The ICM poll last night has produced various comments from people dismissing it or defending it. Let’s put it in some context. Firstly there is no large swing here. All the parties are within 2 points of ICM’s last poll, so there is no reason to think it is obviously a rogue. Indeed, the small shift from Labour to the Conservatives is entirely in line with the only other post-Budget poll from YouGov.

Both companies have the Conservatives at 37%. The difference is basically the Liberal Democrats – YouGov have them at 11%, ICM have them at 16%. In YouGov polls a large chunk of former Liberal Democrats now say they’ll vote Labour, so as a consequence of their different Lib Dem scores ICM also end up showing a lower Labour score than most other companies… hence the 1 point Tory lead yesterday.

This is not down to margin of error or we would see ICM giving the Lib Dems a lower score than YouGov half the time. ICM are consistently showing higher Lib Dem scores than other companies, suggesting it is a systemic methodological difference.

Part of the difference we have a straight explanation for. Most companies ignore people who say don’t know, ICM re-allocate 50% of them to the party they claim they voted for in 2010, on the basis of evidence from past elections that this is what people saying don’t know tend to end up doing. Over recent months this has typically increased the level of Lib Dem support ICM finds by 2%.

However, this is not the whole explanation – without it we would still have seen recent ICM polls showing the Lib Dems in the mid teens, when every other company has them between 9% and 11% (equally, Populus also reallocate don’t knows, albeit using a formula slightly less favourable to the Lib Dems and they have the Lib Dems at 11%).

There is no obvious methodological reason for the rest of the difference between ICM’s Lib Dem score and that other companies produce. In his post-mortem of the election result Martin Boon of ICM suggested they may be weighting the Liberal Democrats somewhat too highly… but looking at the current weighting targets ICM weight the Liberal Democrats to pretty much the same figure as other companies using past vote weighting, so that cannot be the reason for the difference.

Another suggestion is the wording of ICM’s question, which mentions “in your area”. I think this is probably too subtle to make such a large difference to the results and, besides, Angus Reid use the same sort of wording and have the Liberal Democrats at 10% (The example normally used of prompting by constituency making a difference to voting intention questions is a poll I did of marginal seats for PoliticsHome back in 2009. That, however, asked constituency voting intention straight after national voting intention and used very gung-ho prompting to shove people towards considering their own area. It wasn’t a tiny subtle word change like this).

Hence in terms of saying whether ICM are right on the Liberal Democrats (and therefore Labour), or whether the other companies are, there is no easy answer since we don’t know what is causing it. I expect, in practice, most people will tend to believe the results they want to.

Besides, while it may seem important this week whether the polls are showing Labour or the Conservatives head, remember that the Conservatives got a boost of a couple of points after the June budget too. It lasted all of a week. My guess is that we’ll be soon back into the more solid Labour leads we’ve become accustomed to.

49 Responses to “Putting that ICM poll in context”

  1. Anthony,

    Excellent summary. Spot on.

  2. Hmmm, except the YG reduction in the Labour lead predates the budget doesn’t it?

  3. I am not one of the Labour supporters criticising polls that don’t say what I want them to.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Labour’s ascent has stalled & perhaps been thrown into reverse. And Labour ought not to dismiss this an outlier or rogue.

    But, in some ways, I am rather pleased to see this poll released before the ‘march against the cuts’. Had it come out after, it might’ve been spun as a (negative for Labour) response to the march & rally.

  4. Do you think overcoverage of Libya may have diverted public attention from domestic things which are quite dire?

    The budget seems to be falling apart already.

  5. Amber

    “There is no doubt in my mind that Labour’s ascent has stalled & perhaps been thrown into reverse.”


    In reverse-I doubt it.

  6. I don’t know where my comment went.

    Could this anonomly be from the overcoverage of Libya drawing attention away from the hash the Tories are making of the Economy?

  7. whoops sorry, double post, I had an old window open on my PC.

