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. “@chrislane1945

    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.”

    The issue is that apparently people are finding out the sex of the baby, before deciding on an abortion. If it is female they are having an abortion, presumably on the basis that due to religion, this has cost consequences. i.e when they get married.

  2. @Socal

    “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.”

    Think of flavoured shaving foam and you’re not far out.

    She didn’t found the company, she just worked for Lyons Foods in their research division.

  3. The Tories have been seen in polls as being tougher on immigration, after they promised to reduce this. So far the results don’t show government policies are meeting their objectives.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2105311/Net-migration-UK-stuck-250-000-despite-Camerons-tough-talk-slashing-numbers.html

  4. @SoCalLib

    You said “…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…”

    I may be wrong, but there is a class issue here. In the US (I think) you can become a lawyer by studying for the exams, qualifying, and setting up practice by yourself. In England and Wales there’s more of a “closed shop” approach: you can qualify by yourself but to practice you must first practice with an established firm. Unsurprisingly, this leads to corruption, widespread nepotism, incompetence, etc (I’ve known lawyers who were genuinely thick as horses**t), and there was a case a few years back of a single mother who studied by herself, paid her own entrance exam fees, passed the exams, and then had to abandon law because she couldn’t get a job nor set up by herself.

    Entering the E&W legal profession is nepotism-riddled and difficult: despite a first-class mind (you don’t get a scholarship to Oxford for nothing), Thatcher would not have gained a toe-hold if it wasn’t for the support of her husband and others. The Blair government considered letting people other than lawyers handle conveyancing and divorce (two of the biggest legal moneyspinners for lawyers), but that was quietly dropped.

    Regards, Martyn

  5. From
    http://www.mrwhippyicecream.co.uk/the-history-of-ice-cream/

    ” A chemical research team in Britain (of which a young Margaret Thatcher was a member) discovered a method of doubling the amount of air in ice cream, which allowed manufacturers to use less of the actual ingredients, thereby reducing costs.”

    That’s successful capitalism. Harness the power of technology to make a product that’s cheap tat, then use the power of marketing to tell the consumers that it is wonderful stuff. Grand eh?

  6. @ Robin

    “Whippy Ice cream – Think of flavoured shaving foam and you’re not far out. ”

    It depends on who the makers are, as some are better than others. Yes some ice cream vans produce some really cheap tasting stuff, but it is not all like that.

    In the US and elsewhere it is often sold as ‘soft serve’.

  7. The 785 million pound RBS bonus issue and the A4E issue…two open goals for the opposition…So my question is `Where the hell is Ed Milliband`?

    Having just clambered off the floor in ratings terms,I hope he is not going to waste the momentum again by disappearing…Labour supporters will lose patience with another round of `Ed is c***`

  8. @ Martyn

    “I may be wrong, but there is a class issue here. In the US (I think) you can become a lawyer by studying for the exams, qualifying, and setting up practice by yourself. In England and Wales there’s more of a “closed shop” approach: you can qualify by yourself but to practice you must first practice with an established firm. Unsurprisingly, this leads to corruption, widespread nepotism, incompetence, etc (I’ve known lawyers who were genuinely thick as horses**t), and there was a case a few years back of a single mother who studied by herself, paid her own entrance exam fees, passed the exams, and then had to abandon law because she couldn’t get a job nor set up by herself.”

    Thank you for this clarification. There are plenty of dumb lawyers out there (including successful ones). Traditionally, it was very rare for newly minted lawyers to start out on their own. But today, that’s changing, mostly by neccessity of the economy. The legal job market was absolutely devastated and unlike Wall Street, there was no government bailout for lawfirms. And the federal government is not expanding the number of legal positions that it has (aside from the CPFB). So many lawyers are turning to self-practice. It’s interesting though to think about. I was once reading the oral history of California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk who was a brilliant lawyer and one of the greatest judges of all time. When he graduated from law school, it was the Great Depression. There were no available jobs for him. So he and a few of his friends pooled their resources together and created their own practice.

    I’m curious though about your talk of a requirement for private practice for barristers in England and Wales. There’s more than just working for a law firm or starting your own practice. What about public interest lawyers? Or government lawyers? Or clerkships? Or lawyers who work for Parliament in drafting legislation? Can you not work in these positions unless you’ve previously worked in private practice?

    That’s a horrible story about that single mom.

    Sandra Day O’Connor was at the top of her class at Stanford Law School. Out of the 67 (I think) top law firms she applied to work for, not a single firm offered her a position. One lawfirm did offer her a position as a legal secretary.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg was at the top of her class at both Harvard Law School and Columbia Law School. The Dean reccomended her for a Supreme Court Clerkship with Felix Frankfurter, who turned her down because she was a woman.

