What are Phi Numbers?

This Sunday’s Observer has the first figures from PoliticsHome’s Phi5000 – these are figures from daily questioning of a panel of 5000 respondents by YouGov, recruited from the YouGov panel. What this isn’t is a normal YouGov poll, rather the Phi5000 is shamelessly prioritising tracking – the polls are weighted politically in the same way as YouGov’s polls so they aren’t skewed in a party partisan way, but beyond that representativeness takes a back seat to consistency, with the same people being questioned each day. This takes sample variation out of the picture – while the people within the 5000 who respond on a particular day might vary slightly, generally speaking if the figures change, the people on the panel must have changed their mind.

There are also downsides to this – being on an internet panel shouldn’t make you unrepresentative per se, but people willing to fill in a survey every day must be somewhat different to their peers (as would somone willing to do a phone survey everyday). Secondly, if was ever a risk of respondents being subject to a panel effect, it’s going to happen here. The most likely effect of that, and the effect I know Stephan is hoping for, is that members of the panel, aware they are going to be asked about their perceptions of issues of the day become more attentive to them, and the tracker becomes faster and more sensitive.

So what do we take from the first set of figures? The Observer today naturally concentrates upon the absolute figures – and there are interesting findings there – but that’s rather missing the point. What these are all about is the change, what underlying opinions are changing and at what point. Looking at the trends released there are no huge surprises so far – Brown and the government’s ratings have continued to plummet in the last month and more people now think the Conservatives would do better in government (that is a big change from when the same question used to be asked in the BrandIndex trackers, when however unpopular the government was, people didn’t expect the Conservatives would be much better).

The most interesting findings in these early figures are the ratings of party leaders. These are not from just asking yea or nay about individuals, but generated from a list of positive and negative perceptions – how many people think each man is strong, efficient, decisive, etc on one hand, or weak, incompetent or so on on the other. The net scores are the average proportion of people choosing each positive attribute for a leader minus the average proportion of people choosing each negative attribute for him. This produces several interesting findings – firstly, Nick Clegg is a positive for the Lib Dems, his net ratings are very similar to David Cameron’s, so when he trails in third place in things like best PM it’s probably just because he is a Liberal Democrat and because he is less well known than Brown and Cameron. Those who do have a perception of him as a leader have a relatively positive one.

More fascinating is looking at Brown’s underlying figures. His rating hasn’t slumped across the board, it’s only in specific areas. People haven’t just turned against him and given him bad ratings across the board – most of his ratings have been relatively stable and there has, for example, been little change in things like whether he is seen as “in touch”, “caring” or “sleazy”. Where perceptions have drastically altered is a leap in the proportion of people who said they thought Gordon Brown was “indecisive”, “weak”, “ineffective” and “out of ideas”, and a drop in the proportion of people who thought he was “competent”.

Perceptions of the other two leaders have been more stable. The increase in Cameron’s figures is pretty much across the board, just a warming towards him rather than any change in perceptions. The biggest changes for Nick Clegg are an increase in people who think he is “likeable”, “normal” and “intelligent” – the biggest drop in “None of the above” – his increase is from people gradually getting to know him. His percieved gaffe in talking about his past love life seems only to have made people think of him as a normal chap.

29 Responses to “What are Phi Numbers?”

  1. One thing that does increasingly come up about Brown is his bad timing.For example his selling of the gold reserves at the low point. I think this feeds in to perceptions of his lack of sensitivity to people and events. John Prescott’s memoirs today won’t improve his rating as decisive and easy to deal with. Not a team player in a job where it’s an absolute must, and also not very mature.

  2. Look, the market price of gold is the market price. If that’s the price Britain got for its reserves, then that’s the price average opinion in the world thought it was worth. There’s not a story there – is David Cameron going to announce a major plank of his platform is speculation on the international commodity markets? Of course not.

    On this poll, I think it’s a bit voodoo. The panel effect is surely so important as to make the findings uninformative.

  3. Matthew, commodity prices are not fixed, they are cyclical. Selling at the bottom of a cycle is never sensible, but more importantly the way it was done was badly mismanaged.

