Populus’s monthly poll in the Times is out and has voting intention figures – with changes from their last poll – of CON 41%(-4), LAB 35%(+5), LDEM 16%(+1). The poll was conducted between the 7th and 9th November, so is the first to be carried out after the Glenrothes by-election and the interest rate cut.

The Conservative level of support is at the lower end of the support they’ve registered in recent polls, but is not particularly out of line. More notable is the big increase in Labour support, the five point boost to 35% gives them their highest level of support in any poll since March and the highest from Populus since November last year. On a uniform swing it would produce a very hung Parliament indeed – even the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together would only scrape a majority.

There will be plenty of speculation about what has caused the sharp narrowing of the gap. The by-election and the interest rate cut are the obvious candidates, though actually rather a lot has gone on since the previous Populus poll. Their last survey was at the beginning of October, way back before the bailout of the banks and the fuss over George Osborne, Peter Mandleson and the luxury yacht. My guess is that this is actually a result of either Glenrothes or the rate cut – while strictly speaking one should only ever compare one pollster’s figures to figures from the same company, ICM and Populus’s methodology have relatively minor differences and immediately prior to Glenrothes ICM were showing a 13 point lead.

As to which – who knows? A high profile by-election win can have a surprisingly large effect on polling figures (look for example at the effect Brent East had on the Lib Dems). One wouldn’t normally expect interest rates to have a big effect, but in this case the highly personalised intervention of Gordon Brown to make banks pass on rates could have had an effect. There’s another reason to think that may be the cause which I’ll come back to at the end of this post.

Looking at other questions in the poll, we still find the contrast between preferences now and in the longer term future. Gordon Brown has a large lead over David Cameron as the “right leader to deal with Britain’s economy in a recession” (52% to 32%). However, David Cameron beats Brown when people are asked who is “better able to lead Britain forward after the next general election” (42% to 35%).

On the leader ratings Gordon Brown receives higher ratings than David Cameron for the first time, albeit narrowly, scoring 5.04 to Cameron’s 4.94. Nick Clegg scores 4.08, the lowest recorded by any Lib Dem leader to date.

Turning specifically to the economy Populus also asked about how effective various solutions would be in helping the economy. The route that met with the most public support was that which has actally happened – a big cut in interest rates – which 77% of people thought would be effective. Almost as popular was increased public spending on construction projects and house building (73%). A slightly smaller, but still solid majority (63%) thought “tax cuts even if it boosts government borrowing” would be effective. When the consequences of borrowing are mentioned in the question though enthusiasm starts to falter. Asked about “increased public borrowing now to boost the economy in the short term even if it means higher taxes and slower spending growth in the long term” only 40% think it would be effective, with 49% disagreeing.

Finally, while economic optimism for the country as a whole remains low – 66% think the country will fare baly next year, the second lowest Populus have recorded in five years, economic optimism for people’s personal financial position has become positive. 51% think them and their family will do well financially in the next year with 44% thinking they will do badly. In contrast people’s expectations for their own financial future back in July was strongly negative and this switch could be a big factor in the government’s recovery.

It does, however, also highlight a vulnerability. What if Labour’s recovery is based on people’s expectation that they themselves won’t suffer in the downturn… but then they do? That gap between expections and what is actually likely to happen in an economic downturn raises the question of what will happen when people’s expectations hit reality…

111 Responses to “Populus show lowest Tory lead since April”

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  1. Well I did say in the comments after the last poll putting the Tories 13% ahead that it would be worth waiting for another poll sampled after Glenrothes & the banks’ interest rate cuts. There will be satisfaction in Labour circles that there has been a positive effect. However one swallow – if one can describe such a poll as a swallow – doth not a summer make, and it will be crucial for the Government to maintain recent momentum – sorry, stupendous momentum – if the improvement is to be sustained.

    I now naturally await Mike Richardson & others explaining why this poll doesn’t count and that the Tories will soon be over 50% again blah, blah, blah. It now seems clear that Labour is getting close to being seriously competitive in Britain again, at least at the moment.

  2. The vulnerability for Labour is indeed if people actually become financially worse off over the next year. Personal tax cuts and cuts in mortgage repayments would of course prevent that from happening for those that can keep their jobs.

