Ipsos MORI have published their monthly political monitor and it shows another towering lead for the Conservatives. Topline voting intentions are CON 47%(+7), LAB 29%(-5), LDEM 7%(+1), UKIP 6%(-3). The eighteen point Conservative lead is the highest they’ve managed in any poll since 2009, and the highest lead for a party in government since 2002. Usual caveats apply about any poll showing such a large shift in support over a month, but in terms of direction this does echo the ICM and YouGov polls earlier this month that also showed shifts towards the Conservatives. Full details are here.

A quick word about that UKIP score of just 6%. While it is obviously very bad, it’s not the sudden collapse one might assume. For whatever methodological reason, MORI do tend to show significantly worse scores for UKIP than polls from other companies. It is NOT a case of UKIP support being at 11% with ICM and YouGov last week, their MEPs getting into a fist fight and their support collapsing (however tempting such a narrative is!). MORI has been showing them at significantly lower levels of support for several months anyway – 9% last month, 6% in August, 8% in July. Nevertheless, it does appear as if the Tories are beginning to claw back support they’d previously lost to UKIP.

A referendum is not like an election. While the two sides of the campaign produced lots of literature supporting their view, there wasn’t anything like a manifesto as such. How could there be, given those leading the campaigns were not those who would end up actually implementing the decision? As far as the referendum was concerned, Brexit did indeed just mean Brexit – no more and no less. Nothing on the ballot paper said it was specifically this sort of Brexit or that sort of Brexit.

This has left a certain void, and one that politicians and others have sought to fill. Naturally, they have largely attempted to do so with their pre-existing prejudices rather than evidence. To listen to some it would appear that Brexit was driven by people who wanted {insert policy idea that I wanted to begin with}. A lot of this has been around how important an issue immigration was to Leave voters, and too what extent this was an anti-immigration vote. The alternative argument is often that the vote was mostly driven by concerns about sovereignty and freedom.

At the simplest level, if you want to know why people voted for something… ask them.

In YouGov’s final poll they asked people to pick which one factor was most important to people in deciding how to vote. Among Leave voters the most popular answer was allowing Britain to act independently (45%), followed by immigration (35%) and the economy (8%). Full tabs are here.

Lord Ashcroft’s poll after the referendum asked leave voters to rank four possible reasons for the vote – sovereignty, immigration, the economy or the risk of future EU integration. 49% of Leave voters picked sovereignty as their first reason (78% as either their first or second answer), 33% of Leave voters picked immigration as their first reason (64% as either their first or second reason). These two issues dominate, but the structure of the question suggests that people couldn’t say “I didn’t care about this issue at all”, so its somewhat limited (tabs are here, the relevant questions are on page 256!)

In both of these examples sovereignty came top, followed by immigration. However, it’s possible that this was down to the particular options the pollster offered or the particular wording used in the question. One way of getting round this issue is to ask it as an open-ended question and allow people to say in their own words why they voted as they did – two other polls did this.

In Ipsos-MORI’s final poll they asked what issues would be important to people in deciding how to vote in the referendum, letting people pick more than one option. The interviewer then picked which category or categories matched their answer most closely. In this case immigration came top among Leave voters, picked by 54% (18% also said the cost of immigration on welfare and 12% said the number of refugees coming to Britain – though given people could choose more than one option these cannot be added together). The next highest option among Leave voters was 32% who said the ability of Britain to pass our own laws, followed by 19% who said the economy and 9% who said jobs.

The pre-election wave of the British Election Study did a similar thing, asking respondents to type in what the most important factor driving their vote was and coding it up later. Taking a word cloud of the responses gives one extremely prominent answer…


…but this is actually a little misleading. Once the answers are coded up individually sovereignty comes very narrowly ahead of immigration. Just over 30% of verbatim responses from Leave voters mentioned sovereignty or control in some way, just under 30% mentioned immigration in some way (the word cloud appears as it does because most people who mentioned immigration used the specific word immigration, but people who mentioned sovereignty used a variety of different terms like sovereignty, control, making laws and so on). Suffice to say, immigration and sovereignty were, between them, the main two issues driving the Leave vote.

Referendums and elections are complicated things, and the human beings who vote in them are even more so. Anyone who tries to boil down the referendum to one factor and say “this explains it all” will almost always be wrong. While the order of the two issues differs between polls, all the polling evidence is clear that Leave voters were most concerned about the issues of sovereignty and immigration, and anyone claiming they were motivated by one but not the other is very likely projecting their own views onto the voters.

While they were clearly the dominant issues, there are undoubtedly others too – for example, as John Curtice explores here, there’s a very strong correlation with views on the impact of Brexit on the economy too, so while immigration and sovereignty were strong factors in favour of Leaving, another important factor seems to be that most leave voters did NOT think that Brexit would bring economic damage. I should also give my usual reminder that people are not necessarily very good judges of what makes them vote. We are not particularly rational creatures and the way people vote at referendums and elections is not a dry comparison of policy offers or facts, but often a mixture of vague feelings, bias and heuristics – so things like a lack of trust in the traditional media and “experts” and a perception that the remain campaign were speaking for an out-of-touch establishment rather than ordinary people were probably also factors in driving the Leave vote.

In short – the factors motivating Leave voters are many and varied and 52% of the voters will, by definition, contain people with many, many different views and priorities. However, every effort to ask Leave voters why they voted to leave found sovereignty AND immigration as the clear big issues.


