ICM August Poll

ICM’s August poll for the Guardian has Labour’s led broadly steady at 5 points. The headline figures with changes from the last ICM poll, conducted for the Sunday Mirror, are CON 34%(+1), LAB 39%(nc), LDEM 18%(nc). Since bank holiday weekends are notorious for producing weird and wonderful samples, this poll was actually conducted in the middle of last week.

The Guardian reports the poll as showing that Gordon Brown could lose his majority in an early election. On a uniform swing these figures would give Labour 368 seats and an increased majority of 86, so presumably something else is going on. I’ll update when the poll is available online and I’ve had a look.

UPDATE: Slightly less interesting than the headline suggests. The Guardian explains the headline “PM could lose majority if he goes for early vote” on the basis that Labour could lose support to the Conservative during an election campaign and then end up with only a small majority and then suffer backbench rebellions. Obviously it’s true that Labour could lose some support in an election campaign, but there’s nothing in this poll in particular to suggest it.

Elsewhere there are interesting findings, including one I’ve been waiting for since Brown took over. Last September ICM asked if people thought it was “time for a change”, or if continuity was important and we should stick with Labour. Back then 70% of people thought it was “time for a change” – now that’s a powerful public narrative, one that can sweep a government from office. Gordon Brown has sought to portray himself as that change to sate the public’s demand for it. He has done…a bit. ICM asked the same question against last week and found that 55% of people still think it’s time for change.

ICM also asked about which party was more likely to deliver on certain issues. Labour led on being likely to deliver rising house prices, higher educational standards, a fairer distribution of income and an effective approach to climate change. The Conservatives had a substantial 10 point lead on law and order, an issue which has moved up the agenda since the poll was carried out and – more surprisingly – were seen as less of a threat to the NHS and the economy than Labour.

UPDATE 2: The Guardian also contains regional figures based on the aggregate of ICM’s data since Brown became leader. You should always be a bit wary of data like this – by aggregating the data from a number of polls the problem of small sample size is solved, but polls are still not weighted to be representative within regions, only to be representative of the country as a whole. That said, the figures suggest that Labour’s support has fallen in Scotland since 2005, risen strongly in London and less strongly elsewhere in the country. The Conservatives have fallen back slightly in the North, but substantially increased their support in the South. The Liberal Democrats have held steady in the North, but collapsed in the south.

Because of the pattern of marginal seats around the country if there are contrasting trends in different parts of the country it could result in a smaller Labour majority despite a better position in the headline polls. We don’t have the full figures for all these regional breaks, or know where ICM have drawn the lines of “the North” or “the South”, but just to give some examples – the figures suggest a 2 point swing to Labour in the North – in Yorkshire, the North West and North East this would give Labour an extra 7 seats, with the Conservatives losing 4. The sort of swing suggested in London would give Labour an extra 6 seats, with the Conservatives losing 2. These would be cancelled out by the sort of swing ICM suggests is happening in the South – in the South-East, South-West and East Anglia that would see Labour losing 14 seats and the Conservatives gaining 37, largely at the expense of the Lib Dems.

These regional figures really shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but it’s a reminder that there isn’t necessarily a uniform swing across the country and that marginal seats aren’t necessarily spread evenly across the UK. If a party does well where is doesn’t need the votes, and badly where is does, it can end up losing seats even if it’s vote is up.

UPDATE: The print edition has the full figures for each group of regions: Scotland and Wales, CON 18%, LAB 36%, LDEM 13%, OTH 33%. North, North-East, North West: CON 26%, LAB 47%, LDEM 22%. East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern: CON 40%, LAB 37%, LDEM 17%. South-East, South West: CON 48%, LAB 28%, LDEM 19%. London: CON 34%, LAB 48%, LDEM 15%.

The Guardian takes swings from the same aggregated figures during the last election campaign – applying those swings to each region of the country produces a House of Commons with 249 Conserative MPs, 335 Labour MPs and 35 Liberal Democrats – a Labour majority of only 20 (applying the swings from the actual results of the 2005 election is a bit kinder, giving Labour a majority of 40). The seats Labour gain in London and the North on these figures are not enough to outweigh the losses they’d make in Scotland and the South.

UPDATE 3: A fantastic entry in the continuing series of “truly atrocious newspaper reporting of polls”. BROWN’S POLL LEAD SLASHED! is how the Daily Express reported the poll, somehere between stories about Princess Diana and Madeleine McCann (or possibly Princess Diana and Madeleine McCann – it will happen), happily comparing it to the last YouGov poll which was conducted using totally different methodology and which isn’t comparable. Brown’s lead isn’t slashed. It is down 1 point, an insignificant change.

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