  8. It wasn’t much good the first time.

  9. @ Colin

    [Labour] In reverse-I doubt it.
    Being from you, that is quite reassuring. You usually have a sharp eye for any strengthening in blue support.

  10. The polls after Thursday May the 5th will be to ones to watch. May the 5th is D-day for the Coalition, everything will change then, and not necessarily in their favour.

  11. I thought it was probably a mistake for Ed Miliband to get too involved with today’s anti-cuts march. It’s just not the sort of thing that should be associated with someone who purports to be a candidate for PM.

    Now that’s it’s gone violent, it seems even less a good idea.

  12. He should have been marching with a placard saying “Some Cuts”.

  13. Ed M wasn’t on the march. He spoke at a rally afterwards. So far, the march itself has been huge – between 250,000 & 500,000 attending.

    Only 9 people have been arrested (so far) & these were mainly in the locations where the UKUncut protests were taking place, not the march itself.

    UKUncut protests are usually good natured & peaceful. I don’t rule out special interest groups/ agent provocateurs causing trouble in an attempt to discredit either the march itself, or the UKUncut protests.

  14. I am not surprised at Labour’s fall 1) we are at war and it seems to be going well 2) the cuts have yet to really bite 3) people still believe that Labour caused the deficit, so many hold us to blame for the cuts.

    In due course the war will end, people will see the economy has stalled under Osborne’s watch, and will stop believing [snip] that Labour caused the cuts [snip. See, it isn’t hard – AW]

    So in time the Coalition will be judged on their own performance. This is likely to be before May as the 1st quarter growth figures will be out in April. All other public indicators are dire, inflation up, unemployment up, growth down.

  15. @ Eric

    “In due course people will… stop believing the nonsense that Labour caused the cuts”

    [Snip – this is not a place for political debate – AW]

    I think this is the kind of reasoning that is going to put Labour in a very bad light in the long run. Strategically the posture Ed Miliband has struck is a huge gamble. I think people realise now how urgent it is to put the public finances right, which is why the polls show support for the cuts rising.

  16. It all comes back to the inconsistency I accuse him of. What does he stand for.? He cannot be all things to all men.
    There must be many Labour members who rue the fact that the unions still interfere in the leadership voting, or that some people get 3 votes. If DM was in charge I really do think that he would have had a coherant strategy mapped out by now. Ed is fumbling in the dark not sure which direction to take.

  17. @Amber,

    I wouldn’t rule anything out. I rarely do. But the most likely source of agitators today is the “violence for fun” contingent, for whom recreational rioting is more important than the political message.

    On the whole the legitimate protests and the violence were kept pretty separate, but unfortunately for the protesters the TV coverage hasn’t made much of a distinction. The most positive “talking head” from the protesters’ point of you was probably Commander Broadhurst. Unlikely allies and all that (but then he has just lost his performance bonus).

  18. “point of you” = “point of view”

  19. Amber

    You must be pleased-Libyan State tv has been playing footage of the London demo………against the invasion of Lybia :-)


    Why did the police allow the damage in Piccadilly.

    They seemed to adopt an entirely passive stance.

  20. I think perhaps seeing Portugal in trouble may be a factor. There, an austerity (cuts, if you’re not reading the details) package didn’t go through parliament and now suddenly they need outside help (embarrassing & long-term more expensive). Here we have austerity, very unpleasant for some but it’ll be over soon, apparently, and then everything will be business as usual, perhaps with some nice tax cuts on top. Many people would think the 2nd scenario seems the better option. Or else they could be kidding themselves.

  21. Amber

    re the polls-I just can’t see a reason for Cons being in the lead when they are cutting back public spending.

    When the benefits come through-yes. But not now.

    I do think EM is beginning to sound very odd mind you:

    His economic stance is “we would cut too”-but he speaks at a “no cuts” rally .

    He says he is for ” the majority”-but he joins a rally in favour of public sector protectionism.

