The monthly online ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror has topline figures, with changes from their last online poll in early December, of CON 38%(+2), LAB 38%(-2), LDEM 11%(+1), Other 13%(-1). A neck-and-neck tie between Labour and the Conservatives is very much in line with the YouGov polling we’ve seen so far this month.

In the rest of the ComRes poll today they asked voting intention questions with various alternate Labour leaders. Questions like this are incredibly popular with the media when a party leader starts to teeter, but are extremely dicey methodologically. Firstly, if you want to compare them to current voting intention questions with the incumbent leader you need to treat them in the exactly the same way as a normal voting intention question – if you measure normal voting intention using three questions (likelihood to vote, voting intention and a squeeze question) then you need to do the same for other candidates. If, for example, you just do one likelihood to vote question and use it for all questions then you’d miss out on voters who might sit on their hands if X was leader, but come out if Y was leader.

There’s also the fact that normal voting intention questions don’t mention the party leaders, while by definition these questions do. There is a risk of skewing things if you mention only the leader of the party in question but if you get round that by mentioning the other leaders too, how do you know any difference is not down to mentioning them?

In short, the caveats on comparing hypothetical leader questions to current voting intention questions are significant.

More interesting are comparing the voting intentions with one alternative leader to another, though again, be careful. They are to a great extent defined by a lack of public awareness of most politicians, if you recall a few months ago only around 60% of respondents were able to recognise a picture of Ed Balls…if 40% of people don’t even know what Ed Balls looks like, they are not likely to be a particularly sterling judges of how they would respond to an Ed Balls leadership.

Hypothetical questions about how people would vote with leaders who are very little known are virtually useless, as voters of that party naturally say don’t know, while other parties’ support holds up, giving the illusion of the party performing hopelessly under their leadership. For example, in this ComRes poll 50% and 45% of people said they didn’t know how they’d vote with Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper as Labour leader, creating the false impression of Conservative leads of 26 and 20 points under their leaderships.

That’s not to say these polls are always useless – they can give a good steer on how people might respond to a leader who is already very well known to the public. For example, the hypothetical polls in early 2007 showing Labour doing worse under Gordon Brown, a figure very well known by the public, were saying something worth listening to (though even then, were a rubbish predictor of the Brown bounce).

With the caveats out of the way, the ComRes poll found people saying that with David Miliband as Labour leader the party would have a 3 point lead, compared to a 6 point deficit with Ed Balls (or Tony Blair!), a 13 point deficit with Alistair Darling and a 15 point deficit with Harriet Harman. As far as I can see, the hypothetical voting intention questions were just done as a grid, without the likelihood to vote weighting or squeeze question that ComRes normally use, meaning they are not comparable to normal ComRes voting intention polls.

64 Responses to “Some warnings about hypothetical leader polls”

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  1. Henry

    You are quoting socal’s response back to yourself.


    I just chipped in with the fact that you either did not know of- or chose to leave out- the fact that the RGF is a more than 50% cut in regional funding !

  2. Tark

    ‘Enjoying being PM isn’t the same as being good at it.

    I think you are absolutely right. However, a PM enjoying being a PM is much more likely to fight harder to hold onto power, perhaps successfully. Thatcher,Blair and to a lesser extent Harold Wilson, really seemed to love being PM, and two of them stepped down when the time was right and one was removed by her own Party. The country as a whole did not kick them out.

  3. Henry

    Nick has to go before the next election, he is too closely tied to cons and DC in the public mind. Unless there is an electoral pact, in which case, bye bye dems.

  4. Thank you for this site.

    I really like the non-partisan discussion of polls.

    Very different to Political Betting which is very partisan and has very few political betting comments.

  5. Rob Sheffield

    I do enjoy your bloggs. I do not agree and feel that time will show just how right I am. However, if in three years time I am proved to be wrong then I will be the first to admit my mistake. Hopefully you will do the same, even though you are certain you are right.

    Gosh what did you do when I wasn’t around.

  6. Rin N

    Liabilities NC or EM?

  7. Henry

    I take issue with your point that Miliband could be a friend to Clegg because of his popularity.

