Local elections are always treated, by the media and the politicians, as a litmus test of the national mood. All the contestants regard this year's battle for control of the counties as both especially crucial and unusually unpredictable. Local elections may not be a reliable predictor of the next general election; in fact, they are often a poor guide to what will happen when voters are asked to choose a Westminster government. Yet they still matter to the national picture. Because of the impact they have on the parties' relative morale, the way in which the media rate them, and the authority of leaders over their troops, they can be very important in setting the weather.
In advance of the elections, all the main parties are trying to manipulate how the results are interpreted by setting low targets for themselves and high bars for their opponents. Not so Ukip. Exceptionally, it is raising expectations about its performance by talking a highly ambitious game.
All the main parties have cause to be anxious about Ukip and so all have been trying to understand the rise of the Farageists. One way they do this is to put together focus groups of voters who have switched to Ukip to try to fathom why these people are attracted to Nigel Farage's gang.
Will they find the answer or is this just the usual round robin of politics?