First constituency poll in Richmond Park shows Lib Dems can win – if party can set the agenda

Richmond Park opinion poll

A telephone poll commissioned by the Evening Standard gives us the first polling of the Richmond Park by-election campaign:

56% (-2) – Zac Goldsmith
29% (+10) – Sarah Olney/Lib Dems
10% (-2) – Labourset
5% (-5) – Other

What the Richmond Park poll figures mean

It shows the Liberal Democrats in the sort of clear second place that has been the springboard for past victories. It also, crucially, shows that the party will need to persuade voters to make the election about Brexit in order to win:

  • Zac Goldsmith in the lead, but Liberal Democrats in clear second place.
  • Lib Dem vote already up 10% on the general election.
  • Nearly a third of the 2015 Labour vote has already switched to the Lib Dems.
  • But squeezing Labour, Greens and others won’t be enough for Lib Dems to win.
  • Key swing vote are Conservatives who voted against Brexit. They¬†are crucial to Zac Goldsmith’s lead in the poll, and many of them currently do not see Brexit as the top issue in the campaign.

Most importantly, the poll was carried out before most of the campaigning has happened. Unlike the national picture in general elections, movements in party support during by-election campaigns are crucial to the outcome.

As an example, the recent Witney by-election was the best Liberal Democrat Parliamentary by-election performance since Hartlepool in 2004 Hartlepool. Witney had no polling but Hartlepool did. A Channel 4 poll by-election poll in the constituency in mid-September that year put the Lib Dems on 20%. On polling day, a couple of weeks later, the party secured 34%.

There is no guarantee of such an increase, but this first poll shows that the swing needs to win from where everyone starts is within the range of plausible outcomes.

Note: the opinion poll assumes that Sarah Olney will be the Liberal Democrat candidate. She has been selected in the event of a snap general election, but as is usual in Parliamentary by-elections the party is running a new selection. The result of that will be out shortly.

Here are some of the voters in Richmond Park explaining why they will be voting for Sarah Olney, who was indeed selected to be the Liberal Democrat candidate:

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