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. 1st

  2. It won’t be relevant.

  3. It will be interesting to see if his Conference speech narrows the gap between him & his party-or makes it wider.

  4. If he stays the same I’ll be happy with wider Col.

  5. If it is the beginning of an all out attack on EMs personal qualities,you do
    Wonder why it is being done so far ahead of the general election.They must
    Consider him a real threat,but I wonder how this will play out.People on the
    Whole are not too keen on character assasination,remember the number of
    Complaints to the Sun over the Brown handwriting incident.

  6. How voters feel about the unions is probably far more important than how voters feel about Ed.

  7. Was there not dones some polling done by Lord Ashcroft which suggested that such a tactic would backfire?

  8. Typical negative politics. If you are in trouble, with policies not working, you start trying to undermine the leader of the other main party.

    This is absolute rubbish. Clegg was the most popular leader before the last election. Look at him now.

  9. I don’t really see the point of it anyway. People know how they feel about Ed Miliband. What do the Conservative Party think will happen if they “reveal” in a poll that the majority of people don’t think he is “Prime Ministerial” or has “authority”? Do they think that those who think he is “Prime Ministerial” etc.will change their mind because of the poll or what? People know how they feel about him and will decide themselves whether that feeling will incline them to vote Labour, not vote Labour or make no difference. I really can’t see what such a poll is supposed to achieve.

  10. Wolf: “how voters feel about the unions etc”

    Have I missed something?

  11. The question is, Labour is currently averaging 42%, now is the Ed factor calculated in that 42% or not?

    What I mean is, when you mention Ed does that 42 go down, or is the case that actually 42% is Labour’s score despite ED ie, they’d be on an even higher score with a different leader?

  12. John Ruddy – no, there was an opinion piece by Ashcroft on it. Whether negative campaigning ultimately helps or hurts a party is a question too complex for simple polling to answer (and, to be honest, probably depends largely on the particular circumstances and the particular way it is done).

    Norbold – what they are trying to do is pretty blatant, and seems to have been pretty successful this morning. Their target isn’t the public, it was too influence the media reporting around the Labour conference, so that the coverage of the Labour conference as it begins in framed in the context of whether Ed Miliband is a dud. So, for example, the main BBC, Sky and ITV news articles on the Labour conference beginning are half made up of polling about Miliband being rubbish. See what they did there?

  13. William Hague always does well in popularity contests but got smashed in the real world.

  14. Wolf – Hague does well in polls NOW, his image has greatly improved as an ex-leader. When he was leader his ratings were horrible.

  15. Thanks Anthony, but in that case they should have waited to “reveal” their poll whole Conference was actually on. The day of Ed Miliband’s speech might have been good. As it is, the press reports and media “frenzy” over the poll will be forgotten once Conference actually starts; it won’t disrupt that.

    Perhaps another sign of Conservative incompetence???

  16. while not whole!!!

  17. Let’s see how he stands after Conference and again after he has had six months communicating and further developing specific policies.

  18. No, it’s good timing.


    Because the media narrative will be, can Milliband win over the world with his speech? Which is naturally not going to happen, unless he turns into Obama or Martin Luther King. Build up expectations so that he can’t possibly meet them.

    Will it work? A bit, probably. Will it affect the next general election result?

    Reduce the landslide to just a slightly smaller landslide?

    We may never know.

  19. Perhaps Labour will do a poll on Osborne for next weekend.

  20. Also,as a political tactic perhaps unfortunate with their timing.The really big
    News story today is focused on the girl and her teacher shenanigans.

  21. The Tory party seems to exist in the past, from the very beginning they have targeted ed, trying to Kinnock him, make him out to be the puppet of the unions, it just a bad rerun of the 80s, as with all remakes it fails badly, apart from the remake of king kong

  22. Polling on the govt now is a bit pointless.
    As pointed out here
    and here
    (as well as elsewhere)
    the state of the economy is not as bad as bogus statistics and lefty propaganda claims and if you look into the problems they relate to trade with the moribund Eurozone.
    ‘The big drag on GDP over the past year has been net trade (exports minus imports), which subtracted 0.9 percentage points from growth, suggesting that eurozone woes have played a significant part in the UK’s growth disappointments.’

    The deficit was reduced last year by more than expected and a reduction of from 159 billion to 119 billion is not bad (a 25% reduction), in ‘Goldilocks’ terms not to much not too little.

    The govt should be criticised not for its policies but the way it defends them. Having said that when you have the LDs attacking their own government as if they were the opposition, we should not be surprised.

