The Conservative party have got some very good pickup in the press this morning for some Populus polling they have commissioned about Ed Miliband. It’s very good PR for them, framing the start of Labour conference with media discussion of Miliband’s position, but the polling itself doesn’t actually tell us much new – people are not particularly keen on Ed Miliband and don’t seem him as Prime Ministerial.

I haven’t seen the tables for the survey yet, but none of the answers reported in the papers seem unusual or surprising – they are mostly things that we have already seen in published newspaper polls. Some of the figures look like they haven’t given people don’t knows or have re-percentaged to exclude them, which makes answers look more impressive, but the balance of opinion doesn’t seem surprising. Earlier this month we saw MORI finding David Cameron had extremely large leads over Miliband on being Prime Ministerial, being smart and strong enough for the job. YouGov last year found 45% of Labour voters thought the party would have been better off with David Miliband and 41% of Labour voters thought they’d made the wrong choice. In today’s Times they report their own Populus found showing 59% of people still agree that they fnd it difficult to imagine Ed Miliband as PM (though this is down from 68% in January).

You should always be very cautious about polls commissioned by political parties (and, for that matter, by pressure groups and other campaigning organisations) – the polling company they commission should always ensure that the questions they ask are fair and balanced, but they still choose what sort of things to ask about. For example, the Conservative party obviously didn’t commission polling asking about whether Ed Miliband was more in touch with ordinary people than David Cameron, as they wouldn’t have liked the answers.

If it is being reported accurately there also appears to one very silly question in there – would people be more likely to vote Labour with a stronger leader? Well, yes, of course they would – ditto for any other party. Unless the incumbent leader is the absolute best possible leader imaginable, the Platonic ideal of a leader, then presumably you’d be even more likely to vote for the party if it had an even better leader (ditto even better policies, or even better MPs, or whatever).

That said, While the choice of questions maybe designed to create a particular impression, it doesn’t change the underlying truth – polls show that Ed Miliband has some problems with how the public see him.

I’ve written about this at some length and I don’t propose to go back through it at length – go read it here if you missed it – suffice to say, Miliband performs very poorly compared to his party when it comes to beng seen as a potential Prime Minister. He is less popular than his party and seems to decrease Labour’s support when he is mentioned. When particularly characteristics are asked about he is seem as honest and in touch with ordinary people, but weak and not up to the job.

Whether this really matters is a different question, and one I’ve written about here. The bottom line is that the public do have poor perceptions of Miliband and he probably is being a drag on their support… BUT they are ahead in the polls even with him, so it clearly can’t be that much of a game breaker. The more pertinent question is whether Miliband’s suitability as PM will become more of a consideration to voters as we get closer to an election, and that is an open question.

97 Responses to “Conservative polling on Ed Miliband”

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  1. 35/40/10 according to pb ??

  2. Anthony Wells raises the possibility that Miliband’s suitability to be PM might become more of a consideration nearer the election: we can’t discount that.

    He may be able to alter perceptions in due course. Imo he is doing well in many ways, but he needs to sound more assured in the way he expresses himself… all the time, not just some of the time. He is still a young man, and occasionally there is too much of a yearning quality in his voice when he is pleading his case.

    Roger Mexico alludes to “asking someone a second time – effectively saying “No, how would you really vote… “, the realignments, tactical voting and non-voting once people give further consideration to the question.

    I haven’t seen the questions but there might be another factor at work when a respondent gives an answer and an authority figure (pollsters are the experts and they are interrogating you) asks the same question again but in a slightly different way.

    Some may respond to the subtle (or not so subtle) guidance, and will aim for compliance. Compliance is only skin deep though. Those ultimately behind the questioning (in this case the Tory party) will be hoping for something more – internalisation – that people will come away thinking Labour has a weak leader. This will be a part of the strategy, the opinion poll is just an indication of that.

    Which brings us back to Ed Miliband, can he address any concerns the public may have about him by the time of the next election?

  3. Ann in W:

    Yes he was a great speaker and did a great deal to prepare the Labour Party for government.

  4. Well I am going to sign off now ,watching Moltanbano,those recent results are
    Idiotic IMHO.

  5. Oh dear :-)

  6. I am curious about one aspect of this “Ed contra Dave” thing in the public mind. How is it that “Dave” is perceived of as a “strong” leader? Given that his own troops on his own backbenches have been giving him far more grief (about which he has been able to do nothing) than “Ed’s” troops have been giving their leader, I am at a loss to understand how Miliband is regarded as a weaker leader than Cameron. Anybody got any explanation for this? After all it can be argued that the “Trotskyite Impossiblists” (a description of that section of the PCP from a current cabinet minister according to Andrew Rawnsley) demonstrate that DC is way weaker than EM. Any thoughts?