    But O’Connor eventually was able to get a job in the Santa Clara County DA’s office as a prosecutor. Ginsburg ultimately worked for the ACLU. Neither job is one in private practice.

    Likewise, Rose Bird was never hired to private practice but did find work as a public defender.

    “Entering the E&W legal profession is nepotism-riddled and difficult: despite a first-class mind (you don’t get a scholarship to Oxford for nothing), Thatcher would not have gained a toe-hold if it wasn’t for the support of her husband and others. The Blair government considered letting people other than lawyers handle conveyancing and divorce (two of the biggest legal moneyspinners for lawyers), but that was quietly dropped.”

    Both O’Connor and Ginsburg relied heavily on their husbands (though in Ginsburg’s case, she did take care of her husband who had testicular cancer while also attending law school at the same time so he relied on her), both of whom were wealthy and prominent. O’Connor’s husband was able to fund her races for political office including her campaigns to become an elected judge. Ginsburg’s husband supported her financially so that she could lead her legal fight for gender equality at the ACLU and ultimately make it possible for her to get appointed to the D.C. Circuit.

    I don’t think letting non-lawyers handle legal matters is a good idea. Allowing people to become lawyers and taking down antiquated and nepotistic barriers allowing lawyers to practice on the other hand is a good idea.

  9. @ Robin

    “Think of flavoured shaving foam and you’re not far out.

    She didn’t found the company, she just worked for Lyons Foods in their research division”

    Darn, now you’re making me hungry. I think I’m going to go get some ice cream.

    @ R Huckle

    “It depends on who the makers are, as some are better than others. Yes some ice cream vans produce some really cheap tasting stuff, but it is not all like that.

    In the US and elsewhere it is often sold as ‘soft serve’.”

    Hey! Do NOT put down on fro-yo! That’s a cultural phenomenon for some of us!

    @ Lefty Lampton

    “That’s successful capitalism. Harness the power of technology to make a product that’s cheap tat, then use the power of marketing to tell the consumers that it is wonderful stuff. Grand eh?”

    Lol. Ben and Jerry’s is pretty renowned for their mass produced extremely high quality ice cream. They do just as well as the other big ice cream chains. And, I don’t really eat ice cream anymore cause’ of my diet (though I may go get some today just because all this talk of it is giving me cravings) but have you ever had their Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream flavor? Delicious.

  10. No-one has to eat ice-cream, and if you prefer non-aerated buy it, or, better still, make it yourself. What is the matter with people, why do they behave in a way that causes ill health and then complain about being, ‘ripped off” ? We have the proud title of, ‘fattest people in Europe’, Intelligent people don’t get fat, because being fat is stupid, some ‘clever’ people are fat, but they are also not intelligent. Anyway, I love good food and fine dining, but I’m not fat, so, fatties, take heart, don’t eat crap and you too can be normal, and also prove that intelligence is a moveable feast. :-)

  11. SoCal?

    American Dream flavour?

    Let me guess. It starts off with a wonderfully promising taste, but soon becomes a long, tough, hard grind followed by a sour aftertaste? That sound about right?

  12. @Colin/Ken

    “Thanks-the furrow is less lonely when you are around”

    Of course, you know that the definition of a furrow is “a rut, groove, or narrow depression”. don’t you? If we were to dig a little deeper, the definition of a rut is “a fixed, usually boring routine”.

    Now I wouldn’t say the badinage between Tory posters on these pages is quite that bad, but, now you come to think of it……………………lol

  13. @Ken

    So presumably none of the people you have saved from a life of degradation and despair had any excess weight? Did you have them weighed before deciding to take them on? 8-)

  14. @leftylampton – “… a sour aftertaste”

    In other words… the totem will continue to appear until the dreamer deals with the problem or issue.

    To cheer you up, who said:

    America is a mistake, a giant mistake.

    There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals. The real American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong.

    There is a New America every morning when we wake up.

    Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?

    You laugh at your dream’s absurdities, and at the same time you feel that in the fabric of those absurdities some thought is hidden, but a thought that is real, something belonging to your actual life, something that exists and has always existed in your heart.

    (Answers: Sigmund Freud/G.K. Chesterton/Adlai E. Stevenson Jr./Jack Kerouac/Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky)

  15. @ Lefty Lampton

    “American Dream flavour?

    Let me guess. It starts off with a wonderfully promising taste, but soon becomes a long, tough, hard grind followed by a sour aftertaste? That sound about right?”

    No, the flavor is called Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream. That’s not a spelling mistake.

    It’s delicious all natural vanilla ice cream with fudge covered waffle cone peices and swirls of caramel mixed in. It’s DELICIOUS. And there’s no hard grind or sour aftertaste to it.

