According the media the Tory party conference was a triumph for David Cameron and a disaster for David Davis. Until now though there has been no way of knowing whether the views of Tory activists in the conference hall would be replicated by Conservative party members across the country, or indeed the general public. Have the conference speeches really swung the votes of party members across the country, or just the sort of activists who go to conference?

The first proper polls are in tomorrow’s Sunday papers, most notably a poll of party members by YouGov. Perceptions of the candidates’ performances at conference were pretty much in line with media reports (though that should hardly come as a surprise – most members would have seen the conference through the prism of the media). 91% of members thought Cameron had done well (68% thought he had done “very well”), with only 3% thinking he’d done badly – a net rating of +88. 29% thought Davis had done well, with 65% thinking he’d done badly – a net rating of -36. The figures for other candidates were Clarke +80, Fox +64 and Rifkind +31. 44% said the conference had changed their opinion on who should be leader.

The last two YouGov polls of party members have shown Davis and Clarke as the clear front runners, with Davis ahead in a run off between the two. In YouGov’s latest survey David Cameron has a substantial lead over other candidates: he is the first choice of 39% of party members, followed by Clarke on 26%. From being front runner David Davis is now fighting Liam Fox for third place, with 14% and 13% support respectively.

Leadership elections are not just won on who people like though, they are based on who people don’t like. IDS won in 2001 not because who he was, but because he wasn’t Ken Clarke. One of David Davis’s strengths up to now has been that he was the candidate who was least disliked – there were very few people who wanted anyone-but-Davis, while there were plenty of anyone-but-Clarkes. That too has changed – David Cameron is now also the candidate who members find least objectionable, only 12% think he should definitely not be leader, while 33% think Davis should not be leader (Clarke is objected to by 40%, Fox by 30%).

Asked who they would like to see reach the final round of voting, 71% of members said David Cameron and, on present voting intentions, he would obliterate Davis or Clarke in the final round. Party members say they would vote 60%/33% in a Cameron/Clarke run off and would vote 66%/27% in a Cameron/Davis run off (unfortunately YouGov didn’t ask how opponents would vote in a Cameron/Fox final round). In a Davis/Clarke final round Clarke has pulled ahead and now leads Davis by 49% to 44%. The only run off question conducted for Liam Fox was Fox vs Davis, where Davis would win by 44% to 41%.

Logically, since Davis would beat Fox, and Clarke and Cameron would beat Davis, Clarke and Cameron should also beat Fox – in reality though people don’t necessarily vote like that. It does correlate with the first preferences though – Cameron would beat Clarke, who would beat Davis, who would beat Fox.

The impact of Davis and Cameron’s conferences performances has indeed stretched beyond the media and the conference to normal party members – the electorate who will make the final decision. It remains to be seen if this is a permanent change in opinion, or if Cameron will fall back once the immediate rush of media adoration falls away. For the moment at least David Cameron is the clear front runner.

Meanwhile, amongst the public as a whole, Cameron’s rating has improved, but he is hardly sweeping all before him. A second poll tomorrow, by ICM for the BBC’s Politics Show, asked a sample of normal voters and found that Ken Clarke remained their favourite candidate, with 27% naming him as their preferred leader. Cameron has moved up to 13% to put him joint second with David Davis.


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