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. An improvement for Labour, but probably just statistical noise and margin of error, the polls seem to be stagnent or slowly trending blue. Unless the Lib Dems are above 22 nothing newsworthy here.

    Thanks for the update though, this site is outstanding.

  2. lib dems 19

  3. i could make a joke about lib dems to follow but it may go against the grain of the site so i will refrain from doing so!

    where did the 2%b for labour come from

  4. Lib Dems on 19 – their highest rating in a Populus poll since last summer. Comments on this site tend to reflect on short-term changes in poll rankings. Taking a longer term view, it is surely significant that, since the formation of the Liberal Democrats 21 years ago, they have gone from fluctuating between single figures and low teens to consiustently in the high teens. This suggests that they have developed a higher core vote.

  5. I suspect the 2% came not from new converts to Labour but from Labour supporters who gave slightly higher certainty to vote scores.

    This mini boostette is not very different from that shown by some other pollsters. It seems to be based on coverage in the media not being unremittingly poor.

    Of course they have had it easy. Their big media push with Mr Stardust whilst Cameron is off stage. It’s hard to think of better conditions for them.

    Not good value really…I’ll stop there [comments policy and all that].

  6. @ Paul Smith – well noted, did you also note that the earth was mostly round. You should havew added an oo er missus at the end.

    This poll is increddible considering the media coverage Brown et al have been bashing through. The question of course is how long can they keep doing it before someone stands up and says “SHUT UP!” – there must come a point when people start to consider that this is all noise.

    Any party must be careful of saturation within the media. Currently this all feels more like GB trying to stay in powerr long enough to force his party to get behind him and not about the next election.

    and to echo SallyC on this, for Labour to only get a 2% boostette whilst DC is away and where Gordon has visited the socialists answer to Christ must be absolutely galling to them.

    How long till the next real vote anyone?

  7. On the topic of the Lib Dem Core vote, I suspect they have indeed created a core vote of about a dozen points, which would survive an election or so with little other support before returning to Labour mainly.

    I think the Lib Dems will miss a huge opportunity this election. There long term solution is surely to become the party of the left, unless we think Labour and the Lib Dems could alternate power. This means that they have opportunities to achieve this only when there is going to be a landslide Tory victory, thus pushing Labour as low in the polls as possible. They almost got above them in 1983 and could have done so in 1979 but they weren’t around. Now Labour will probably record their lowest % vote for 25 years (I guess around 28%, I can’t see it dropping below 25) and unless the Lib Dems can get near 30 they will have to wait another decade at least for another chance.

    Out of interest, what kind of core vote do we think the other parties have? I’m thinking low 20s for both, but I’m only an armchair anorak, not like some people here.

  8. Kier- Paul made his post before I had put up the whole post, when I had only put up a one line note with the Conservative and Labour figures, Lib Dem to follow, so he was being helpful.

    Stop being so rude to people.

  9. Bearing in mind the exceptional circs of the last 2 weeks when David Cameron has been off our TV screens becasue of his dreadfully sad loss and the almost (and mostly favorable )wall to wall coverage of Gordon Brown, this surely is a very good poll for the Tories. Cameron does play well with the voters and as with Blair is the Tories greatest asset, so is this as good as it will get for Labour.? Realise loads can happen between now and the G.E but to my mind things do not look rosey for Labour as this poll could indicate that the 40% plus vote for the Tories seems pretty impervious to anything Labour can throw at them. Is the deal in effect being sealed by Cameron with the electorate?

  10. An average 18% for the Lib Dems for the last four polls is pretty solid evidence that the recent polls of 22% were not a complete blip.

    With the very recent good media coverage for the Lib Dems I think there is a good chance we will see them averaging 19% soon.

    I think the days of Labour polling 30% will soon come to a close for long time!

  11. @ Anthony – I wan’t being rude, but since you made no mention of the mistake made, it’s hard for others to see the narative and as such will interpret things as they are shown. I think better moderation in this case would have been the approach i.e. a comment about the comment and a note to all people making entries that their comments are read by all (maybe Paul should have said @Anthony)

    I would also suggest that if you wish to name and shame as you did that you email a peson privately to avoid (as it appears you have) the point.

    And finally I also stand by the oo er missus as once again Lib Dems have made a very good show of it. Consistently rating as highly as they are. (maybe I should have added a smiley)

    Appreciate you getting involved as always, but please allow others to be offended on behalf of themselves, the world’s PC enough as it is :-)

  12. @Paul – apologees if you took offence, I thought you were making a point, but I had no idea what the point was.