    Amazing really that such an unpopular government,mid term and midst recession is polling near to what they got at the last GE. The next election is the Tories to loose so the opposition need to sharpen up and pretty quick too I’d say before internal rumblings turn into discord.

  3. I hope we get some polls from other organisations soon, to confirm this shift in support. This is because Populus does tend to give the Tories smaller leads than the others (back in March it was just 3%).

  4. I think the most interesting point is the way all the polls change so rapidly. The idea of firm base support for any party may still hold true, but the size of the firm base has shrunk and the ‘I’ll vote for anyone who did well in the news in the last week (or the cynics)’ group seems to be massively increasing…

    Have fun politicians trying to assess whether you have a job next election…

  5. It is possible that this poll represents a positive response to the interest rate cut. But as I said about the previous poll where Labour received 30% it not really significant.

    Last month Labour received 30% three times and 34% once – 35% is of course merely a single point difference.

    I have taken a strong interest in the polls for about a year. But one thing I think I’ve learnt is to be patient and not to read too much into any one poll.

    Note the Lib Dems have received 16%. Two better polls in the row.

  6. Actually Labour received 30% five times.

    I wanted to recheck my facts while writing but then I lose what I’ve already written as I discovered in the past.

  7. This poll has been wildly skewed by Glenrothes and maybe the rate cut. It’s a rogue.

  8. Anthony , you refer in your last paragraph to what happens when peoples expectations hit reality in a downturn .
    Reality means that although the number of unemployed will go up there will still be at least 10 times as many in employment . Some may lose their homes by not neing able to meet their repayments but 50 times that many will not lose their homes .
    As the Conservatives found in 1983 and 1992 it is not unemployment and people losing their homes that will cost them votes , the majority of voters will themselves be ok . It is the fear that people may lose their own jobs and homes that will effect their votes not the reality that other people have .

  9. At least during this labour revival, the tories are still above 40% and that leve;l is beginning to look quite firm. Agree or disagree

  10. sunbeam,
    if you are claiming events have influenced this poll then it can’t be a rogue because events are playing a part.

    This poll looks to me like recent volatility is starting to return after a period of calm when different cycles had cancelled each other out – every week a new strateguc fightback by one or other party is reported and the polls swing in their favour for a short while before the swing starts going in a different direction. So I wonder who will be next to benefit?

    I think the calmer heads are likely to prevail in these uncertain times, so I think it is probably best if we discount any short-term gains until they are confirmed.

    The agenda on taxation is THE issue I think will lead opinion in the next few weeks and up until Obama is safely ensconced in the White House and the new direction can be guaged with certainty. The arguments and counter-arguments on tax are going to rage for some time so more polling swings are likely before the years’ end.

    I think the question is whether the LibDems claim to be ahead of the game win out, whether the Conservative policy reversals and personnel uncertainties will unsettle their credibility or provide the spur to enable them to regain the initiative. From where I stand Brown looks like he is trying to play the two opposition parties off against each other in the hope that he can position himself as the party of the solid centre.

  11. Andrew Cooper from Populus has made a post on pb.com with some findings from this poll that show just how volatile voters are . 3 out of 10 current Labour and Comservative supporters and 4 out of 10 current LibDem supporters say they
    may well change their mind between now and the next GE and half of those who have switched from Labour in 2005 to Conservative now could well change their minds again .
    This indicates that the polls are volatile with all ( including the Conservatives ) parties having a substantial number of soft voters and the Conservatives cannot ve confident that the 40% plus vote shares they have been consistently polling shows a firm level of support .

  12. In general I expected a labour boost but not quite this big, it will be interesting to see the Scottish figures and the regional breakdown ( if any). It could be that like Glenrothes labour are recovering disproportionately in seats they already hold with good majorities which might not mean a hung parliament.


    Just out of interest (which means I am not trying to spin a reversal for the SNP) do you know of any independent research that suggests that there is a tendency of people to swing to the party that they think is doing well as opposed to real support, a sort of placebo.

    I don’t suppose it would effect the real outcome, as whether it’s a poll or election the vote still counts whatever the reason, I just wondered if a part of the electorate support who they think they should say they support.


  13. The SNP will advance at the next General Election, but not to the extent that looked likely before. Labour has played the bank rescue card.

