The monthly ICM poll for the Guardian came out today, with topline figures of CON 28%(-3), LAB 33%(+1), LDEM 14%(+3), UKIP 14%(nc), GRN 5%(-1). Tabs are here. There’s a movement from Con to Lab since ICM’s previous poll, but nothing that couldn’t be normal margin of error – the broader picture still suggests a very small Labour lead, with no strong trend (in November the average Labour lead was 1.6%, so far this month it’s 1.3%).

This is the first time since September that any poll hasn’t shown UKIP ahead of the Liberal Democrats. The previous one was also ICM, and apart from one unusual Populus poll in July you have to go right back to March to find polls from other company doing the same. ICM consistently show the highest level of support for the Liberal Democrats for methodological reasons. This is largely because of how they handle don’t knows – when people say they don’t know how they’d vote, ICM look at how they voted at the previous election and assume that 50% of them will end up voting the same way. This is based on recontact surveys of don’t knows after previous elections and has made polls more accurate in the past… but of course, we can’t know until May whether that will still hold true under the sort of political realignment we seem to be seeing this Parliament. Without the reallocation ICM’s figures today would have been LDEM 11%, UKIP 15% – so it would have been quite a high Lib Dem figure anyway even without the adjustment.

Ipsos MORI’s month political monitor is also due. Today’s Evening Standard reported some figures, but I assume they are saving up the voting intention figures for tomorrow. The data so far is here, and shows people’s optimism about the economy in general (as opposed to their personal finances) dropping to its lowest since last year. I wrote about similar findings from YouGov at the start of the month, so this does appear to be more than a single poll; people’s confidence in the economic recovery does seem to be faltering a bit.

We’re clearly heading towards the Christmas polling break – we’ve still got the usual Populus poll this morning and YouGov poll tonight, but the weekly Lord Ashcroft poll has shut up shop for the year.

All the regular polls tend to stop over Christmas – ostensibly because it’s difficult to get a reliable sample over holiday periods when people have better things to do than answer polls, but I expect there’s a touch of us pollsters needing to have a holiday sometimes too. Last year Populus’s last poll was on the 22nd, so we should have a couple more from them and YouGov normally stop just before Christmas so there are few more from that front too. We also still have the monthly ICM and Ipsos MORI polls to come. ComRes’s monthly telephone poll has been right at the end of each month lately, so we might see that brought forward, or saved until after Christmas. Scratch that last bit – it’s being brought forward to before Christmas, out later tonight.

Anyway, our one poll so far this Monday is Populus’s, with topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 36%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 12%, GRN 5%. Tabs are here.

UPDATE: The daily YouGov/Sun poll today has toplines of CON 32%, LAB 34%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 14%, GRN 8%. YouGov have had the Greens sneaking ahead of the Lib Dems quite a few times lately, but until today it’s only been by a single point.

Meanwhile the monthly ComRes/Indy telephone poll has topline figures of CON 29%(+1), LAB 32%(+1), LDEM 12%(+3), UKIP 16%(-2), GRN 5%(-2). A much better score for the Lib Dems there, the highest that ComRes have shown for over a year.

Two new polls in the Sunday papers. This week’s YouGov/Sunday Times results are here – topline figures are CON 32%, LAB 32%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 7%.

The YouGov poll also had questions on the end of the Parliament: the majority of people (56%) think that MPs have now started to concentrate on the election rather than concentrate on bringing in laws (7%). Not withstanding that there is little support for an early election – most people think the next election should still be in May 2015 as planned. The principle of having fixed term Parliaments has majority support (56% to 29%), though those who support it are split between agreeing with the current five year set up and preferring a fixed term election every four years. Asked about the fate of the coalition, 25% of people want it to end now (17%) or in the next few months (8%). 33% think it should continue up until the start of the formal campaign in April, while 28% want it to continue until polling day itself. The vast majority of Tory and Lib Dem voters want the coalition to continue until at least April.

MPs themselves continue to have a poor reputation. By 55% to 12% people think they are poor value for money and by 45% to 33% people think they are lazy rather than hardworking. 43% think that the reduction in Parliamentary business towards the end of the Parliament is just being used by MPs to do less work, rather than for constituency work.