    As it appears you were only commenting on a half cocked completed article I hope you will not take offense at my comments.

  13. @Anthony – sorry can you delete the cocked bit out of my last post please :-)

  14. I think Anthony makes a very good point in his article re the definition of a public v private worker . My son is now employed for a private company but until recently was employed on a 2 year contract by another private company solely doing contracted work for a local government dept in a local govt building .

  15. I am interested in Anthony’s points about public sector workers. Apart from the difficulty of definition that he mentions, I wonder why pollsters seem to be getting higher level of public sector workers than they ‘should’?
    When do these polls take place? If it is during the day, perhaps more public sector workers are off sick? If in the evening, perhaps they are more willing to answer pollsters questions because of a sense of civic duty? Any other ideas?

  16. Do you know you’re running ads for the BNP?

    I believe you can exclude specified domains from your Google Adsense “control panel”.

  17. @Chris Phillips
    Who is your comment aimed at?

  18. I wanted to address the points raised about public sector employees and the Populus poll.

    1. We identified the public sector employees in our sample by asking all respondents whether or not they worked for any of a list of employers – which was an official government list of everything in the public sector (and did, for example, include Northern Rock)

    2. Re Pete B’s point, fieldwork for the poll took place between Friday afternoon and Sunday night, giving us the best chance of getting a representative sample; the dialling software works so as to keep re-calling numbers where there is no reply when first dialled, so as to capture busy people.

    3. Though it is clearly of interest if telephone fieldwork is showing a tendency to include too many public sector employees – and we will look at this issue in greater detail – for the purposes of voting intention at least it shouldn’t make an impact on the final numbers as long as we apply a political weight to the whole sample to make sure that it is as politically (as well as demographically) representative as possible of the whole electorate. We do that by past vote weighting the sample.

    4. The voting intentions of the public sector element of the Populus sample suggest that the implications of having too many public sector employees in the initial sample would be a sample bias to the Lib Dems, rather than to Labour (who had a lower vote share among public sector than private sector employees in the Populus data – though it must be emphasised that the sizes of these sub samples are large enough only to give an indicative sense of levels of support, not a robust party split.

  19. Weighted Moving Average 43:30:17. It may be that the growth in the CLead has stopped, it’s too early to tell (I doubt it). Certainly the YouGov CLead of 10 on 26 Feb looks even further out on the Retrospectives.

    Andrew: when you say “capture” do you mean “annoy” :-) ?

  20. Anthony, to give some public/private figures from the ONS report, they have 5.9m public sector workers and 23.8m total workers, making 29.7m workers in all. That’s 19.5% of the workforce, but I guess 12% of the number of voters (it would make the voter numbers about 48m, which is about right isn’t it?). I’m pretty sure these don’t incude Northern Rock et al as they have fallen in the last year.

    Why though do you think they the Pollsters get so many in their sample? Mis-classification, in which case is weighting down correct?

  21. Thanks Andrew – I’ve highlighted your comment in the original post.

    Pete – when MORI did their review I think they’d have noted if the bias only turned up in mid-week polls, so my guess is that it’s more likely to be an attitudinal difference than the “always on sick leave” effect.

    Matthew – given the way Populus classified people as public sector (a list of public sector employees seems very thorough indeed), misclassification probably isn’t the reason.

    It may be that samples do have too many public sector employees – but as Andrew says in his reply, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it leads to any political skew as this should be corrected by the past vote weighting.

  22. @ Keir – I don’t think the poll is all that incredible. Labour’s core vote is usually estimated at around 30% and that’s reflected in most polls. In some it dips down to the high twenties and in a couple plummets to the mid twenties, but my guess is that when push comes to shove that seemingly volatile few per cent that are the difference between 25 and 30% will still vote Labour. They want to vote Labour, despite being to some extent disaffected by the actions and personalities of this government, and I suspect that it only takes a glimmer of hope to persuade them back to the fold. For Labour, they’re the voting equivalent of a cheap date.

  23. An interesting poll, in that it tells us that not a lot has changed.

    From a Labour perspective, whilst it’s not where we would want it to be, it also shows that any talk of meltdown is at this stage hyperbole, we are still close enough to be within striking distance of NOC territory and not that far away from a winning position.

    I am re-assured that both times in the last two years when there has been talk of an election, Labour’s position has improved significantly when the threat of a Tory government is imminent.

