The Guardian’s report on their poll this month has made the assumption that a drop in Conservative support is due to NHS policy, various other commentators have this morning jumped to the same conclusion.

The truth is, as ever, rather more complex than that. Firstly we should set aside the ICM poll apparently showing a 4 point drop in Tory support as the NHS row continues. This is a classic case of making the outlier the story, the media’s constant failing in reporting polls – the underlying trend in polling is ignored while the rogue poll (and the reversion to the mean afterwards) gets a headline. Looking at the broad range of polls the Conservatives have not lost four points of support: they have gone from a position in December when, after the European veto, they appeared to be slightly ahead of Labour in the polls to a position this month when they appear to be a point behind or so, a drop of one or two points.

Many commentators today have also fallen victim to a fallacy I often see in the comments here – ascribing whatever movement happens in the poll to whatever subject they personally feel strongly about. Hence the Guardian and many bloggers feel strongly about the NHS, there has been a slight drift downwards in Tory support, therefore the former is probably the cause of the latter (it’s also a sort of availability bias – the poll contained questions about the NHS, they are bad, therefore that’s the cause. What if the other questions in the poll had been about, say, crime?)

However, this ignores other possible explanations, which could actually be better evidenced. Here are a couple, though I certainly wouldn’t claim these are exhaustive – there are no doubt other possibilities, including those that are less well served with tracker polls.

The first hypothesis is the unwinding of the European veto effect. You will remember that in November Labour had a lead of four or five points. The Conservatives then pulled level after David Cameron’s veto at the European summit. We should be expecting the effect of the veto to gradually unwind and, indeed, there is evidence to suggest that is what we are seeing.

The proportion of people thinking that Europe was an important issue facing the country peaked at 38% just after the veto, but has since faded away again, and is now back down to 23%. Similarly we saw some sharp increases in perceptions of David Cameron on the back of his veto. The percentage of people thinking Cameron “sticks to what he believes in” rose from 26% to 39%, decisive went from 20% to 29%, good in a crisis went from 13% to 18%. Since then most of these figures have fallen back down a bit (“stick to what he believes in” back to 31%, decisive back to 24%, good in crisis back to 18%).

One straightforward explanation therefore is just the fading of the leadership boost that Cameron received from the veto.

A second hypothesis is less negative coverage of Ed Miliband. In January the media narrative was dominated by criticism of Ed Miliband’s leadership, and the media impression was increasingly that he was a no hoper. In February that has faded a bit, the attacks have mostly stopped coming, he’s had a few good PMQs under his belt and the media narrative has largely moved on (to a great degree to the NHS!). This is reflected in Miliband’s own ratings. In January he hit record lows in his approval ratings, reaching a nadir of minus 53 points. In February he has recovered a but to the low minus 40s. His ratings are still significantly worse than they were last year… but he has risen off the canvas.

A third hypothesis is the NHS. The recent coverage has certainly pushed the NHS up the agenda – going back to the YouGov issues tracker, the proportion of people naming the NHS as an important issue is up to 32% from 22% a month ago. We also have lots of questions that have shown the government’s policy is unpopular and that people don’t trust the Conservatives on the NHS, but these don’t necessarily indicate change – it could’ve been unpopular all along.

The ICM poll yesterday shows that people trust the Conservatives less on the NHS now than in 2006, which is an interesting finding in itself, but it doesn’t follow that the drop in trust has come in the last few weeks or is a result of the current policy. If we look at YouGov’s regular tracker on which party people trust the most on the NHS there is a distinct lack of any recent drop in the proportion of people who prefer the Conservatives on the NHS.

In fact, the Conservative trend in the last year is pretty flat – what drop there was happened in late 2010 as the government’s honeymoon faded. What is also worth noting in this graph is that the Conservative detoxification on the NHS is something of a myth – it never really worked very well, and Conservative leads on the NHS were small and transitory.

This, I suspect, is one of the reasons the NHS hasn’t damaged the Conservatives that much – most people never trusted them on it in the first place. The other reason is that most people have no clue about the reforms and what they are or are not likely to do – take this recent YouGov poll for the Sunday Times which, rather than tell people about the reforms and ask about them, just asked people to say if they supported or opposed them based on what they’d seen or heard about them. 48% of people were opposed… but over a third (34%) of people said don’t know, a comparatively high figure for any question.

That is not to say that the NHS reforms are not politically dangerous for the government – I think Tim Montgomerie’s point that any future problems with the NHS (and there will always be some problems with the NHS, even if there were not budget squeezes and reorganisation) will be blamed on the policy is well made. Equally, just because it hasn’t made a big impact so far doesn’t mean it couldn’t do so in the future.

