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Sam Coates: Tories may well face disaster - but this mysterious election poll is designed to cause trouble

Don't get distracted by questions over the mystery funder, or the linked but separate disputed analysis over the impact on the Tory vote of Reform UK.

At its heart, YouGov has released an important piece of work which gives that pollster's version of the state of the British electorate - and seeks to forecast the result in every constituency based on current polling done over Christmas and their electoral models.

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And it's a disaster for the Tories.

It forecasts a 120-seat majority for Labour - with the Conservatives crashing from 365 seats to 169, and Labour going from 202 to 385.

This is worse than the Tory defeat in 1997.

The Lib Dems would be the third-biggest party once more on 48 seats, and the SNP almost halve their seats to 25.

Senior cabinet Tories would lose their seats, including Jeremy Hunt's Godalming and Ash in Surrey to the Lib Dems (just), Penny Mordaunt losing Portsmouth North, and Johnny Mercer losing Plymouth Moor View.

Even worse, this model already accounts for the idea there's been a squeeze on the Labour lead in the campaign, implying its share of the vote is at 39.5% - a full five or six percentage points less than most polls at the moment.

Controversial tactic at heart of poll's results

This poll is doing something interesting and controversial which wasn't done in 2019 - it's tried to predict where the people who currently tell pollsters they "don't know" will end up going, using modelling of the behaviour of others.

Some dispute this tactic, questioning whether it's possible to predict "don't knows" from people who have decided how to vote, although YouGov stands by it after using it in other recent races.

The poll was commissioned by the Conservative Britain Alliance and published in The Telegraph, seemingly to make the case that unless the Tories adopt a tougher stance on immigration than Rishi Sunak, the party faces a much tougher time.

That bit of the analysis was not done by YouGov, however, and has been questioned by the pollster, which disputed the assumption everyone opting in the poll for Reform UK would transfer allegiance to the Tories.

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Nobody seems to know who the Conservative Britain Alliance is made up of.

The Telegraph says Tory donors, some suspect the involvement of figures who back Reform UK, and a loophole in the rules governing polling mean there is no obligation on the pollster to tell us.

The intent of the poll is to cause trouble - the results from YouGov were bad enough without the spin of the poll's mysterious funders.