ComRes had a poll yesterday which got some attention because it showed the NHS as the issue people thought was most important facing the country, up eleven points since they last asked. This followed a YouGov poll last week which showed the NHS in third place in the list of salient issues, but also increasing by 13 percentage points since December, putting it 6 points behind the economy and immigration.

These look like contrasting findings (first place and third place) but they really aren’t – both show big increases in the salience of the NHS and similar proportions of people picked out the NHS as a major issue (50% in ComRes, 46% in YouGov). There is a significant difference in the proportion of people picking the economy in the two polls, but that’s because of the way the question is asked: YouGov offer a single option for the economy in general (picked by 52%), ComRes offer three or four different economicy sort of options that responses were split between (promoting growth (20%), distributing benefits of growth (20%), reducing the deficit (19%), keeping down costs (25%)).

This highlights one of the challenges of asking “important issues” questions like this – they are really influenced by the options you offer. The other regular important issues tracker by Ipsos MORI doesn’t suffer from this problem as it is asked face-to-face and completely open ended – people are asked to say what issues they think are important in their own words… but Ipsos MORI still have to decide how to code them up. In December MORI found the most important issues were immigration (42%), economy (33%), NHS (33%). We haven’t had their January figures yet and if they pick up the same trend as YouGov and ComRes we should expect to see a big jump for the NHS, but it’s up there in the top three already anyway.

Exactly which issue comes “top” isn’t really that important anyway unless you are a headline writer. It’s not like an election, there is no prize that is won by being considered important by one more person than the next issue, and which issue comes “top” in a poll is largely determined by how pollsters divide up the options or categorise people’s responses. The point is that immigration and the economy have been considered important issues by very large proportions of the British public for a couple of years and, for now at least (for the ComRes and YouGov polls were taken in the immediate aftermath of some very negative headlines about the NHS), the NHS has become an issue of comparable importance.

On that issue, we should have a big lovely lump of Ashcroft polling on the NHS out tomorrow.


246 Responses to “The most important issue facing the country”

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  1. The Green Party is surprisingly expensive to join – tied with the Tories at £5 a year for a student membership, compared to £1 a year for Labour and £2 for UKIP. I can’t find how much the Liberal Democrat membership costs. Maybe they pay you.

    It’s not hugely surprising. They do very well on social media and have very youth-friendly messages.

  2. Bill Patrick

    The Tories have stood in Northern Ireland for years, and fought in the last election in an alliance with the UUP.
    UKIP stands in European and Stormont elections in Northern Ireland, and for all I know will stand in the 2015 general election in NI.
    Labour and the Lib Dems, of course, don’t count as national parties under this definition.

    Labour have recently/are in the process of setting up a NILP: see http://www.labourpartyni.org

    The Lib Dems have generally been allied/associated with the Alliance Party – eghttp://www.libdemvoice.org/congratulations-to-david-ford-18849.html. and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Alderdice,_Baron_Alderdice

    So the Torys, Labour, LDs and UKIP are all (or will be) UK national parties and/or groupings with candidates standing in all four countries. The Greens could easily be added to that list. I’m not sure about the other parties (eg SNP, PC, Respect) as they don’t have the widespread coverage across all four countries.

  3. Apologies for the rubbish formatting on my previous comment.

  4. MRNAMELESS

    Not sure the Lib Dems even bother offering a student membership any more ;)

  5. Funtypippin,

    I’m a student, so I know student LDs in a very minor way. They’re about as normal as you’d expect. One of my friends voted LD in the council elections, but he’s actually a Tory.

  6. 2010 was the first GE I was eligible to vote in and I voted LD (despite being a Green Party member at the time) – I also convinced quite a few of my friends to vote for them too which I got quite a lot of stick for afterwards. I’m ashamed to admit that I was persuaded to vote for them by an axis-less graph on their election material!

  7. Funtypippin,

    I trust you have now changed your medication!

  8. Funtypippin,

    ” I’m ashamed to admit that I was persuaded to vote for them by an axis-less graph on their election material!”

    And so you should be… Falling for a LibDem dodgy graph is probably the closest this site has to a hanging offence.

    Lucky for you Anthony won’t give out your address or Statgeek would be round to pin you to the wall with marker pens!

    Peter.

  9. I do a lot of bar charts in the graphics for the Hallam campaign – I always have a calculator open to make sure I’m getting the percentages pixel-perfectly proportional.

  10. INTERESTED

    Did you manage to get a vet for the injured Ostrich?

  11. Graham

    Yes, no more Special Brew for me.

  12. Oops wrong poster and in any case it was an owl.

  13. Catmanjeff,

    Yes, membership figures for political parties now look something like this:

    Tories 224,000
    Labour 190,000
    SNP 90,000
    LibDems 44,000
    Greens 41,000 (including 8,000 Scottish Green party)
    UKIP 41,000

    The surge in membership experienced by the Greens and SNP over the

  14. @Luke

    Thank you.

