The Lib Dem conference starts this weekend, so I thought it a good time to catch up on how the parties generally stand in the polls, of where we have got to in the Parliament so far.

Compared to the ups and downs of the last Parliament, 2010 to 2013 has been pretty staid in terms of voting intention polls – leaving aside the brief blip after Cameron’s European “veto” there has now been a Labour lead for two and a half years. It started early in the Parliament, almost as soon as the Liberal Democrats had entered coalition and the government’s initial honeymoon had worn off then Lib Dem support started to collapse, with many Lib Dem supporters transferring directly to the Labour party, many telling pollsters they don’t know how they would vote. At that stage Conservative support remained pretty much solid, it wasn’t until the 2012 budget and the government’s “omnishambles” period that we saw the Conservative’s own support begin to fade, with voters moving towards Labour and UKIP. For the following year the government continued to struggle, often not having clear messages, being buffeted by bad news and scandal, and in the background UKIP continued to gather support. The Labour lead peaked after the omnishambles, between May 2012 and February 2013 they had an average share of support of 42%, and a lead of around ten points.

More recently things have begun to turn around. From an average of 42% for the best part of a year, Labour’s average polling figure has now dropped to around 38%; an average lead of ten points is now an average lead of around six points. Most of this fall came earlier in the year, around March to May. At the same time we’ve seen the up and down of UKIP – their support had started rising after the omnishambles last year, got even higher during November 2012 when the combination the Rotherham fostering story and some good by-elections got them solid coverage and they peaked after their strong performance in the 2013 locals. Since then they have gone off the boil a bit and fallen again in the polls, although they are still very solidly above the figures they had last year (UKIP support varies between pollsters, but its average peaked at around 16% and is now back to around 12%). The Tories meanwhile saw their average support fall at the beginning of this year as UKIP rose, but have now recovered to pretty much the sort of level they were at in late 2012.

Together this paints a slightly confusing picture. There’s a lot of churn going on and I suspect there are at least two one overlapping trends, a shift away from Labour and back towards the Tories and an up-and-down of UKIP taking and returning support to both the Tories and Labour. On this hypothesis Labour, for example, would had had a underlying slow decline over the year, but a temporary loss to UKIP earlier in the year that has gradually returned since then – together giving us the pattern of a sharp drop in Labour support between Feb & May and holding steady since, and the Tories almost back up to the 2012 support despite still having lost some support to UKIP.

As I always say when polls move, there is no easy way of proving what caused a poll movements, we can only really hypothesize. My own best guess is that there are a couple of likely reasons behind the recent movements. The first is the improvement in economic confidence. This is a polling blog, not an economics blog, I don’t claim any great expertise in economics and have no idea if the economy is actually getting better. However, it is very clear that the general public are being more positive (or less negative) – the economic confidence trackers from MORI, YouGov and NOP all show sharp increases in economic confidence, with people the most optimistic they’ve been since 2010. Back in April only 14% of people told YouGov they thought the economy was showing signs of growth, by August that had risen to 37%. This has equally been reflected in growing support for the government’s economic policies – from April 2012 until this Spring YouGov consistently had Labour and the Conservatives pretty level pegging on the economy, the Conservatives now have a modest lead. Whereas last year a majority of people thought the government’s cuts were bad for the economy, the gap is now much closer, with a couple of recent polls showing people evenly split over whether they are good or bad for the economy.

I suspect the second factor is a clearer and more focused Conservative message, giving the impression they are more competent (something that Lynton Crosby has been given credit for – I’ve no idea if he deserves it or not, these days anything the Tories do seems to be put down to Crosby regardless of whether he even knew about it). They’ve dropped some difficult non-core policies, controlled their communications better and opened up some dividing lines with Labour on issues like welfare. All of this has had knock-on effects, the morale of Tory MPs is up and the constant noises off from Conservative MPs have faded somewhat, the media narrative has moved from Cameron being in trouble to Labour being in crisis. I’m not actually sure the Labour stuff has any effect on voting intention (While Ed Miliband’s ratings have indeed got even worse over the Summer, they were already pretty bad anyway and I suspect they were “factored into the price” already) but it’s better for the government for the media to be laying into Labour than laying into them.