    To announce that you are selling en-masse such a large quantity by itself crashes the price and was thus hugely incompetent. When Australia for instance chose to sell their gold reserves, they did it quietly and slowly so the market could absorb them and got a far better price as a result.

  4. Matthew you have missed the point. There was no need for Brown to have sold our Gold. Our Euro reserves were more than adequate at the time and even if Brown had a logical reason for selling gold (which he failed to disclose at the time)he should have done it in stages spread over several years.

  5. The trends in all recent polls seem to be the same and any PM increasingly rated as weak, indecisive and ineffective is going to have an impossible task pulling things back unless there’s some national disaster or a war (remember the ‘Falklands Effect’. I just can’t see the majority of Labour MPs putting up with this sort of hopelessness for very long. It would seem to me that there may be a common-sense argument for having someone new in place with 18 months to a year to go before an election with a reasonable hope that they will come over as effective etc, avoid serious mistakes over a relatively short time span and at least avoid a rout at the GE in May 2010.

  6. It seems ridiculous to me that there is this idea of sacking/pushing out a party leader these days every time a political party is behind in the opinion polls. I cannot make sense out of it. Labour cannot stay in power forever, no matter how many leaders it has in the space of ten years. Any Labour leader would have won easily in 1997 even if John Major had resigned in 1995.
    The Conservatives and LibDems have gone through the mill with changing leaders since 1997 and it so far hasn’t got them into government.

  7. The problem for ‘Brown / new Labour’ is that no-one supports them.

    One traditional group- the ‘liberal thinking left’ loathe them for all sorts of reasons but illegal wars, police state (ID cards / cctv), Stalinist micromanagement is an example of the sort of argument able to be produced.

    The other group ‘core voting working class’ has no visible reason to support them– if you want any support you have appallingly complex forms to prove you need help, and then the 10% fiasco.

    So who is a natural new Labour supporter? Not sure I know unless you are a consultant…

    I am a natural supporter of left of centre parties but I can see no reason to support Labour. Even the tories seem more leftwing (gulp). Did I say that????

  8. That means I’ll vote Lib Dems :)

  9. Timing. Worth remembering Saddam Hussein dumped dollars when they were low and shifted the reserves to Euros and so his country’s reserves were worth a heap more when we invaded. Currency timing isn’t everything, it’s more important how big your enemies are!

  10. I don’t want to hijack these non-partisan comment threads with a partisan discussion, but I’ll just answer the points made.

    Commodity prices are cyclical.

    Well indeed, but no-one knows when the cycle ends and starts. As I said, the market price is the market price and unless you believe governments are smarter than the market – which I find a absurd and unsupportable view – then there is no gain in timing.

    To announce that you are selling en-masse such a large quantity by itself crashes the price and was thus hugely incompetent.

    This is a weird statement. If gold is a good reserves asset, like say dollars, then you should be able to sell an amount – worth only about $400m – without much price movement. Furthermore it was sold over two years. Finally, pre-announcing a sale should have no impact on the price of something. Government’s always pre-announce bond sales after all.

    There was no need for Brown to have sold our Gold.

    This doesn’t make sense either. Why should the State own assets, that surely are more productive in private hands? Why is it more ‘our’ gold when the government owns it than when private citizens own it?

    The anti-gold sales crowd seem to me to be the worst kind of big-government Statists.

  11. Anthony,

    Where can we see the full Phi5000 results.


  12. Andy, I guess its a bit like sacking a football manager after a run of bad results. People are much more demanding these days.

    As far as the Tories go, remember, two of their leaders resigned after crushing election defeats. Whether they would have been pushed out by their party isn’t relevent, because it never came up. The only one that was actually sacked was IDS, and given how awful he was, can you really blame the Tory Party?

  13. Peter, there’s plenty of detail at politicshome.com

  14. Yes it would be good to see the PHI results.

    On the commodity prices this is a bit of a red herring. They sold off the gold reserves in order to diversify the holdings, which most major economies are doing. A large part of the gold was apparently used to buy Euros which have increased in value substantially….