  15. So by membership according to population, the SNP in Scotland seem to have the best human resources (or leaflet mules if you prefer)

  16. @Luke

    I think you may be inflating the Tory membership figures a little. On the official Parliament website it suggests that the Tory Party membership is “estimated” at 134,000. The Tories are very secretive about the official figure so it’s difficult to be absolutely sure.

    The other party membership figures you quote appear to be accurate according to the Parliament website: –

    http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN05125/membership-of-uk-political-parties

  17. A chap on OpenDemocracy put this up earlier. As Crossbat suggests, your estimate for the Tories is FAR too high, though the HoC Library figure also appears to be out of date.

    For the Greens and UKIP there are figures accurate to this week and they are very close:

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/another-note-on-party-memberships-in-uk

  18. Catmanjeff,

    Green party membership overtaking UKIP is certainly not just a Twitter rumour. Multiple news sources, including the Guardian, Independent and Mirror are reporting today that membership figures for political parties now look something like this:

    Tories 224,000
    Labour 190,000
    SNP 90,000
    LibDems 44,000
    Greens 41,000 (including 8,000 Scottish Green party)
    UKIP 41,000

    The continuing surge in membership experienced by the Greens means that having now overtaken UKIP, they are almost certain to also overtake the LibDems by the time of the General Election. Indeed, the current rate of Green membership growth is so dramatic that it is possible that the Green Party of England and Wales alone may also overtake UKIP and even the LibDems by May. Meanwhile, the SNP, already clearly the UK’s third largest party by membership, are very likely to hit the symbolic figure of 100,000 by May.

  19. Glad to hear that the figure I just gave for Tory party membership was completely wrong. Seems that the real figure is around 150,000.

  20. And apologies for the double posting. Didn’t realise I’d pressed submit on the first version of the comment.

  21. @Luke

    Don’t worry about double posting; I’ve done it many times myself.

  22. @Luke

    Don’t worry about double posting; I’ve done it many times myself.

    :-)

  23. As to whether the SNP should take part in the UK-wide debates I think a lot of confusion here and with so many other aspects of this topic arises from there being no real agreement as to what these leaders’ debates are actually for.

    Are they about who will be the best Prime Minister? Or which Party has the best policies for the UK? Or what a Party would do if they got in government? Or which Party a voter should choose to vote for in their constituency? Unfortunately, depending on what is being discussed or who has partisan axes to grind, people are looking at the solution they would like to see and then assuming the purpose of the debates should be to achieve that. But until you identify the primary purpose of the debates, you can’t even begin to come up with a correct and widely agreed format.

    Now it seems to me that the focus has to be on the voters and helping them to decide. Who is to best PM or what they would do in government may contribute to that[1], but will be secondary – the UK is not electing a president.

    Given that, there’s a perfectly logical and reasonable reason for excluding the SNP from the UK leaders debates, which is that they are not standing for seats in the majority of the UK. That they might hold the balance of power or their percentage in Scotland is irrelevant. These are the UK-wide debates and the SNP will only be standing in, at most, 9% of the seats. If you are going to allow in Parties that are not standing in a substantial majority of UK seats, because they might still win some, you will also need to include Plaid, the five NI Parties and for all I know the Canvey Island Independents.

    This also should automatically put the veto on most smaller Parties who demand a place at a podium. Though they should need not just to put up enough candidates, but also demonstrate the likelihood of credible support. The Greens seem likely to fulfil the first of these conditions this time (they wouldn’t have in 2010), whether they achieve the second is more moot. I would be tempted to include them, based especially on the desire of the public to see them there.

    Deciding that the debates have to be voter-focused also knocks on the head the ridiculous 4-3-2 format that the broadcasters have come up with (I suspect in an attempt to appease No. 10). The voters need to see the representatives[2] of all the relevant Parties each time[3].

    There is still a serious problem and it highlights how the SNP’s demand to take part in the UK leaders’ debates is misconceived. The real problem is that in 2010 the UK-wide Parties – Con, Lab and Lib Dem – effectively got twice the exposure that the SNP and PC did: once through the UK leaders debates and once through the Scottish/Welsh ones. This time there will be the added complication that in Scotland parties that have been deemed to be minor – UKIP and maybe the Greens – will get more coverage than they deserve under the fairness rules[4].

    This ‘double exposure’ problem actually breaks the legal requirements about fair representation and the only way I can see round this is for the UK and the Scottish, Welsh and NI debates to be broadcast simultaneously. The UK ones then effectively becoming the English ones. Of course in a multi-channel world individuals will be able to choose which they want and political junkies can devour the full meal at leisure. But that lets people choose not the politicians and broadcasters and would cater for the fact that most viewer still watch the standard channels and watch them live.

    Who would represent the UK-wide Parties in the others would be up to those Parties, but I suppose it would be possible to pre-record if they wanted their UK leaders to be in those as well. It might cause some technical problems for Sky, but if they want to mix with the big boys they have to put in the resources.

    [1] Despite what the personality-obsessed members of the media love to tell us, the Party leader is only the main reason for voting choice for a small number of people (or at least that’s what they tell pollsters). And of course whether any particular leader even has the chance to take part in government is something that only 1 in 650 voters can decide.