It seemed for a couple of days that Syria was likely to change this – not so much in terms of voting intention, but in terms of changing the narrative towards a negative one for the government and Cameron. It really doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. Instead we’re heading into a conference season where the Tories are likely to have a more comfortable conference than Labour. That said, the expected narratives don’t always work out that way – last year Ed Miliband was expected to have a rough conference, but produced a well received speech that put him back on the front foot. He may well do the same this time round. Expect the traditional up and down of the conference polls over the next three weeks – the normal pattern is that each party gets some sort of boost from the publicity around their conference, and we get a bump in Lib Dem polling, a bump in Labour polling, a bump in Tory polling and (unless anything drastic happens) it all settles down to usual again. At the same time, keep an eye on how the economy develops, or perhaps more importantly, how voters perceive the economy to be doing – beneath a lot of the fluff of daily politics that many voters never even hear about, let alone take note of, things like how people see the economy doing really will shift their opinions and attitudes towards the government.


239 Responses to “The pre-conference lay of the land”

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  1. MRNAMELESS

    After the IMF bailout under Labour manufacturing was 32%

    So it declined to 23% under Thatcher/Major.So 9% drop.

    Under New Labour it dropped from 23% to 9% Where it is today.14% drop.

    By the way you are proving the study point already defending New Labour,when the facts are stark.

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  2. @THE OTHER HOWARD

    “I find most Couriers excellent and have done for a number of years.”

    ——-

    You lucky, lucky, lucky, person. They are one of the banes of my life…

    Oh how I would love to find a gap in the space-time continuum to the parallel universe where the private sector is uniformly wonderful.

    These days I try very hard to be able to pick things up from a store, especially after my Nexus got smashed in transit…

    If I had a quid for the times I caught them sneaking a card through the letterbox rather than ringing the doorbell…

    That’s probably why store collection is becoming so popular…

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  3. “Ed Miliband was Energy and Climate Change Secretary and Ed Balls was in Education. Not really much to do with the crash.”

    Quite so. But alas facts are not what this is all about. It is about “narrative”. Now political narrative is rather like good or rather enjoyable historical fiction. It is the very stuff of politics.

    Now in their heart of hearts everyone informed knows that the crash of 2007 was caused by sub-prime lending in the USA and a woefully under regulated financial sector world-wide.

    Parties of the right and left didn’t see the signs before it all went sour. Neither Conservatives nor Labour wanted more regulation of the banks or less government spending BEFORE the crash.

    Gordon Brown was widely praised internationally for schemes for digging everyone out of a seemingly intractable mire. It meant maintaining high level spending AND bailing out banks simultaneously, with a plan for cutting governments spending AFTER it was certain that we weren’t going to have a crash like 1929. It also happened to suit Labour that the years of reckoning could be left until after the 2010 election. BUT this coincided with policies pursued by many in the same position.

    When the Cons signed the LDs up the the Coalition Agreement part of the unwritten section was that both parties maintain the “narrative” that Labour had “recklessly overspent”.

    Many of we radical LD supporters immediately smelled a rat with this – because it is an historical fiction – not a fact.

    Gordon Brown’s great crime was that he was hopeless at public relations, he lacked warmth, and was brutal to work with – but he was never fiscally reckless.

    However, the historical fiction has been repeated so many times, by so many people, that amongst the minds of large sections of the electorate, an historical fiction is now history as far as they are concerned.

    The trouble with historical myths is that there is plenty of evidence in human history that people will die on the barricades defending them as absolute truths.

    In this, Labour do have a problem – how do you defend against a narrative based on an agreed myth told endlessly and plausibly by all your opponents at every opportunity?

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  4. @THE OTHER HOWARD

    “Sorry but that last post is just your opinion I could equally well post my opinion of E Balls but it is well known so I wont bother.”

    ——-

    I can’t recall seeing you post on that tbh. You usually post to say you’re too busy to post!!…

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  5. While looking for todays populous results that have been tweeted, but tables not up yet, I found this poll:

    http://www.populus.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Greenpeace-Fracking1.pdf

    The interesting figure is (unweighted)

    2010 Vote – 387 Lib Dem
    Vote intention – 121 Lib Dem
    Lib Dem defector 301

    So that seems to indicate Lib Dems have lost 78% of the people who voted for them in 2010, and 28% of the people who now intend to vote for them voted for someone else last time, or didn’t vote

    Are there any other polls which show “defectors” like this?

    In terms of people who now intend to vote for them, it is like it is nearly a completely different party.

