Boris Johnson’s victory in London has produced the predictable flurry of media speculation about Boris as a future leader. Both the polls in the weekend papers – YouGov in the Sunday Times and Survation in the Mail on Sunday had a series of questions comparing Boris and David Cameron and both suggested Boris would do very marginally worse than Cameron.

Polls on alternative leaders are a tricky thing to do, and of dubious worth. Journalists love them as they produce nice easy headlines, but they are often done very badly indeed and even if done well, still have problems.

To start with the methodological problems, firstly you need to ask voting intention in exactly the same way – if you normally filter by likelihood to vote and reallocate don’t knows, you need to do that in your hypothetical question too, otherwise any difference could be down to that (including asking likelihood to vote afresh, you cannot assume it would stay the same). Neither can you say “Imagine Boris Johnson was leader” as it gives undue prominence to one party leader, you have to mention all three. However, you can’t then compare it to a normal voting intention question, as they don’t mention the party leaders – what if any change in the answer is actually down to mentioning Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg? Instead you need to do a control question.

In YouGov’s poll they asked two questions. The first asked how people would vote if the party leaders at the next election stayed the same, the second if the party leaders were Johnson, Miliband and Clegg. You might expect the first one to be the same as the current headline figures – it is not. Current voting intention is CON 31%, LAB 43%, LDEM 9%. If you ask people how they will vote at the general election if the leaders are still Cameron, Miliband and Clegg the answer is CON 32%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10% – mentioning Cameron, Miliband and Clegg in the question reduces the Labour lead by 4 points.

This is interesting in its own right – perhaps more interesting than the Boris comparison! Is it people consciously thinking to themselves that while they’ll say Labour now as a protest, but probably won’t actually vote that way come the election? Or a positive effect from mentioning Cameron, or a negative effect from mentioning Ed Miliband? It’s impossible to tell.

YouGov then asked the same question with Boris Johnson as Tory leader, this changed the figures to CON 32%, LAB 41%, LDEM 11%. So under Boris the Conservatives would perform the same, but Labour and the Lib Dems would do slighter better (it looks as though the Conservatives would lose support to the Lib Dems and Labour, but presumably it is cancelled out by gaining support from Others and Don’t knows). Even this, however, shouldn’t be given too much weight, as people don’t tend to be very good at answering hypothetical questions about how they would vote if X happened. People don’t know what policies Boris Johnson would promote, how he’d handle the job, so the answers are based on pretty flimsy information (not, one should add, that people’s eventual voting intentions are necessarily based on a much greater understanding.)

YouGov also asked whether people were suited to be Prime Minister, and were in touch with the public. On being “Prime Ministerial” David Cameron did substantially better than Boris Johnson and, indeed, the other people asked about. 44% of people thought David Cameron was well suited to being Prime Minister, compared to 24% for Boris Johnson (Ed Miliband was on 25%, George Osborne just 10%). Of course, actually being Prime Minister is a big help in people seeing you as Prime Ministerial! On understanding the problems faced by ordinary people only 21% thought Cameron understood well, behind Boris Johnson on 27% (and Ed Miliband on 32%).

Survation in the Mail on Sunday also asked some Boris Johnson questions. They asked if people were more or less likely to vote Conservative with Boris in charge. More or less likely to vote X if Y questions come with another whole bucketload of problems which I won’t go into today, but they found a similar situation anyway – 22% said more likely, 24% less likely.

Survation also asked a series of questions on whether people rated Boris or David Cameron on various attributes. Boris was seen as more likeable, charming and more in touch. cameron was seen as having better leadership qualities, being more true to Conservative values, better at taking tough decisions, more trusted on the recession and likely to be a better Prime Minister. They scored equally on intelligence.

Personally, I suspect the practical requirement to be a member of the House of Commons at the time a leadership vacancy arises and the timing difficulties around that are a huge block to Boris Johnson ever being in the running for the party leadership. Nevertheless, what data we have does not suggest he is any sort of panacea for the Tories.

