Do people prefer Gordon Brown to David Cameron? The answer you get depends on who you ask. There’s a Populus poll mentioned in the Times today (conducted for Opinion Leader Forum – who they?) that claims amongst “swing voters” Gordon Brown would be preferred as Prime Minister to David Cameron by 51% to 24%. I would look very carefully at it before drawing too many conclusions – exactly how are those “swing voters” defined? The Times says they are “people who are inclined to vote Labour at present, but say there is a fair chance of them going to another party, and those currently inclined to vote for another party or unsure about which one to vote for, but who say there is a fair chance of switching to Labour.”

In other words, assuming the Times have accurately described the sub-sample, it is skewed towards Labour – Populus’s normal definition of swing voters is those people who say they might yet change their minds. This does not seem to be that – this sub-sample would include, for example those who aren’t sure but might vote Labour, but not those who aren’t sure but might vote Conservative. It would include Lab/LD waverers, but not Con/LD waverers, etc, etc. The way the Times describes it there are more Labour sympathisers in the sub-sample than Conservative ones, so it is hardly earth-shattering to find they prefer Brown to Cameron.

That doesn’t change the fact that these are largely the people who will decide the next election. People switching between the Lib Dems and Conservatives and not voting at all matter too, but when it comes to the effect of Gordon Brown becoming PM it is the people who might move towards or away from Labour that count. Without a better understanding of the parameters of the sub-sample though it’s hard to say whether it is actually good news for Gordon Brown or not. If those 242 people are mostly current Labour supporters who might yet waver, then the finding that 41% of them think that David Cameron would be as good or better than Gordon Brown could in fact be a worrying finding for Brown. If, on the other hand, a large proportion of those people are not currently Labour supporters, but are other parties waverers (especially if they are Conservatives waverers) then it could be very good news for Gordon Brown. From the information published in the Times we simply don’t know.

(Just for the record, since it doesn’t make that much difference to a 27 point lead, the Times also says “it is statistically a small sample; the findings therefore have to allow for a margin of error of at least plus or minus 3 per cent.” 242 people is indeed a very small sample. It equates to a margin of error of at least plus or minus SIX per cent. Still, even an inaccurate caveat is a step in the right direction!)

This month’s MORI poll has also finally surfaced, this time in the FT, the full voting intentions are not there, only Conservative and Labour. With changes from MORI’s last poll in early September, they are CON 35% (nc), LAB 37% (+1). It’s an intriguing poll. The figures are pretty much unchanged from MORI’s last poll…but MORI’s last poll looked wildly out of place and was seen as a rogue poll, surrounded as it was by Populus and YouGov polls showing Conservative leads of 4 and 8 points respectively. Maybe it wasn’t a rogue poll after all and MORI’s different methodology is just producing divergent figures, or maybe the last poll was a rogue, but this one is picking up a genuine increase in Labour support – perhaps from the veil comments. ICM and YouGov’s monthly polls are due this week, so we’ll soon find out.

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