    From a Tory perspective, their support around 40% looks pretty stable and they will hope that there is now a large percentage of that that has made up it’s mind and is in the bank, and if that was the case it would discount them losing the next election.

    I think we will see vote share between Lab/ Lib fluctuate up and down based on the perceived strength of the economic recovery or otherwise, Lib Dem support remains flaky, I am sure.

    To win Labour will have to regain ground with public sector workers, which is not impossible as the reality of the two horse race nears, still all to play for, and reason for encouragement for all three main parties.

  24. I’m not so sure I agree that these are bad poll results for Labour given the state of the economy. With St Obama coming to town in early April, followed by the budget it, seems to me that this is Brown’s best chance of closing the gap to the Tories and then calling a snap election in June. I think there are two points to bear in mind. First, that Labour doesn’t need to be ahead in the polls to beat the Conservatives on seats. Second that another year of recession is hardly likely to improve the public mood and this probably represents Labour’s last, best hope.

    On the public/private sector issue. Are the employees of Northern Rock and the like on gold plated final salary schemes backed by the taxpayer or the minging schemes that most of the rest of us are on?

  25. Any idea what any % to Libs from Labour might be given the polling result?

  26. Angusa,

    This is not a “bad” poll for Labour in that they appear to be holding steady at 30%. But, by the same token, it is not a “good” poll . There is now little prospect of Labour even reducing the gap to low single figures, still less of overtaking Tories in the near future.

    However, the other part of your analysis re a potential “snap” election in June may well be in line with Mandy’s grand plan. I suspect that the G20 will be shamelessly used as an electioneering platform, to be followed by the bizarrely delayed budget (a dishonest giveway ?) on 22 April, publication of the draft finance bill, then prompt dissolution before it can be scrutinised properly (*).

    An election in June would be Labour’s last best hope, not of winning, but of avoiding total meltdown.

    As you note, another year of recession is not going to make things any better, and Mandy must be hoping to salvage something from the wreckage before it is totally too late.

    Ther are other dangers for Labour in delaying an election. Wipe-out in the County Councils and a poor set of Euro results could re-open questions over Gordon’s leadership and cabinet infighting. There is no mileage in changing leader, but Brown will be weakened further and will limp into 2010 and certain defeat – and quite probably a devastating meltdown.

    Finally, struggling on into 2010 would give the LDs the opportunity to realise they are in danger of missing a unique opportunity to supplant Labour as the main opposition to the Conservatives and re-align themselves accordingly (though there are few signs of them grasping this at present).


    * If this is the Labour game-plan it shows astonishing disregard for the needs of employers who will then have to wait until at least late June, probably July, before knowing what rates and allowances to apply under PAYE. July PAYE payments will thus have to be made on a provisiional basis, with countless adjustments to be made over the summer holidays.

  27. Speaking of Mandy and his grand plan, I’m curious to know the opinions of you guys on this. I read a daily national, go on sites like this and so on but I’m no expert. So do we (you) think Madleson really plans to take Labour Leadership, and if so do you think he has any chance? I can’t shake the feeling that there’s no way in hell he’d get it, and he’s smart enough to know this. Your thoughts?

  28. On 4th June there is the MEP and County elections.

    To suddenly spring a General Election on the same day may mean there are not enough envelopes in the Country to satisy every postal voter as I believe its 9 per person in that case?

  29. Quincel,

    Mandy has always been a puppeteer. If he really thought he had a chance of ever leading Labour or being PM he would not have accepted a peerage.
    Now that he has his peerage, his own psoition is secure for life – he is not going to lose his seat however bad the election result.

    Should Labour somehow pull off a surprise victory – or at least deny Cameron an overall majority – Mandy will take the credit and get stuck into negotiations with Clegg & Co.

    Even in victory, Brown would not be able to dispense with Mandy, but Mandy would not be beholden to Brown. More likely he will want to manouvre a pliant candidate for leader post-election who will need to lean on his expertise.

    Under a hung Parliament, Brown would need to go anyway to save the LD’s embarassment in any deal.

    Win, lose or draw (ie Hung Parliament), Brown will be bundled off into retirement and Mandy will be left pulling the strings in a grateful Labour party.

  30. Paul H-J,

    Nick Clegg has ruled out categorically his party being used to prop Labour up in power following a hunk parliament result (But I suspect this is unlikely).

