ComRes have done their monthly online poll for the Independent on Sunday. Topline figures are CON 31%(+2), LAB 34%(-1), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 19%(nc), GRN 4%(nc). For clarification, given some of the misunderstandings on Twitter earlier today, this is using ComRes’s normal methodology and prompting, they haven’t changed anything (I have no idea if they intend to do so or not… though I expect they’ll be getting a lot of people asking them tonight!). The sample size however was smaller than usual, as with the other half of the sample ComRes carried out an experiment asking the voting intention question including UKIP in the main voting intention prompt. The result using that different method was CON 29%, LAB 31%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 24%, GRN 5%.

Now, I should underline the importance of noting that this is just one poll. It is comparing two samples of 1000 or so people, with the usual margins of error that implies – so not all the difference will necessarily be prompting, some could just be normal sample variation. Please don’t go away with the idea that prompting for UKIP will always has the effect of bumping up UKIP by 5% – it’s just one data point. I think it probably does make a difference (we’ve tested in the past), but five points does seem rather high. Also remember that prompting may affect different methods differently, so the way it affects a ComRes online poll using their methods would not necessarily reflect the way it would affect any other poll (I am personally intrigued by the possibility that prompting may have a different impact in telephone polls, where people may feel obliged to pick one of the options offered by a human interviewer, than in an online poll where it’s just clicking through to another list of options – but obviously I don’t have phone polls to test it on!)

Knowing that prompting does make a difference – something that pollsters knew anyway – doesn’t actually get us any closer to an answer to the real question though, whether prompting for UKIP produces more or less accurate results in GB election polls. It the ComRes figure of 19% more or less accurate than the figure of 24%? Whether polls prompt or not for UKIP is often a issue that produces a lot of comment. Part of that is from people whose concern is, shall I say, more to do with maximising the reported level of support for UKIP than it is to maximise the accuracy of polling. Part of it is that, prima facie, it does seem somewhat strange that a party (normally) running in third place isn’t prompted for when the party that’s (normally) running in fourth place is. Another part is people looking for an explanation for the big difference in reported levels of UKIP support between different pollsters; typically the companies showing the highest levels of support, Survation and Opinium, show UKIP at about twice the support of ICM or MORI, who typically show the lowest. In the latter case I think the attention is misplaced – the reason for the biggest differences in levels of UKIP support in the polls appears to lie elsewhere – companies like Opinium manage to show some of the higher figures without any prompting! Rather they appear to be a contrast between telephone polling and online polling, for some reason online polls show consistently higher levels of UKIP support than telephone polls. That may be something to do with the mode (perhaps people are more ready to admit they are voting UKIP to an anonymous computer screen than to a human interviewer) or it could be something to do with sampling (for some reason phone samples have fewer of the sort of people who vote UKIP than online samples do).

As a pollster it is more important that methods produce the most accurate results than it is whether they appear “fair” (and certainly it’s more important to be accurate than to produce the higher possible score for UKIP!). The fact is that there isn’t a hard and fast rule about when you do and don’t prompt, we don’t have the evidence to say the cut off point is x% support, or y place, or z number of MPs. It’s a matter of judgement. We know from experience over the last couple of decades that prompting for smaller parties tends to overestimate their support (probably because it gives them a prominence and perception of equality with the major parties that may not be there among the general public), we also know that in the 1980s NOT prompting for the Lib Dems used to underestimate their support, so getting it wrong either way can produce error. Sometimes you can get it wrong by prompting, sometimes you can get it wrong by not prompting. There is no real way of knowing when a party switches from a position where prompting risks overestimating them to one where not prompting risks underestimating them – but clearly we are equally keen to avoid both errors. If UKIP establish themselves to the point that they have lots of MPs, consistent support over time, have known people and policies, are treated as a major established party that is given equal treatment by the BBC and OfCom and so on the time will come when the risk of not prompting outweighs the risk of prompting (it has already come, for example, in European elections)… but when you reach that point? It’s a judgement call.

It’s in a bigger context too. The last general election was held in the middle of “Cleggmania” and a surge of enthusiasm for the Liberal Democrats. The polls overestimated their support. The European elections earlier this year saw a great big surge of enthusiasm for UKIP… and of polls in the last week all but one company overestimated their support. In the Scottish referendum I don’t think anyone could deny that the YES campaign were the more enthused, and the polls seem to have all slightly overestimated their support. I may very well be reading something into these that isn’t there, but you get my drift – polls may be overestimating support for parties and movements that have particularly enthusiastic and zealous supporters. There’s also that unexplained difference in UKIP support between telephone companies and online companies, and what might be behind that. Getting UKIP right at the next election is the big challenge facing pollsters, but its about more than just prompting.


