Populus March Poll

Populus’s monthly poll for the Times has topline figures, with changes from last month, of CON 42%(nc), LAB 30%(+2), LDEM 19%(+1).

The last couple of polls have shown Labour staging a slight recovery. This particular poll took place after Gordon Brown’s visit to the USA and his address to Congress, and after a period where the Conservatives have been largely silence while David Cameron mourns his son. Populus asked specifically about Brown’s visit to Washington – 25% said it made them feel more positive about Brown, 13% less positive – but as usual with questions like this, most of those people saying it made them more positive about Brown were people who are Labour voters anyway.

Cameron and Osborne are now ahead on being the most trusted team to run the economy in the months or years ahead. We’ve seen them regain a lead with other pollsters already, but this is the first time Populus have put them back ahead since October.

The Times’s coverage highlights the difference in voting intention between public and private sector employees. The Conservatives are doing much better amongst private sector employees than amongst the public sector (45% and 38% respectively). Labour too do slightly worse amongst the public sector (26% to 29%). The parties that do better amongst state employees are the Liberal Democrats and Greens. The Times says that the Conservatives are ahead amongst NHS and local government workers and neck and neck amongst teachers, but I expect the samples sizes for occupations are too small to be really meaningful.

This does raise an interesting methodological aside though. Long time readers might remember last year when Ipsos MORI reviewed their methodology after wrongly showing Ken Livingstone ahead in the mayoral race. They discovered their samples were including too many public sector workers, and have since then weighted by public sector or private sector employment. Taking the most recent MORI poll as an example, their raw sample was 25% public sector workers and MORI needed to weight this down to 12%, a huge reduction.

Now, Ipsos MORI these days carry out their polling using quasi-random phone sampling, so if their raw samples are skewed towards the public sector, it’s quite possible that other companies will be too – and MORI are alone in weighting by public sector employment.

In Populus’s sample, they classed 18% of their respondents as public sector employees – so they’ve got substantially more public sectors workers than MORI do in their weighted samples. MORI say that their weighting target of 12% is drawn from the ONS’s Economic & Labour Market Review, so their target at least should be correct. Does this mean the other pollsters are including too many public sector workers? Well, not necessarily – it could be that the questions they are using to find out employment sector are different, or they are classifying different jobs differently (where, for example, do Northern Rock or Post Office employees go? Or employees of private companies doing contracted out local government work? The question isn’t necessarily black and white). Nevertheless, it’s something that might be worth looking at.

UPDATE: Andrew Cooper replies in the comment section here about how Populus classified people as public sector.

89 Responses to “Populus March Poll”

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  1. This looks like the sort of election result we got in the eighties. I doubt the Conservatives will be worried about 2% here or there if they’re still 12% ahead.

    If labour are going to start catching up pre-election (ignoring bounces etc) they’d better start soon, or else we might as well assume it’s not going to happen this time, which wouldn’t really be a shock.

  2. @Keith.

    “This looks like the sort of election result we got in the eighties. I doubt the Conservatives will be worried about 2% here or there if they’re still 12% ahead.”

    A big difference I think now compared to the 80s is the increased volatility of public opinion. A poll shift from -12% to NOC or even a small win is entirely possible within three months let alone fifteen. If the Tories’ lead can drop 2% just because DC is out of the news for a couple of weeks and GB has a stuttering appearance in the United States, then imagine what a bit of good news on the economy (as Quincel says, very likely by Q2 2010) and a revival of confidence by Labour stay-at-homers could do to their poll ratings. There are an awful lot of people who would prefer Labour to get it right than put the other lot in.

    Of course the opposite is also true, and I’d rather start from +12% than -12%, and the odds must still be on a Tory victory, but some of the comments on this blog that it’s all over bar the champagne-popping are very premature.

  3. @Leslie – These comments amaze me, it’s like everyone is in Egypt, cos’ your all in deNile (Sorry).

    Do you really think all this press coverage will be good? What happens when they call an election, will they take over a TV station? Saturation of “the message” from Gordon will wear very quickly on the populus if we have to hear it for another year. His initiative a day doesn’t even manage to stay on the top spot of the BBC for more than a few hours now (apart from the criticisms)

  4. I agree with Leslie that any Tory triumphalism is premature. If Anthony is currently predicting a Tory victory of only around 50 seats it doesn’t take much change to move into hung parliament territory. My take on thing sis that there is clearly an appetite for change but people are focusing on getting rid of Labour rather than what the alternative means. When voters start to take more note of what the Tories may do I would imagine they will lose at least a little support although probably not enough to prevent victory

  5. Anthony

    Why is my last comment awaiting moderation?

