New party leaders normally enjoy a honeymoon in the polls. It’s noticeable for leaders taking over in opposition, on the relatively rare occassion that the party leadership changes hands in government the honeymoon is often remarkable. In the last fifty years there have been three previous occasions when the premiership changed hands between-elections:

  • Wilson-Callaghan, 1976. When Harold Wilson announced his resignation in the middle of March the polls were showing a Conservative lead of between two and five points. The polls immediately following Wilson’s resignation and during Callaghan’s first month in office showed Labour leads of between one and seven points, before returning to a steady Tory lead in May.
  • Thatcher-Major, 1990. Margaret Thatcher was famously removed by the Tory party in November 1990. In the month before the leadership election Labour had an average poll lead of thirteen points. In the month immediately following her resignation and replacement by John Major the Conservatives had an average lead of five points, peaking at 11 points. Over the next few months the polls settled down to an average Tory lead of four points or so.
  • Blair-Brown, 2007. The Blair-Brown handover was a more drawn out affair: Blair announced his resignation at the start of May 2007, when the Conservatives had a poll lead of around six points, and actually handed over to Gordon Brown at the end of June. Through July and August Brown enjoyed an average Labour lead of around five points, peaking in double-digit leads during the Labour conference at the end of September… and their rapid collapse afterwards. The Conservatives were ahead again by October, and remained so for the rest of the Parliament.

Every mid-term change of Prime Minister has been accompanied by a significant boost in polling figures – in the three historical cases, they’ve gone from trailing the opposition to a clear polling lead. The boosts have tended to be comparatively short though – Callaghan and Major only enjoyed a month or so before settling down into a new equilibrium, Brown enjoyed a honeymoon that lasted several months, but that was probably because he was seem to have responded well to the Glasgow Airport attack and Summer floods. There’s no clear pattern as to where the polls settle after the honeymoon: I suppose it depends very much on the leader. Once the honeymoons had passed the change in leader didn’t make that much difference in 1976 and 2007 (in both cases Labour’s position absolutely tanked a few months down the line… but for different reasons), in 1990 though there was a long lasting improvement in Tory support.

So to the current polling position. Today’s ICM poll has topline figures of CON 43%(+4), LAB 27%(-2), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 13(-1) (tabs are here). It follows on from an ICM poll last week showing the Conservatives ten points ahead, a YouGov poll giving the Conservtives an eleven point lead and an Opinium poll giving them a more modest six point lead. All four polls had Labour around or just below 30% and the Conservatives nearer 40%, UKIP down a little from the levels of support they’d been showing before the referendum.

Viewed together it certainly looks like the sort of boost a new Prime Minister normally receives, which is a good reason not to read too much into it. New Prime Ministers receive good poll ratings because they haven’t had to annoy too many people yet – the public can project their hopes onto them and convince themselves they really will be different, really will deliver this, that or the other. Before long, however, the shine will come off and they’ll have to start making compromises and disappointing people. This is one good reason for Theresa May not to plan for an early election (and the mistake Gordon Brown made in not shutting down such considerations) – the current polls look wonderful for her, but on past timescales they won’t necessarily be so rosy in a couple of months time. It’s also a crumb of comfort for Labour… though quite a small crumb.

UPDATE: YouGov have fresh voting intention figures that also show a strong lead for the Conservatives, albeit, not quite as big as ICM’s. Their topline figures are CON 40%, LAB 28%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%. Tabs are here

846 Responses to “Leadership honeymoons and ICMs latest poll”

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  1. Hi Anthony- really interesting piece. One question, and apologies if this in one you’ve had to answer a million times before, but were the opinion polls predicting a Major win in 1992? I know you quote that they settled down to a 4 point average Tory lead through 1991; but my understanding has always been that the Tory win in 92 was a shock, so did their ratings collapse for the start of 1992, or did you pollsters call it right?
    Thank you

  2. Its still awful for labour but there is a long way to go and some very difficult times ahead for the govt regardless of who is in govt, the Osborne bubble is about to collapse prehaps hastened a little by the brexit vote. I don’t envy any govt that has to deal with the fallout from that.

