Nigel Farage may decide Thanet South is where he could become Ukip’s first MP. Photograph: Rex
Ukip threat to Tories revealed by poll of voters in key marginal seat
Farage’s party beats Conservatives into third place in survey of constituency where Tory MP is quitting
Patrick Wintour, political editor
The Guardian, Tuesday 26 November 2013 22.38 GMT
The potential for Ukip to reshape British politics is revealed in a rare constituency poll showing the Conservatives are in third place behind the party in Thanet South, where Tory MP Laura Sandys this week announced her decision to stand down at the next election.
The poll commissioned by a Ukip donor and conducted by the polling company Survation, shows Labour in first place with 35% (up nearly five percentage points on the general election), Ukip second on 30% (up 24 points), the Tories third on 28% (down 20 points) and the Liberal Democrats fourth on 5% (down 10 points).
The poll in a key Labour-Tory marginal is one of eight constituency surveys being conducted by Survation for Ukip donors. It is likely to be used by the party to help decide where its leader, Nigel Farage, has the best chance of winning an historic first parliamentary seat for Ukip. In total more than 5,000 people will have been polled in the exercise. In Thanet, 515 people were questioned between 19 and 25 November.
There has been much speculation that Farage will stand in Thanet, and this one of the reasons for Sandys’ decision to stand down.
The polling is also exploring the validity of the Conservative party claim that a vote for Ukip is likely only to benefit Ed Miliband’s chances of becoming prime minister.
Another aim in commissioning the surveys is to seek evidence to counter the claims sometimes drawn from polling conducted by Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative deputy chairman, that a Ukip vote is a wasted vote.
Almost of 78% of Ukip voters in Thanet South said they would not vote Conservative even if their preferred party did not field a candidate. That will reinforce theories that voters cannot easily be won over from Ukip by any amount of Conservative messaging. If Ukip did not stand in the constituency, 41% said they would not vote, 22% said they would vote Conservative, 19% Labour, 4% for other parties and 13% did not know. On those figures, Labour would still win the seat.
The polling also shows a substantial disagreement with the Tory claim that a vote for Ukip will allow Ed Miliband into Downing Street. Evidencing that, 52% of Ukip voters said they would stick with their preferred party rather than the Conservatives even if that meant Miliband became prime minister, while 27% said they “would rather stop Ed Miliband from becoming prime minister, even if that means I had to vote Conservative rather than Ukip”. Just over a fifth were don’t-knows.
As yet unpublished polls cover five seats including coastal towns, the north, West Midlands and southern England.
Alan Bown, a Ukip donor who commissioned the poll, said: “Lord Ashcroft’s interesting polls have been interpreted by many as showing that a vote for Ukip was not only a wasted vote but also a counterproductive one as it could put Miliband into No 10, supposedly against the wishes of most Ukip voters. This has since become the standard media narrative where Ukip is discussed, and a regular Conservative party attack line.
“I did not share this view and was sure that Ukip’s increasing popularity and support meant that the picture was much more complicated. I believed that we were taking significant numbers of votes from Labour and the Liberal Democrats as well as the Tories. I also believed that Ukip’s popularity and recent phenomenal growth meant that in our strongest areas our support was likely to be significantly higher than Ashcroft’s figure of 10-14% nationally would suggest.
“In addition I felt that the fact that Ukip has generally in the past not been [mentioned] in these opinion poll questions may have further underestimated our support.”
Bown said he has commissioned the polls partly to explore “the relationship between Ukip and Labour and whether in some northern areas, where the Conservative brand is badly damaged, Ukip might have actually established itself as the official opposition to Labour”.
He had brought forward publication of the Thanet South polling in the light of Sandys’ surprise decision to stand down.
Some of the polling suggests almost as many Ukip voters would vote Labour as Tory if party was removed from the equation. He said polling will show that Ukip’s impact and appeal is “far more complex and interesting than the simplistic narrative of Ukip ‘splitting the Tory vote’ would suggest.”
• This article was amended on 27 November 2013. The original incorrectly named the Ukip donor who commissioned the poll as Alan Brown, rather than Alan Bown.