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  6. @ Richard

    “In terms of people who now intend to vote for them, it is like it is nearly a completely different party.”

    Yes, Richard. From the late 1950s to 2010 the Libs/LDs were a Libertarian Party of the Left, and attracted activists and voters on that basis. Since 2010 the leadership of the LD parliamentary party have turned them into a Pragmatic Party of the Centre-Right with a few trapped ex-liberarians (e.g. our Sarah!) who can’t get out of it……

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  7. Another thing that really irritates with the courier thing, is when they encourage you to use the tracking system, and you do, and the parcels supposed to arrive that afternoon, so you stay in, and…

    THEY DO NOT DELIVER YOUR PARCEL!!

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  8. TOH

    Some of the pesticides we use on the farm RM won’t even deliver. As consequence we have gone over completely to courier service which is great for next day deliveries. Strangely and this might be absolutely rubbish for some reason BT won’t deliver foreign Lottery tickets somebody was telling me yesterday.

    I’ve looked at the share option might be good for a long term investment , previous share options in nationalised company’s such as BT and British gas have done well over the years might be worth a small flutter.

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  9. @ Tony Dean (1.18)

    “In this, Labour do have a problem – how do you defend against a narrative based on an agreed myth told endlessly and plausibly by all your opponents at every opportunity?”

    I would suggest that Labours biggest problem is not so much the myths being told by their opponents, more the myths being told by the media, admittedly sometimes based on those spouted by their opponents. Several examples have been listed on this site in recent days.

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  10. CARFREW

    I know how you feel

    I am waiting now for some Kelp for my thyroid to be delivered,it was supposed to be delivered yesterday.Drives me nuts when they don’t deliver.

    Even worse when they don’t deliver you check later on the site and it says returned to depot-NOT IN! Yet if they had come they would have left a card.

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  11. Amber – “For instance why does the North of England always vote Labour,because they are poor right?
    —————-
    No, not right. Hence the assertion you make in answering your (rhetorical?) question is also wrong.”

    Indeed, obviously there is an economic angle to voting, poorer socio-economic groups are more likely to vote Labour, and the North is poorer than the south… but even if you control for social class, people in the North are more likely to vote Labour. i.e. people in the AB social classification in the North are more likely to vote Labour than people in the same social classification in the South, ditto for other groups.

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  12. Anthony – does this regional loyalty to a particular party across social groups also apply to LD voting in SW London and SW England?

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  13. @FLOATING VOTER
    “@Carfrew
    that is an interesting challenge.
    On Electoral Calculus, the Conservatives would need 43% if Labour achieve 37%. It assumes UKIP get only 3%, Others 7% and LD’s 9% ( or LDs get slightly more and Others slightly less – same small majority)”

    ———

    On that metric, Tories would need to gain around 9%.

    And we are into the final third of the Parliament.

    Historically, what’s the rate of VI gain for governments in the final third? Is 9% a walk in the park compared to normal, or fairly typical, or rather uncommon?

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  14. @OLDLABOUR/KIPPER

    “Even worse when they don’t deliver you check later on the site and it says returned to depot-NOT IN! Yet if they had come they would have left a card.”

    ——–

    Exactly, I was going to say that next myself. Then you try and arrange a redelivery for three days time, and you arrange to stay in again but fat lot of use…

    … ‘cos they came to deliver it THE DAY BEFORE!! And leave a card to say you weren’t in, we’ll of course you weren’t, and now they’re only going to give you one last chance or they’ll send it back from whence it came…

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  15. Subconscious Political Support

    I know Lib-dems who were 100% against the Iraq War,who now because they hear politicians like Lord Ashdown say it’s fine they want to let RIP! with cruise missiles.

    Well he has used chemical weapons they say,OK i say so did Saddam..well…er…that was different they say.HOW? well er..Obama isn’t Bush he wouldn’t lie to get us into war.

    It’s endless drivel.

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  16. TOH

    ”Sorry but that last post is just your opinion I could equally well post my opinion of E Balls but it is well known so I wont bother.”

    To be honest, TOH, I can’t find the post of Ian Wright’s I was responding to. Maybe it’s been zapped for being too party political. I notice my response is ”awaiting moderation”. Maybe my last line took up the gauntlet thrown down too sparkily, but that’s up to the site owner to decide.