  7. Amber:

    I am appalled that you used the appalling Americanism “shout out” as used by the appalling Queen of the Hockey Moms ***[I’ve forgotten her name thankfully.]

    Even more appallingly you have used it to mean the opposite of the way it is intended. That may be a good thing actually but I’m still appalled.

    “Let’s hear y’all give a showd-owd t’all the hockey Moms !!!”

    wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo !!!!!!!!!

    Yaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy !!!!!!!

    Way ta go !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    [good grief]


  8. @Ann in W
    I’m off too! Addictive whodunnits.

  9. @ Paul Croft

    “I am appalled that you used the appalling Americanism “shout out” as used by the appalling Queen of the Hockey Moms ***[I’ve forgotten her name thankfully.]”

    Is the term “shout out” an Americanism? I didn’t realize that. And if you’ve forgotten her name, you’re like most Americans nowadays. :)

    @ Billy Bob

    “Anthony Wells raises the possibility that Miliband’s suitability to be PM might become more of a consideration nearer the election: we can’t discount that.”

    Yeah, I think that’s an interesting analytical point here. Labour’s current lead in the polls is given in polls that ask about the election in the abstract. No one is expecting an election any time soon (though it could of course happen).

    It oddly reminds me of the whole dichotomy between asking US voters the question of which party they will vote for in Congressional elections and then actually seeing very different results. It’s one thing to ask which party you prefer overall. It’s another to ask which actual Congressional candidates you’re going to vote for. (For some reason, this polling keeps getting conducted though this year things may actually be getting fixed because a lot of pollsters are actually including the names of actual incumbents).

    As your general elections get more Presidentialized if you will (I think that’s a made-up word), these current polls are more generic. Which party do you prefer? But as an election draws closer and voters begin tuning in, the polls might as well ask whether voters prefer Miliband, Cameron, or Clegg.

    We actually already saw something somewhat similar to this in the 2011 Scottish election (as Old Nat accurately, stubbornly, and wisely predicted) where polls began to shift when voters began tuning in to the election.


    I’ll accept “stubborn” as accurate! :-)

  11. In case anyone was wondering…….

    YouGov/The Sunday Times Poll- LAB 40% CON 35% LIB DEM 10%

    Well within the margin of error of course which is what I suspect it is so no major change I reckon.

  12. @ Billy Bob

    Want to see some craziness?

    I wonder if the Dem challenger here is distantly related to JM. I think they share similar political ideologies. If he wins (god willing), he’d also be 29 upon first taking office, he’d be taking a seat from the opposition, and he’d be replacing a predecessor who was a certifiable lunatic. Although that may be too kind to Mr. West who rightfully belongs in prison.

    Could you imagine any political party in the UK ever knowingly selecting a war criminal as a candidate for a Parliamentary constituency? Even UKIP and the BNP probably wouldn’t bite at something like that. (I say “knowingly” because it seems like something all three of your major party leaders might do by accident, having to quickly fix, and then have the awkward duty of having to publicly explain the situation to the public).


    “Could you imagine any political party in the UK ever knowingly selecting a war criminal as a candidate for a Parliamentary constituency?”

    Well lots of constituencies reselected their MPs who had voted for an illegal war in Iraq, so it’s not that unimaginable!

  14. @ Old Nat

    “I’ll accept “stubborn” as accurate! :)”

    Well I’m hoping that my political predictions of the last year or so (which have been far away from the pundits prediction) are halfway as accurate as yours were.

    Understanding politics is truly a skill. Even many of the highly paid pundits, political consultants, strategists, pollsters, communications folks (people in professions that I aspire to actually) don’t understand politics fully and miss stuff all the time. So when you’re an amateur essentially, it says something when you know it better than the so-called experts do. That’s true in your case.


    I think the American response would be “Aw Shucks”

    What is a shuck?

  16. @ Anthony

    I think the polling community will have find an alternative technical term for what the experts call push polling because the zeitgeist is to use ‘push’ polling in the way which I have: i.e. to deliberately commission a poll which asks loaded questions with a view to pushing the (almost inevitable outcome of the poll) into the mainstream media.

    I will try to come up with an alternative word or phrase for technical push polling; it will give me something entertaining to think about. :-)

  17. @ Paul Croft

    1. Wasn’t it the Queen of the Soccer moms who coined the phrase Shout Out, not hockey moms?

    2. Yes, I was using it facetiously because of the presidential/ Amercanisation of UK politics.

    3. I was a hockey mom, in the UK & Canada (only one match in Boston with which to bolster any US style hockey mom ‘credibility’) ;-)

  18. Amber

    Alternatively, we can let the “expert” definition stand, and develop a new term for what you describe.