  6. @Keir

    I’m not using Treasury predictions (though they do predict a heartening growth of 1.5-2% in 2010, so I hope they’re right!). The last IMF World Economic Outlook report predicts UK GDP growth in 2010 of 0.2%. Granted, they predict most of this growth to be in in Q4, but it would surprise me if we were not past the stage of rapid GDP drops by Q1 2010. I will admit the figure of 0.2% is lower than I expected, and the worst country they detail after Italy and Spain who are predicted to keep shrinking until 2011.

    I maintain though, that there is material for New Labour to work with and claim the economy is going somewhere other than down come May 2010.

  7. I would also stress that just because we are used to it there is news other than bad news. I see no reason why the economy couldn’t do better than expected and only worse. Why can’t predictions be wrong in both ways?

  8. May I clarify some misconceptions which appear to have arisen from my post yesterday.

    First, I do not think Labour have any realistic hope of winning the next election, and I believe that many in the Labour party – but not Brown – now recognise this.

    Second, even if Labour manage to hold around 30% in the opinion polls up until end of May, there will be an actual election on 4 June which covers the entire country. For various reasons unconnected with the economy, Labour will peform below par in that election. Receiving 25% or less of the actual vote in a national election, with possible embarassments in some of their “core” heartlands is likely to panic many backbenchers – especially if the polling figures per constituency are published – showing 100+ Labour MPs losing their seats.

    The June results and subsequent internal bickering (plotting ?) that is likely to break out will see the Labour score in opinion polls dip – possibly lower than 25%, maybe even behind LDs. At the same time, another national victory for Conservatives will give the Tories a further boost (just look at the pattern of polls for May-June over past few years).

    By Conference season, Labour will be looking at a poll deficit of around 20% with little over six months to go. Turning that around may not be impossible, but is highly unlikely – and unprecedented for Labour.

    Expecting the economy to somehow pull round and rescue Labour is to misunderstand both how this recession is likely to pan out, and also the time-lag between actual recovery and when it becomes apparent to the public. Even if Q1 of 2010 shows that the recession has ended (unlikely), the figures will not be available until after probable polling day.

    Also, while Darling may be able to produce a sham giveaway budget in April, as the 2009/10 fiscal year unfolds the true extent of our national debt and budget deficit will become apparent, and the ensuing need for both tax rises and spending cuts can no longer be denied. The Budget in March 2010 is going to be horrific whomever is in power.

    In my view, Mandelson knows al of the above (but Brown is in denial), and hence would see a general election in June this year as being less likely to lead to total meltdown than waiting until May 2010.

    While I am sure that Mandy would be absolutely delighted if Labour were to scrape back with a majority, I believe that he is looking at more realistic calculations.

    The new House will have 651 MPs. If one discounts Ulster and about a dozen for PC/SNP, that leaves 620 for Con/Lab/LD to share. If we assume LDs retain 50, that gives 570 for Con and Lab.

    If Labour retain 250 seats, they can deny Cameron a majority.
    At 275, they could conceivably form a coalition govt. with LDs.
    300 would make them the largest party.
    Over 325 needed to form a government
    350 gives a good working majority.

    The above also holds true for Tories, the difference being that the parties start at opposite ends of that spectrum, with Tories needing 30 gains before they even deny Labour a majority.

    With the inherent bias in the system, it is better for Labour to gamble on possibly denying Cameron a majority in June this year than almost certain major defeat next year.

    Final point. Labour is close to bankrupt. As a party they cannot afford to fight a strong campaign in June if they still have to fight a general election next year. But, the less they spend this year, the greater the potential problem over the summer.

    True, Brown will not want to let go when he could perhaps hang on for another year, but Mandy will no doubt find a way to convince Brown that he is on course to a historic victory in June.

    This is not about keeping Brown in Downing St, it is about saving the Labour party from disaster.

    Personally, I don’t care if the Labour party disintegrates. But I also believe that the country cannot afford another year of Brown running amok with the public finances and an initiative announced each day – most of which never get delivered.

  9. Quincel,

    By definition things are at their very worst the moment before they begin to improve.

    Therefore any green shoots in the economy will come at the point of greatest unemployment, greatest repossessions, lowest output etc…

    I don’t believe there is time, prior to any election, for an economic feel-good factor to filter through to the electorate even if the ‘recovery’ begins next week! Labour will have to pin their hopes on developing fear of the Tories rather than any pro-Labour sentiment.