  23. It is a little surprising that Miliband hasn’t made more headway in the popular with the voter stakes, but it may be that the 10% lead for Labour is in some respects all a bit smoke and mirrrors based on a reaction to a so called austerity government, that’s made more than one mistake and of course perceived cut’s to services. Miliband has to make that leap with the voting public to secure victory in the next GE, he should remember Kinnock who in 1990 saw Labour 20 points ahead in some polls and who should a won against Major in 1992 but people just couldn’t see him as PM and he lost against the grey man and a unpopular goverment.

  24. Of course this is all new and really novel stuff, not as if the Tories and the media have never tried trashing the image of Lab leaders in the past ? lol

    I hope that Lab rise above gutter politics and do not try the same tactics against Cameron & Clegg.

  25. ManInTheMiddle

    The question is, Labour is currently averaging 42%, now is the Ed factor calculated in that 42% or not?

    What I mean is, when you mention Ed does that 42 go down, or is the case that actually 42% is Labour’s score despite ED ie, they’d be on an even higher score with a different leader?

    Difficult to say because the way people answer hypothetical questions is different from how they deal with questions about current situations. At the very least they may need time to think about things.

    The response to the Voting Intention questions that YouGov asks after reminding people about the Party leaders are probably the most informative. They seem to show a narrowing of the Labour lead but not massively.

    But even this can be misleading as it may not be a response to the leaders but just reinforcing normal voting behaviour because you’re asking someone a second time – effectively saying “No, how would you really vote if there were a general election tomorrow?”. The fact that the two biggest effects seem to be a drift from UKIP to Conservative[1] and from Labour to non-voting (possibly in safe constituencies) – both of which tend to occur in election campaigns – rather reinforces this.

    There is also a drop in Lib Dem support – perhaps indicating that a lot of supporters expect Clegg to be gone by 2015. And of course they may be all sort of complicating factors because asking people in this way may get them thinking about tactical voting.

    [1] Can I remind Anthony that if these questions are asked again it would be really nice to seen separate breakdown lines for the ‘Others’.

  26. Both Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher had similarly poor ratings as opposition leaders

  27. Turk

    Miliband […] should remember Kinnock who in 1990 saw Labour 20 points ahead in some polls and who should a won against Major in 1992 but people just couldn’t see him as PM and he lost against the grey man and a unpopular goverment.

    This keeps on being repeated, so it’s worth reminding everyone that the mid-20s leads that Labour had in the summer of 1990 were against Thatcher, not Major. Once she had been dethroned (in part because of that enormous Labour lead), the ratings immediately closed together – indeed the Tories lead in some polls. After that Labour had no more that single figure leads at best.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the (fairly) newly formed Lib Dems also their worst-ever polls in the spring and summer of 1990 and this must have helped boost the Labour lead in that period.

    Anthony will be deeply upset if I don’t instruct you to click on the “Voting Intention 1987 – 1992” box on the right at this point

    So the 1990 references only apply if people think that most of the Conservatives current problems will be solved by changing their leader. Otherwise it should be used with caution.

  28. To be really pedantic Labour did have two double figure leads in early June 1991, both of 10. So Miliband is managing more in a week than Kinnock ever managed against Major. Mind you Kinnock was supposed to be the ‘charismatic’ one.

  29. “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.”

    And the questions asked asked and the way they are asked in all opinion polls seem to be negative and designed to get a negative answer.

    These latest poll results may help cheer the Tories up, but they are only fooling themselves. The questions are blatantly designed to retract a negative rating for Ed Miliband, this does NOT mean that this is the general feeling for Ed Miliband. Still if they want to go on fooling themselves, they can always move into denial in La La Land with the Liberal Democrats.

    I long for a pollster to actually tap into the swelling feeling of hatred for this government among the people I try to help on a daily basis, many of which did not vote in the last election but fully intend to in the next one.
    To this extent I think the pollsters (and the Tories) will be in for a huge shock!

  30. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, Wilson was more popular thah Heath in ’70 Callaghan more popular that Thatcher in ’79 etc. it doesn’t mean that’ll be enough to swing the GE. If the Coalition has a difficult couple of years Labour might just get an overall majority, its difficult to see them getting anything more than that. It’ll be just as difficult if not more so for the Tories to get one, Cameron or not.

