With Liam Fox eliminated the Tory leadership contest moves to the party membership. We’ve already seen in YouGov’s poll earlier this week that David Cameron holds a commanding lead amongst party members, but their voting decisions will obviously be influenced by how the polls suggest the voting public will react to David Davis and David Cameron.

MORI’s poll in this morning’s Sun was actually conducted on Wednesday, so the question of which of the remaining candidates the public would have preferred to see as leader is already out of date (for what it’s worth, the figures were Cameron 33%, Davis 13%, Fox 11%).

More relevant are the hypothetical voting intention questions – respondents were asked how they would vote if Gordon Brown were leader of the Labour party, Charlie Kennedy leader of the Liberal Democrats and either David Cameron or David Davis were leader of the Tory Party. The Labour lead would be 7 points under David Davis, but only 3 points under David Cameron (bear in mind that these figures are not adjusted for turnout, so aren’t comparable to MORI’s normal voting intention figures).

A large majority (69%) of people thought that David Cameron was not too young to be Prime Minister, and 74% thought that the British public would not be reluctant to vote for a Prime Minister who went to Eton.

The poll did, however, provide a useful reminder of the limits to the importance of the leader. Asked whether the identity of the Tory party leader or the party’s policies were more important in making a voting decision, only 12% said the leader, while 80% said the policies. The questions is a bit of a simplification – firstly saying that one sagely considers the parties’ policies is obviously a more ‘socially acceptable’ answer than saying one votes for the nicest chap, and equally most pollsters (not least MORI themselves) will tell you that there is a third important factor, the overall image of a party, which is itself influenced by the leader’s image and the party policies. All the same, it’s worth remembering that who the leaders of the parties are is only a small part of the story.

ICM’s new poll was also carried out prior to Liam Fox’s elimination – the questions though were all ‘head to heads’ so haven’t been rendered obsolete. In a straight choice between David Cameron and David Davis the public would prefer David Cameron by a margin of 44% to 20%, though a large (25%) proportion of people don’t know.

David Cameron leads amongst every demographic group. There is some truth in the idea that David Cameron would appeal less to voters in the North, but it is only one of degree. Cameron leads Davis by 39% to 22% in Scotland and Northern England, compared to 50% to 17% in the South.

ICM also asked ‘head to head’ questions on whether people would prefer Gordon Brown or Davis/Cameron as Prime Minister. Amongst voters as a whole there was already a significant difference – people would prefer Brown to Davis as PM by 45% to 32% and would prefer Brown to Cameron by 43% to 38% – the real contrast though was amongst ‘floating voters’, the 28% of voters who told ICM it was only ‘possible’ that they would vote Conservative at the next election. Floating voters would prefer Brown to Davis as PM by 44% to 36%, but would prefer Cameron to Brown by 48% to 33%.

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