  10. “I maintain though, that there is material for New Labour to work with and claim the economy is going somewhere other than down come May 2010.”

    They can claim whatever they like-unless people believe it , they are wasting their breath……Like telling Pensioner Savers that the VAT “saving” and “low inflation” is the answer to their complete loss of investment income……they actually know that they don’t buy Plasma Tvs or cars every week; that Food is Zero Rated & up 9% in cost on a year ago & rising.

    “Claims” mean nothing-it’s facts that matter.

  11. @Quincel (& Leslie)

    I see a flaw in your narrative. Even if the recovery you claim to believe in actually occurs, the Labour leadership has now been seen to be manipulating statistics so blatantly that no-one will believe their claims. After Gordon announced dubious statistics despite the protests of the ONS, and was publicly rebuked by the ONS, who will believe a claim by Gordon that “we’ve turned the corner”? Even if the ONS supported such a claim, the idiotic outburst by Woolas gives the opposition an automatic put-down “Labour’s intimidated them”.

    It’s a side effect of living by spin. Even if a Labour publicised statistic was true, everyone is now predisposed to believe it’s a lie. I accept that a small minority of forecasters claim that a recovery might start as you claim (although I don’t agree), but any “green shoots” will be so anaemic that they will ignored, and the more the Government argues they exist, the less the public will believe them.

  12. Someone asked about the parties core support. The Conservatives demonstarted in 1997 and 2001 that they have around 30% of the vote. Labour showed back in 1983 (admittedly a long time ago) to have at least 28% of the vote.

    Peter Cairn – I accept that your planning officers work hard but it is known that there are jobs that could be cut from the public sector. Read Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today about how politics in the next decade will be about making do with the money we have – not extra spending.

    Someone else also mentioned that the Lib Dems could aim to keep 50 of their 63 seats. That would be a defeat for thm and the first time in many years that they went backwards in a GE (they have gone backwards in number of councils and councillors). In 2005 they had student fees and the Iraq war to help them. This time they should have the environment, civil liberties and time for a change to help them. So no excuses if they really want to play on the big stage.

  13. Someone mentioned that by an election in mid 2010 the economy would have started recovering and Labour could claim to have heloped the country through. Two points.

    1) Unemployment is a lagging indicator so unemployment is likely to keep increasing throughout 2010 – no help there for Labour.
    2) The economy would recover anyway without the miriad of Labour initiatives so their claim to “help” will not mean much.

  14. @Cynosarges

    You are probably right, and as I’ve said I doubt Labour will win the next election or even force a hung parliament. I’m just suggesting that there is a perfectly possible scenario where they do, and that it shouldn’t be disregarded. As someone said, we shouldn’t put the champagne on ice yet, the likely election is over a year away.

  15. Paul H-J @ 1101

    That is a very concise ad interesting analysis, thankyou.

    I for one do not envy the Labour election strategists the choice they have to make. Or the dilemma of how to ‘advise’ Brown on the best course of action.

    All the various ‘Downfall’ parodies look more and more like an accurate pitcure of what must be going on in the Brown Bunker right now!

  16. Mike,

    If the LDs can emerge from the next election with 50 seats they will be mighty relieved. That may sound like a defeat, but you need to look at what they currently hold, what they might lose, offset by what they might gain.

    In each of the past four elections (ie 1992 onwards) LDs have benefitted from anti-Tory tactical voting with just the occasinal foray into Labour-held territory. As a result, the vast majority of current LD MPs are in seats which were won from Tories.

    In 2005 some of the tactical voting was already beginning to unwind, hence a net loss of seats back to Cons, but, thanks to a higher number of seats won from Labour, their aggregate tally rose.

    Since 2005, the polls have indicated a swing of 7-8% from LD to Con, so on UNS, some 30+ LD seats are at risk. At the same time, LD gains from Lab are unlikely to be more than a handful, which is why LDs could actually fall to below 40 on current trends.

  17. Paul H-J – I agree that the Lib Dems may be “relived” with only losing 13 seats and going down to 50. But it is a still a defeat.
    It is like saying I am releived if I only lost 20% on the stock market last year, I still lost money.

    It matters because the Lib Dems have for over a decade premised themselves as the party that is moving forward increasing their number of seats in 1997, 2001 and 2005. If that run stops then some of their soft support (maybe half their current polling number) could fade away.