Sunday Polls

I’m about to head up to Birmingham, so won’t necessarily be around much for the next few days (not least, when Lord Ashcroft releases his latest marginal poll at 2pm today I’ll be on a train!), but here’s a quick summary of today’s other polls.

ComRes in the Independent on Sunday have topline figures of CON 29%(-3), LAB 35%(+1), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 19%(+1). Changes are from their previous online poll a month ago. Tabs are here.

Opinium for the Observer have toplines of CON 32%(+3), LAB 34%(-3), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 17%(-2). Changes are from a fortnight ago.

Finally the weekly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has toplines of CON 31%, LAB 36%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%. While some other pollsters have already shown the Greens in fourth place, this is the first time that YouGov have shown them catching the Liberal Democrats. Tabs are here.

There is no obvious impact in the polls from the Labour party conference – ComRes have their lead up, Opinium down, YouGov not far from their recent average. In YouGov’s survey they asked if Labour’s conference made people more or less positive about Ed Miliband – 13% said more positive, 15% more negative, 54% unchanged.

YouGov also had several questions on Iraq, showing majority support for British airstrikes against ISIS (58% support for attacks in Iraq, 53% for attacks in Syria) but continuing opposition to putting ground troops back into Iraq (26% approve, 53% disapprove). YouGov also asked about whether Britain should co-operate with Assad or Iran in fighting ISIS. People are evenly split over Assad – 36% think we should co-operate with the regime, 34% that we should not. With Iran people are far more supportive of co-operation – 54% of people think that we should co-operate with Iran, 18% are opposed.


YouGov have a new Scottish poll out tonight, done jointly for the Sun and the Times and YouGov’s first since the second debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. YouGov’s previous poll showed a significant four point shift towards YES, narrowing the NO lead from 22 points to 14. Today’s poll doesn’t just confirm that, it goes further – topline figures are now YES 42%(+4), NO 48%(-3), Don’t know or won’t vote 10%(-1). Excluding don’t knows this is YES 47%(+4), NO 53%(-4).

This means that over a month YouGov have shown the referendum race coming right in from a pretty consistent NO lead of around twenty points right down to just six points. The sharp narrowing of the gap echoes the Survation poll after the second debate which had looked as if it was just a reversion to the mean. This suggests something more is afoot.

As ever, we should be careful of reading too much into a single poll – it’s the wider trend that counts – but it looks like this may go right down to the wire (and considering that YouGov tend to show some of the less favourable results to YES, does make one wonder what the next poll from a company like Panelbase might show).

UPDATE: Also out tonight is the monthly ComRes/Indy telephone poll which has topline figures of CON 28%(+1), LAB 35%(+2), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 17%(nc) and the daily YouGov/Sun poll which has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 35%, LD 7%, UKIP 14%


The monthly ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror is out tonight. Topline figures with changes from their previous online poll are CON 32%(+1), LAB 34%(nc), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 18%(+1): no significant change from a month ago.

ComRes also did a batch of favourable or unfavourable questions. As usual no one actually got a positive rating – the least unfavourable was David Cameron (minus 18), followed by Nigel Farage (minus 21), Ed Miliband (minus 34) and Nick Clegg (minus 43). For the political parties the Conservatives and Labour were both on minus 16, UKIP were on minus 19, the Liberal Democrats on minus 40.

Having the Conservative party and Labour party viewed equally unfavourably is unusual. Whatever the ups and downs of day-to-day politics, the Labour party is normally seen more positively than the Conservative people (people see Labour as having it’s heart in the right place in a way the Tory party doesn’t). As ever, it’s just one poll so unless other polls start showing the same I wouldn’t get too excited.


Following on from the two point and four point leads in the Ashcroft and Populus polls today the other two voting intention polls tonight both have six point Labour leads.

ComRes‘s telephone poll for the Indy has topline figures of CON 27%(-3), LAB 33%(+1), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 17%(-1)
Meanwhile YouGov‘s daily poll for the Sun has toplines of CON 33%, LAB 39%, LD 8%, UKIP 12%