    I think this poll could be a reflection of the interest rate cuts, and the government demanding that they are passed on, plus Glenrothes.

    The rather low key and at times disjointed Conservative response on the economy has been a cause of concern for the Tories since the end of September. The Conservatives have actually been on 41% before with Populus during the summer.

    As a Tory, I find it somewhat comforting that we can keep nearly all the polls above 40 despite hardly putting over a case for 5 or 6 weeks.

    However, Labour is up about 10 points, and they can certainly push the Tories well down into a hung Parliament (fewer seats than Labour) if they continue to get across the line that they are rescuing us from outside financial events.

  14. Repetition can sometimes pay off in politics, even when it looks hopeless.

    Shell shocked Labour ministers were pushing the struck by outside events line over the weekend following the terrible local election results in May. People weren’t convinced, but they are getting somewhere with it perhaps.

  15. the by-election in scotland has helped brown but as with all poll boosts they normaly die out after a few weeks but on the other hand maybe voters are coming back in small numbers over time.

  16. If this is part of a general trend of Gordon Brown moving from seeming completely useless to slightly useful it’s probably because he appears to be doing things to help the economy through the rough patch we all know is coming. Whether or not these things are workable or effective is another matter entirely, no doubt soon enough we’ll find out. Or else he’ll find himself in another non-financial crisis and go back to “blunder of the week” again.

    For once the Conservative response to events seems like an echo
    instead of setting the agenda. Osborne seems to have nothing much to say, leaving it to Labour and Vince Cable to have a go at sorting out the mess. I’m not sure who would do better in this situation and I think many people think the same.

  17. Steady on. WMA is 42:32:16. Populus/Times polls often exaggerate Labour support for some reason: in July, Aug, Sept they were out by 5,3,3 compared to the WMA.

    Also as noted above, the recession hasn’t hit most people yet. It remains to be seen whether Gordon having the time of his life spending our money like water will go down so well with the electorate then.

  18. “Repetition can sometimes pay off in politics, even when it looks hopeless.”

    Which is why Osborne and Cameron should have been saying that the economy was heading for disaster ever since Northern Rock made it obvious for those willing to see. Instead they let Labour get away with the ‘sound fundamentals’ lie far too easily. I suspect that Cameron and Osborne actually wanted to believe that the economy was in good shape (hence their ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’ policy) as that would stop them from having to make some tough decisions.

    It’s interesting that so many people think their own finances will improve and think many of them will suffer an unpleasant shock over the next year. The severity of the recession is still widely underestimated and many people have either never experienced one before or forgotton what they can be like.

    We are at a point where the initial crisis has been averted for now but before the general recession fully hits home. Labour should have been looking to hold an election as soon as possible – they had a tiny window of opportunity for December 4th but have let that pass by now.

  19. Vince Cable doesn’t realy know how to fix the economy – but he is good at making economic speak sound accessible to the armchair.
    Redwood does know, but he frightens floating voters.

  20. I think Joe James B’s point is highy valid here. With all the caveat’s about taking individual polls etc, what I think is clear is that the Tories have not made the charge that Brown is responsible for the mess stick. If anything it’s completely the reverse, with Labour managing to effectively hide their mistakes behind the global meltdown. This I think the assigning of blame is the real battleground for the next election. Perversely, the worse the US/global situation, the better for Labour, even if it means tough times at home. The Tories are currently swimming against the tide to a degree, and I feel they have been damaged by the puncturing of Osbourne’s image – this is hurting them more than they realise. Having said that, 41% is good, but as someone mentioned, much of the polling evidence suggests soft support for all parties that can swiftly change.

    Question for Anthony; Is there any evidence from past polling about whether poll respondents views of their personal financial outlook effectively predicts the real economic indicators?

  21. “Redwood does know, but he frightens floating voters.”

    Joe – I’ll disagree with you violently on this one. Redwood’s economic analysis has been totally discredited with the recent financial disaster – he was on Newsnight last night saying the government should have left the banks to their own fate. The man’s a free market nightmare and even Cameron knows he’s got to be kept well away from any real policy formulation.

  22. He wasn’t locked up in the cupboard then, if he was on Newsnight.

  23. Why not? Who had the key last?

  24. Yes, Redwood knows how to fix the economy – just pack the codgers in more tightly* and everything will be alright.

    (*His top proposal for “deregulation” was to remove rules about the minimum standards for care homes.)