  18. Gordon Brown voted most boring speaker in a poll of one thousand (see AOL homepage). One more reason why Labour are DOOMED! :)

  19. Mike,

    If you only lost 20% on the stock market last year you should be relieved ! Overall the market lost about 25% in 2008. So far in 2009 it has already lost 20%.

    As you say, you still lost money – but just think of all those poor bank shareholders, and indirectly that means nearly everyone with any savings or private pension plans, who lost far more than 20% – not to mention Darling losing billions more from the equity rights issues he underwrote in October.

    It’s all about managing expectations. If the LDs want to pretend they are going to surge to a new high in terms of MPs and form ( a bit part of) the next government, then they are likely to end up with egg on their faces.

  20. @Qunicel

    I’m suggesting that your scenario cannot happen, because even if a recovery occurred, people would assume it was just political spin and hadn’t occurred. So yes, the “economic” situation might occur (I’d rate the chances at about 5%), but if the response to the economic situation occurring is “it’s all lies and spin”, the political response to the scenario you suggest would not occur.

  21. Philip JW –

    Polls like that are utterly worthless PR puff, churning out manufactuered news stories to get cheap column inches for their clients in downmarket newspapers.

    Respondents were given a list of people and asked which was most boring out of Brown, David Beckham, Chris Moyles, Princes Charles etc.

    It doesn’t mean Brown is boring compared to other politicians, only that he is boring compared to a particular movie actress, a footballer, a DJ, etc

    People find politicians less exciting than movie star! Shock! Horror!

  22. @Cynosarges

    Why are you so sure that a Labour recovery is impossible? Look what happened between October and December last year. While they still remained adrift of the Tories, the movement towards them – at a time when the economic news was grim – indicates as I suggested earlier – that there are many people who have deserted Labour but are looking for a reason to return to the fold.

    People have short political memories. If there is any hint – however small – the the bottom has been reached before the next GE, I’d expect a fairly substantial swing back towards Labour as people focus on the future and not the past (the Tories failed to benefit from a strong economy in 1997). The truth is that the Tories are not seen as the natural home for people who are concerned about the impact on public services of the recession, or on the damage done by banks and bankers, or on the need for better regulation, or on the need for a global coordinated response, or on the potential damage to the environment of economic growth.

    There are many reasons to want Labour out of office, ranging from spin, incompetence and their attack on civil liberties, but I suspect that little of this will play at a general election ( Brits are far too cavalier about their hard-fought-for rights in my opinion). The Tories remain favourites but I’m not expecting anything like 1997. Indeed, the unexpected result of 1992 might be a better predictor.

    As others have said, a worrying question for Tory hopefuls is, why are they not doing better at a time when Labour should be struggling to get above 23%?

  23. @Leslie

    I am suggesting a flaw in the scenario you and Quincel propose.

    Where you write “People have short political memories. If there is any hint – however small – the the bottom has been reached before the next GE, I’d expect a fairly substantial swing back towards Labour as people focus on the future and not the past” I suggest that this is unlikely to materialise. The reason why I believe this is because fallout from the ONS statistics incidents has provided the opposition parties and the media with a reliable method to stop Labour arguing “we see green shoots”. As you appear to acknowledge any “green shoots” are likely to be small. They will only show in statistics that are prone to revision, and are unlikely to be perceptible to the public.

    Consequently, I believe that Labour will be unable to argue convincingly that the bottom has been reached, because the figures will be challenged, and the evidence of Labours disregarding the ONS can be convincingly rolled out to argue that the government has fiddled the figures. They have a track record, and the ONS has been increasingly vocal in its objections. (Did you know that the ONS website has disclaimers over most “debt” figures stating that the Government’s numbers are not accepted by Eurostat?)

    I just don’t believe that Labour, especially a party led by Brown, could convincingly sell the tale you propose, even if it was true. People will assume they are lying again.

  24. The elderly will desert Labour in flocks because of what has happened to the return on savings!
    That is obvious from the doorstep and you must remember these folks use their votes!

  25. Tonight’s Evening Standard is reporting a poll showing Con 43% Lab 29% LD 17%. Any idea where it’s coming from? Anthony hasn’t picked it up.