  15. I’m sure the analysis of the underlying figures will come as a great solace.

    “Prime Mininster, it’s not bad news across the board. People don’t regard you as less caring than you were. Just weak, ineffective, out of ideas and incompetent.”

  16. Matthew – why sell gold when it was trading at historic lows. Why not follow the Australian example and sell quitely and in small packets – thereby getting more money for the assets. Surely you believe in the Government getting the best value for its assets so as to maximise value for the taxpayer?? Otherwsie why not just give it away since you as you said the assets are best in private (maybe foreign) hands.

  17. as Christopher Hitchens said ‘ One gets the feeling that Gordon Brown cannot, in either sense of the word, credit Thatcherism. If hehas any understanding of its appeal and its dynamic – and I suspect that he must do – he keeps it to himself.This reluctance is dangerous politically because it is, ironically, only a short step from vicarious envy of Thatcher and a wish to counterfeit her formula for victory’.

  18. What I find interesting is the way that so often a political party actually serves to fatally damage its own chances. With Frank Field and John Prescott doing their best to rubbish Brown’s credibility, Labour probably will lose the next election. But in fact if they all pulled together they might just have a chance of holding onto power; instead they constantly put each other down. Exactly the same thing happened with John Major and the Euro-rebels in 1992-97.

  19. The pressure on Gordon Brown seems interminable.

    As if Labour Poll ratings & his own plumetting ratings weren’t enough, erstwhile colleagues with books to sell are lining up to expose his weaknesses…and there’s still Frank Field, with the dagger poised.

    Brown looks ill, and lost in a maelstrom of stuff that he must hate-and probably doesn’t understand.I get the impression that he is in substantial denial about how things now are for his party & him.

    And it’s that impression which leads me to believe that he will not stand down voluntarily.To admit that he best serves his party by ceasing to be Prime Minister would surely be beyond his ego to contemplate.

    To soldier on and really believe that the public can be persuaded that they should vote Labour again, rather than Conservative seems more likely to me….except that he demonstrated last September a willingness to accept Polling indicators.

    So maybe Sarah will rescue him from the debilitating conflict between his lifetime’s aspirations, and his increasingly likely fate,-and he will stand down because of ill health.

  20. Matthew,

    the point about Brown’s sale of the gold reserves demonstrates more about his ability to predict and control the movement of the market, despite him being in the single most powerful position to do so.

    In theory selling the gold reserves was a solid idea; in practise it was a botched job.

    In theory Brown is the most capable and qualified politician in the country and a perfect fit for the premiership who should lead this country into the new promised land; in practise he’s taking us to hell in a handbasket.

  21. This PHI 5000 result is no surprise – apart from the fact that it did’nt condemn Brown, his actions , policies & potential right across the board.

    people above are sticking on the gold reserves issue – that was just one of many many incomptetent moves during 11 years – far worse is yet to come as he clings onto power – in his so called “fight back” – lol. We are still waiting for his so called “vision” from last year !!

    In the words of Wendy Alexander – “Bring It On” !!

  22. TK and others re Gold sales/incompetence.

    The gold was sold to increase the amount of money available for public spending. This is a neat way of drawing attention to “incompetence” while not engaging in discussions re the need to spend money on public services.

    Presumably, if gold had not increaased in value, you all would have been praising Brown for selling a non-liquid, static asset? I think not!

    “lol” means nothing in the context of a non-partisan exchange of analysis – just draws attention to vulgarity.

  23. The ‘Oracle’ clearly has a ‘vision’ of a resurgent Conservative government defying global economic trends with David Cameron astride the planet singly handedly bringing down energy and commodity prices as well as applying some sort of magic economic potion to deal with the credit crunch. Maybe Cameron has been secretly reading up the history of the early 70s and he’s thinking of reviving Ted Heath’s 1972 voluntary prices and incomes policy–now there’s a thought!

    If you asked people the question ‘who would you vote for if you believed that none of the political parties would be able to protect consumers from global economic problems’ you might get some interesting answers.

