By Jodie Ginsberg
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Conservatives are making a late surge in key swing seats, suggesting it could be on course for a narrow but outright win in Thursday's parliamentary election, a poll published on Monday showed.
The final Reuters/Ipsos MORI marginals poll, which surveys voters living in the kind of constituencies held by the ruling Labour party that the Conservatives need to win for a majority, shows support for the parties in these seats is neck and neck.
That represents a 7 percent swing in support to the Conservatives from Labour compared with the last general election in 2005, and could be just enough to put them into power without the need for support from other parties.
Like other national polls, the previous four Reuters/Ipsos MORI polls -- the most recent of which was published last Thursday -- suggested the country was on course for a "hung parliament" in which no party had a majority of seats.
However, the latest poll suggests the Conservative Party could now be on course for a majority of around two seats in the 650-seat House of Commons after the May 6 election, wresting control from Labour after 13 years. This is the first major poll in weeks to indicate such an outcome.
"These findings show the Conservatives on the verge of winning enough seats to secure the narrowest of majorities," said Roger Mortimore, Head of Political and Electoral Research at Ipsos MORI.
However, he said that with a third of voters still prepared to change their minds, a more comfortable Conservative win or a slip back to a hung parliament were possible. "The last few days before voting will be crucial," he said.
The center-right Conservatives have warned throughout the campaign about what they see as the dangers of a hung parliament, arguing this would leave the government without the ability to tackle the country's huge debts swiftly.
Because of the quirks of Britain's electoral system, a strong showing in a handful of swing seats known as marginals, in which one party has a slender lead, is more important than a party's popularity nationally.
The Reuters/Ipsos MORI poll, conducted across 57 Labour-held constituencies, shows that 36 percent of people in these marginals now plan to vote Conservative -- the same number who would vote for center-left Labour -- compared with 35 percent last week who said Conservative and 38 percent who said Labour.
LIB DEMS STEADY
Some 20 percent of voters plan to vote Liberal Democrat compared with 21 percent last week. That suggests their surge, started after leader Nick Clegg appeared in a televised leaders' debate last month, has neither waned nor grown stronger.
The potential for a substantial shift in support for any of the parties is also waning. Some 36 percent of those polled said they might change their mind about who to vote for, compared with 46 percent who said the same last week.
Asked who they would vote for if they did change their mind, 47 percent answered Liberal Democrat compared with 38 percent who said the same thing last week. Just under one fifth of voters would switch their vote to the Conservatives and just over one fifth would switch to Labour.
Though voting intentions appear to have hardened, over 70 percent of people -- roughly the same as in the previous four polls -- are unaware they live in a constituency where they have significant ability to change the outcome.
If the election does result in a hung parliament, a third of voters (31 percent) would like to see all three main parties work together. That compared with 26 percent who would like a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and 27 percent who would like a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.
In a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, 37 percent would like to see Lib Dem Nick Clegg as prime minister compared with 26 percent who would want Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown stay on.
Two thirds of those polled said it would make no difference to the likelihood of their voting Liberal Democrat whether or not Gordon Brown was made to step down as a condition of talks.
A similar number agreed that the UK should adopt a new voting system that would give parties seats in parliament in proportion to their share of votes: a key Lib Dem aim.
* Technical Details
- Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,004 adults who all say they are registered to vote, aged 18+ across 57 marginal constituencies in Great Britain.
- These are Labour-held constituencies which the Conservatives need a swing of between 5 percent and 9 percent to win.
- Interviews were conducted April 30-May 2, 2010.
- Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.