  26. Leslie – it isn’t a new poll, the Standard have just picked up the Independent’s average of recent polls – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/polls-show-a-tory-majority-of-92-after-a-general-election-1642095.html

  27. Thanks Anthony, I didn’t really believe you’d missed a new poll!

  28. Having concluded that I am not now going to be moderated for commenting on the wishful thinking of Labour supporters-I totally agree with Paul J and others on all that- I would however go on to say that I do expect there to be a temporay boost for Brown after the G20 meeting next month.
    I believe that despite the abysmal failure of the Obama administration to even nominate candidates to fill the Treasury posts or even man the telephones that a communique will be agreed late in the day which will enable Brown to at least try to spin the line that he has once again saved the world. I doubt that a consensus can be reached on a global fiscal stimulus package since countries like Germany and China are unlikely to sign up for that but I do think that a huge increase in funds allocated to the IMF can be agreed and that this will be trumpeted by Brown as amounting to the same thing . Who will buy the ‘I saved the world ‘ line a second time I don’t know but a few Labour supporters on this site could be tempted!!! Did I mention wishful thinking? Perish the thought…..

  29. Nick-a short while ago I shared your view of the G20 upside potential for GB.

    My reading of recent comment & possible outcomes has made me far less certain.

    G20 for the average UK voter is a remote organisation with no direct bearing on their current personal circumstances.

    For G20 to provide GB with a UK Polling boost. the outcome would have to be transparently & unequivocally beneficial to UK voters within a visible timeframe.

    Failing this-any attempt to spin an opaque & equivocal outcome with no visible & credible impact in UK will I feel play to the most negative elements in Gordon’s reputation with UK voters.

  30. Nick,

    Any hope GB had of a boost from the G20 meeting has been torpedoed by …. AD !

    Yes, the grey man who is acting chancellor has said that he has no plans for a further fiscal stimulus and the current raft of measures that have already been taken, not to mention all those announced but yet to be implemented, need to be given time to work.

    Howe (sic) did he find the courage ? But then GB can’t afford to sack him. Ouch.

  31. “Who will buy the ‘I saved the world ‘ line a second time I don’t know but a few Labour supporters on this site could be tempted!!! Did I mention wishful thinking? Perish the thought…..”

    The better question is where I mentioned I am a Labour supporter, I can’t see it?

  32. I too am not sure who Nick is referring to. If it’s me, then I’m merely trying to point out that a week is a long time in politics and the next election is likely to be a year or more away. I’m just no longer seeing the total rejection of Brown/Labour that the polls were indicating last summer, when the gap reached 20% (and reduced to 3% by the end of the year). My voting intentions are irrelevant.

    Labour supporters may well be thinking wishfully about the impact of the G20 summit and so on, but I’m questioning how many former Labour voters are really ready to switch to the Tories (abstain perhaps or vote LD if you doubt that either of the main parties can do anything other than hang in there until the economic storm has blown itself out).

  33. Rise above it, rise above it :)

  34. Quincel/ Leslie

    My remark was not aimed at any one person but if the cap fits….do please wear it.


    Oppositions don’t win elections governments lose them. And they lose them because a large number of their fair weather supporters do not feel not motivated enough to cast a vote at all. And with great respect Gordon Brown ain’t a motivator

  35. Leslie – it is pretty clear to anyone with a grasp of politics that labour will at the very least lose their majority at the next General Election. Labour did have a dead cat bounce last year to close the gap to 5% but thi shas since widened back to the mid-low teens. Not that far from the abyss last summer.

    After 13 years and a recession time for a change will be overwhelming.

    I agree with the post above – Governments lose elctions. All an opposition has to do is look competent and reasonable (Blair in 1997, but not Kinnock in 1992).

  36. Re G20 “Bounce”, Obama has just blown Brown’s hopes of a “New Deal”.

    Sky News reports -“We’re not going to negotiate some specific economic percentage or commitment,” spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

  37. I don’t know how many saw This Week last night but at the end Andrw Neil said that he understood that not only was the usual systemic battle between No 10 and The Treasury becoming more tense but that if AD was forced to include a significant Fiscal element he would resign and do a Geoffrey Howe. May be just speculation BUT . . .

  38. Alan, prior to the Populus Poll, the moving average was Con 43% Lab 29% and Lib Dem 17% which this site said would give the Tories a majority of 100.

    Now with the Populus Poll included the moving average is Con 42% Lab 30% and Lib Dem 18% which according to this site gives the Tories a majority of 56, almost half what it was with very little change to each party’s fortunes.

    What explains this?

  39. Richard –

    The easier way to explain is just to recommend you have a play with the swingometer here


    Depending on the distribution of marginal seats (e.g. there might be lots of seats with a majority of 6% and 8%, but not many with 7%) small swings can result in lots of seats changing hands.

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