    Also, Mandy shall never be leader, not so long as the TUC has any power left over Labour- and they will- financially following the next GE Labour will be even more dependent upon Trades Union finance than ever before.

  31. One of the mistakes which so depressed the LIb Dem poll figures under Menzies – Campbell was the impression he gave that come hell or high water he would never do a deal with the Conservatives and that he was great pals with Brown.
    Nick Clegg has worked hard to create a more even handed approach to the two main parties saying recently that he would aim to support whoever was the largest party in the next parliament. That has to be the right decision.
    I think Nick Clegg also realises as others in his party do not that the so called re-alignment of the left now being once more touted around the Sunday papers as the means by which the Tories can be kept out of power forever is a myth. Why would the normal alternation in power which exists between left and right -as evidenced in every other leading European democracy- be any different in the UK whatever ‘deal’ was struck?
    Many Lib Dem MP’s sit in seats which were formerly Tory and any suggestion that they might join forces with Labour in some sort of new party of the left would in my view be political suicide.

  32. @ Dean – “Also, Mandy shall never be leader”

    Surely he’s already leader in all but name.

  33. The LDs should probably be quite happy with the polls at the moment. This poll gives them 19% and their current average is 18%. If they can slightly improve that by a couple of points to 20% it wouldn’t be a bad starting point for the election campaign, where they must be trying to retain at least 50 of the 63 seats they hold.

  34. I’m interested that Populus are including Northern Rock as “public sector”. Any significance of a public-private vote split is presumably on the basis that people who join the public sector are more naturally left-wing than those who join the private sector, and/or are more reliant on public spending for their job security.

    I’d be surprised if the first of these applied to Northern Rock employees and other private companies who have found themselves in the public sector through no choice of their own. While the second point is more true, I don’t think that the public-private split is that useful anymore, given the heterogenous nature of the public sector.

  35. I find the talk, or is it the hope, of a June election missing one, to my mind, ESSENTIAL point.

    GB fought long and hard to be PM. Why should he risk losing it a year before he has to risk it? I suspect he will continue to hope that something will turn up – not necessarily something good for him but possibly a mistake by Cameron.

  36. @Paul HJ and Toby – Sorry but I think you are both wrong in respect to what people “want” to do and the oppinion that Labour are within touching distance of a win.

    A freind of mine characterised labours current support like that of a cartoon character who just ran off a cliff. Everyone watching knows it’s about to fall, but for some reason the simple fact that the character hasn’t noticed keeps it in the air.

    I would say that should Labour manage to do well in the European elections (which I severely doubt) then they may continue to tread air for a while longer. If however (as I believe will happen) Labour do badly (even to lose a few seats) then I believe the Labour core support will start to notice. I would also expect to see Labour members either pushing for leadership change / crossing parties to Lib Dems / dipping out for a sabatical until Labour support increases after the next few elections.

  37. @Leslie
    “I’d be surprised if the first of these applied to Northern Rock employees and other private companies who have found themselves in the public sector through no choice of their own. While the second point is more true, I don’t think that the public-private split is that useful anymore, given the heterogenous nature of the public sector.”

    Interesting point. I now work in the public sector after a lifetime in private industry. Recruitment continues seemingly unabated, and numbers of other ex-private sector people are now joining following redundancy, or out a desire to avoid redundancy. This too, will alter the mix of opinion in the public sector, probably not to Labour’s benefit.

  38. Pete B

    In the last column of your post you state:

    “Interesting point. I now work in the public sector after a lifetime in private industry. Recruitment continues seemingly unabated, and numbers of other ex-private sector people are now joining following redundancy, or out a desire to avoid redundancy. This too, will alter the mix of opinion in the public sector, probably not to Labour’s benefit.”

    March 10th, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I would very much agree with what you say.

    However, I do feel that you raise an issue which highlights the fact that the Public Sector no longer consists of Public Serivce organisations, but has now been transformed into a massive collection of money and performance/ PR orientated commercially driven Businesses under the guise of Government (Local and Central) organisations.

    I find it rather ironic that many in the Private Sector deride and are highly critical of Public Sector workers/ organisations but are now in the currently severe Private Sector conditions contradict themselves and get themselves jobs in said Sector. Funny that….

  39. @ Kier understanding your bizarre comments by reading through the discussion – no offence taken.

  40. There will *NOT* be an election this year. Brown’s gameplan has several threads – to create a new global settlement, to ride Obama hard, and to portray the Conservatives as being out of touch with everyone else in the world. He can’t do that if he calls an election early May.