    Like I said, I haven’t had it in a while. Part of the problem is that it’s not sold as a flavor in stores that you can just buy a scoop of. You have to buy a whole carton of it from the freezer section. Now, I like to treat myself once or twice a week. Maybe a cupcake or a milkshake or a plate of chocolate chip cookies or a scoop or two (or three) of ice cream. But my basic rule is that I’m not going to take unhealthy stuff and bring it into my home where I can repeatedly go back and eat more of it. I want my treat and then I want to be done with it. That’s the only way (for me at least) to stay in shape and be healthy. So if I buy a carton of Americone Dream, it’s going to sit in my freezer and I’m going to continually go back to it and eat it and that’s something I want to avoid.

    But if you ever vacation here, I suggest getting some. You’ll have to throw away whatever you and yor family don’t eat.

  16. CROSSBAT11………….A furrow is where we plant seeds, which, when nurtured, grow and produce goodness and health…! :-)

  17. VALERIE…………My flock is far too intelligent to employ gluttony as a life choice………..drug dealing, car theft, burglary, etc., but gluttony , no, too far beyond the pale. :-)

  18. @ Lefty Lampton

    Here’s something else and I’m not sure if your major food production companies are allowed to do this or if they’re more regulated (cause I know food standards are often higher in Europe but Britain’s a little different…yada, yada, yada). What a lot of American processed food manufacturers do is they put chemicals into the food that essentially send a message to the brain “Eat more of me.”

    So it’s one thing to eat something that’s pretty unhealthy for you. It’s another if you eat several of that thing because chemicals push you to eat more AND if you as a result crave more bad food because of it. So you might eat an eclaire at some really nice Parisian pattiserie. Healthy? No. But a killer? Not really. But let’s say you buy a package of eclaires at the supermarket that a manufacturer has put loads of chemicals into where you’re not satisfied to have just one but you want more. And where after you’ve eaten those eclaires, you desire to eat other harmful things as well.

    So knowing this information (but being somewhat skeptical), I decided to do a little experiment for myself. In the same week, I purchased a cupcake from a cupcakery that used low end ingredients stuffed with chemicals and then a few days later, I purchased from a cupcakery that only used high end ingredients and avoided chemicals. Now, after I had the chemical filled cupcake, I wasn’t all that satisfied. I wanted to eat more cupcakes. And not only did I want to eat more cupcakes but I began developing cravings for other unhealthy food (like pizza and onion rings).

    Later in the week, I had the high end cupcake (and btw, both were the same price…so). It was delicious. But after I had it, I was done. I didn’t want to go eat more cupcakes and I didn’t develop cravings for other unhealthy foods.

  19. @Socal,

    I’m going to make it my mission to find somewhere that sells Americone Dream over here. Maybe the Whole Foods in Kensington will have some?

  20. 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.

    ————————————————–

    I’m sorry Chris, but all that proves is that Clegg is indeed a right t*ss*r!

    Research shows that home background is more important than type of school, in determining a. child’s educational achievement.

    FWIW, both of my brothers’ children (Note use of apostrophe!) went to pretty ordinary comps and on to Russell group universities . My niece is a practising barrister in a pretty good set of chambers.

    It’s a decent home life that really counts!

    .

  21. @ AKMD

    “I’m going to make it my mission to find somewhere that sells Americone Dream over here. Maybe the Whole Foods in Kensington will have some?”

    You know what, they might. Because I know I’ve seen it in the frozen section of several supermarkets. Can’t remember if I’ve seen it at Whole Foods. When I go to Whole Foods tommorow, I’ll check for it. Of course, a Whole Foods in Kensington might not carry American ice cream brands and might carry more local stuff.

  22. @Socal

    I’m sure I’ve seen Ben & Jerry’s at the Kensington branch. That particular store has tons of food and drink imported from the US so it’s certainly possible that they have US varieties of B&J.

  23. Oh God. I’m hanging around to see the you gov polling results. Is’nt that sad! :-(

  24. CROSSBAT11

    Where would you be without a Tory to dig at Crossbat?

    We do you a service-by facilitating your pavlovian reflex actions, and the little lol moments, without which your left wing life would be such a bleak & empty jerusalem.

    :-) :-) :-)

  25. @Valerie

    23rd of last month saw *four* polls. No sign of a deluge as yet.

  26. VALERIE…………..I agree, and I trust that your successful young relations are slim and fit, junk eating couch potatoes reflect their backgrounds.

  27. Latest YouGov/Sun results 23rd Feb CON 39%, LAB 38%, LD 10%; APP -18

  28. Ha ha ha ha ha :-)

    G’night folks !