However the claim that it is already doing significant damage the Conservatives in the polls is weak. The drop in Conservative support in the polls is small and there are alternative and perhaps better evidenced explanations for it.

307 Responses to “What causes poll movements”

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  1. Robin

    “A man of principle”

    Lol. Keeps good company, then …

  2. If you are going to nut a Tory, I can make some suggestions.

  3. According to the Beeb, Stuart Andrew will be pressing charges. Joyce has been suspended from LP.

  4. Wouldn’t parliament be much more interesting, if they put a wrestling ring in the centre of the chamber and got them to fight it out, rather than going through the lobbies.

    This would be a great way for politicians to actually generate money, rather than consume it.

    Perhaps they can have 10 minute rounds, rather than 10 minute rule bills !!

    Just injecting a little humour, following yesterdays parliament incident referred to earlier in this thread.

  5. Crossbat11

    I missed PMQs yesterday, so read the report on the G site.

    I imagine that EM will return time and again to DC’s comments pre the 2010 GE that for example there would be no top down reorganisation of the NHS. The implication being that DC told a porkie … so the electorate shoudl not trust anything he says especially when seeking re-election.

    This porkie will hang round DC’s neck like a millstone, IMO.I think DC knows it will hurt him all the way to the next GE.


  6. @R HUCKLE

    May I say, I think your 11.10 idea is a very bad one. I have mentioned from time to time that I am an ex Airborne soldier. Although I am 65, I am, due to continual training still very fit and strong. I am 6′ feet tall and 15 stone, there is no male Labour MP or activist which frightens me, including my fellow action man, the member for Barnsley.
    However, most Labour women frighten me to death and I would refuse point plank to get on the canvass with them.

  7. Wasn’t there a spoof Brown vs Cameron campaign that the Grauniad did for April fool or something.

    A tee shirt with Brown saying “step outside Posh Boy”?

  8. Here it is:

    The election result could have been completely different…

  9. 10 am Australian time on Monday there will be a leadership ballot. Julia Gillard hopes this will “settle once and for all” the issue. Kevin Rudd is expected to stand against her.

  10. billybob

    Cage fight or mud wrestling? Bookies taking bets?

  11. Mud wrestling.

    Oh good grief, I must let that image go

  12. I’m surprised DC has managed to paint himself into a corner over the NHS reforms.

    I’ve always seen him as a skilful politician who knew when to act. Certainly he saw his chance to become PM and grabbed it.

    Is it hubris on his part? Is this his “Poll Tax” ?
    Interesting times.

  13. @”Joyce has been suspended from LP.”

    Would this be Air Miles Eric, Champion Expenses Claimer……the man who is allergic to the Breathalyzer ?

    If so, a pattern seems to be developing :-)

  14. Maybe the NHS wil never be a vote winner for Con, so they can’t actually lose much more in votes.

    It will still come down to the economy in the end.

    Oddly if things are still bad the voters might want more bad taste medicine…but if things improve they might think it is time for Lab to get public services straight again.

    Counterintuitive, I know…but maybe a recovery by 2015 will favour Lab, while if things are still lousy they might want the Tories to keep slashing.

  15. Galaxy Research:

    “In the last national poll we showed that Kevin Rudd was the preferred leader of the Labor Party 52 to 30 over Julia Gillard…
    while those numbers look pretty bad for the Prime Minister, it is an improvement on the figures for late in 2011 when we were looking at a 60-26 margin.”

    Rudd has not confirmed he will stand yet. “One Gillard supporter who maintains Mr Rudd cannot muster more than 27 votes is still hedging his bets, warning if he manages to get 35 votes [out of 103] there is no chance the Government’s problems will end.”


  16. @Colin

    Would this be Air Miles Eric, Champion Expenses Claimer……the man who is allergic to the Breathalyzer ?

    You know these ex-Army types; rotten to the core!! lol

  17. @NICK P
    There is a perverse logic in your 11.36 comment, which is quite possibly a runner. I do not agree with all of what you say, EG the bit about social services, many believe these cuts are long over due. But certainly, the take on the NHS is very plausible to my ears.

  18. @crossbat
    “But its the thin red line of ‘eroes when the drums begin to roll”.

  19. robin

    Thatcher “worked in food technology”

    And was partly responsible for giving us ‘Mr Whippy’ ice cream. Another reason to condemn her

    Oh I know. But the thought of trying to explain what ‘Mr Whippy’ was[1] to SoCal made my heart sink. As did the difference between solicitors and barristers (and indeed barristas). And that’s before you get onto Scottish advocates and Manx advocates and Scottish solicitors and ….