  41. James Thurston

    “I find it rather ironic that many in the Private Sector deride and are highly critical of Public Sector workers/ organisations but are now in the currently severe Private Sector conditions contradict themselves and get themselves jobs in said Sector. Funny that….”

    Not sure if that was a dig at me, but I actually got my job by accident (long story). I will say though, that though most people in the public sector work hard by their own lights, it is by far the cushiest stress-free job I’ve ever had (if not the best paid). Maybe I’m just lucky?

  42. The serious problem that Labour and Brown face is that any significant recovery by the time of the election has become ever increasingly unlikely.

    At the moment as someone said they are still within striking distance. Although even that is pushing it a little for even during the highest point for Labour a few months ago the most probable outcome would have been a hung parliament (ICM during this period never gave Labour more than 32%, later they gave Labour 33% but this was when other pollsters showed them declining. Labour never had a convincing lead).

    There can be virtually no doubt now that the economy will be in a deep hole come May 2010 and so will Labour’s prospects as a result.

  43. That depends on what you call a deep hole. Especially by Q2 2010 the economy will by all predictions have begun to slowly grow again. It’ll be a tough sell but is it inconceivable that Brown and Labour could claim they had brought us through the crisis and had shown the leadership the country needed?

    I’m not saying it’s likely, but it seems perfectly possible to me.

  44. Had a discussion at a meeting today with my areas planning manager about recent poor performance. It was due to losing a post at restructuring and having to share a post with another area that created a backlog of case work .

    As part of identifying the key issues and trying to address it without any additional resource he looked at what all his staff were doing.

    The conclusion; They were each averaging 12 hours unpaid overtime a week.

    I don’t know about other Councils, but up here our people work damned hard.


  45. peter c- yes fully agree with tha i only do a few hours a day at this point and have no chance of getting any extra work (no jobsand all that) but im in the public sector as a cleaner at a school and yes it is hard work but for now you have to keep the job you have.

    paul h-j

    im getting no sign of any genaral election yet but from what i understand, the labour party in my area will do even worse than it did 4 years ago exspect some far rights as well in leicestershire as well.

  46. just forgot the current projected majority on this months two polls so far is 100 seat conservative majority

  47. Quincel raises an issue about the core vote of the two Government parties on which I would like a better understanding.

    I agree that the core vote of supporters may well be less than 20% for either, but how many vote against rather than for a party?

    In this (LibDem & SNP) constituency the SNP claim that they find few true LibDem supporters, but many anti-Labour, anti-Con, anti-LAB/CON and anti SNP voters who till now provide the LibDem MP with a decent majority.

    How low might the total positive vote for all four parties be? Less than 50% maybe. FPTP is like a gyroscope. It works just as well upside down.

  48. “I agree that the core vote of supporters may well be less than 20% for either, but how many vote against rather than for a party?”

    I think that is the norm, to be honest. In the dying days of the last Tory government, as in the dying days of this one, many voters will simply vote for the party they perceive as having the best chance to kick out the current government. At the moment, in most places, that will be Tory, but probably not in Scotland or Lib-Lab marginals.

    Many uncommitted voters can’t see a great deal of difference between any of the parties, but just want to ‘give the other lot a chance’.

  49. Andy Stidwill – I doubt it will be long before we see another poll with them on 16% or 13%, perhaps lower still.
    In an election which is likely to change the government, but still be competitive on seats at least, the LDs face a squeeze.

  50. @Quincell – who’s predictions? the treasury? the Bank of England? – Sorry but most rational non political economists are predicting a slowing of the rate of negative growth and no actual recovery until Q3 – Q4 (figures constantly pushed out) of 2010 possibly even into 2011. You also have to take into account that as this bubble has caused us a problem, within the next 12 month, Pension deficits, unfilled 2010 order books and other curve balls will undoubtably slow the recovery even further. There is also the problem facing the governement on when to raise taxes to pay for their current sky rocketing spending/borrowing – check out the interest figures alone – everypenny that gets paid in interest is money not being spent on services. Thus the expectation of tax rises for both business and people will have a massive impact on people desire to spend spend spend as Gordon would like us to do (cos that’s how you get out of a financial crisis fueled by too much debt, get yourself in more !!!!!)

    I cannot see Labour maintaining their current levels and fully expect the Lib Dems to being close to the Second party by 2010. With that increase in support others will follow (even from Labour core vote) which puts the Labour party into the Wilderness for quite a long time.

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