  29. Poll lead swinging wildly…Approval swings from -28 to -18 in 3 days…Not sure what to make of it

  30. Aargh

    C 39 L38 LD 10.

    I’m off before Boo Boo shows up. Night all. 8-)

  31. @YouGov: Update – Tories lead on 1 – Latest YouGov/Sun results 23rd Feb CON 39%, LAB 38%, LD 10%; APP -18

    http://t.co/7ygwHV1Z

  32. Bloody hell Ken. As if being right over to the right (sic) end I’d the spectrum wasn’t enough, you’ve gone all Body Fascist on us now as well.

  33. That’ll do..

  34. I think I won the prediction race, and what about the approval rating ! I plough the fields and scatter……..! :-)
    My CAPTCHA code is 777H, ain’t life grand. :-)

  35. Good Evening. nervous footy at Old Trafford. Interesting programme on BBC 4 tonight as well.

    The Polls show, surely, that ED is never going to win any General Election.
    Everyone knows it. He is doing less well than Foot was in early 1981, I think.
    He is doing less well than Neil Kinnock was doing in 1985.

    He is certainly of course doing less well than Tony Blair, but he has told us he is not Tony Blair (followed by grin)

    Sorry Valerie

  36. LEFTYLAMPTON…………I must admit, in private to you, a comfortable build, as befits a man of my advanced years and happy lifestyle, however, I am in control and, with a little help from my tailor, look well. :-)

  37. Having a real laugh at YG polI t’s just got so silly that I don’t think it is worth looking at, keep saying it (and that is because I think it is true) there is something deeply amiss with YG.

    I know 5 people who all voted Tory last time and all 5 regret it and will be returning to Labour.

    I know this is hardly scientific and I know none of these people have been polled, but surely they have to at least part representative of a wider change?

  38. Careful with your admissions Ken. You’ll get the amateur psychologists going. Maybe just a little thickening around the waist causes you to lash out at lard-arse welfare scroungers in what really is a fit of self loathing? Eh? Eh?

    I know your party has previous on this sort of thing. Didn’t Major’s Victorian Values…ahh…thrust coincide with his making the beast with two backs with the member for South Derbyshire?

  39. LEFTYLAMPTON…………….That’s it ! No 2nd breakfast tomorrow, and a swim before leaving…..thanks for the nudge. :-)

  40. @SMUKESH
    “I am not sure what to make of it”

    Neither, apparently are the British voters. In consequence,
    they dance to the American smooth between the two main parties. I wake up during the night typing NECK & NECK.
    If you are going to win, there is not much guarantee of it at the moment. Good Night.

  41. @GRACIE
    I know 26.5 people and 6 Labrador’s, who voted Labour last time and now have become monks in Tibet.

  42. GRACIE…………You charmer. :-)

  43. Ken,
    Before retiring for Compline and The Great Silence,

    Not a crystal ball.

    Just going on the evidence.

  44. CHRISLANE1945………..I think your previous post was meant for GRACIE, was it not ?

  45. The VIs up and down like a yoyo isn’t it?

  46. I wonder if the drunken antics of a Scottish Labour MP had any bearing on tonights poll, surely the Member for Falkirk going berserk in a tax payer subsidised bar can only upset ordinary people.

  47. Gracie,

    “Having a real laugh at YG polI t’s just got so silly that I don’t think it is worth looking at, keep saying it (and that is because I think it is true) there is something deeply amiss with YG.
    I know 5 people who all voted Tory last time and all 5 regret it and will be returning to Labour.
    I know this is hardly scientific and I know none of these people have been polled, but surely they have to at least part representative of a wider change?”

    Your anecdotes are great, but I’m sorry to say this is a site about national polling (UKPR) not just what ‘Gracie’s mates’ think………..sorry to be harsh but every time the Tories poll at a decent level you throw your toys out of the pram……

  48. Quite soon, the atrocities that are taking place in Syria will make our domestic concerns seem trivial. A critical point is being reached in the struggle to rid the Middle East of its barbaric dictatorships. This is a time for strong governments I’m afraid.

  49. I spoke to someone last week at work (I rarely talk about it) about his voting intentions “next time” – he said he wasn’t going to vote. From that we can infer that no votes at all will be cast at the next GE and all seats will be decided by drawing straws or rolling dice.

    Honestly neck and neck seems the most plausible position, if we had to guess the poll numbers from the situation at large, rather than asking people. We’re in a mess and it’s a choice between unpleasant decisions or, erm, something else not well defined. Once Labour get themselves a platform, we might well see some movement. Before that the overall position is a lot of uncertainty, and that is reflected by the wobbly near-parity position.

  50. Gracie – you probably want to look at this Too Frequently Asked Questions

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