    [1] Though I’ve always thought that helping to invent something that mainly consisted of air, and charging extra for it, did rather set the course for her future political career.

  20. Perhaps Eric Joyce was being selfless, in submitting himself to an experiment on behalf of his constituents, illustrating the detrimental effects of cheap booze, what sacrifice, what dedication…….Braveheart ! :-)

  21. CROSSBAT11

    @You know these ex-Army types;”

    Hardly an “army type now -was he ?

    After reaching the dizzy heights of Major he left the army after describing the armed forces as “racist, sexist and discriminatory,”

    Poor lamb.

    Still-the drink seems to help :-)

  22. COLIN…………It was remiss of me to not thank you for your support, as I plough my lonely furrow on here, not too late however, so thankyou. :-)

  23. KEN

    Thanks-the furrow is less lonely when you are around :-)

  24. Alan MIlburn pens a deeply thoughtful, & most interesting piece in New Statesman today.

    It ends with this :-

    “A new era of fiscal conservatism and radical reformism beckons. It is not just a more responsible form of capitalism that will emerge; it is a more responsible form of government. The big question for politics is whether it will be the right or the left that ushers it in.”

    Bullseye in my view.

  25. This would have been embarrassing to UKIP had the person still been a member.

  26. Colin

    Hardly an “army type now -was he ?

    After reaching the dizzy heights of Major…

    Well quite, who in their right mind would take the views of a Major seriously?

    Roly1, what was your rank again?

    Mind you, I do appreciate that after the latest Conservative cuts there may be nobody left in the British Army under the rank of Major … :D

  27. I see border controls and reduction in net immigration is proceeding…badly.

    The Cons used to happily announce some new restriction – usually it would seem when a distraction was needed, or a dog-whistle to supporters was necessary.

    Unless substantial reductions in the next year or so are achieved (which seems to me unlikely) I expect the Cons to quietly forget about immigration as an issue for the next GE.

  28. CROSSBAT11

    “You know these ex-Army types; rotten to the core!!”

    In Joyce’s case he was rotten to the Education Corps!

  29. @R HUCKLE

    “She had the UKIP whip withdrawn in 2010 following rows over policy”

    ‘The arrests are part of an ongoing investigation which followed an allegation made in 2010 into allowances and expenses.’

    Sounds a tad as if the expenses investigation related to when she was a UKIP MEP (my opinion).

  30. Oldnat

    The Bannockburn myths are wrong

    The author lives in the flat downstairs. He fails to get outstanding research published because he will not conform to the ettiquete of academic publishers or the commercial and legal requirements of commercial publishers.

    Neither wants a book that says ” Professor B should have done the work I’ve done” He tries to do too many things at the same time: tell the Bannockburn story, argue for more forensic history study; castigate retired proffessors and use mathematical methods.

    The English didn’t run away feart; there were no “little people” The Scots wern’t significantly outnumbered; the English fought bravely but were beaten by the terrain into which they had been led by their opponents, and by innovative use of footsoldiers only against cavalry.

  31. oldnat

    “We can probably agree that Moore is silly…..”

    Nem con?

    What’s fresh?

    One of the Nats best assets. Gove is much more of a promlem to you.

  32. @soCalLib

    You said “…I take it that was addressed to me?…”

    It was. Apologies: there’s a bulge of work and I don’t get back until after 11:30pm, so mi brain is frazzled: brain hurty now, and multiple YouTube viewings of the “Avengers” Superbowl ad (“We have an army” “So? WE HAVE A HULK”) unfortunately don’t help… :-)

    Regards, Martyn

    I was a Major. However, what Colin meant was, you cannot call a left wing school master an Army Type.
    I know the Army Education Corps do a fine job, but they are hardly the Special Air Service. No Airborne officer would allow a surfeit of “cheeky Vimto’s” to induce him to attack someone other than an enemy of Her Majesty. The reason is, the time he has wasted defending in court, charging or spending time in the boxing ring with, other ranks who behave thus. The comment about the army being sexist, racist and discriminatory, explains a great deal, it fits with the average Scottish Labour voter.

  34. @mike n
    Never mind the Tories, the British people will not forget about immigration.

  35. I love Marvel comics. Spidey is my favourite.

    Any polling on favourite superheroes?

  36. @Roly1

    Almost the exact “No True Scotsman” argument there, well done.

  37. @NickP
    Any polling on favourite superheroes?

    SuperClegg is searching Ebay for some cheap Kryptonite to give him a boost in time for the Spring Conference.