  3. Gareth – the surprise in 1992 was that the Tories won, and won by a large margin in terms of votes (though only a small overall majority in seats). All the polls pre-election had been pointing to a hung Parliament, rather than a Labour victory.

    I wouldn’t push the analogy too far as I think a lot of the reasons for the failure were different, but in terms of error 1992 and 2015 were similar. The polls showed things neck-and-neck and hence pointed to a hung Parliament, reality was a large Tory vote lead and a very narrow Tory majority in seats.

    (Actually “next year” was overegging it a bit! The Tories had a steady lead in early 1991, but Labour pulled ahead again later in the year. I’ve amended the original article)

    Do not waste tears on what is in store for Mrs May. The Osborne bubble is not going to do anything, and don’t let Labour tribalism tell you it is. Labour is very nearly finished.

  5. @Peter Cairns
    ‘On these figures if near accurate, the Tories could come above Labour in Scotland at westminster but there is also the possibility that the SNP might win all the seats in Scotland because if anything it suggests the SNP are stronger and Labour weaker than last year.’

    It is always dangerous to pay much attention to regional polling crossbreaks because they are so small and not necessarily representative of a particular region anyway. For what they are worth,however, this ICM is showing both Labour and the SNP 2 % lower than May 2015 when they polled 24% and 50% respectively. The Tories -at 20% – are cica 5% higher . The likely impact in Scotland would be the SNP losing a few seats to the Tories with Labour and LibDems hanging on to their single seats. I suspect the SNP would drop to 52 or 53 seats.

  6. Alec
    I totally agree that this is an appalling poll for Labour – and might be useful to Owen Smith. It needs to be seen,though, in the context of Opinium ONLY putting the Tories 6% ahead – so once again the polls are a bit over the shop.
    I am not a fan of crossbreaks but this poll gives the Tories a 9% lead in Wales – which seems somewhat unlikely.

  7. Graham

    “I am not a fan of crossbreaks”

    However, the crossbreak ,with 85% of all those polled in it, is less subject to distortions than smaller ones.

    England – Con 47% : Lab 26% : UKIP 15% : LD 7% : Green 4%.

    Con lead over Lab = 21%

    Tories are almost as strong in England as the SNP are in Scotland.

  8. Labour is finished again…

  9. It is a huge lead, regardless of the context. It must be so very tempting for May to call an election, though I understand the mechanics of doing so are tricky. Will the Tories ever have a better opportunity of burying Labour? I doubt it.

  10. Oldnat
    ‘Tories are almost as strong in England as the SNP are in Scotland.’
    Maybe – but the pollsters are not consistent at the moment. There was very little sign of this honeymoon bounce inlast week’s 11 local by elections.

  11. Some quick charts on the latest ICM Poll –

  12. Bert
    Effectively there could not be an election before the second half of November – even if Labour played ball. Parliament is now in recess until briefly returning on 5th September. Labour is not going to agree to an early election being called during its leadership election which would mean May having to wait until Parliament returns after the party conferences on 10th October. Even if Labour then bowed to her wishes the earlies possible Polling Day would be 17th or 24th November depending on how long it took to tidy up business. More likely Labour would force May into the humiliation of a No Confidence Vote which would push back the earliest date back to 1st or 8th December. Much too late in the year I suspect!

  13. Here’s something odd, the con lead is 8 points before don’t knows are reallocated, but 16 points after reallocation of the don’t knows. Is that normal?

    [Rachel – that’s not right. Page 3 of the tabs where there is an eight point gap is also before re-percentaging to exclude don’t knows & won’t votes and (I think) before turnout weighting. To see the impact of reallocating don’t knows you need to compare the figures on page 4 of the tables and page 5 of the tables: reallocating don’t knows actually reduced UKIP by one point and increased Labour and the LDs by one point each. Without reallocating DKs it would have been CON 43%, LAB 26%, LD 7%, UKIP 14% – AW]

  14. SHS
    “Labour is finished again.”

    That surely is an oxymoron. If they were finished before, they wouldn’t be here, so wouldn’t be in a position to be finished again.

