In the strange interregnum between Blair’s resignation announcement and Gordon Brown’s accession it’s still unclear what the polls signify. In the three polls carried out since Blair stepped down Labour have received a boost in the polls – either at the expense of the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives. It is impossible to say for sure precisely what is behind most changes in the opinion polls, but personally I suspect this shift was a “Blair boost” – a result of more positive opinions otwards Tony Blair now he is going (there were similar spikes in his scores when he first announced he wouldn’t be seeking a fourth term and after his final conference speech as leader last year).
Today’s YouGov poll for the Telegraph has the Conservative lead back up to 6 points again with topline figures (with changes from YouGov’s last poll – conducted for the Sunday Times just after Blair’s announcement) of CON 39%(+1), LAB 33%(-1), LDEM 15% (nc). The individual changes in voting intentions are not significant, but there doesn’t appear to be a continuing movement towards Labour, if anything things are drifting back to the Conservatives.
I was asked a week or so ago about what I thought would happen in the polls during this period. I said I expected a Blair boost (we one we’ve already seen) followed by a Brown boost from the positive publicity accompanying his rather strange lone leadership campaign and his eventual accession. Perhaps there would be a delay between them and Labour would go up-down-and-up-again, or perhaps they would blend together into one big jump. This pause in Labour’s advance therefore doesn’t necessarily mean that this is their boost from the leadership change and it’s all over – I suspect they’ve got more to come as opinions of Brown improve (temporarily at least). That said, the pause in Labour’s advance could be because the Conservatives have managed to reclaim the media agenda recently with their arguments over selective education – over at Political Betting Mike Smithson think that having David Cameron in the media whether it’s a good or bad story helps the Tories.
Another possible explanation is the different methodology between the pollsters – YouGov’s poll do not include any adjustments for likelihood to vote, ICM, Populus and MORI do. If Labour’s increase in the polls is largely due to Labour supporters being more enthused and saying they are more likely to vote, it wouldn’t make any difference to YouGov’s topline figures. Or – of course, it could just be the normal random variation between polls and not mean much at all!
Meanwhile there are already signs of improvement in perceptions of Brown. On the “Best Prime Minister” question Gordon Brown has caught up and overtaken David Cameron, who he now leads 30% to 27% (with 6% opting for Menzies Campbell). He has also narroed the large Conservative lead on the “forced choice” question of whether – if pushed – people would choose a Conservative government under Cameron or a Labour government under Brown. Cameron’s Tories now lead by only 3 points from a 10 point lead last month. With media focus on the man who has been Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years, Labour have also moved back ahead as the party most trusted on the economy.