  31. Roger
    Kinnock was known as the “welsh windbag” hardly a charismatic figure, after all he managed to lose against the grey man, who was almost as unpopular with the voters as he was with his own party. The old left’s figure of hatred Thatcher may have been the result of a 20% lead for Labour in 1990 but it doesn’t explain why Kinnock couldn’t beat Major in 1992, the simple truth was Kinnock was very good with his party having knocked there heads together after Foot left and turning them into a electable party but he just couldn’t click with the public and lost.

  32. Also today I ran a little experiment, I tried being an “ordinary” person for a day. Not going out of my way to listen to the news, only glancing at the papers and basically tuning in to things I wanted to listen to and the result of that was not until I gave up and came looking for something I had seen written previously on this site, did I become aware that any such poll on Ed Miliband had hit the news.

    Most people do like I did all day today, so when all we political nerds get excited about negative polls for Ed Miliband, and “plebgate” etc, most normal people don’t even pay it that much heed and it being a Saturday when people are busy doing infinitely more pleasant things than listening or reading about what a Tory poll thinks of Ed Miliband, or the latest David Cameron gaffe, it has most probably passed them by – bad timing I would say!

  33. @ Turk

    “Kinnock was known as the “welsh windbag” hardly a charismatic figure, after all he managed to lose against the grey man, who was almost as unpopular with the voters as he was with his own party.”

    Which surely goes to prove that it really matters not a fig about how popular or unpopular a leader is, in the end, the voters will make up their minds about who they will vote for.

  34. Gracie,the only problem is,that the press will use this so called evidence that
    Ed M is useless . For instance, I have just read in the Guardian that there is a
    Widespread recognition by the general public that Ed is weak and hopeless,
    Using this poll as proof!

  35. Impressive website GRACIE.

    A few woman hours in that little lot!

    So impartial too :-) :-)

  36. Colin,sorry but you have lost me here.What on earth are you saying?

  37. This ‘private’ poll, was basically a push poll designed to push negative opinions of Ed Miliband into the media (IMO, Anthony’s comment: “…what they are trying to do is pretty blatant, and seems to have been pretty successful this morning. Their target isn’t the public, it was too influence the media reporting around the Labour conference…” sails as close to that wind as his professionalism will allow).

    IMO, Andrew Cooper(?) should be ashamed of himself; such nakedly partisan polling undermines the profession in the eyes of at least half the voting public. The contrast could not be sharper between this sort of thing & the way in which YG, Anthony & Peter Kellner constantly seek to be unbiased, fair, & spread good practice combined with accurate reporting of polls.

    Anthony, I’m sorry if you have to moderate this comment – I know you dislike criticism of polling professionals – but I am determined to vent my thoughts about this poll!

  38. @Anthony

    The appearance of this poll, and it’s politically inspired timing, pre-empts a more general question that I was meaning to ask you. Populus poll for a Conservative supporting newspaper, the Times, as does You Gov in the case of the Sun and I was wondering to what extent that these politically biased publications lean on the pollsters they commission, like YouGov and Populus, to structure polling questions in ways that are advantageous for the party they support. Is it co-incidental, for instance, that You Gov and Populus have recently decided to ask a whole series of questions about Miliband, or have the Times and the Sun pushed them to do so? How independent are the polling organisations in terms of the questions they ask? I guess he who pays the piper ultimately calls the tune, is the answer.

    As for the Tory commissioned Populus poll’s findings, I suspect it’s an opening shot in what will become a pretty sustained personal assault on Miliband. I gather Labour were anticipating this and it will be interesting to see how they deal with it. Could it be the making or breaking of Miliband? Tuesday’s speech will give us some clues.

    One interesting, slightly. counter-intuitive question. If Miliband is the hopeless, electoral liability that the Tories are claiming he is, why on earth would they want to de-stabilise him? Did Blair bother with latter day Major, Hague, IDS or Howard? I should imagine his worst nightmare was that they would be ousted! Maybe there’s something about Miliband that the Tories fear.

    Off to cheer our Ryder Cup team on. They need all the support they can get!

  39. Crossbat,,yes of course,if he is so useless why try to destabilise hm?As usual
    You go straight to the point! Excellent.

  40. @Colin

    Thanks, I do try to keep it “impartial” ;) I’m a gal that wears her heart on her sleeve, but that’s all I am going to say, I really don’t want to get told off by Anthony.

    @ Ann in Wales

    You are right of course, but how many people (besides us political anoraks) will read it through, much less take much notice of it?