  15. It’s tempting to look at the historical examples AW has provided and conclude that changes of leader only make a positive difference to the level of a party’s support when the qualities of the previous leader were the main problem. But I just don’t know enough about the circumstances surrounding the first two examples. I mention the point mainly as a corrective to the notion that the qualities of the leader are crucial to a party’s support. I think that people tend to conflate leader and party: if the party is perceived as incompetent or unappealing then its leaders also tend to be perceived that way, and vice versa.

    Of course our politics have become more presidential, but I think it’s still easy to overestimate the extent to which leaders shape party policy. The hacks love to try to read the runes and speculate how X or Y will put his or her stamp on policy – as we’re seeing at the moment – but in the end if X is proposing policies that shift the party’s centre of gravity (quite rare) what matters is his or her ability to drag the party in the chosen direction.

  16. @Bert

    It’s not sporting to call an election while Lab, UKIP and Greens are still selecting their leader.

    Also boundary review reports in Sept, and then there is a 12 week consultation period about it.

    So if there is an election it won’t happen till next May. And they would still have to get round the FTPA. Even if they repealed it, Lab in the Lords would seek to block it. Lab in the Commons is a bit of a shambles, but Lab in the Lords is still functioning like a coherent party.

  17. Graham

    I can’t imagine why Labour would want a GE in November. And I just don’t think that TM is up for playing bu**ers with the FTPA.

  18. Candy
    ‘Also boundary review reports in Sept, and then there is a 12 week consultation period about it.’

    The Parliamentary vote to approve boundary changes is not due until Autumn 2018 so existing boundaries would operate at any election held before 2019.

    Robert Newark
    ‘I can’t imagine why Labour would want a GE in November. And I just don’t think that TM is up for playing bu**ers with the FTPA.’

    I don’t think Labour would want such an election but second half of November is the earliest that it is likely to be at all possible. I agree though that Theresa May is unlikely to try.

  19. @Maxim Parr-Reid
    ‘Re Scotland. The Tories would beat Labour in a GE in Scotland. ‘

    On the ICM figures the Tories would beat Labour in seats but not votes.

  20. AW

    The ICM tables are very difficult to understand, you gov tables are much better(shameless sucking up! Lol) but likehood to vote might make as much as 8 points difference? So the half of the votes we need are there, we just need to motivate them to get to the polling booth?

    [It’s not easy to tell from the tables, I think it makes about 5 points difference there (the other 3 points is from the re-percentaging – i.e. if you include don’t knows, etc in the total it’s 30% Con, 22% Lab, 25% DK/Won’t vote/Won’t say. However, at an actual general election we give percentages of those who vote, so if you re-percentage so it’s a percentage of those giving a voting intention the figures are 40% Con, 29% Lab even before any turnout or re-allocation. Exactly the same lead of course, just a different way of presenting it – AW]

  21. Maxim Parr -Reid
    The poll crossbreaks vary a lot but the YouGov figures do not seem very plausible based on the recent Holyrood elections. Probably SNP too high – Labour too low.

  22. Robert Newark

    “Labour is finished again.”

    That surely is an oxymoron. If they were finished before, they wouldn’t be here, so wouldn’t be in a position to be finished again.

    I concurr:)

    The Canyons Of Your Mind- The Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band.

    In the Canyons of your mind
    I will wander through your brain
    Through the ventricles of your heart, my dear
    I’m in love with you again….

  23. Many on the right and in have been predicting the end of the Labour Party since about November 1924, when the first Labour administration fell from power. The idea has.gained ground since 1979 and has been repeat almost endlessly since then.

    Actually history may show that those who said it in 1979 might not be that far from the truth. I am of the belief that there will be a Labour party long after all of us are dead and buried. The future for that partydepends on what hhappens over the next year or two within the party (parties?)and what sort of opposition they are up against. There will always be a social movement based on the idea of collectivism, but it may be holding its AGM in a pub in a generations time. Alternatively, it may be forming a Government.

  24. Do not use Scottish cross breaks, based on tiny numbers not weighted to Scottish population. However, I am going to do that now….the ICM poll has Labour above Tories in Scotland that is out of kilter with other polls & crossbreaks so I would place even less reliance on ICM crossbreaks than others.