    Meantime, however, it’s hard to argue, surely, that my post was just an opnion. The claim that ”the economy flatlined for 3 and a half years” is factual, maybe thee years would have been more accurate but that’ really is a detail. ”The pain of that policy was loaded onto the least well-off,” is hardly opinion, surely? The statement, ”it’s picking up to a level we’d have called ‘stuttering’ or even ‘almost flatlining’ several years ago, thanks to a mortgage support policy which could cause even worse housing problems for the less well off,” contains a guess – but not a disguised one – and a guess is an opinion, fair enough; although, ”The sun will rise tomorrow” is a guess, so we can’t tar all guesses with the same ‘merely opinion’ brush.

    As for ”Miliband and Balls were not close to the cabal of bankers that caused the financial crash, as you and everyone else to the right and to the left well know,” that is not a guess. It’s simply standing up to what another correspondent has described (above) as ‘myth-making’, for political purposes.

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  17. @Carfrew

    I don’t think it is likely that the LDs would lose that many seats. On that scenario they would have only 7 seats. The only MPs left would be -

    Nick Clegg
    Alistair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland
    Don Forster in bath
    Tim Farron
    Charles Kennedy
    Mark Williams in Ceredigion
    Norman Lamb in Norfolk North

    I think a few more would save their seats because they are locally popular.

    So even with 43%, I think the Cons would still end up short of a majority.. Probably another Con/LD coalition

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  18. Sample from the poll above:

    Which, if any, of the following are the most important reasons why you said you would vote for the (party)?

    I don’t like any of the other parties – 46%

    So 46% of voters are not actually voting for a party, they are voting against another party. Wow, we have a healthy democracy!

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  19. So you think sod it, not taking any more chances, so you go back to the depot next morning to pick it up yourself. Of course, you can’t, ‘cos they already put it back on the van…

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  20. RICHARD

    That is how it is now.You don’t like me or my policies but you better vote for me or you will let the other guy in you like even less.

    And the political class know it works.Labour voters vote to keep the Conservativ party out,tories vote to keep Labour out.Around and around we go.

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  21. TONY DEAN

    @”Without the housing bubble would this feel good factor be happening at all I wonder?”

    Which housing bubble is that ?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/in_depth/uk_house_prices/regions/html/regions.stm

    If you are refering to London-how much of that price increase has anything to do with house being bought with mortgages.

    What is wrong with the “feel good factor ” of that young couple in Yorks or E.Mids who can now buy that NEW BUILT house because of Help to Buy-not to mention the “feel good factor” of the people employed in building it ……….?

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  22. @ AW

    Expanding on the Tony Dean question- does this apply to lower social groups in the South being more likely to vote Tory as compared to their Northern counterparts?

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  23. “So 46% of voters are not actually voting for a party, they are voting against another party.”

    Yes, that’s right. When I was a Lib it always used to annoy me that Lib voting was dismissed as “a protest vote” or just a “tactical vote”

    Well – almost half of all votes cast are either “protest” or “tactical” AGAINST who they don’t want to win!

    This is exacerbated by many tens of thousands of voters “trapped” in contests between two likely winners from parties neither of whom they would choose!

    Yeah! A great democracy this!

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  24. Means little, surely? They went to UKIP. They’ve popped back for the weekend. Even if it’s not margin of error stuff, they were soft last time and may well be again. Labour are sunny side of 38 in a remarkably steady way when you average all these polls out.

    However, I’m not up on stats, but I recall someone said a few pages or topics ago, that averaging polls over a month isn’t always a good idea. Is that right? And, if so, is there a good reason why?

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  25. Shevii – yes, all social classes are less likely to vote Con in the North (and, therefore, more likely to vote Con in the South).

    Tony – can’t remember there was a N-S divide for Lib Dems once you’d accounted for social class. Suspect there was if you compared S-W to elsewhere, but that it wouldn’t be that meaningful (Lib Dem voting patterns aren’t particularly class based anyway, so it would just be flagging up that the SW happened to be the area where they are established – of course, in many ways that what’s its doing for the Tories and Labour as well, just showing there is a geographical pattern beyond that explained by social class and affluence)

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  26. @AW (1.35)

    ” but even if you control for social class, people in the North are more likely to vote Labour. i.e. people in the AB social classification in the North are more likely to vote Labour than people in the same social classification in the South, ditto for other groups.”

