identify the party with the best policies, effective campaigns and best leadership team, Labour came out on top every time, although significantly down on 2001. An important note about the MORI poll is that it adjusts for voting intention, which tends to bias in favour of the Tories. Indeed, the raw data reverses the published information, with Labour on 38% and the Tories on 33%. MORI based their published figures on a 55% turnout, which supports my argument that this election will be won on the turnout. Bob Worcester discusses the results in more detail and makes the point that the floating voter is one of the largest constituencies at the moment, with 41% of those surveyed agreeing that they could change their mind, as opposed to 25% in 1997 and 34% in 2001.
I haven't mentioned the Liberal Democrats - not through bias, but because their results are pretty much the same and are quite positive for the party. They start the campaign on around 21%, their best starting position in a campaign. Typically, they can expect to pick up another 2-4% during the campaign as the media balances out their coverage.
The minority parties remain just that. UKIP scratches together 2% and Veritarse doesn't even figure.
Throughout the campaign, keep an eye on Anthony Wells' UK Polling Report for detailed analysis.
My initial forecast is a Labour majority of 50-60, but there's a long way to run and plenty of opportunity for the runners to fall. On May 5, turnout will matter more than any other single issue to all parties.