    I do not think that is the case – it could have helped the LD but I, amongst many others I know, will never ever vote LD with the current leadership. This is the rub, Labour, even in the current poll drums, have a significant poll increase over 2010. It is the LD whose poll rating has collapsed

    The party that would get the biggest boost by changing leader are the LD.

    As to Cameron enjoying being PM – of course he is he is as the press is all behind him. It is similar to Blair. It makes life easier being and ex PR man as well. He is not being challenged by the press as Brown and Major were.

    I considered myself a LD voter for a decade but after reading some of the comments on here and on Lib Dem voice supporting Cameron and Osborne then I treat the party with the same contempt as the Tories – all defending the separation of society. Labour are just a bit better at the moment because I actually read what Miliband says (not just focus on his looks and demeanor) and I think he has some fair points to make.

    I am struggling to find inspiration for 2015

  8. YorkCity
    ‘Thank you for this site.
    I really like the non-partisan discussion of polls.’

    Some of us, with the exception of Rob Sheffield and myself of course, are sometimes partisan though.

  9. Yougov Tory 5 point lead. Bear in mind yougov are one the worse for the Tories that really is bad for Lab.Thatd equate to a 7 or so with ICM. Things have got to be hotting up for Labours answer to IDS.

  10. The YG 5% does seems to suggest after other recent polls the cons have a small lead esp when ATTUK is applied.

  11. BAZSC

    ‘I considered myself a LD voter for a decade but after reading some of the comments on here and on Lib Dem voice supporting Cameron and Osborne then I treat the party with the same contempt as the Tories’

    I am, aware of about three LDs on this site who support the Party’s stance on Coalition; I am really interested that you have been so easily influenced by so few; or is it just a dig. Of course you are allowed a dig from time to time, particularly wehen things look so gloomy for Labour.

  12. Henry


    However there is more analysis of polls on here.

    Compared to Political betting on the site I mentioned.

  13. Henry

    To respond to your last question.

    I am of there left of centre and have been disappointed in the lack of home for my vote for years now (probably since the early 90s.

    The LD were to the left of Labour, in a non-statist way for a number of years and I, naively, didn’t see the move to the right under Clegg. Some of that was my fault and some due to the mendacity of the leadership of the party. I have no particular affinity for the current Labour Party but am considering them as being the most in line with my views at the moment.

    I was not having a dig at you in particular as you are a reasonable person and I have not a lot of disagreement with what you say most of the time. You are a more committed LD and so are prepared to see it through these times. I am not.

    You asked me a while ago to justify why I considered myself LD and I set out a number of reasons, most of which have been sacrificed by the current leadership on the alter of ‘Coalition’

    There are, however, some LD on here and others on the Lib Dem forum who rye clearly far to the right of where I sit and if this is the current direction of the party then so be it – I will no longer support it.

    The question I am interested in to seeing a convincing answer is where you see the voters coming from to support you in the future? Someone like me who is actually on the Liberal left for example – what would entice me back to the fold along with the other 30-50% of the vote that has disappeared?

  14. Great analysis as always. The Telegraph’s breathless reporting on this poll annoyed me deeply, reporting that Yvette Cooper would be down 20 points, lacking all analysis or explanation.

    They also played up D. Miliband’s 3 point lead, compared to a tie under Ed. How significant do you think this is, given the problems with methodology you pointed out. Ed’s pre-veto lead was about 4 points, so it doesn’t seem very important from that perspective, but methodology and whether there would be underlying difference in leader perception stats (Ed’s 4 point leads were *despite* him, maybe David’s would be more in line with his whole party). It’s something they need to poll on more effectively, because I do question the wisdom on “what could have been” that seems to surround David and his 2010 defeat. It does perhaps stand to reason that he might of been the path of less resistance in terms of perception, but the differences between him and Ed on policy are small in practice and the political position of the Labour Party post-2010 would be the same. My point is, I question the assertions that if only Labour had a better leader, the other underlying dynamics (especially economic competence) would somehow be irrelevant right now and Labour should be posting huge leads barely 18 months after losing in a landslide.

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