    Presumably this is because there are a much greater number of the lower social classes in the North and some (perhaps many) voters perceive the effect of government policies on their neighbours as well as on themselves.

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  27. @Colin

    I think you skilfully separate the facts from the opinion with your links.

    I had to revise my opinion that people were getting into more unsecured debt after reading your link to the credit action website.

    It is important to get the facts straight whatever political opinions one has.

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  28. RICHARD

    We need PR is this country.As a UKIP voter i am sure we would gets loads of MP’s.

    But i am terrified that if we were to adopt PR we may see the rise of a Muslim Brotherhood type party in the UK funded by the like’s of the Saudi’s wanting Sharia Law in Muslim areas,pubs banned etc.

    In polls about 70% of UK muslims want some sort of Sharia Law.

    I worry about social cohesion in that event.

    PR=Great for UKIP but i would always but my country before my party.

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  29. That’s an odd looking Populus. I’m wondering whether it’s Populus who did Lord Ashcroft’s marginal polling or another firm.

    Anthony, do you have any knowledge about which firm(s) did the marginals polling which is to be released on Sunday?

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  30. @OLDLABOUR/KIPPER @Carfrew

    “Even worse when they don’t deliver you check later on the site and it says returned to depot-NOT IN! Yet if they had come they would have left a card.”

    You have got this all wrong. You can’t expect private companies to be efficient or provide a service, their role is to make money. :-)

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  31. Amber – nope (which, of course, rules out it being YouGov!)

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  32. New thread about the Populus poll is up already!

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  33. FV

    Thank you.

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  34. @lizh

    Their role seems to be to make me stop using them.

    They’ll probably find a way to bugger up store collection too at some point.

    I tried using one of these lockers. Now there’s a good idea, I thought. So I bought something off to be delivered to one of their lockers for me to pick up while having coffee…

    Only I couldn’t… apparently, the delivery address was not the same as on my card. Well of course it effin’ isn’t, because the delivery address is one of their lockers!! You’d think they might have factored that in a bit more?…

    It’s alright for TOH, he’s retired. Some of us have stuff to do, like trying to get our lovely private sector broadband providers to actually provide a connection 2 months after they were supposed to…

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  35. @OldLabour/Kipper

    For instance why does the North of England always vote Labour,because they are poor right?.But they have voted Labour for a century and they are still poor.It’s not logical.And yet Labour voters in the NE will defend Labour to the death in arguments.

    You are correct, apart from two things….

    1. The North always votes Labour

    2. The North is poor

    There are parts of Yorkshire that drip with wealth. I lived for years in North Yorkshire, and there are some real true-blue areas that have the most amazingly beautiful and very, very expensive property.

    It is has poorer parts (just like the south), but the cost of living is much less than the south east. Headline wages are lower, but bear in mind we bought my perfectly nice house about seven years ago for under £100,000. I could earn more down south, but the increase in housing costs would eat up the increase and more besides.

    I live 20 minutes from three major conurbations (including the doing very well Leeds), yet am a similar distance from wonderful countryside in all directions.

    It isn’t all terraced houses, ex-miners, mucky-faced kids and whippets.

    (But don’t tell anyone – more folk would want to come and spoil things)

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  36. @oldLabour/Kipper

    We need PR is this country.As a UKIP voter i am sure we would gets loads of MP’s.

    But i am terrified that if we were to adopt PR we may see the rise of a Muslim Brotherhood type party in the UK funded by the like’s of the Saudi’s wanting Sharia Law in Muslim areas,pubs banned etc.

    In polls about 70% of UK muslims want some sort of Sharia Law.

    I worry about social cohesion in that event.

    PR=Great for UKIP but i would always but my country before my party.

    Don’t worry, your fears are utterly without foundation nor based on facts.

    The Muslim population is about 2.5% of the UK population.

    If 70% of Muslims want Sharia law, that amounts to about 1.75% of the population.

    Sleep easy at night, it won’t happen.

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  37. @Old Labour/Kipper

    Sharia Law covers a lot of ground, and is subject to many different interpretations. And Muslims should not have more or fewer rights than, other UK citizens.

    But, you need not worry. Sharia is an only an,option under UK law (all jurisdictions), in voluntarily settling disputes by binding arbitration. This is open to everyone. Parties have always been able,to voluntarily nominate a third party arbiter to settle their dispute.

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