  25. I have listened with interest to the Tory proposal to give companies a £2,500 N.I break if they employ people who have been unemployed for more than 3 months.

    Is this not shutting the door after the horse has bolted? Surely a vote winner would be to help companies NOW with their cashflow so they don’t need to put people on the dole in the first place? Tax cuts need to be given to inject cash into the economy immediately so that people don’t lose their jobs in the first place. I can’t help thinking that whoever is coming up with these initiatives isn’t really in the right job themselves. The Tories have a fantastic opportunity to do what they proclaim to be their strength – cut tax’s – now is their best chance to come up with some good ideas to stimulate spending.

  26. Is this a rogue poll or was the one in the Telegraph that showed the Tory lead at 13% on Sunday.

    My guess is that a pattern is emerging where the Tory support is pretty solid around 40%, Labour are now pretty competitive and would expect their poll position to improve as we headed into an actual election as Governments normally do.

    The Lib Dems are struggling to be heard and Clegg’s personal popularity in this poll matches Ming’s when he had to go.

    Very encouraging for Labour, both worrying and reassuring for the Tories, and I would think, real cause for concern for the Libs and minor parties.

  27. Not necessarily either given there were two events inbetween that could potentially have shifted public support. They could both correctly reflect public opinion at the time they were taken ;)

  28. Richard (Tatton):” Surely a vote winner would be to help companies NOW with their cashflow so they don’t need to put people on the dole in the first place? ”

    I am rather hopefully that a Tory government will not only be concerned with just winning votes, but doing what is right for the economy, and the country. It has often seemed to me that New Labour always had three priorities for their administration: elections, elections and elections – nothing else gets a look in.Every shift we see in opinion polls can be seen through that prism, as it is not policy that leads the opinion polls with Gordon – it is minute shifts in opinion polls that lead policy.

  29. For the record, I don’t agree with all of John Redwood’s proposals, but he does make many economic points well.

  30. It doesn’t matter too much how realistic or workable Cameron’s policies are, as they have no chance of being implemented, and the chances of him coming up with anything Brown would agree to are pretty slim.

    Most people still go on gut instinct rather than detailed analysis. That explains why Cameron is still popu;ar and Brown is improving his reputation.

    Lots of clear blue water now, at least.

  31. I was wanting to keep a low profile for a few POLLS after my prediction on the USA election went drastically wrong – perhaps i am only accurate with the UK voting intentions.

    As my name was mentioned by Barnaby Marder at the top – my response is, this certainly is a rogue POLL – Labour are extremely voltile in the POLLS – they are swaying between 24 & 30% – for a party whose leader has never been off the TV screens since their conference – if that’s the best they can do – then I certainly do stand by my prediction of a Tory landslide at the next general election.

    Dera Barnaby – even do your own POLL – i doubt you’ll find anything near to 34% or even 25% who say they will vote Labour next time round – the wording of every POLL can change the outcome of a POLL.

    The way the recent POLL i did for YouGov was worded in such a way that it could be misconstrued as to what my views were and who i might vote for !!

  32. Anthony, any chance of a few non-rogue POLLS being done as the ones coming out currently are as ROGUE as a John McCain victory prediction.

    Hope they start to return to the double digit Conservative leads as it is a complete waste of time commenting about them on here as they ” should be ignored””not the true picture” or ” rogue”.

    Maybe we can have two sets of polls, one set the true polls and others showing the Conservatives 50% in front where the landsliders and the prediction masters can all comment about them together, whilst the rest of us can concentrate on the proper “ROGUE POLLS”.

  33. Mike – enough. I’ve decided I’ve been too harsh with moderating in recent months so am going to lay off it, but there’s one stable that needs mucking out first.

    I did hope the McCain post would be an end to it, but it clearly appears not. Robotic dismissal of polls that don’t show Labour doing appalling as ROGUE POLLS isn’t amusing any more. This site is about the analysis of polls, as opposed to totally ignoring them completely in favour of blind assertions of Labour doomsday. I will happily set up http://ukblindassertionsreport.blogspot.com/ if you’d rather post there.