    I find the results of these personality polls puzzling, because a short while ago Ed Miliband was catching Cameron up and even overtook him. I never paid attention then, however, I do wonder if the questions asked then were less negative? Who knows? People will vote what they want to vote and I believe that the two defining issues people will vote on come the general election will be the NHS first and the economy second. We’ll see how they both pan out, but the next two years will be crucial.

  41. Sometimes these political hatchet jobs work sometimes they don’t – and if pollsters are honest it isn’t ever quite clear why. Tories thought they could do a job on Blair and Labour on Thatcher – history proved otherwise and wise men and women might point out that no one saw the fall of troy was inevitable until after it fell and none thought the Maginot line could be over-run until it was…..

    If the politics turns against those who preach austerity prove like their predecessors to be false prophets then Milliband will be lionised….otherwise like all those who fail in politics he will be fed to the lions.

  42. Anthony wrote: what they are trying to do is pretty blatant, and seems to have been pretty successful this morning. Their target isn’t the public, it was too influence the media reporting around the Labour conference…….

    Surely the public are being targeted through the press? Or else what is the use of the poll or the press?

    @Crossbat – excellent points!

  43. Gracie,but yes, it was ever so.Trust Ed.He is playing a long game,there is a
    Long way to go.

  44. Turk: “…. known aa the Welsh Windbag”.

    Hardly surprising when those were the headlines given to him by the rabid right wing gutter press: nowadays one could sue for racial discrimination. Then alliterration and bias ruled.

  45. Gracie: “unbiased”

    I’m afraid you must be too nice a person to have spotted Colin’s sarcasm – hence the smiley to indicate he feels the opposite.

  46. Paul,having to spend a lot of my life on the road,living in a country area with
    Children who basically do not want to be here,I listen to a lot of radio.On one
    Occasion I heard A speech by he most amazing orator I have ever heard.
    It was Neil Kinnock.Welsh Windbag yes,but what a windbag!

  47. @Paul,

    Thank you and it’s OK I spotted it which is why I replied “impartial” (meaning I knew).

    I know myself, you don’t reach 60 without learning a bit about yourself on the way and it matters not, I do wear my heart on my sleeve but am trying really hard not to make partisan posts on here. (Not easy for me lol) :)

  48. I’m wondering if David Cameron’s team could possibly be thinking about an election before 2015; hence this early shout out against Ed.

    2015 looked perfect when there were to be boundary changes, a possible win for independence in Scotland, a lack of any challenge to David Cameron & the expectation of a falling deficit with rosier economic prospects to look forward to.

    None of these assumptions are looking likely to be the actualité. Is this early attack campaign against Ed a hint that the Tories are not ruling out a collapse of the Coalition & a GE sooner than 2015?

  49. Amber – to clamber onto my own hobbyhorse, it isn’t a bloody push poll, a push poll is something completely different (making mass telephone calls to spread false rumours while only *pretending* that you are collecting their answers for a poll).

    As to people commissioning polls to get helpful stories into the press, it’s very much a case of “no shit Sherlock”. People who *commission* polling don’t generally do so pro bono, they do it for their own ends. Even polls commissioned by newspapers are, ultimately, just done to provide exclusive and interesting copy for that newspaper and hopefully to attract more readers for them and sell more papers.

    The role of the pollster is to ensure that those questions are fair and balanced – for example, to ensure questions commissioned by an environmental charity only show people are concerned about the environment if they really are, that polling for an anti-hunting group only shows people oppose fox hunting if they really do, that anti-EU polling only shows people being hostile to the EU if they really are. As long as that is the case, all is as it should be.

    Crossbat1 – straight answer is never. If you’ve got a regular client you have a good working relationship and they trust the pollster to write the question in a fair and balanced way. That is, ultimately, what we are good at and what they pay us for. The subjects that clients commission pollsters to ask about is obviously up to them – for example, a media client might say “I’d like to ask a question finding out if people think Boris would be a better leader than Cameron”, the pollster then designs a question to answer it in the fairest and most accurate way.

    And it certainly isn’t co-incidence that there are lots of Miliband questions, but it’s not some great conspiracy. It’s because the Labour party have a conference this week, and there isn’t really much Labour policy to ask about. Same reason there were lots of Lib Demmy questions a week ago, and I expect you’ll see lots of questions about Cameron and how the Conservatives are doing next weekend!

  50. Mike Smithson on Twitter says Labour lead in the Sunday Times You Gov poll is down to 5%. Awkward for Ed M if true. Anyone have any more info on this?

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