Election indecision pushes small party influence up
With less than two months until the UK general election, it remains too a competition close to call. According to national press coverage, a difficult month for Labour saw its popularity fall, giving the Tories a narrow lead in the polls.
A YouGov poll has the Conservatives at 35% and Labour on 31%. UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are showing 14%, 8% and 6% respectively.
Based on these figures, should the election be held today, The Guardian newspaper says the Tories will win 279 seats, 13 ahead of second place Labour.
However, with 326 seats needed to secure an overall majority, David Cameron's hold on number ten remains tenuous at best.
The 2015 election campaign is fascinating for a number of reasons: the lack of daylight between the polling numbers of the major parties; the continued 'will they, won't they' battle over the televised leadership debates; and the increasingly personal nature of clashes during Prime Minister's Questions.
But with six parties now polling above 5% for the very first time in British electoral history, the question of which of the smaller parties will become 'Kingmaker' is perhaps the most compelling of all.
Our analysis of the media profile of the main political parties in the UK national media shows the smaller parties are still struggling to be heard. UKIP's leader, Nigel Farage, was the only smaller voice to gain consistent traction between February and March.
Extend analysis out to social media and online sources and it is a different story. Our Political Media Tracker highlights a growing share of voice in electronic media for UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.
Considering the key role these smaller parties are likely to play in deciding the outcome of the election, and in who forms the next government, both Labour and the Tories have been on the offensive.
At Prime Minister's Question time, David Cameron challenged Ed Miliband to reject a post-election deal with the SNP, accusing his opposite number of being "despicable and weak". Later, the Conservative Party released a poster showing Miliband in the pocket of former SNP leader, Alex Salmond.
For his part, the Labour leader, while urging Scots not to vote SNP and hand an election to the Conservatives, will also be hoping that support for UKIP in England will split the Tory vote on May 7.
With just 50 days to go, and another hung parliament looking likely, the role of the smaller parties will be crucial. Much of their recent national coverage has come courtesy of the larger parties wanting to energise their own electoral bases.
Over the next few weeks we will see whether the SNP, UKIP and others can cease being 'political footballs' and exploit their online presence to move their own agendas into the mainstream national media.
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