    In the meantime the comments policy is at the bottom of the page, and it is post in the SPIRIT of non-partisanship. Writing partisan comments but capitalising the word poll doesn’t cut it. If you want to contribute constructively please do.

  34. It is disappointing that a number of posters seem to be placing a lot of importance on the head line figures of the Populus Poll without analysing the detail. By contrast on Political Betting they have started to look at the detail in particular the geographical analysis. While the sub-sets are small and it is difficult to draw conclusions it does appear that an England (or England & Wales poll) would have shown a much higher margin for the Tories and most of the Tories target seats are in England and Wales.

  35. But where in England are those targets? Local council by-elections suggest a very wide variation for all the parties but especially for the Conservatives and Lib Dems – the Conservatives are struggling in Cumbria (four target seats) but performaing strongly in the West Midlands (possibly 15 or so target seats).

  36. By the way, there’s something logically flawed about arguing that a poll designed to predict the result of elections is unduly influenced by the result of…an election. That’s like saying that the weather forecast is a “rogue” because the forecaster noticed it was raining.

  37. One should be exceptionally carefully at looking at cross-breaks. They normally have a very small sample size – the number of Scottish voters in a poll after don’t knows and won’t votes have been excluded is normally well under a 100, so we are talking about a margin of error in the region of 11% or so.

    On top of that, polls are not normally internally weighted within regions, so while as a whole a poll will be representative and have, for example, the right number of old and young people, it won’t necessarily be the case within regions. To take it to an unlikely extreme, all the young people could be in one region and all the old ones in another.

    I wouldn’t advise doing it at all, but if you really want to look at regional variations you need to aggregate the data from several months of polls, which will at least address the first problem.

    As it happens, the change in Scotland in this month’s Populus poll is so vast that it is outside the margin of error, we can be confident that Labour’s support has increased in Scotland and the chances are they’ve got a good boost there… but no, they probably haven’t increased their support in Scotland by 26 points and it probably doesn’t cast any doubt on the poll. It probably just means the Labour people in the sample were disproportionately in Scotland and there were disproportionately less of them elsewhere. The overall proportion of past Labour voters in the sample would still be right overall.

  38. Alex – nothing undue about it, a high profile by-election result can have a real effect on public opinion. I’m not picky about causes, a change in public opinion based on a by-election is as real as one based on a policy launch, a conference speech, a bank rescue plan or so on.

    If a change is based on increased publicity at the time of the poll, then one might reasonably make the assumption that it is more likely to reverse when the publicity fades… but at the same time, whatever publicity a party gets can have a lasting effect upon their public image and awareness of whatever achievement, scandal or policy was getting the publicity in the first place.

  39. Well, it’s interesting the turnaround the Labour party as enjoyed in the last few month. Having said that, I’ve always been sceptical even when the polls where giving tories 20 points ahead of Labour.

    With due respect to Cameron, I do believe Brown has got gravitas and substance needed to lead this country

  40. Re the Scottish effect:

    My maths may be out but it appears that if you ignore Scotland, which has responded massively to Labour, Tories would be around 44 and labour 30 – not too much difference from the rest of the recent polls?

  41. I suppose if you took out the South of England things would look differently too ;)

  42. I am always interested in NBeale’s WMA. Are there any statistical experts who can cast a light on the validity of the method of combining different polls and averaging them? Also if this is useful can we therefore see any useable trends. For example, can we see a statistically significant trend moving in the govt/opposition favour?

    PS Quite pleased at how non partisan I was there! May have blown it on previous posts tho!

  43. I think I might have to give up poll-tracking – they seem to be all over the place! On the other hand, it’s so very compelling …

    @ Richard (Tatton) – you said of the Tories “Surely a vote winner would be to help companies NOW with their cashflow so they don’t need to put people on the dole in the first place?”

    As the Tories aren’t the government, obviously they can’t implement their policies NOW.

  44. At first glance this poll appeared to be a great one for Labour but having seen the breakdown it is nothing of the sort. The Tory lead in England seems to be about 15 points or better throughout the south, the midlands etc and only in the north are they behind but still greatly improved on 2005.
    In Scotland the Labour vote is put at 54% and the Tories at 9%. Even if that were true-which I doubt-it would little effect on the result of a general election held today.It’s still the Tories to lose.