470 Responses to “Comparing Boris and Dave”

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  1. As a said a couple of days ago, subject boris to proper scrutiny by the Press, which he does not get in London, and he would be smashed. And this is the high water mark for boris.

  2. Also one thing this poll doesn’t take into account is the negative mood in the country right now. In better times, when people are more financially secure, people may be more likely to vote Boris, but as he comes across a bit less serious, in desperate times, people want someone more boring and serious.

    Greater London, is actually doing quite well, if you look at the Greater London economy in isolation, ie break the UK down into regions, Greater London is the only region that never actually went into recession. London is actually growing, just elsewhere in the country they’re going backwards, which balances out as a small step backwards overall ie 0.2%

  3. An interesting article, Anthony. However, I think your closing paragraph says it all: how on earth is Boris going to resign the mayoralty, get back into parliament in a by-election (always a tricky thing to do for a candidate from the governing party) and then successfully challenge for the leadership prior to 2015?

    It just doesn’t make sense, so really all of the Boris vs Dave questions are incredibly hypothetical.

    For that reason (and I don’t wish to try and derail the subject of this thread – and probably won’t succeed in doing so anyway) I would instead like to discuss something more relevant, especially as today is the second anniversary of the 2010 general election…


    Assuming a May 2015 general election, we are now exactly 40% of the way through this parliament.

    Is Labour registering the type of mid-term poll leads they need in order to sustain themselves to victory in 2015?

    With this question in mind, I thought I would use my unsurpassed expertise to update the exercise I did three months ago by taking a look at what the polls were saying at the same stage of each of the previous eight post-war Tory governments.

    For your delectation I reproduce the findings below…

    1951-55 PARLIAMENT
    March 1953: Con lead +2%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead +2%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: 0%.

    1955-59 PARLIAMENT
    February 1957: Con lead -6%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead +4%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: +5%.

    1959-64 PARLIAMENT
    October 1961: Con lead 0%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead -2%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: -1%.

    1970-74 PARLIAMENT
    December 1971: Con lead -6%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead +1%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: +3%.

    1979-83 PARLIAMENT
    December 1980: Con lead -24%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead +15%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: +20%.

    1983-87 PARLIAMENT
    January 1985: Con lead +8%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead +12%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: +2%.

    1987-92 PARLIAMENT
    May 1989: Con lead 0%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead +8%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: +4%.

    1992-97 PARLIAMENT
    April 1994: Con lead -21%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead -13%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: +4%.

    40% of the way through: Con lead -6%.
    Subsequent General Election: Con lead +4%.
    Lab to Con ‘Swing-back’: +5%.

    (NB: In each case I have used the opinion poll whose fieldwork comes closest to the exact 40% point).

    In his February article “Should Labour be doing better?” Anthony indicated that he is suspicious of using precedent to try and determine future electoral trends. He is right to be cautious as there is considerable variation in the above figures.

    For example, if you exclude the 1959-64 government, the average ‘swing-back’ across the remaining seven parliaments goes up from 5% to 6%. Conversely, if you instead exclude the 1979-83 government, the average ‘swing-back’ is cut in half.

    People can make up their own minds about the validity of this exercise. My view is that it can at best only be used as a loose guide as to what might happen. Nonetheless, the trend whereby the Conservatives tend to stage some sort of come back is fairly pronounced. Bear in mind that they came back significantly in six of the above instances, and pretty much held their ground in the other two. The question is will they recover enough from their current nadir?

    When I last posted this exercise three months ago (at the 35% stage of the parliament) it seemed that the Tories were still on course for a likely 2015 electoral victory. Although the average ‘swing-back’ at that stage was only 4%, they had the advantage of being neck-and-neck with Labour in the polls.