The Times this morning has the latest YouGov voting intention figures – CON 42%(+3), LAB 28%(-2), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 11%(-2). While the size of the lead isn’t quite as large as the seventeen points ICM showed earlier in the week, it’s a another very solid lead for the Conservatives following their party conference, matching the lead May had at the height of her honeymoon. Full tabs are here.

While I’m here I’ll add a quick update on two other recent YouGov polls. First some new London polling, which shows extremely positive ratings for Sadiq Khan. 58% of people think he is doing well as London mayor, only 14% think he is doing badly. Mayors of London seem to get pretty good approval ratings most of the time (both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson normally enjoyed positive ratings), I don’t know if that’s down to the skills of the individual politicians who have held the job so far or whether the public judge them by different standards to Westminster politicians. Never the less, it’s a very positive start for Khan, with net positive approval ratings among supporters of all parties except UKIP. Full tabs are here.

Finally, since the subject keeps popping up, some polling on the Royal Yacht. The public oppose replacing the Royal Yacht with a newly commissioned vessel by 51% to 25%. They would also oppose recommissioning the old Royal Yacht Brittania, but by a smaller margin (42% opposed, 31% support). The argument that the cost of the Yacht would be justified by the its role in promoting British trade and interests oversees does not find favour with the general public – 26% think the cost can be justified, 57% think it cannot. Full results are here.

ICM’s latest poll from the Guardian is out, with topline figures of CON 43%(+2), LAB 26%(nc), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 11%(-3), GRN 6%(+2) – changes are from ICM’s last poll, conducted for the Sun on Sunday in mid-September.

The seventeen point Conservative lead is the largest that ICM have shown in any poll since October 2009 (the Guardian cites it as the largest since 2008, but I think that’s because they are looking at the ICM/Guardian series of polls – the 2009 poll was one for the News of the World).

The size of the lead is likely flattered by the timing – it was conducted over the weekend, so the Conservatives could have expected some sort of boost from Theresa May’s first conference as leader. It’s also worth noting that ICM do tend to produce some of the most pro-Conservative voting intention figures – they have adopted a substantial number of changes since the polling errors of 2015 (switching to online, weighting by political knowledge, reallocating don’t knows differently and modelling turnout based on age and social class) which tend to produce the most pro-Conservative figures. That’s not to say they are wrong – in 2015 all the pollsters understated the Tory lead, so it’s very likely that in correcting those errors, changes will me made that produce more Conservative figures. We won’t know for sure until 2020 whether pollsters have gone too far in those corrections or not far enough.

In this case, even before the turnout weighting ICM would have been showing a very robust 14 point Conservative lead (and the reallocation of don’t knows actually helped Labour). Whatever you did with this data would have produced a huge great Tory lead – it’s the combination of a new Prime Minister, a Conservative conference boost, and a distracted opposition. Full tabs are here.

There are new YouGov voting intention figures for the Times this morning, with topline figures of CON 39%, LAB 30%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 3%. The Conservatives continue to have a solid lead and there is no sign of any benefit to Labour from their party conference (fieldwork was on Wednesday and Thursday, so directly after Jeremy Corbyn’s speech).

Theresa May has been Prime Minister for two and a half months now, so we’re still in the sort of honeymoon period. Most of her premiership so far has consisted of the summer holidays when not much political news happens and she’s had the additional benefit of her opposition being busy with their own leadership contest. Now that is over and we approach May’s own party conference and the resumption of normal politics.

Theresa May’s own ratings remain strong. 46% of people think she is doing well, 22% badly. Asking more specific questions about her suitability for the role most people (by 52% to 19%) think she is up to the job of PM, she is seen as having what it takes to get things done (by 53% to 19%), and having good ideas to improve the country (by 35% to 27%). People don’t see her as in touch with ordinary people (29% do, 40% do not) but that is probably because she is still a Conservative; David Cameron’s ratings on being in touch were poor throughout his premiership. The most worrying figure in there for May should probably be that people don’t warm to her – 32% think she has a likeable personality, 35% do not. One might well say this shouldn’t matter, but the truth is it probably does. People are willing to give a lot more leeway to politicians they like. In many way Theresa May’s ratings – strong, competent, but not particularly personally likeable – have an echo of how Gordon Brown was seen by the public when he took over as Prime Minister. That didn’t end well (though in fairness, I suppose Mrs Thatcher was seen in a similar way).

The biggest political obstacle looming ahead of Theresa May is, obviously, Brexit. So far people do not think the government are doing a good job of it. 16% think they are handling Brexit negotiations well, 50% badly. Both sides of the debate are dissatisfied – Remain voters think they are doing badly by 60% to 10%, Leave voters think they are doing badly by 45% to 24%. Obviously the government haven’t really started the process of negotiating exit and haven’t said much beyond “Brexit means Brexit”, but these figures don’t suggest they are beginning with much public goodwill behind them.

Finally, among the commentariat the question of an early election has not gone away (and will probably keep on being asked for as long as the Conservatives have a small majority but large poll lead). 36% of people currently want an early election, 46% of people do not. The usual patterns with questions like this is that supporters of the governing party do not normally want an election (they are happy with the status quo), supporters of the main opposition party normally do want an election (as they hope the government would be kicked out). Interestingly this still holds true despite the perception that an early election would help the Conservatives: a solid majority of Labour supporters would like an early election, most Conservative supporters are opposed.

Full tabs are here