Today’s Channel 4 news has a new YouGov poll asking people about their perceptions of the party leaders and their parties on a left-right scale (full details here). Obviously it is easy to argue that a left-right scale is pretty arbitary and doesn’t mean much in this day and age, but questions like this are very useful in measuring how close people think parties and politicians are to themselves and who is closest to the “centre ground”. More importantly, since YouGov have previously asked the same question in April 2005 and February and September 2006, it lets us see how perceptions of the parties are changing.

Respondents were asked to rate politicans and parties on a scale of “very left-wing”, “fairly left-wing”, “slightly left of centre”, “centre”, “slightly right of centre”, “fairly right-wing” and “very left-wing”, but YouGov have converted into a numerical scale so we can get average results for each politician/party.

The average respondent puts themself at +1, so almost bang on centre. David Cameron is at +33 (the score YouGov gave to “slightly right of centre”), marginally more centrist than last year when he scored +35 and +34 and significantly more centrist than his predecessor Michael Howard was in 2005 (+53). However, despite Cameron being more centrist, he has barely shifted perceptions of the Conservative party as a whole, who have an average score of +52, compared to +50 and +53 last year. Sadly YouGov didn’t ask the question about the party in April 2005, but still being seen as just as right-wing as Michael Howard was doesn’t suggest perceptions of the Conservative party beyond Cameron himself have moved to the centre!

While perceptions of Cameron and the Conservatives have remained static since last year, views of Gordon Brown and Labour have shifted…or more to the point, they have swapped places. In February 2006 the Labour party as a whole scored an average of -27 on the scale, with Gordon Brown seen as somewhat more centrist at -21. In September 2006 perceptions of Brown and the Labour party in general were almost identical. The latest figures show Labour on an average of -22, but Brown on -26. Strangely enough, Brown is now seen as more left-wing than the Labour party in general are.

Contrasted to Tony Blair of course neither man can stake claim to the centre ground, in February 2006 Blair had an average score of +5. The 2005 election was a contest between a leader bang in the centre of politics against a leader seen out on the right. Now we approach a contest between two leaders seen as respectively slightly to the right and slightly to the left of centre. The difference between them is that Cameron is seen as the centrist leader of a more right wing party, while Brown is seen as slightly to the left of his centre-left party.

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