    For those of you who believe in the lessons of historical precedent, the new evidence makes a Conservative victory look much less likely. The current 5% ‘swing-back’, when applied to the latest YouGov poll, would still give Labour a narrow popular vote lead. Even allowing for the boundary redistribution, this could give Ed Miliband a small overall majority in parliament.

    However, I certainly wouldn’t count the Tories out yet and will be looking to see if Labour can sustain their current strong position when I repeat the exercise at the 45% stage (in August).

    Now, back to the Boris vs. Dave discussion…

  4. Hmm, interesting stuff re BJvDC.

    Perhaps the threat of BJ is simply useful to the rightwing of the Cons to achieve more rightwing policies from this gov?

    The practicality of getting BJ into the HoC is a problem, but not insurmountable is it?

    Anyway, it’s all speculation…

  5. CON 31%, LAB 43%, LDEM 9%. If you ask people how they will vote at the general election if the leaders are still Cameron, Miliband and Clegg the answer is CON 32%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10% – mentioning Cameron, Miliband and Clegg in the question reduces the Labour lead by 4 points.

    This is interesting in its own right – perhaps more interesting than the Boris comparison!
    Perhaps, Anthony. But asking people how they would vote in their own constituency changes the headline VI too, does it not?

  6. I suspect that even just asking them *again* after any other questions have been asked produces just as much variation in the result. So it’s to be taken with large grains of salt.

  7. Amber – it does, particularly in Lib Dem seats (it makes a much smaller difference elsewhere in the country)

  8. Jay – it’s not that. We did the same test a week or two ago and didn’t ask any questions inbetween, and that got just the same pattern.

  9. Getting BJ into HOC isn’t impossible. The tories are the largest party in the HOC, and so far not one has resigned/died w/e. Probablilty shows us that during the course of 5 years at least one will. Also, the majority of seats in the HOC are safe seats, only a relatively few actually swing and decide the outcome. So all Boris needs to do is wait for sometime between 2012 and 2014 wait for a safe seat to come up, fight it, win it, then resign the mayoralty.

    (What happens when a Mayor resigns??? Do they just appoint a new mayor? Is there another election? How does it work?)

    Didn’t Julia Gillard challenge Kevin Rudd for the leadership only a few months before the election? That was because the party was failing and a swift change still didn’t hand them the win, but they became the largest party and formed a government.

    If the economy has not improved, and we’re in disaster mode, facing certain defeat, wipeout even, one last roll of the dice and doing a swap wouldn’t be a miss.

    Rememeber the tories don’t have this faux loyalty to its leaders like labour does. Everyone was shouting for gordon to go so that labour would stand a better chance, there was constant talks of David M being drafted in, but labour were too loyal, and simply took the defeat.

    We aren’t like that, we don’t mind getting rid of leaders who fail us, see IDS,

  10. @Anthony

    But if you asked someone the same VI question again after you asked one time, “Just to see if you’re sure”, there’s going to be answer variation there too.

  11. All this is pretty academic as DC will be the leader in 2015. Boris may return to HOC after his second term ends in London but there is no guarantee. 2015 is all about the economy as most elections are. If we get some good growth and a reduction in unemployment then I expect the tories will regain momentum and get a small outright majority. This however is pretty unlikely with only three years to go and the size of the whole we are in. This probably means that Labour will get a reasonable majority o f 50-100 in 2015. Unfortunately the electorate (and people in general) won’t understand that to fix the problems that Brown created will take 10-15 years. This combined with the general dislike of cuts despite their necessity will give Labour the victory. It won’t take them long to start spending money we don’t have and I’m sure we’ll eventually end up like greece.

  12. I think the amazing thing about the question using the leaders names is that it changes so little

    If you read certain labour ‘supporters’ or Tories you think that Miliband would be actually behind Cameron if that question was asked? Be interesting if you used BoJo instead of Cameron.