    But it does point out the complete lack of Scottish polling since EURef reaction polls. That is a month without a single Scotland only poll when the question of independence is back on the table. Of course SNP and Tories will be doing private polling but come on polling organisations some Scottish polls please.

  25. @cambridgerachel

    “the Osborne bubble is about to collapse”

    Which Osborne bubble is this? I thought we were being told how horribly badly the economy has been doing?


    “It’s not sporting to call an election while Lab, UKIP and Greens are still selecting their leader.
    Also boundary review reports in Sept, and then there is a 12 week consultation period about it.”

    That would never stop any of them :-).

    I don’t see any election until 2020 though, since TM has in practice a good working majority of about 30, and that is nearly as many as Mrs Thatcher who had 43. And the demographics feeding in to the Boundary Review process will be in their favour.

    And she has hung her hat on stability and the longer term. Why rock the boat?

    I actually put the date at 2008 the other day. The poor beast will soon be at rest though.

  27. Maxim Parr-Reid.

    People who I speak to on both sides of the party agreement that a split can not be allowed to happen. The allowed ratification construct of The Labour Party will therefore i think, continue.

    At least until the point where either PR is introduced or The Tories split (Across pro and anti europe lines) and with a Conservative Government in power, I cannot see either of those things happening in the Forseeable future

  28. That is a shocking poll for Labour.

    The thing is that horror polls of that kind have an impact. No doubt both sides within Labour will blame each other, but both will conclude that there is now little realistic chance of a 2020 victory. I think that makes a formal split more likely.

  29. Matt wardman

    The Osborne bubble I refer to is the house price bubble which of course has a knock on effect on consumer spending. I can’t see that there can be even more help for first time buyers, but the Tories were unwise enough to rig the market before, who knows what lengths they will go to to keep house prices up?

  30. If Corbyn wins again the ‘sensible’ people in Labour will need to split away. Labour can’t carry on as it is. This needs to happen quickly as time is of the essence. I still think that a merger with the Lib-Dems is the best route to success and a whole hearted commitment to PR as an electoral system.

  31. So Herr Schmuck, in that case will the “Labour Party” continue as they are? It does seem a bit far fetched that the internecine warfare should go on until 2027 when the Tories split over Europe (maybe).

  32. FTPA gives the Tories another 3.5 years in office. Why go through all the contortions needed to hold a general election (with risks of losing a seat or two, or a few UKIP gains, or seats in N Ireland going to Remainers) all for another year in office.
    Spin out Brexit a bit on the grounds of ‘getting ready’ ; expect Brexit not to be the predicted disaster, and point to widening world trade and a reasonable deal with the EU, and go to the polls in 2020 as a successful party doing what the country needs and wanted, and give Mrs May one or two years more well-earned retirement. Then have another 5 years in office under a new younger leader instead of facing an election in 2021 with another year for things to go wrong and Labour to recover,

  33. To survive, the PLP needs to retain the party name and infrastructure. If they do not, they will go the same way as the SDP eventually. I see no benefit in a merger with the LDs. An irrelevant grouping, led by a happy clappy, whose appeal is very limited to the country at large.

    The problem is that the old Labour base has fractured. Corbyn has the extreme left wing socialists and is not interested in winning elections, just protest action. The old working class is going/has gone, to UKIP.

    That leaves the metropolitan ‘Islington’ type left of centre MPs. Frankly, people like Chukka and Liz Kendall and others have more in common with the left wing of the Tory party. They might s well join it.

  34. @Millie
    The problem is that the PLP lack a group of people with enough clout and courage to actually split. When they started this I had thought that the PLP had a properly thought out battle plan, all the way through Corbyn getting re-elected as leader, but it seems they don’t. I find that very amateurish for people who are supposed to be professional politicians.

    It doesn’t give me any confidence in their likely success if they do split.

  35. Robert Newark
    Probably 50% of the reason that Mrs M came on all leftie Milliband like when she made her acceptance speech.

  36. MPR

    And get prime status in the leadership debates no doubt.

