Opinium’s fortnightly poll for the Observer tonight has topline figures of CON 33%(+5), LAB 33%(-2), LDEM 6%(-3), UKIP 18%(+1), GRN 4%(nc). This is the first time that Opinium haven’t shown Labour ahead since March 2012, before the Omnishambles budget.

Yesterday’s YouGov/Sun poll that also Labour and the Conservatives equal, but of course, we have another YouGov poll for the Sunday Times due tonight or tomorrow morning…


ComRes have a new poll of Rochester and Strood out tonight that shows UKIP with a solid lead. As far as I can recall it’s the first ComRes by-election poll this Parliament. Like all constituency polls it was done by telephone, and with a healthy sample size by constituency polling standards of 1500.

Topline figures are CON 30%, LAB 21%, LDEM 3%, UKIP 43%, GREEN 3%. The only previous Rochester & Strood poll was by Survation at the start of the month – that showed a nine point lead for UKIP. Obviously one has to be careful about direct comparisons between polls from different pollsters using different methodologies, so it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions about how opinion might have moved between the two polls (differences could be down to methods), but it certainly doesn’t show any obvious sign of the Conservatives eating into UKIP’s early lead.


A quick catch up of this week’s polls so far, and an update on polling on a Con-UKIP pact.

The first of this week’s two Populus polls had figures of CON 34%, LAB 36%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%, GRN 3% (tabs).
Monday’s Lord Ashcroft poll had topline figures of CON 28%, LAB 31%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 18%, GRN 8% (tabs). Note the Green score there – up to eight points and one point ahead of the Liberal Democrats. The fact they are up in fourth place is probably just a blip – it’s one poll and no one else is echoing it – but it’s a symptom of the genuine rise we’ve seen in Green support over recent months.
Meanwhile this morning’s YouGov/Sun poll had topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6% (tabs)

Stepping back a couple of days, at the weekend YouGov also released an updated version of polling first conducted last year asking how people would vote if there was a Conservative/UKIP pact at the next general election (tabs). There is sometimes a lazy assumption that because the Conservatives and UKIP together have a very healthy level of support a pact between the two parties would be a winner. That is not necessarily the case – parties do no own their voters. If two parties agree to stand to together it doesn’t follow that their voters will go along with it. The usual voting intention in the poll showed Labour four points ahead of of the Conservatives, but with UKIP on 18%. Asked how they would vote with a Conservative/UKIP pact the Labour lead grew to six points. The reason is that only about two thirds of current Conservative voters would back the joint ticket – some would flake away to Labour or the Liberal Democrats, others wouldn’t vote or aren’t sure what they would do. At the same time only just over half of UKIP supporters would follow their party into a deal with the Tories, others would go to Labour, find an alternate “other” party or not vote. This probably paints an artificially bleak picture because many of those don’t knows would hold their noses and vote for the joint-ticket, but it should still serve as an antidote to those thinking a pact is a panacea to Tory woes.

Asking about the specific circumstances of seats where there is a Conservative standing on the joint ticket or a UKIP candidate standing on the joint ticket sheds a little more light on the don’t knows. Essentially just over 10% of Conservatives and UKIP voters are lost anyway if there is a pact, even if a candidate for their own party is standing locally – presumably people totally opposed to co-operation with the other party. If a candidate for the other party is standing locally, only a minority (36-40%) of the other parties support is transferred across.


This week’s YouGov/Sunday Times results are here. Topline voting intentions are CON 32%, LAB 35%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 5%. The rest of the poll is a bit of a grab bag of other issues. Perceptions of the party leaders and the debates, some questions on UKIP and the Conservatives, rape and the former footballer Ched Evans, and assisted dying.

Cameron has the highest ratings of the party leaders on trust – or at least, the least untrustworthy. 32% trust him to tell the truth, 62% do not. The comparable figures for the other leaders are 25% for Ed Miliband, 22% trust Nigel Farage, 18% trust Nick Clegg.

88% and 87% think David Cameron and Ed Miliband should be included in the leader debates (presumably those opposed are those who don’t support the idea of debates at all, or whose support is wholly conditional on whether or not one of the other candidates are included), 79% think Nick Clegg should be included and 67% think Nigel Farage should be included. After that support drops away quickly, 51% think that the Green party leader Natalie Bennett should be included, only 25% think George Galloway should.

There is still very little support for a UKIP-Conservative pact. Nationwide only 14% of people would support one, Conservative party voters would oppose a pact by 50% to 30%, UKIP voters would oppose one by 56% to 26%). Local Conservative/UKIP pacts aren’t really any more popular, only 16% think the Conservative party should allow their candidates or members to agree local pacts with UKIP, Conservative voters would be opposed to it by 54% to 30%. In the event that the Conservatives lose Rochester 57% of people think that Cameron should remain leader and the overwhelming majority of Tory voters (92%) would back him – only 3% of Tory voters would want him to go. For the public at least, it doesn’t seem to be a resigning matter.

66% of people think that all instances of rape should continue to be treated as the same offence – that “rape is rape”. 25% think the law should have different categories of rape, depending on factors such as whether violence was involved. There is a significant gender difference, though perhaps not as large as one might have guessed – 31% of men think that there should be different categories of rape in law, 20% of women. There is widespread support for anonymity for both victims of rape and people accused of rape. 84% think it is right that people who are the victims of rape should have their identities protected, 77% think that people accused of rape should have their identities protected unless they are found guilty. 37% of people think that Ched Evans should be allowed to return to professional football, 45% think he should not. There is a sharper gender difference here – by 45% to 39% men think that he should be allowed to play, by 51% to 30% women think that he should not.