    I think there is more chance of Miliband leading in 2015 than Cameron


    Nadine sums it up best. We’re not like labour, we’re not going to sleepwalk to the next election sticking blindly by our leader and watch our seats disappear. Cameron has a year, maybe more to turn this around, or there’s going to be a huge split. You don’t need to worry about the electorate, Labour, or Lib Dems getting rid of Cameron, if he keeps failing us, we will do it ourselves.

  14. Bazsc – “Be interesting if you used BoJo instead of Cameron.”

    …read the next paragraph of the original post Bazsc… ;)

  15. ooops

  16. @ AR558

    It won’t take them long to start spending money we don’t have and I’m sure we’ll eventually end up like greece.
    That narrative almost worked in 2010; I’m not so sure it will in 2015.

    The tide is turning, according to polling. People are beginning to see growth, employment & opportunity as being equally important to deficit reduction.

  17. PB reporting that the first exit polls in France have Hollande winning by 52-53%…The polls haven`t closed yet though


    The tide is turning, according to polling. People are beginning to see growth, employment & opportunity as being equally important to deficit reduction.


    That is only because people don’t understand the enormous implications of a large debt. When the IMF have to come in and put millions of public sector workers on the dole then the reality will hit home.

  19. AR558:

    Looking at it from a less partisan perspective, both approaches can achieve what they intend to (a healthier economy), it’s whichever the public prefers that will win out.

    You either cut, cut, cut, reducing the costs and pay back the deficit, and then eventually the economy will be outgrowing your costs.

    Or you can spend, spend, spend, and use the money to promote a high level of growth, and use this money to pay off the deficit.

    It’s not about people not understanding, it’s about people beginning to realise that there’s an alternative solution.

  20. @AR558

    That is only because people don’t understand the enormous implications of a large debt. When the IMF have to come in and put millions of public sector workers on the dole then the reality will hit home.
    I’m going to point out that this is a polling site. We kind of go by what the polls are saying. Generally speaking, Anthony isn’t keen on arguments based on: ‘The public just don’t get it’.

    I could equally counter your point by saying that polling shows the public are pretty much against the UK giving money to the IMF, paticularly if it will be used to support the eurozone countries. Perhaps the public would view cash to the UK from the IMF as a refund & not the tragedy which you portray it to be.

  21. “Conservatives would lose support to the Lib Dems and Labour, but presumably it is cancelled out by gaining support from Others and Don’t knows”

    That kind of sums up the bind they are in at the moment. The modernisation strategy is yielding diminishing returns, continue with it and support drains away, move to true Conservatism and support drains away in the other direction.

    Boris is portraying himself as the “true Conservative”, but whether he has the proper eurosceptic credentials is open to question.
    He gambled that the Tories would win an OM in 2015 (with him as one of their number), then promptly ditch Cameron. He could easily wriggle out of the mayoralty in three years – but as it turns out his real opportunity is now (Osborne is a spent force), and he’ll be kicking himself that he didn’t accept a safe seat in 2010.

    Thank you for the excellent set of explanations above. It destroys the nonsense banded about in the press and to large extent, posts on this site.

    It is pointless to expect much common sense at the present time, but time, DC’s major buddy – pal, will tell.

  23. Just to throw one prospect in the ring, Hollande, is as good as in. When his socialist politics, tax and spend & borrow and spend urges take over, (in about 1 weeks time), a new Fashoda incident will occur. Will the latest support for left wing economics and Europe, by the British people, (well they turned to Labour), hurt Cammo, or will he be the hero who put Jonny Frog back in his box.

  24. Max: your first post in this thread is pure, worthless, conjecture.

    Re BJ vs DC, very illuminating. What I would say is if anyone’s got a couple of grand to underwrite themselves, now would be a great to to lay some bets against Boris :D

  25. On a slightly more immediate note than Johnson’s leadership challenge, do we know when to expect any exit polls or the actual result of the French presidential election (BST) ?

  26. Robin Hood

    Thankyou for your detailed analysis — it provides a facinating insight into what Con and Lab need to do to win in 2015 — keep up the good work – lets see what it looks like in August !!


