The Guardian’s monthly ICM poll has headline voting intentions (with changes from the last ICM poll) of CON 40%(+3), LAB 31%(nc), LDEM 19%(-4). The poll was conducted between February 16th and 18th, so after the media coverage of David Cameron using cannabis at school.

The Guardian’s coverage of the poll however concentrates upon a seperate question asked in the poll – how people would vote with Gordon Brown as the Labour leader. Asked how they would vote if the party leaders were David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Sir Menzies Campbell voting intention becomes CON 42%, LAB 29%, LDEM 17% – as the Guardian says in its article, if repeated at a general election this would result in a healthy Conservative majority.

What is worth noting though is that questions of this type are not strictly comparable – normal polls do not include the party leader names, so we do not know whether the changes are a result of people imagining Gordon Brown as PM, or the effect of mentioning David Cameron or Menzies Campbell in the question (in fact Populus did test this last year, and found a similar but smaller swing to the Conservatives if you mentioned the current party leaders in the question). The question is also purely hypothetical, in reality people are not very good at predicting how they will feel in the future, how they will react to future events. These figures should certainly therefore not been seen as a prediction of how people would vote were Gordon Brown to be Labour leader although, as I’ve said before, I suspect they can give us a hint as to which way public opinion is blowing on Gordon Brown.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the poll is how strongly the Guardian have run with it. Julian Glover makes the same points as I do above about the question not being comparable, and the Guardian’s leader voices caution over hypothetical figures, yet the story forms a great big headline on the Guardian’s front page alongside huge, bold 29% and 42% figures. I think they’ve seen the poll as a convenient peg on which to call for a contested leadership election.

(UPDATE: Anyone who has come here looking for the swing calculator mentioned in the Guardian today can find it here)

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