    He also said in London today that this march was in the tradition of Martin Luther King !

    You said the other day that you were watching his approval ratings-they will be interesting.

  22. It is a shame that today’s rally saw a splinter group causing needless violence in the West End but there was always going to be that risk. At least it seems to be dying down now judging by what I’m seeing on BBC News right now.

    I’m not convinced this will be a PR disaster for Milliband as I’ve seen some people in other places are claiming. Clearly, this violence has nothing to do with Labour and it’s rather hard to tar 250,000 peaceful protestors with the same brush despite the best efforts of certain sections of the media. If Cameron tries to put the blame for this on Ed at PMQs on Wednesday, I will be totally disgusted.

  23. @Colin

    Obviously I don’t know the answer as I wasn’t involved. It may be part of the “damned if you do damned if you don’t” nature of policing. One demo – you’re accused of not doing enough. Next demo – you’re accused of heavy-handedness. Etc.

    I have no idea if it’s a factor, but you should also remember that some of those officers are facing pay cuts over the next couple of years of up to 20% of their total salaries. The mood probably wasn’t too confrontational.

  24. KEITHP,

    The reason the Portugese parliament voted this austerity package down was because it was the 3rd attempt and MP’S had had enough. The 1st two failed. A bit like Ireland.

  25. New ComRes poll. Opposition to Libyan intervention has grown. 45% disapprove. Only 35% approve.

    Just over a third of Britons support bombing Libya…. com’on you know who you are.

  26. From my memory (and I know some super stato will provide me with the reality!) I think You Gov has been pretty solid with a 6-7% lead for quite a few weeks, but there was a spike for a week when it hovered around 10%. It then returned to 6-7% for a few days and then narrowed to 4% just after the budget.

    Can’t wait till 10pm tonight …

    On the cuts demos – I’m sure that will see a few points return in Labs direction from the Tories, but I have to say I can’t see EM coming out of this very well. He spoke terribly in the two clips I’ve seen. A disappointing missed opportunity in my opinion.

    I think this is where the key problem is – the Labour lead may well be re-established and even balloon, but unless EM improves on his numbers and makes the most of his opportunities, he will become a liability.

    @ Neil A – don’t agree with all your posts, but love the “some cuts” gag!

  27. KEITHP

    “There, an austerity (cuts, if you’re not reading the details) package didn’t go through parliament ”

    I think both the outgoing Socialists, and the opposition are saying that austerity measures will be needed . They both say Portugal will not need a bailout.

    Portugal has averaged a deficit of 4.6% of GDP for the past decade.

    Spending on infrastructure was where it all went-but their economy is wage uncompetitive at the end of it all-big row with the unions over minimum wage agreements.

    Not a great advert for spend junky deficit denying :-)

  28. NEIL


    I found “The mood probably wasn’t too confrontational.” quite interesting !

    Hope the owners of the wrecked premises understand :-)

  29. Like almost everything Ed M does, it will please hardcore labour supporters and alienate everyone else.

    I was at Hyde Park Corner at 10-11am and at least some of the organisers were calling for a General Strike in the public sector. I suspect this will go down like a lead baloon, on top of Ed M’s association with a protest that turned violent.

    Basically the public seems to be making their mind up about Ed M and it’s not good news for Labour

  30. Eoin,
    From someone such as yourself, an expert in the wording of polling questions, I am extremely disappointed to see your “Just over a third of Britons support bombing Libya…. com’on you know who you are.” comment. Very biased to say the least.

    Put a polling Q in these terms and you know you would get near 100% against. However put it in terms of supporting the Libyan people against the murderous Gaddafi regime and you would get near 100% for. Having watched the woman (apparantly raped by Gaddafi’s men) dragged away by his thugs in front of News cameramen my support for the UN action has been more strengthened.

