Populus’s regular monthly poll in the Times confirms the movement seen in thier leaked private polls for the Conservative party. The headline figures, with changes from their poll from last weekend, are CON 36% (nc), LAB 37% (nc), LDEM 18% (+2). Four polls have now shown this sharp narrowing of the Labour lead.

There is a slight change in methodology in Populus’s poll this month which sould serve to reduce the level of support found for “others” – in his analysis Peter Riddell suggests the increase in the Lib Dem vote may be a result of the change in methodology. Personally I can’t see any direct reason why the new approach would help the Lib Dems, but the support obviously has to go somewhere. Basically the change boils down to a change in the wording to alter the way that people who say they’d vote for an other party, but don’t know which one, are treated. Once they were counted as “other others”, they they end up as don’t knows. The changes also include the SNP and Plaid in the initial prompt in Scotland and Wales, but takes away the prompt for people not voting at all.

Using aggregate figures from their monthly polls since the election Populus have also looked at the standing of the political parties in the most marginal seats that would decide the election. Overall their last three poll have shown a 0.25% swing to Labour since the last election (remember these polls include the polls taken at the height of the Brown bounce). In the most marginal seats at the last election, those held by all parties, not just Labour there was a swing to the Conservatives of 0.2%. Realistically it isn’t a huge difference, and analysis of data from marginal seats probably isn’t realiable enough to be sure it’s genuinely even there. Still, in a tight election it could make the difference between a hung Parliament and a small majority.

The poll found only 6% of people thought Gordon Brown had made a real difference to the country, 28% a little difference and 62% no difference at all. In one sense Brown can hardly be faulted for this – he has been in power all of 2 months, exactly how much difference does one expect a PM to make in that time – but it is a bad sign for a Prime Minister seeking to portray himself as a change from the previous Labour administration.

One of the apparant drivers of the Brown bounce, his outperformance of low expectations, is also unwinding. 21% now think he’s done better than they expected, with 67% saying he’s done about as well as they thought. On the other hand Brown’s personal ratings haven’t flagged, in fact they continue to rise – on average his leadership rating out of ten is up to 5.79 from 5.49.

Asked if David Cameron has tacked back to the right, 30% of people agree, 38% though think he is sticking to his original strategy of changing the party (25% don’t think he ever really changed the party at all). His personal ratings are up too, but only very marginally to 4.87 from 4.81 last month.

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