  38. My favorite comic superhero is that intrepid seeker of justice who promised a life of plenty for everyone……, what was his name ? More importantly, what was his battle cry ? Ah ! I just remembered…………not Flash, just Gordon….’ No return to boom and bust ‘. ‘ Freedom ‘ :-)

  39. “not Flash, just Gordon” reminds me of someone else …Flashman? Salesman? B*ll*ngd*nman?Nah, can’t fink who it is.

  40. MIKE N……………I remember another one like that, Fettesman, saved us from obliteration in 45 minutes at the hands of an evil dictator, mind you he won 3 elections but finally conceded to the evil dictator, he ran out of Blairite and Flash took him down. :-)

  41. Right predictions for tonite’s YG…

    C38 L41 LD whatever

  42. L42 C36 LD 9

  43. C38 L41 LD9

  44. C 41 L 39 LD 9

    Not so much a prediction, more a wish list . :-)

  45. You can tell when a thread is tired when we start predicting the results of polls we know could be 2-3% out for bother major parties just du to moe.

  46. C 38 L 42 LD 8

  47. Good Afternoon All.

    Am I missing something on the abortion for females issue?

    If the woman’s right to choose is they key principle at this time, what is the problem?

    Just heard an interesting Radio 4 PM interview on this.

  48. VALERIE.
    Good Afternoon to you. On a previous thread you asked about schooling.

    A proof of the inadequacy of the state school system is that Mr Clegg has ignored his own party’s manifesto Pledges on secular schooling and principles on catholic schools, by opting for one of the most intensely religious schools in England.

    Just as Rousseau did for his own children, despite ‘Emile’

    LOL as the kids say.

  49. @ Roger Mexico

    “Margaret Thatcher did indeed train as a lawyer. She had studied chemistry at Oxford (she worked under the Nobel prize-winner Dorothy Hodgkin, which must have been an interesting clash, given Hodgkin’s Communist sympathies) and worked in food technology for four years until her marriage. She then qualified as a barrister in 1953 with the support of her wealthy husband (in those days it was difficult to become a barrister without a private income), though I don’t know how much she actually practiced before becoming an MP in 1959.”

    Interesting. I suppose your system is very, very different. When I think about women lawyers in that generation, I think about women like Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Rose Bird who obtained law degrees and were brilliant lawyers and yet couldn’t hired because they were women. Thatcher is a little older than the three of them so I wondered if she worked as a barrister even though she trained as one. But from your description (how does it work that you can only qualify as a barrister with private money?), the situations don’t seem comparable.

    @ Amber Star

    “I was at school with Eric. He was known as somebody you didn’t pick a fight with. But he wasn’t a bully; he rarely started any trouble but he wouldn’t walk away once it had kicked off.”

    Wow, now you can say you’ve gone to school with someone famous! :)

    @ Robin

    “Thatcher “worked in food technology”

    And was partly responsible for giving us ‘Mr Whippy’ ice cream. Another reason to condemn her :)”

    I’ve never heard of Mr. Whippy ice cream, is it really that bad? It’s counterintuitive to think of a right winger founding an ice cream company. Since the founders of so many beloved ice cream joints (Baskin Robbins, Ben and Jerry’s) are bleeding heart Liberals (ex-hippie types).

  50. @ Robin

    “The MP being mentioned is Stuart Andrew, the Conservative MP for Pudsey.

    Seems an ‘interesting’ character. While he was a Conservative councillor in Wrexham he switched and joined Labour. But after lost his seat 2 years later he rejoined the Tories, moved to Leeds and became a city councillor before winning Pudsey in 2010. A man of principle :)”

    Well, he may not be particularly principled as a politician. That doesn’t mean he deserved to be punched in the face by a drunk and raging colleague.

    @ Martyn

    Apologies accepted. You’re forgiven.

    @ Nick P

    “Wasn’t there a spoof Brown vs Cameron campaign that the Grauniad did for April fool or something.

    A tee shirt with Brown saying “step outside Posh Boy”?”

    See if only you guys had a National Correspondent’s Dinner, they both could have appeared together with shirts like that. Except both probably would have worn the opposite shirt (Cameron could have worn the “Step Aside Posh Boy” t-shirt and Brown could have worn some t-shirt reffering to him as an uneducated, hard-scrabble Scot or something like that).

    @ Billy Bob

    “10 am Australian time on Monday there will be a leadership ballot. Julia Gillard hopes this will “settle once and for all” the issue. Kevin Rudd is expected to stand against her.”

    I saw on the CNN ticker at the gym the other day that he was stepping down for a possible leadership challenge. That whole situation is messed up. You shouldn’t force your successful leader out of office after one bad opinion poll and install somebody far less popular.

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