There is still very strong support for legalising assisted suicide for the terminally ill (72% support, 12% opposed), and more support (48%) than opposition (30%) for assisted suicide for those with painful, incurable but not terminal illnesses. Asked about whether people should be prosecuted for assisting a suicide, 14% think the current law should be enforced unless it is changed, 71% think the authorities should turn a blind eye.


ComRes have done their monthly online poll for the Independent on Sunday. Topline figures are CON 31%(+2), LAB 34%(-1), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 19%(nc), GRN 4%(nc). For clarification, given some of the misunderstandings on Twitter earlier today, this is using ComRes’s normal methodology and prompting, they haven’t changed anything (I have no idea if they intend to do so or not… though I expect they’ll be getting a lot of people asking them tonight!). The sample size however was smaller than usual, as with the other half of the sample ComRes carried out an experiment asking the voting intention question including UKIP in the main voting intention prompt. The result using that different method was CON 29%, LAB 31%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 24%, GRN 5%.

Now, I should underline the importance of noting that this is just one poll. It is comparing two samples of 1000 or so people, with the usual margins of error that implies – so not all the difference will necessarily be prompting, some could just be normal sample variation. Please don’t go away with the idea that prompting for UKIP will always has the effect of bumping up UKIP by 5% – it’s just one data point. I think it probably does make a difference (we’ve tested in the past), but five points does seem rather high. Also remember that prompting may affect different methods differently, so the way it affects a ComRes online poll using their methods would not necessarily reflect the way it would affect any other poll (I am personally intrigued by the possibility that prompting may have a different impact in telephone polls, where people may feel obliged to pick one of the options offered by a human interviewer, than in an online poll where it’s just clicking through to another list of options – but obviously I don’t have phone polls to test it on!)

Knowing that prompting does make a difference – something that pollsters knew anyway – doesn’t actually get us any closer to an answer to the real question though, whether prompting for UKIP produces more or less accurate results in GB election polls. It the ComRes figure of 19% more or less accurate than the figure of 24%? Whether polls prompt or not for UKIP is often a issue that produces a lot of comment. Part of that is from people whose concern is, shall I say, more to do with maximising the reported level of support for UKIP than it is to maximise the accuracy of polling. Part of it is that, prima facie, it does seem somewhat strange that a party (normally) running in third place isn’t prompted for when the party that’s (normally) running in fourth place is. Another part is people looking for an explanation for the big difference in reported levels of UKIP support between different pollsters; typically the companies showing the highest levels of support, Survation and Opinium, show UKIP at about twice the support of ICM or MORI, who typically show the lowest. In the latter case I think the attention is misplaced – the reason for the biggest differences in levels of UKIP support in the polls appears to lie elsewhere – companies like Opinium manage to show some of the higher figures without any prompting! Rather they appear to be a contrast between telephone polling and online polling, for some reason online polls show consistently higher levels of UKIP support than telephone polls. That may be something to do with the mode (perhaps people are more ready to admit they are voting UKIP to an anonymous computer screen than to a human interviewer) or it could be something to do with sampling (for some reason phone samples have fewer of the sort of people who vote UKIP than online samples do).

As a pollster it is more important that methods produce the most accurate results than it is whether they appear “fair” (and certainly it’s more important to be accurate than to produce the higher possible score for UKIP!). The fact is that there isn’t a hard and fast rule about when you do and don’t prompt, we don’t have the evidence to say the cut off point is x% support, or y place, or z number of MPs. It’s a matter of judgement. We know from experience over the last couple of decades that prompting for smaller parties tends to overestimate their support (probably because it gives them a prominence and perception of equality with the major parties that may not be there among the general public), we also know that in the 1980s NOT prompting for the Lib Dems used to underestimate their support, so getting it wrong either way can produce error. Sometimes you can get it wrong by prompting, sometimes you can get it wrong by not prompting. There is no real way of knowing when a party switches from a position where prompting risks overestimating them to one where not prompting risks underestimating them – but clearly we are equally keen to avoid both errors. If UKIP establish themselves to the point that they have lots of MPs, consistent support over time, have known people and policies, are treated as a major established party that is given equal treatment by the BBC and OfCom and so on the time will come when the risk of not prompting outweighs the risk of prompting (it has already come, for example, in European elections)… but when you reach that point? It’s a judgement call.

It’s in a bigger context too. The last general election was held in the middle of “Cleggmania” and a surge of enthusiasm for the Liberal Democrats. The polls overestimated their support. The European elections earlier this year saw a great big surge of enthusiasm for UKIP… and of polls in the last week all but one company overestimated their support. In the Scottish referendum I don’t think anyone could deny that the YES campaign were the more enthused, and the polls seem to have all slightly overestimated their support. I may very well be reading something into these that isn’t there, but you get my drift – polls may be overestimating support for parties and movements that have particularly enthusiastic and zealous supporters. There’s also that unexplained difference in UKIP support between telephone companies and online companies, and what might be behind that. Getting UKIP right at the next election is the big challenge facing pollsters, but its about more than just prompting.