Can We Trust the U.K. Poll That Shows Liberal Democrats Leading?

(Bloomberg) -- An astonishing British opinion poll has put the Liberal Democrats in first place, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party second, and the Conservatives and Labour Party -- the two biggest -- tied in third. Is this really the moment that U.K. politics is reshaped?

The first thing to note is that the numbers for all four parties are very close. YouGov put the Lib Dems on 24%, the Brexit Party on 22%, and the Tories and Labour both on 19%. Given the recent struggles of British pollsters to predict voting behavior, it might be safer to say there’s little to separate them.

Can We Trust the U.K. Poll That Shows Liberal Democrats Leading?

Second, as YouGov’s Anthony Wells points out, this probably reflects the increased coverage that the two smaller parties have had in the wake of the European Union elections.

“Part of what we are seeing is a boost for the Liberal Democrats and Brexit party from doing well in the Euros, getting lots of media coverage and looking like winners,” he wrote in a blogpost. “Under normal circumstances we would expect that boost to fade in time.”

Can We Trust the U.K. Poll That Shows Liberal Democrats Leading?

Third, the two main parties have significant problems, with both fundamentally split on Brexit. While the Tory troubles have been more obvious, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy of trying to drag political debate away from Brexit has infuriated supporters.

Clear Position

Given those circumstances, the public seems to be looking more at parties that have a clear position: The Lib Dems oppose Brexit, Farage’s party wants a hard break from the EU.

Neither of the main parties is led by someone that many people think ought to be prime minister. The poll’s result on who would make the best premier found the Conservatives’ Theresa May, who has been shown the door by her own party, on 23%. Yet Corbyn was on just 15%. “Not Sure” was the clear favorite, on 55%. These are clearly fertile times for challenger parties.

Can We Trust the U.K. Poll That Shows Liberal Democrats Leading?

In normal circumstances, May’s replacement -- expected to be in post by the end of July --might hope to enjoy a honeymoon with the public and a poll boost. But it’s hard to imagine they won’t immediately find themselves under fire from those on their own side who dislike their position on Brexit.

Perhaps the clearest impact of this type of poll result is that it leaves both Tories and Labour very reluctant to call for an election. And that means, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said Thursday, that if they want to take the Brexit question back to the public, they’re effectively talking about another referendum.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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