    [2] Who do not necessarily need to be the official leader for the same reason – it’s about helping the voters decide and the Parties can choose whoever they want and possibly not the same person for each debate.

    [3] There’s also the very practical point that absentees from one debate will want to bring up what was discussed there. So the danger is that that you’ll get the same debate three times over.

    [4] This problem is also potentially serious for Northern Ireland where UKIP is likely to stand. In addition while technically none of the other GB Parties stand in NI some NI Parties are sister-Parties to them (UUP, SDLP, Alliance, NI Greens) while some (DUP, SF) would be unrepresented even by proxy.

  24. @Crossbat11

    ;-)

  25. Exciting new Scotland only poll out tomorrow

  26. @Luke

    (RE: SNP on 100K by May)

    Not bad for a regional party.

    @Roger

    Good post, but if I was sum up what the debates are for:

    – The parties think they are an opportunity for their leaders to give the other leaders a kicking

    – The voters think they are an opportunity to see at least one politician get a kicking, and don’t trend to mind who, as long as it’s not their preferred leader

    – To give each party with a chance of winning votes a little coverage and demonstrate that said parties’ leaders are actually leaders…or is that being naive? :))

  27. Which pollster?

  28. @Roger

    “This ‘double exposure’ problem actually breaks the legal requirements about fair representation and the only way I can see round this is for the UK and the Scottish, Welsh and NI debates to be broadcast simultaneously.”

    Sadly in the modern world we can record any or all of them. It occurs to me that a party that has less than 20% in England gets ‘major party’ status, while a party in Scotland with over 40% of the vote gets regional status.

    Let’s be honest. If the SNP was polling 80% in Scotland (7% nationally) and guaranteed 59 seats in the UK parliament, the other parties would be desperate to give it regional status. Perhaps the SNP should run for a seat in England and then it would be granted national status.

    I don’t have a problem with UKIP, Greens or whatever being included, but it seems that everyone has a line that they draw to stop some party or other being included (usually for partisan reasons), whereas I would allow any party access to the debate (the possible caveat of parody or fun candidates being politely asked to decline in the interests of common sense).

    Perhaps the best option might be to have constituency debates all at the same time and none of the televised. We do after all elect an MP and not a PM.

  29. Perhaps the best option might be to have constituency debates all at the same time and none of the televised. We do after all elect an MP and not a PM.

    I agree.

    The more I have thought about the debates, I have yet to find a solution that isn’t riddled with illogical holes.

    I’m not convinced they are a great boost to our democratic process, they don’t really make sense, so why bother?

  30. SEVEN out of 10 now say it’s unfair not to include the Greens in the leaders’ TV election debates – bolstering David Cameron’s stand

  31. no yougov today…?

  32. LAB…34

    CON ..32

    LIB .6

    UKIP..15

    GRN..7

  33. “SEVEN out of 10 now say it’s unfair not to include the Greens in the leaders’ TV election debates – bolstering David Cameron’s stand”

    Except that the majority don’t believe that that is a sincere motivation on his part – so not really bolstering it at all.

  34. 32 seems an increasingly popular % figure for the Tories doesn’t it?

    The idea that they will improve on 2010 seems far-fetched.

  35. Labour on the charge, I see.

    Incidentally, does anyone else think Mike Smithson’s little party leader heads show profound political bias:

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B7WBDwgIgAAT-dF.jpg

    I mean look at Ed Miliband’s cartoon compared to geriatric Cameron and Farage, tiny-eyed Clegg and zombie Bennett.

    Then look at Ed Miliband’s head in real life.

  36. Labour stretching ahead as we head into the home straight!

    :-)

  37. “Except that the majority don’t believe that that is a sincere motivation on his part – so not really bolstering it at all”
    _____________________

    That’s what the pollsters say and your view of it.

    My view is a head to head between DC and EM with regional debates across England Wales and Scotland.

  38. ITV news earlier reported that 50% believed Cameron was using the Greens as an excuse not to have the Leaders debates. Only 21% did not think so.

  39. COUPER

    “Exciting new Scotland only poll out tomorrow”
    _______

    I’m running with a skeleton staff tonight and my sources can’t find what poll you are on about?

  40. Spearmint

    That was how @Sun_Politics tweeted the figures tonight so Smithson was only copying the tweet.

  41. SPEARMINT

    They puppet heads belong to the Sun. Farage looks ill and rather decrepit.

  42. David Cameron’s cartoon has way too much hair. ;-)

    And there’s a new thread.

  43. @Allan Christie

    Wings Over Scotland probably Panelbase. He gets results tomorrow (today) hopefully will publish straight away

  44. In response to Mr. Nameless, the minimum charge for membership of the Green Party appears to be income related.

    A generation or two ago, the Pary faithful, in particular of the Labour Party, used to give donations that were very sizeable in relation to their often limited income. It says something that the major parties these days appear to rely on donations from a small rich minority. This hardly encourages people with a limited income from donating more that the minimum subscription.

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