Meanwhile a new ComRes poll in the Independent on Sunday has topline figures of CON 33%(+3), LAB 34%(nc), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 18%(-1), GRN 2%(-1). Changes are from their November online poll and tabs are here. A quick aside about that very low score for the Greens – as regular readers will recall, ComRes recently made a change to their methodology. They started including UKIP in the main prompt for voting intention, but also made some changes to their likelihood to vote weighting – this is not quite clear from the tables, but as far as I can tell from reverse engineering the tables in their online polls they now apply a more harsh turnout filter to UKIP and the Greens than for the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems. The end effect of the combined changes looks to me as if UKIP support is largely unchanged, but Green support will be decreased.

ComRes also asked people to put the parties on a left-right scale, with a surprising result. The average scores for Labour was 4.13, the Lib Dems 4.87, UKIP on 6.61 and the Conservatives 6.91 – so the Tories seen as more right wing than UKIP. This is in contrast to a similar exercise by YouGov earlier this year which found UKIP and the Conservatives the other way round. There are months between the polls, so opinion could simply have changed (especially since UKIP have been putting in an effort to appeal to Labour voters), but there were two significant methodological differences between the polls – YouGov asked people on a verbal scale, ComRes on a numerical scale and, probably more importantly, YouGov included a don’t know option and ComRes did not. In the YouGov poll over a quarter of people said don’t know to the questions (ordinary people don’t necessarily think of parties, policies and so on as being “right” or “left” wing!), so it could just be that lots of people said 5 when they weren’t offered don’t know as an option. That said both versions found people positioning the Conservatives and UKIP in a fairly similar place in the political spectrum, so probably not worth getting too excited over the difference.

I’m out this evening so won’t be around to write about the new ComRes/Independent on Sunday poll we are due or the regular YouGov/Sunday Times poll, but in meantime just to note the latest YouGov Scottish poll in this morning’s Sun. The topline figures don’t suggest the surge in SNP support is fading at all, quite the opposite – topline figures for Westminster voting intention with changes from the previous YouGov Scottish poll at the end of October are CON 16%(+1), LAB 27%(nc), LDEM 3%(-1), SNP 47%(+4), GRN 3%(-1), UKIP 3%(-3).

Needless to say, the poll was conducted before Jim Murphy was announced as Scottish Labour’s new leader. He would appear to have quite a job on his hands.

The British Election Study held an event today showcasing some of their latest research. It seems to have provoked another round of the familiar discussion of “does the rise of UKIP hurt Labour or the Conservatives more?”. What should perhaps be a bit of an academic question has become a bit of contentious one – perhaps because of the implications for internal party politics (if the rise of UKIP hurts the Conservatives, is it something that is in Labour’s strategic interests to give tacit support to, or is it a threat to them, and what policy implications does that have?). I shall not seek to offer any such advice, but will have my go at the question.

On the face of it, it seems a reasonable assumption that UKIP are more a threat to the Conservatives. There are several very sensible and straightforward reasons for this. The policies that most define UKIP (hostility towards immigration and Britain’s membership of the European Union) are associated with the right of the Conservative party and might be expected to appeal to their voters. Their broader manifesto at the last general election could also be reasonably characterised as being right wing. Politically the party’s roots are clearly within the Conservative family, many of their high profile members are former Conservatives, two Conservative MPs have defected to them and others have been speculated about and more Conservative councillors have defected to them. Looking at it this way, it would make sense if the party was more of a threat to the Conservatives.

The “worse for the Tories” school of thought also relies strongly upon current voting intention data. People who currently tell pollsters that they would support UKIP are disproportionately made up of people who voted Conservative in 2010. It would be wrong to say that the majority of UKIP support comes from the Tories (it tends to be around 40-45%), but former Tories make up the largest single chunk of that support, the rest gathered from smaller groups of former Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or other supporters or previous non-voters. Finally it is worth considering the pattern of UKIP support at the European election and local election. There has been a concentration of UKIP support in seats along the Eastern coast of England – and below Teeside all but two of these seats (Grimsby and North Norfolk) are held by the Conservative party. With the exception of Great Grimsby, the seats discussed as potential UKIP gains tend to be Conservative ones.