    How about “absolutely normal polling by partisans with the money to commission polls” – that should cover it.

  19. I prefer “polling by devious bastards”

    I could be prejudiced i suppose but I don’t think so.

  20. I’m toying with proselytize polling. I think that sounds ‘experty’, technical & is satisfyingly difficult to spell.

    I think the zeitgeist will keep push polling as its simple to spell term for ‘devious [email protected]’ polling. :-)


    I think our different suggestions are the same – but yours is pithier!

  22. @ Old Nat

    I think this is pith poor polling too. ;-)

  23. Tactical Polling?

    Amber already has Polldrums and I think ATTAD so someone else should have this one.

  24. Amber


    Paul Krugman has an interesting article about austerity programmes

    which has a bit of political relevance in our wee bit of the world.

    “So the austerity drive in Britain isn’t really about debt and deficits at all; it’s about using deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs. And this is, of course, exactly the same thing that has been happening in America.”

  25. @SoCalLiberal

    Ok, so now I have to look out for the18th Congressional District, way too much craziness there.

    I’m feeling fragile as it is. Last night I watched the 1980 Carter vs. the other fellow, Reagan. (Joey Ramone had another name for him: “bonzo goes to bitburg then goes out for a cup of tea / as i watch it on tv somehow it really bothered me”.)

    I remember as student being totally outraged that the media had nothing to say about the substance of the debate and kept on playing the “there you go again” clip.

    Just to torture myself I also had a look at Gore vs. Bush.

    Some of the sites have comparisons with this day in 2004 and 2008, but is there a site that has campaign polls for those earlier elections?

    It has become a Republican talking point that Carter had a poll lead over Reagan beforehand, and then after that single last-minute debate it became a red landslide, but Regan’s own pollster disputes that.
    In 2000 Gore and Bush seem to have been tied for much of the campaign, but again, I don’t know if that was really the case.

    Let’s just say things are looking good with Obama’s poll rating, and his electoral college vote projection climbing in recent days, but I can’t help having a wee attack of the nerves as October 3rd looms.

  26. Are there no other polls out tonight? Be good to get a clear indication on Clegg’s speech. I thought it was rather good

  27. Mike Smithson –

    “46% tell Opinium that LAB is responsible for present state of the economy with just 29% blaming Coalition”

    If I were still Lab, I’d be a little concerned about the contradictory nature of some of the polling.

  28. Propollganda?

  29. Wow that Sunday Times poll having Labour down to 5% is a “coincidence” what with Labour’s conference as well. Bit of a sharp fall from the 11, 12 and 13 lately and nothing to explain why it should fall.
    I’ll not be losing any sleep over it anyhow and look forward to seeing Labour back up next week.

  30. @ Leetay

    “Well within the margin of error” (40/35)

    Actually, both of those numbers are in the ‘outlier’ area of my data (which is obviously open to criticism). That is to say, they are outliers before I add them to the data sets shown below. I’ll add them once the PDF is available.


  31. @ Paul Croft

    “I prefer “polling by devious bastards”

    How have you managed to ascertain they are devious?


  32. Propaganda Polling & Tactical Polling are both really good.

    Propaganda keeps the aliterative thing going but Tactical is less inflamatory. This is fun! :-)

  33. Having a ciggie in the garage, I was just thinking ahead to 2015 and pondering on the potential results. Consider the scenario:

    1) Cameron promises a referendum on Europe.

    2) Miliband says he will ‘consider one’.

    3) Clegg’s support doesn’t return.

    The results come in, and many UKIP supporters have decided to give Cameron a chance, and the results are:

    Con 42%
    Lab 42%
    Lib 10%

    Electoral Calculus suggests this will return:

    Con 293
    Lab 324 (2 short of an OM)
    Lib 8
    Others 25 (including 2 PC and 7 SNP)

    Now Labour could form a government with the SNP, PC, Lib Dems or even a Northern Irish party. Or it could have a strong minority government.

    Given the flak that this coalition has had, if Labour need to form a coalition to secure an OM, will they? In this scenario, who?

  34. @Amber Star

    I’m thinking proPOLLganda might allude to the subtle shouty nature of it.

  35. The Scotsman is running a ‘Scotland on Sunday’ poll:

    “Will Ed Miliband become Prime Minister at the next Westminster general election?”

    27 (31%)

    61 (69%)

  36. On the pith-poor poll theme. Ever get the feeling you are being mani-poohPOLLated?

  37. @ Old Nat

    “Well lots of constituencies reselected their MPs who had voted for an illegal war in Iraq, so it’s not that unimaginable!”