  24. Like many others I recall John Major manfully blaming all the woes of his Government on the internation situation while taking full credit for any blessings that came our way. Gordpn is no different. And no-one serious is saying that the economic downturn is the exclusive fault of Gordon and his minions. What people are saying is that Britain has a series of specific problems directly the result of decisions taken by Gordon Brown and his colleagues since 1997. Selling off the gold is one good example (and it wasn’t done to increase public spending either)where a decision to change to a currency based reserve – no more liquid than gold, by the way – was made primarily to comply with regulation associated with the Euro. Other examples have been the increases in public borrowing – to their highest ever levels – during a period of sustained economic growth. Crucially no room was left for fiscal loosening – little scope for tax cuts without service cuts. Hence Brown’s latest frantic scratting around for money to fund overspending in service departments. And then there’s Northern Rock – now that really is Brown;s fault!

  25. simon – I could have taken that seriously until thge last comment – Northern Rock Brown’s fault? Nothing to do with Applegarth then , or his sources of funding~? Nothing to do with unscrupulous US brokers and daft rating agencies?

    The “over-spending” was necessary because the Tories underspent for decades, lowered interest rates and taxes just before elections, and had to raise them again later.

    The sale of gold is such a red herring, made no difference whatsoever to the current economic crisis, and is used as just another brick for the opposition to throw at Brown.

    If anything is going to prevent me from changing sides, it’s ignorance/denial of Labour’s achievements since 1997 (minimum wage, low inflation, low interest rates, high (private sector) employment, promotion of the City as a Europe’s financial capital, low employment, lower taxation than in the 80’s etc etc etc.

  26. John tt

    You’ve said it all! Labour’s current troubles are a mixture of global economic conditions, some mistakes and Brown’s media unfriendly persona. At the moment the Tories are rising high on the back of ‘not being Labour’ but for how long can they keep up the momentum in a policy vacuum. As a Labour supporter I still feel that things would be better if Brown went because, whether one likes it or not, media image is important and serious mistakes aren’t forgotten. With a run up to an election any new PM would soon get established in the public’s mind and the right person might be able to put some hefty dents in the Tory ratings as Cameron trickles out policies and those policies are rigorously dissected.

  27. I try to be nice. I try, I really do, but I really struggle with comments like ‘the overspending was necessary’. I do think that decisions taken by Brown were responsible for the environment that led to Northern Rock. We can also contrast the reaction of French and US authorities to similar problems – quicker, more definite and more successful.

    Yes, Labour have done some good things in the last ten years – Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and LSPs have been the best approach to urban regneration since the 1960s and the focus on the poorest (up till recent stupidity) has been admirable if not overwhelmingly successful. Facing down the leftie nutters and protecting the City was also right although the regulatory arrangements were weak – hence Northern Rock.

    But the good stuff came from the Blairites and was mostly forced through using the Party’s massive majorities. All Brown has done is try to stop reform, raise taxes, raise taxes, raise taxes, raise taxes, and raise taxes.

  28. As time went by 1979 onwards, the public were progressively alienated by the actions of the Govt. In my view, it’s the same since 1997 – The war turned some off Labour “for good”, then the pitiful rise in OAP pensions one year, then cash for honours, then Brown’s “putsch” on Blair, then the 10p rate business, then the “bottled” election.

    A change in persona isn’t going to bring anyone back apart from some of the the Blair loyalists. A set of new policies based on a social fairness/justice set of principles might. Going along with or ignoring Tory tax breaks for the wealthy clearly doesn’t work.

  29. focus on the poorest (up till recent stupidity)

    Ironically, the most wealthy in the country benefitted more from the 10p rate than everyone earning below the threshold.

    Overspending is never necessary, I meant “spending more than had been spent”. That’s why I put it in inverted commas.

    I hope that helps your struggles!

    New Labour policies might have encouraged fervent bonus/greed-driven capitalism, and a brisk dose of stringent Redwood-ism might have prevented it, but I struggle to get my head round that!