Taken together this seems like a pretty convincing case for UKIP damaging the Conservatives more, but as ever things are a little bit more complicated than that. Here are the reasons why:

First, 2010 is not necessarily a good baseline for judging where support has come from or would otherwise be. Just because people voted Conservative in 2010 and UKIP now, it does not follow that if they weren’t voting UKIP they would jump back to the Tories. Perhaps as a rival opposition party UKIP are picking up anti-government feeling that would otherwise have naturally gone to Labour as the main opposition. Perhaps the people who voted Conservative in 2010 and UKIP now are not dyed in the wool Tories, but people who switched from Lab to Con in 2010 and might have otherwise switched back. The point is it is wrong to assume how people voted in 2010 is a good guide to how they have voted previous to that, or what their voting intention would otherwise be.

If we look at polls over the last couple of years it is clear that Labour have steadily lost support while UKIP have gained it. This is not necessarily evidence that people have switched from one to the other, but it is certainly a possibility. The British Election Study website has an article by Jon Mellon and Geoff Evans looking at the BES data on how current UKIP voters voted in 2010 and how they voted in 2005. Their findings show, as expected, that by far the biggest chunk of current UKIP supported voted Tory in 2010 (about 40%, compared to about 11% for Labour). In 2005 though the picture is somewhat more even – former Tories are still the biggest chunk (about a third), but there are about about twice as many UKIP supporters who voted Labour in 2005 than did in 2010 (about 20%). UKIP are taking former Labour voters, it’s just those voters have taken two elections to make the journey.

Second is the demographics of UKIP support. While UKIP have taken more support from the Conservatives, their support doesn’t resemble that of the Conservative party that much. UKIP support tends to be very white and is disproportionately from older generations (like that of the Conservative party), but unlike the Conservative party it is also strongly working class. This is the core message of Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin’s Revolt on the Right and one that is now quite widely recognised – UKIP voters are not retired Tory colonels, but are working class, older men. This is not incompatible with UKIP drawing their support from working-class Tories of course, but the potential risk to the Labour party should be clear: there is a significant body of working class Labour support that is hostile towards immigration and receptive to the sort of message that UKIP are offering, UKIP may not have taken full advantage of it yet, but they show every sign of attempting to do so in the future. There is already some sign of that shift – Peter Kellner’s analysis last month based on recent YouGov polls suggest that the balance of the voters UKIP are picking up is changing, and that amongst more recent UKIP recruits the proportion of former Labour voters is growing.

There lies the third issue – timing. A lot of the discussion around who UKIP hurts seems to fall back upon who people think they’ll hurt come next year’s election. Those arguing that there is a problem for Labour are often looking beyond that to what happens in the future, meaning they are often arguing past each other a little. Personally I would think in particular of what happens in a scenario when we have a Labour government and it runs into the unpopularity that inevitably arrives for all governments sooner or later. If UKIP have positioned themselves as an effective protest vehicle in Labour areas (particularly in Labour’s Northern heartlands where the Conservatives are already extinct and the Lib Dems may become so very soon), UKIP could do very well indeed. Part of the reason that UKIP’s current support comes largely from the Tories is probably because the Tories are the government and they are the party people are protesting against… it will not always be so.

Finally there is the issue of geography. Even if at a national level UKIP are picking up more 2010 Conservative voters than Labour voters this is not necessarily uniform across the country. UKIP may draw support from different groups in different areas, so while they may damage Conservative hopes in some parts of the country, elsewhere there is the potential for them to hurt Labour. Marcus Roberts, Rob Ford and Ian Warren wrote a paper for the Fabians earlier this year, based on Mosiac groups and identifying seats in both groups – areas where UKIP is helping and hurting Labour. There is an opportunity cost here too – the list of seats that UKIP could potentially do well in or win may be dominated by seats that are currently held by the Conservative party, but seats like Thurrock, South Thanet, Great Yarmouth and Waveney were all held by Labour until 2010. By definition, if they are won by UKIP it means they are not being regained by Labour.

In an attempt to tie things up, it is clear that UKIP are currently taking more 2010 support from the Conservatives than Labour, and in that sense they are hurting the Tories more. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are hurting just the Conservatives. While it is a good thing for Labour when the Tories lose a vote… it is an opportunity lost if that vote goes to a party other than Labour, especially when it is a voter who might have considered Labour earlier this Parliament or might have voted Labour prior to the 2010 election. There’s also a longer term view – who UKIP are able to appeal to now, with a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in power, is not necessarily a good guide to who they might be able to draw support from in a different political landscape.