The latest Populus poll for the Times has topline voting intentions, with changes from last month, of CON 36%(-2), LAB 37%(-3), LDEM 16%(+4). In his commentary Peter Riddell emphasises the parties are virtually neck and neck, the gap is mostly due to rounding with only 2 respondents making the difference between Labour and the Conservatives.

Like ICM’s recent poll this suggests the Lib Dems are recovering from their awful ratings last month, presumably thanks to the publicity of their leadership contest.

What it doesn’t show is Labour closing the gap, Ben Brogan! I don’t, it has to said, have particularly high expectations of press coverage of polls, but Ben Brogan’s blog is normally one of the best, so slapped wrists Ben. Unlike all the other companies Populus have not shown the Conservatives back in the lead since the election, their methodology tends to produce figures that are slightly more favourable to Labour than other companies, and this is actually a relative advance for the Tories compared to Labour – though clearly the Lib Dems seem to gaining from both of them.

Peter Riddell’s article suggests that the polls may be returning to the sort of equilibrium they’d reached before Gordon Brown became Labour leader. I think it’s still too early to draw that conclusion, it’s possible they will, and the Conservative vote does indeed seem to be streadying at about the same level, but Labour and Lib Dem support is still on the move, and we still don’t know what the lasting effect of the Lib Dem leadership change will eventually be. I’m going to be very cautious about concluding that the polls are starting to be steady again.

UPDATE: I’ve had a chance to look at the rest of the poll’s findings. As with other recent results Populus have found a drop in perceptions of Gordon Brown. His figures here haven’t fallen off a cliff as they had in some measures on YouGov’s Sunday Times poll, but then, these haven’t tracked concepts of decisiveness which was where Brown had suffered the most. Populus have found a steady decline in the percentage of people who think Brown has what it takes to be a good PM (49%, down from 54% last month and 57% at the height of the Brown boost), those who see him as a strong leader (58% down from 60%, at the height of the Brown boost 77% thought him “strong”) and those who think he understands the problems facing ordinary people (47%, down from 49% last month and 61% during the boost). Meanwhile David Cameron’s figures are creeping upwards, 40% now think he has what it takes to be a good PM (up from 37% last month and 32% at the height of Brown’s popularity) and 42% think he is strong.

Despite the more hostile media narrative these days, these are actually all still pretty positive figures for Gordon Brown. The trend however is downwards and, while he still leads David Cameron on nearly all the measures Populus asked about, the lead is narrowing. Back in July he had a 24 point advantage in terms being seen as having what it took to be a good PM, now it’s only 9 points. Since a lot of the Labour’s increase in the polls has been Brown’s increase (satisfaction with the government increase only marginally during the handover while satisfaction with the PM rocketed), I suspect we won’t have stable figures for voting intention until perceptions of Brown have stabilised.

While looking for the past figures on leader perceptions I also found this poll Populus conducted for the Daily Politics last month on the Lib Dem leadership contest. As Mike Smithson commented yesterday, we are really flying blind on the Lib Dem leadership race – there has been no polling of Lib Dem members voting intentions, and the two candidates are so little known we can’t even really see what the wider public think of them. The Populus poll asked people if they would vote Lib Dem with Nick Clegg as leader, and if they’d vote Lib Dem with Chris Huhne as leader. 11% said they would vote Lib Dem with Clegg, 12% with Huhne – so no obvious difference. I should add that these low figures don’t represent some collapse of the vote with either man, it’s because 35% and 36% respectively said they didn’t know or hadn’t heard of them.

58 Responses to “Lib Dems recovering in new Populus poll”

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  1. “…and get back to discussing the polls in hand.”

    Gold star for that man.

  2. I am (not) surprised that in all the comment on this poll no one has picked up on the answers to two of the less publicised questions.

    According to Peter Riddell, 70% said they would favour the Liberal Democrats if they had a strong and credible leader,

    and 64% said there was now so little difference between the Labour and Tory parties that only the Liberal Democrats could be a distinctive opposition.

  3. Something like that was in a Times article to-day, but it said two things –

    “70 per cent agree that if the Lib Dems had “a strong and credible new leader, many more people would consider voting for them”,

    That’s not the same as 70% would favour LibDems, or consider voting for them.

    The reason why it wasn’t commented on earlier, I think was that the actual Poll didn’t highlight it, and nor did Anthony.

    I’m confused!

  4. “and 64% said there was now so little difference between the Labour and Tory parties that only the Liberal Democrats could be a distinctive opposition”

    This is interesting as it was exactly the line the LDs took in the recent party political broadcast. Clearly they must be doing their own private polling.

    I’m struggling to get a feel for how any sustained LD recovery would impact upon the bigger picture. Many commented earlier that this would worry Cameron more than Brown, but the polls seem contradictory on this. I guess a stronger 3rd party must make the Tories overall task more difficult, but it might make Labour’s job of holding a majority also more problematic.

  5. The wording I read was :

    “64% believe that there is so little difference between the main parties that there is a real opportunity for the Lib Dems if they can develop some clear and distinctive policies”.

    Which again is different from saying that only LibDems could be a distinctive opposition. I wonder what the real questions and answers were?

  6. John T – it wasn’t in the original coverage. The Times quite often does that, keeps back some findings for Peter Riddell to base his columns on later in the week. Nothing on the Populus website yet so we can’t see what was actually asked.

    Alec – more likely Populus took the line from the LD PPB too see how much people agreed with it.

  7. I think the 64%, 70% figures highlight the difficulty and dilemma for the LibDems. They are being pulled in two different directions.

    On the one hand they are against the focus on “The Leader” over the party and it’s policies, and want to stand as a party of principle and consistancy rather than one that is based on PR, spin and Focus groups.

    On the other hand the poll results suggest the road to recovery is to go for “The Leader” over the party/policy and to come up with some eye catching populist policies.

    That’s the LibDem dilemma, the way to show we are different from the other two is to copy them.

    What they need is one of two things, either one of the most difficult things to do in politics find a new exciting and different way to say the same things as now, repackage continuity…..

    That or an “event” like Iraq which highlights favourably an existing difference.

    Without being overly harsh, I don’t think they can really rebrand themselves successfully as new and exciting while still the same, and the more the other two squeeze the middle ground the and they try to hold on to it the less opportunity there will be for real differences.

    Right now they seem to be left with little more than,

    “Vote For Us, We’re Not Them”.

    I just don’t see that as being enough, although given the right of centre dance Brown and Cameron are doing, if I lived in England it might be enough for me ( and another 11% of the population).


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