  37. Labour have gone from being behind (when usually they should be ahead in mid-term) to being WAY BEHIND. Unless Corbyn loses the leadership election (or at some point in the future) Labour will lose a General Election so badly it will make 1983 look like a stunning success!

  38. @Rodger

    I agree – I have been startled by the ineptitude of the anti-Corbyn campaign.

    Re a split if Corbyn wins the leadership contest then the anti-Corbynists could scarcely take over the party apparatus, including its funding streams. Where would their funding come from?

    It’s a shame there weren’t some hypotheticals in the recent polls – eg to all Labour voteres would you vote in a GE if Corbyn/ Smith were in charge, and to undecideds which would make you more likely to vote labour

  39. It strikes me that the people in Labour, who should be leaders, don’t want to be. I’m think of Starmer and Jarvis particularly but also old warhorses like Harman. It’s like, they just can’t be bothered.

  40. Either that or the plan is to have this challenge, let it fail and do another one after whatever crisis comes next, with a better ‘establishment’ candidate.

    Chuka Umunna to rule himself back in?

    I note he is now pushing for PR

  41. “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la démocratie.”


    Mais le singe….

  42. Anyway, in the meantime, people like Cambridge Rachel should consider joining the party that takes women in power seriously and has made one its leader for the second time in living memory, has brought same sex marriage onto the statute book, pioneered equal pay for the sexes back in 1972 and has quite a number of MPs and Ministers, from very ordinary, sometimes single parent, council house type backgrounds. Oh, and the Chairman of the party is an ex miner, nearly forgot.

    Rather beats the I’m superior than everyone one else, left wing, moneyed intelligensia crowd from Islington, I think.

    But then if protest, petitions and marches and an inability to influence anything, is what floats your boat, stick with JC.


    You forgot to mention that they also brought in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, one of the most far-reaching protections of international human rights enacted in the past 18 years.

    But those on the left don’t like to mention that, as it doesn’t fit their agenda.

  44. @Bardin
    “Where would the funding come from?” you ask. They might get that from dis-affected Labour donors if they look like winning., on the other hand Corbyn is losing all his donors and the Labour party is very broke. The Unions will help, but most won’t do much unless he looks like winning, and I don’t think he will. Labour may well be going into the next GE without the funds to fight an election.

    The problem is that setting up a new party, making it go and make an impression at the next GE is four years of hard hard shoving by a lot of people to make it work. Four years of very hard work in the face of constant vilification and disruption from Labour. They haven’t got the stomach for it. That was amply demonstrated by all the ‘tears to camera’ we saw.

  45. @Rodger

    they’re unlikely to ‘look like winning’ if they’ve stuck the knife into their leader, lost and left the party IMO.

    I think it’s much more likely they would stay on and have another go as soon as they can, with a stronger candidate, but God help the party in the meantime.

    I can’t see many donors fancying a centre left party which has the Unions for enemies either.

    My guess is lose, then next May or earlier if opportunity presents, another challenge from Chuka, David Milliband (if available) or Jarvis, all of whom might well win and i think the first and last may be able to resuscitate the vote



    Yes Christians are being murdered “in foreign lands” without any press coverage.

    Perhaps this murder in what must be an icon of French Culture-old priest with tiny congregation in small provincial church-will prompt more coverage.

    I have been watching France24 tv news. This slaughter has changed “tone” dramatically from Charlie Hebdo. This is utterly predictable.

  47. @Bardin
    I think they will stay and snipe, form groupings and make noise, position and re-position themselves, and in the end face the fate the Tebbit mapped out for them in the DT. MPs are often tempted to confuse publicity and media presence with power. I think there will be a lot of that.

    Don’t think Chuka, Milliband, Jarvis, Cooper, Kinnock have what it takes, and certainly not Smith, who so far comes across as faintly vacuous. The only one I can see who I think can get a result for Labour is Liz Kendall, and they won’t have her at any price.

    The only counterpoint is that the Labour vote is holding up well in local by-elections and Parliamentary by-elections. I am not sure what that means.

  48. David Carrod

    Yes but apart from that what have the Tories ever done for us?

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