    That’s a little different I think!

    Even if I assume arguendo that the war in Iraq was illegal, voting to start a war based upon bad intelligence or perhaps faulty intelligence doesn’t make one a war criminal. The intent is lacking.


    On Blair’s part, I think the intent is absolutely clear (dodgy dossier etc etc).

    That many of the MPs who voted for the war were ignorant, stupid etc etc instead of criminals, I would accept, :-)


    Good question on reasons for polling on leadership. It may be that poll respondents don’t see or care much about leadership or management of a party or a government, but rather the “presidential” qualities of orchestrating decisions about the economy, international relations, immigration, NHS etc, even when they don’t agree with the decisions. DC consciously engages in high-profile engagement in these areas and in the public perception of them, EM not at all. Even in the ticklish area of economic and fiscal policy his enggement with EB in public debate is more concerned with the generation of policy ideas than with perceptions of his steering the ship. Hence low “leadership” ratings; damn all to do with good party management or potential good government.

    Not so much criminal perhaps, but to use a Blairism, the causes of criminality in international conflict, for which see John Gray, “Black Mass”, on the association of Blair and Bush’s fundamentalist millenarianism. Gray does not particulary make the point – hasn’t the old sod read Chayanov or Durkheim? – but the distinction he draws between the economic philosophies behind development and progress oriented capitalism and cyclical social time in peasant and tribal systems, also justified Soviet communism in the suppression and destruction of peasant (and incidentally Islamic and animistic societies); thus the Gulags and also his replacement of Lysenko for Chayanov in the management of and imposition of a scientific collectivisation and state ownership in what we now call Third World, and used to call underdeveloped, rural societies. Put simply, that way lies evil, and criminality of various kinds in our treatment of smaller countries, who nowadays can be largely unkown and far away, but still get the military-industrial treatment towards an approved Utopia.

  41. “his” – Stalin’s – “replacement of Lysenko for Chayanov”.

    Chayanov was arrested by Stalin’s agents and he and his senior scientists removed from management of the All Union Lenin Soviet Institute of Agricultural Science and its republic based units in 1930 (Shanin, T. var.) Alexandrov Nikonov, Chayanov’s student and appointee at the Riga Institute, was exiled to Stavropol, where he taught Gorbachev. Nikonov was appointed as Head of the AULSIAS by Gorbachev, and as Chairman of the Soviet Communist Party Agricultural Committee in 1989, to restore small farmer research based agriculture and land ownership and multiple marketing systems to reflect local knowledge and conditions. (Gorbachev, Speech to the Plenum of the Communist Party, 1989) Q. Did the CIA back Yeltsin to get rid of Gorbachev, and to stop the revival of these dangerous ideas, based as they were on 60 years of remarkable Russian and Soviet research from the mid-1860’s to 1930?
    Apologies, I know that this stuff is boring and repetitive, but there is a case for reading history on the origins of interventions by industrial into agrarian countries.

  42. Statgeek – there’s no way both labour and tories will get 42 pc each. The others beyond the lib dems will amount to at least 15pc


    @”How have you managed to ascertain they are devious?”

    Because they don’t say what he wants them to say.

    These are Oldspeak poll results :-)

  44. @Ashley

    It’s a ‘what-if’ scenario; not a prediction.

  45. Well they said the other day that they would be focusing personal attacks on Miliband, so I suppose this polling is part of that process.

    Shame pollsters aren’t interested in real things, not this PR spume.

  46. @John Pilgrim

    Thanks for your reply, good points in fact. It does suggest that such polls tell us more about what the general public are willing to pay attention to than anything else. That something like “party management” does not strike many of them as important is of course interesting when they complain that this or that part of the Coalition are not delivering on their promises. It could be argued (and we know that the LibDems argue precisely this) that their position in the polls is largely due to the refusal of the Tory bankbenches to permit delivery of the Tory side of the deal. If the public had certain expectations with regard to the LibDems contribution to this government one would have thought that “Dave’s” apparent inability to deliver his PP would cause the public to feel that he was not a strong leader. I am reminded of Churchill’s definition of democracy when I see these “opinions” expressed by the general public, their unwillingness to take more than a cursory interest is an issue we could debate at some length!

  47. The best way to appear more prime ministerial is to become prime minister. I wrote about this in December.

    Out of the last three events in which there could have been a change of PM (i.e. the 2005 and 2010 general elections and the 2007 transition), Gordon Brown and David Cameron both saw their “best PM” score rise sharply through the three months in which they became PM. Tony Blair, when he remained PM in 2005, saw no change. The uplift for the two incoming PMs was strongly statistically significant.

    I’d have gone back further if there was more data on your web site:-)

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