  27. ARR558

    Growth and deficit reduction are not automatically inimical. There are strong arguments that one is essential to the prospects of achieving the other.

    The problem is that for the last 2 years, throughout prettying the whole of Europe, the assumption has been that there is one and only one order of cause and effect that can be countenanced. Deficit reduction is a necessary pre-cursor to growth, not the other way round. (In fact, given how little attention has been paid to growth for the last two years, one might even think that policy makers on this side of the Atlantic also consider it a sufficient condition…)

    That argument appears to be running out of steam, at least in its electoral attraction.

  28. @GWUK

    Polls close in about half and hour. Should get exits then.

  29. France 24 – CDU lose a state in Germany. And Netanyahu calls an early GE in Israel. Lots of voting this year!

  30. AW — when you get a moment, would you update the UKPR polling average.



  31. The German state I mentioned above is Schleswig Holstein.

    Exit results approximately as follows:

    CDU – 31%
    Socialists – 30%
    Greens – 14%
    Free Democrats (big losers) – 9%
    Danish minority party – 5%
    Hard left (less than 5%).

    Likely coalition if results hold –
    Socialist + Green + Danish. Oust governing CDU/Free Democrats coalition. Another reverse for the Liberals

  32. @ The Sheep (from the previous thread)

    “Let me give you another angle on your politics free local government. Is there really a Labour way or a Conservative way to spend a $3Bn budget that covers services that start before people are born and ends with services used after they die? That is Birmingham City Council.

    For the record, although I concede that the debate is lost for a good few years, I am an ex-Councillor who would dearly have liked to see a directly elected Mayor.

    I don’t accept the argument around extra bureaucracy – there is already a lot and any change would have been marginal. I never saw this supposed consensus politics in action. Perhaps I was asleep when we discussed our programme with the Liberal and Conservative groups. In reality decisions were made by a subset of the largest group, and there were usually enough people elected from safe seats to make up that. In other words people who had little to fear from the electorate. They were also not always the most competent people.

    I really believe that a DEM position would have attracted stronger candidates and given voters a more direct way of running their city. I also accept that sometimes this person wouldn’t be who I’d have chosen., but that is democracy.

    But that view didn’t prevail.”

    I didn’t know you were a politician. That’s pretty darn cool. I accept your position on the budgeting choices having a party difference. Though, here’s some irony. Your local governments seem to have more power (in a state that supposedly has a very centralized government) than local governments in the United States. Even New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and some others do not have this level of power.

    I appreciate your perspective and your arguments.

    I would say to you though that having non-partisan elections for city government would be more likely to produce the most competent and dedicated people. The reason being that in someplace like Birmingham or Manchester where Labour is going to have the strongest voting power, Labour candidates who aren’t that good won’t be able to win simply because they’re Labour.

  33. @ GWUK

    I believe the polls close in France in like 7 minutes. I think Le Monde has some sort of countdown or something.

  34. When you get down to it, the whole Boris thing is a wonderful example of the parochialism of the media. Believing that Cameron is causing problems because he is perceived as posh, they want to replace him with someone with exactly the same background and an even slightly fruitier accent[1]. But good old Bozza is one of the media’s own, so everything will be hunky-dory.

    The idea that the government’s troubles might actually be caused by their policies or their actions seems beyond their grasp. All will be well with some slightly better PR and a new figurehead. Never mind that Boris’s only memorable achievements were borrowing someone else’s bike scheme and looking a complete idiot in Beijing[2] or that he has the attention span of a gnat with ADHD, he should be the next PM because you used to wreck restaurants together.

    Similarly, the Conservatives are supposed to be failing because they are not Right-wing enough, ignoring the problem that the most harmful Budget policy (cutting the 50% tax rate) was one that those now demanding Cameron’s head were calling for themselves.

