Editorial Wednesday 13 March 2013: Lord Ashcroft's polling finds NHS a top-three issue for voters in marginal seats
I have written previously about Lord Ashcroft's polling of undecided voters, and what it means for the opposition.
The lucre-laden Lord's latest, 'Marginal Territory', does as its title implies and examines only marginal seats for the 2015 election.
There are some staggering findings. In all voters in all marginals overall, 'improving the NHS was the third of the 'top three' issues (behind 'gettimng the economy going & creating jobs' and 'controlling immigration').
Fascinatingly, it came ahead of 'cutting the deficit and debt', which was listed fourth among all voters.
In Conservative-held Labour target marginals, self-identifying voters listed NHS as a top three issue for 20% of Conservatives, 50% of Labour voters and 35% of Lib Dems.
In Labour-held Conservative target marginals, this was 18% Con, 49% Lab and 33% LD.
In Lib Dem-held Conservative target marginals, this was 18% Con, 51% Lab and 33% LD.
And in Lib Dem-held Labour target marginals, this was 14% Cons, 51% Lab and 32% LD.
The survey asks later, "If, after the next election, there is a Conservative government with David Cameron as PM / Ed Miliband as PM, do you think standards of healthcare in the NHS will get better / worse?"
Under a putative post-2015 Conservative government, 10% of respondents predicted standards of healthcare in the NHS would get better; 48% predicted that they would get worse.
Under a putative post-2015 Labour government, 24% of respondents predicted standards of healthcare in the NHS would get better; 25% predicted that they would get worse.
Opinion polling is not an exact science.
And people do not vote on the NHS alone.
Yet it is striking to see that before the new system has yet hit, and while performance against targets remains solid, the NHS has such salience as a political issue.
Lord Ashcroft's field work for his research was carried out 29 Jan-18 Feb, so it is likely that most opinions were taken after the Francis Public Inquiry Report publication on 6 February.
We live in interesting times.