  31. On the poll of polls you have lab on 39,but out of the last 20 polls only once have they been on or below that.Unless you count the poll half way down which has the percentage the wrong way .It reads con 41 lab 32 and then states a lab lead of +9.I think you might have put this mistake into the poll of polls

  32. Oh oh-

    “The head of the International Monetary Fund warned on Saturday that many Latin American economies showed signs of overheating and that the region was at risk of credit bubbles.”


    I do hope Gordon isn’t advising any Latin American countries :-)

    Where is he by the way?

    Is he still an MP?

  33. The poll I think you have messed up is on the 21st of march.


    “Having watched the woman (apparantly raped by Gaddafi’s men) dragged away by his thugs in front of News cameramen my support for the UN action has been more strengthened.”

    That was truly amazing.

    THey pulled a gun on the Sky team!

    How to make friends & influence people !

  35. ‘Scottish elections: Liberal Democrat candidate resigns’

    “It is understood Mr O’Donnell was unhappy with the direction of the party in Scotland and the UK Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

    Earlier, Conservative candidate Iain Whyte, who was standing for Maryhill and Springburn in Glasgow, resigned in a separate development.

    … Mr Whyte was the second Scottish Tory candidate to resign within days.

    This week the top Conservative candidate on the Glasgow regional list, Malcolm Macaskill, also decided not to stand.

    This followed discussions with the candidates’ board.”

  36. ICM polls only come round once a month, but are we seeing a trend?

    18 YouGov VI polls so far in March.
    11 showing a Labour lead of between 7-11% (4 threads on UKPR).
    6 showing a Labour lead of 4-6% (4 threads).

    One ICM poll showing a Con lead (3 threads so far). :)
    (I know, it has been a busy month. :) )

  37. By the way, Hugh O’Donnell is not just a Lib Dem “candidate” (sic), he has been a Lib Dem MSP since 2007:

  38. PeterBell,

    When it comes to Libya, you wont find more biased :) If I can spin it like Tuffers on an Oval wicket, then I will :)

  39. And why dear Labourites are the rampaging lefties not marching on the Guardian whose parent company evades taxes?

    Guardian Media Group regularly use every loophole to avoid paying taxes.

  40. @Eoin

    “If I can spin it like Tuffers on an Oval wicket, then I will”

    We could have done with old Tuffers in Colombo a little earlier today, couldn’t we?!

    @Billy Bob

    “One ICM poll showing a Con lead (3 threads so far).”

    You may think this odd, but I couldn’t possibly comment!

  41. ” I expect, in practice, most people will tend to believe the results they want to.”

    I agree with this statement and like your analysis.

  42. David – thanks for spotting that. Corrected now

  43. @ Crossbat11/Nick Hadley

    “I see the non-partisan and cerebral discussion of polls is reaching new heights on here tonight!lol”

    Honey, you ever been over to an American political blog? Non-partisan and cerebral are not even known words.

  44. Trevors Den

    Do you think the Guardian Media Group use the same Accountents as Mrs Cameron

  45. N Beale,You have obviously made up YOUR mind about EM.This is your personal opinion and has no relevance whatsoever to the polls.
    Robert Newark,as you are obviously not a labour supporter, how can you possibly know how we think?Again, this just personal opinion.

  46. Annin Wales – He needs to appeal to people like me if he wants a majority. The faithful, like yourself, will vote for him anyway.

  47. As it happens, on both previous occasions that there was violence on a protest (students in that case), Labour’s poll lead jumped. I’m not obviously advocating the tactics used by the stupid anarchists, but it’s more than likely that NBeale is indulging in wishful thinking on this score. [Snip – play the ball – AW]

  48. Stuart Dickson

    I know almost nothing of this MSP but it can be no surprise to anyone here to find that one or more LibDem MSP ha done what he has done. I would have a placed small bet on that probability.

    It is even less of a surprise to find that an MSP who resigns on a matter of principle was a buddy of Donald Gorrie.That’s to be expected.

    I wont be suprised if he gets elected either, though I havn’t looked at that region yet.