Bristol mayor: It's all still to play for
A SURVEY published by The Post today has blown the race to find Bristol's first elected mayor wide open.
It shows that, with eight days until polling day, more than half of the city's voters are undecided about the candidate they prefer.
And crucially, a staggering 80 per cent of voters have no idea how they will use their second preference vote – a second 'X' on the ballot paper which will probably decide the outcome of the election.
Unlike in general elections, in the mayoral poll voters can put two 'X's for their first and second choices.
Dr Lisa Harrison, a political scientist at the University of the West of England, said the survey showed there was still everything to play for in the race.
She said: "There is a large disparity between those who intend to vote and those who have identified a preferred candidate – more than half of intending voters have not chosen a first preference candidate.
"There are two messages from this: Firstly, there is still much to play for in terms of campaigning – there are many Bristol voters waiting to be convinced by the candidates.
"Secondly, the intended turnout is an inflation of what will happen next week – despite 'good intentions', a large sector of the Bristol electorate will not make the trip to the polling booth."
The survey, commissioned by The Post, interviewed 750 people in each of the city's 14 neighbourhood partnership areas to fairly reflect people's views.
It was carried out by MSS Research, a professional market research agency based in Bristol, which said the maximum margin of statistical error was plus or minus 3.6 per cent.
Everyone interviewed on the street had to be registered to vote.
Of those interviewed in the survey, more than half – 51 per cent – said they intended to vote in the election next Thursday. A further 21 per cent said they had not yet decided if they would vote.
Of those who said they would vote, 53 per cent had not decided whom to support.
Voters who had made up their mind put Labour's Marvin Rees as the clear favourite, with 21 per cent. But this is nowhere near the 50 per cent required to prevent the election race going to a second round.
The second and third favourites on first choice votes were George Ferguson (Bristol 1st) with nine per cent and Geoff Gollop (Conservative) with seven per cent.
But more than three-quarters of those questioned had not decided who would get their second preference.
The top-scoring second choice was the Green Party's candidate, Daniella Radice, with four per cent. Mr Rees, Mr Ferguson and the Lib Dem candidate Jon Rogers all had three per cent.
Dr Harrison said that as the survey showed none of the candidates was likely to secure 50 per cent of the votes on the first round, the outcome would be decided on the second preference votes.
She said: "A candidate will become mayor if they can secure 50 per cent of the first preference votes but this survey suggests no candidate is even close. Unless the 'undecided' voters are politically different to those who have made a choice, it is not even clear who Marvin Rees will enter the second round against – George Ferguson or Geoff Gollop.
"It looks at this stage that the second preference vote will be the decider but many voters may not indicate a second preference (80 per cent are undecided at present).
Added to this, of those who do indicate a second preference, many may do so for a candidate who is not in the run-off.
"Daniella Radice is marginally the favoured second preference candidate but only joint fourth preferred candidate on the first preference vote, according to the survey. For those who do use the second preference vote, many could be 'wasted' if they are for a candidate who has not polled sufficiently in the first preference round.
"Clearly, with a week to go before the election, this is far from a foregone conclusion.
"What we do know from other elections is that, should these survey results remain representative, it is likely to be a reasonably small number of voters, who have used their second preference vote effectively, who will decide who becomes mayor of Bristol."
Dr Harrison pointed out that 15 candidates is a record for a mayoral election in this country, beating the 14 who stood in Torbay in 2005.
How to vote
WHEN you get to the polling station, you will be given two ballot papers – a white one for the mayoral election and a yellow one for the Police and Crime Commissioner election.
Unlike a general election or local elections, voters will be able to put two 'X's on each of their ballot papers – a first and a second choice.
The ballot papers will list all of the candidates who are taking part.
Next to each candidate, there will be two columns.
You will be asked to put a cross next to your first choice candidate in the first column and a second cross next to your second choice candidate in the second column.
You must not put more than one cross in each column.
If you do, then your ballot paper might be discounted.
You do not have to choose a second preference candidate if you don't want to.
When the polling stations close at 10pm on election day – Thursday, November 15 – the ballot papers will be collected and verified before being counted the next day at the University of the West of England's exhibition centre.
The first choice votes will be counted and if there is a candidate with a 50 per cent majority, then they will be declared the winner.
But if they fail to reach this threshold then the top two candidates will go on to a "play-off".
In the second round, all the second preference votes of the eliminated candidates will be added to the totals of the remaining two candidates.
The one with the most votes will be declared the winner.
Research has shown that second preference voting is extremely unpredictable because most of us only have a clear idea of who we want to win.