    Would the Labour supporters on this site please explain why this simple analysis is wrong and in the process have the courage of their convictions to forecast the average lead in the next set of polls. I say it will be in the order of a 12 point Tory lead.

  45. Re the Scottish effect:

    From a polling point of view, if Scotland was polled separately I’m sure you would get a truer picture of the likely outcome of a GE…

  46. Anthony you have spoiled what was going to be my next post. I was going to ask if you could speak to the pollsters and ask them to do two sets of polls. One that always show the Conservatives are on 50% + which the landsliders and the ROGUE POLLers can comment on and the real ones for the rest of us.

    As I posted the other day how anyone can accurately predict the next election is beyond me considering it is hard to predict what the next poll will be. Will it show another erosion of the Conservative lead or will the lead go back to double figures. To call a poll a rogue because you don’t agree with its results is quite childish. I could say that we have had months of rogues and only now is there a truer picture arriving, but that would be again quite stupid really.

    At least with the closing of the gap it makes it all more interesting. At least with this mornings interviews for Osbourne and Cameron, you can say they are making an effort to grab back the media momentum, which Brown has been riding what seems to be months. It may keep the anti-BluLab(Cameron/Osbourne not right wing enough etc etc) as they have now called themselves,off their backs on Conservativehome.

    With regards the sub-sections of the result. People have said that the gains are coming for Labour in the heartlands such as Scotland and Northern England, and it is the hardening of supporters who for 12 months wouldn’t commit to Labour which has influenced it’s rise. To that I say at least they have started somewhere as for months even it’s base wouldn’t commit.

    The election is there to be won or lost for both parties and I could as easily see the Conservative Party with a 70+ majority as much as Labour with a 70+ majority. Whoever responds as seen as best to the coming recession is what may sway the coming election and as the polls have shown recently, there are grounds for optimism for the small minority of us on here.

  47. I would like to point out that I have only ever made one prediction on here and that was in the American Election thread which was that Obama would get well over 300 ECV’s. Which wasn’t far off the result and still there for me to marvel at.

  48. I have not posted for some time but always come back to this site (at least once a day!) to get the latest polls. I do think that Labours jump in the polls is due to the by-election result (a little bit), Browns handling of the current crisis (a little bit more) and the big drop in BOE rate (a little bit more). The next few months I think will see all three parties coming up with tax cuts in one form or another, this will result in some changes in the current positions, what they will be I am not 100% sure (no oracle I) but I feel (no stronger than that) that the two main parties will become neck and neck at the expense of the don’t knows, others and Liberal Democrats. This is a good poll for Labour (shortening of the Tory lead) a good poll for the Tories (still on 40% – not bad at all) and not too bad for the Liberal Democrats. If nothing else the whole thing has become a lot more exciting for us poll watchers, is there a name for poll watchers?

  49. Is it me but what with the latest Opinion Poll offering somecomfort to the Government, and with all the main Political parties offering their tax cutting packages, it almost seems as though we are in general election mode. And i don’t mean 2010.

  50. This was a good Poll for Labour-it can’t be seen as anything else.

    Whether it is a trend to be continued remains to be seen since we appear to be in Alice in Wonderland mode from today!

    Cons & Lib Dems offer Counter-Recession policies which will never be tested in practice-unless GB calls an election next year & loses it.

    GB says the fault with the Cons policy is that it isn’t unfunded ( that was after he said they “didn’t have the money for it “)

    What is the public going to make of a Government who propose that the recession can only be mitigated by a “fiscal stimulus” ( presumably personal taxation reduction-but we don’t know yet) which must be funded by increased borrowing.( I’m not joking-that’s what GB said)

    Well the answer will presumably be-yes-give us the money-why do we care where it comes from?

    Tony McNulty had the good grace to say on TV this morning that it will be paid for by higher taxes in the future-but is anyone listening?-does anyone care?

    God knows what the Polls will look like as we move through this recession.

    And supposing “personal fiscal stimuli” ( if indeed that is what GB intends) don’t stem job losses-either because they just don’t have that effect in fact-or the punters pay a bit more of their credit card debts with them rather than buying more plasma screen tvs or cars.

    Will the voters punish Labour for being wrong?-or reward them for dolling out the cash?

    It’s a Mad Mad World.

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