Under the British Polling Council’s disclosure rules Populus have released the full table for the Conservative party’s private polling that was mentioned in the Telegraph this morning. The topline results, with changes from the last Populus poll, are CON 36% (+3), LAB 37% (-2), LDEM 16% (+1). It was carried out between the 25th and 28th August.

It is obviously a sharp drop in the Labour lead and, for the Conservatives, this is back to the sort of levels of support they were recording in Populus polls prior to Gordon Brown becoming leader. The only reason they are not ahead is that Gordon Brown has won back some of the support Labour had lost to the Liberal Democrats.

Private polls for political parties carry a certain mystique, not entirely deserved. Mainstream political parties don’t generally commission polls to deceive, they are after accurate polling information to inform strategic decisions about what messages to run with, what demographic groups and areas to target. They are after accuracy, not flattery (and if they wanted someone to tell them they were doing wonderfully regardless of reality they wouldn’t need to cough up hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to do it.)

Prior to the BPC disclosure rules you had to take internal polls leaked or briefed by political parties somewhat sceptically – after all, you never knew for sure of they were what they claimed to be – had they used different wording? Or had different weighting for turnout applied that we were used to? Exactly when had they been carried out? In this case, Populus have released the full tables so we know exactly what we are looking at – the only substantial difference is that there is no sign of Populus’s normal topline adjustment, and that wouldn’t necessarily be reflected in the tables anyway (and doesn’t necessary make the slightest difference to the topline figures). This poll can be treated pretty much in the same way as a normal Populus poll.

So, why such a contrast between the Populus and YouGov polls? Well, we’re used to some differences between their figures – no other pollsters has shown the sort of 9 and 10 point Labour leads that YouGov reported – but there must be something else here. Both polls were carried out over the bank holiday weekend and they are notorious for producing rather strange samples (many readers will remember the Populus tracker poll from the last election which carried on over a bank holiday weekend immediately before election day and produced a ridiculously large Labour lead because of a strange bank holiday sample). The Populus poll was also conducted marginally later than the YouGov one – the sample periods are similar, but the majority of responses to YouGov polls are received on the first day, so in effect many responses to Populus’s poll will be from a day or two later when the effect of the reaction to Rhys Jones’s murder in Liverpool would have begun to have an effect.

More simply it could just be that one of the polls is an outlier. As luck would have it we’ve got another Populus poll due next week, this time for the Times (Communicate and MORI also have polls due). IF Populus’s Times poll echoes the findings of this poll then firstly, I think we would be able to forget any possiblity of an autumn election, and secondly it looks like the Conservatives are back in the game again.

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