    Admittedly when the calls for you go are led by Nadine Dorries, you’re probably still pretty safe. Remember when she was going to get the Speaker replaced?[3] That went well didn’t it? But as those of us who remember the Major years will testify, an endless stream of government relaunches[4] accompanied by low-level plotting does not impress the public. Even if the economic news is good. Which it isn’t.

    [1] It’s almost as mad as announcing your leader should be replaced because he looks weird – and then put his very similar brother in instead.

    [2] It is unfortunate that no pollster seems to have asked voters if their support for Boris was based on the expectation of some really toe-curling scenes at the Olympics. If there’s anything the English love (and are good at) it’s the comedy of embarrassment.

    [3] I’m mainly bringing this up to annoy Roland by reminding him that there’s something he and Mad Nad agree on.

    [4] Let’s have Rose Garden Mk II. Because Mk I had such a good effect on Lib Dem VI.

  35. aw — sorry, please delete my previous comment, i can see it can be taken as partisan. :-(

  36. Beeb24
    Close of poll projection:
    Sarkozy 48%
    Hollande 52%

  37. France 24 – hollande 51.9% (exit)

  38. Polling stations closed in France, exit polls showing Hollande on 51.9%

  39. RAF: Snap. ;)

  40. Hollande has been elected President in France. That’s according to the projection at LeMonde. An instant projection at the close of polls, very impressive.

  41. @Scotswaehae

    Let’s hope it turns out to be accurate!

    France 24 – Sarkozy will not lead the Right into parliamentary elections – report.

    French networks call Presidency for Hollande.

  42. @ Scotswaehae and RAF

    Wow, you beat me to it.

    I have to say that I am surprised by how narrow this result is (if this is indeed the actual result).

  43. Exit polls in France showing 51.9% for Hollande, that’s awfully close… does anybody think that there could be a last minute upset from the actual count?

  44. @Socal

    No-one is suggesting the exits (carried out by Ipsos for French TV) are likely to be wrong.

  45. @Amber

    No. Hollande will soon claim victory.

  46. @ RAF

    “No-one is suggesting the exits (carried out by Ipsos for French TV) are likely to be wrong.”

    I mean, I think they’re right on the result. I’m just curious if they’re right on the margin or if Hollande won by a larger margin.

  47. @JimJam (from previous thread)

    “Crossbat11 with gd asdvantage over Bolton you near as damn it safe now. Pleased for you if not DC.”

    Thanks for the kind words, and from an old Tull fan to boot, and I think we’re more or less safe now unless Bolton turn around a 17 goal disadvantage in the last game, that is! I must thank Neil A for Spurs generosity today, although they completely outplayed us with 10 men for 40 minutes! I was a complete nervous wreck at Villa Park by the end. Thanks also to Tark and his Baggies outfit for that late equaliser at Bolton.

    Cameron being a Villa fan is one of his more endearing characteristics and while I abhor his politics, I don’t dislike the man and I hope he’s as happy as I am tonight. I must admit I warmed to him when I saw him and his little son enjoying the football at QPR earlier in the season and celebrating a Villa goal. His son looked particularly delighted.

    Johnson as a potential vote winner for the Tories if he becomes Leader? I’m sceptical that his eccentric brand of highly personalised politics will translate to a national stage. What works for him in London may well be less popular when a potential Prime Minister is being judged by a UK wide electorate. Vote winner in the South, big vote loser in the North, Wales and Scotand perhaps?

  48. Socal: I doubt it – he showed a huge lead when leading into the first round, but when it came to a straight up left or right, the polls narrowed.

  49. @Socal

    I think it was always logical that some National.Front supporters would boost Sarkozy’s chances. Clearly, not enough.

    52/48 is not that narrow in France. Last time, against a weaker opponent Sarkozy only won 53/47. So I think the left/right balance in France is generally fairly even – like the US.

  50. @Amber Star

    A 52:48 Hollande victory was what the last eve of polls were predicting. As Raf observes, the exit polls are rarely wrong.

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