We’ve had two “new” polls on EU membership this week (the inverted commas are there becuase while the ICM poll out today has fresh fieldwork, the ComRes poll earlier in the week was actually done at the end of September). ICM’s latest figures have REMAIN on 44%, LEAVE on 39% (tabs). ComRes meanwhile had REMAIN on 55%, LEAVE on 36% – a far more solid lead for those wishing to stay in the EU (tabs)

There is obviously sizeable gulf in the figures different polling companies are reporting on the EU referendum. ComRes have done several polls on the EU referendum since the election and have consistently shown REMAIN with a strong lead, in contrast two YouGov polls last month both showed LEAVE with a small lead (though they had been showing a modest lead for stay earlier in the year). ICM have been conducting a weekly tracker on EU voting intention, and their figures tend to show a modest lead for those who want to stay.

Polling methodology is in a period of flux as pollsters reassess their approaches in the light of what went wrong at the general election, but I don’t think that explains the difference here. ComRes have indeed adopted a new turnout model based on socio-economic factors… but the nineteen point lead is without that extra turnout weighting, it would be even bigger with it. It could be a online vs telephone difference – YouGov and the regular ICM tracker are both conducted online, the ComRes polls by telephone – but that’s hardly enough evidence to be confident, there will be many other differences in methodology.

While we can’t really tell why there is a difference, we can say where the difference is: Conservative voters. All three pollsters have Labour voters splitting strongly in favour of staying, albeit with some difference in quite how strongly (ICM had 55% of Labour voters backing REMAIN, YouGov had 58%, ComRes 73%). The contrast among Tory voters was larger, ComRes has Tory voters wanting to stay, ICM has them broadly split, YouGov has them favouring exit: in the most recent polls YouGov had only 33% of current Tory voters wanting to stay, ICM had 42% of 2015 Tory voters, ComRes had 56% backing remaining. In practice, of course, how they Tory vote ends up splitting will depend to a significant extent on the leadership David Cameron gives in the referendum and which senior Tory figures come out in favour of leaving – there’s a long way to go yet.

ComRes released their monthly telephone poll for the Daily Mail last night, topline figures were CON 39%, LAB 30%, LD 9%, UKIP 12%, GRN 4%. While the nine point Conservative lead looks similar to most recent polls, note that ComRes have been showing larger Conservative leads of late (typically around 12 points) so comparing like-to-like this represents a narrowing of the lead. The poll was conducted over the weekend, prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech (tabs here)


ComRes and YouGov both had post-Corbyn polls in the Indy on Sunday/Sunday Mirror and Sunday Times respectively. Tabs are here – Comres, YouGov.

ComRes had topline voting intention figures of CON 42% (+2), LAB 30%(+1), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 13%(nc), GRN 3%(-1). Changes are since their August poll and show no obvious impact from Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader.

YouGov had topline figures of CON 39%, LAB 31%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 16%, GRN 3%. YouGov haven’t released voting intention figures since May, but as you can see, the gap between Labour and the Conservatives is barely changed from the election (the difference between the 12 point Tory lead in ComRes and the 8 point Tory lead in YouGov will be at least partially because ComRes have adopted their new socio-economic turnout model, which weights down younger and poorer voters who are historically less likely to vote. YouGov are still reviewing their methods post-election).

YouGov included some more questions about early attitudes towards Jeremy Corbyn. Most people don’t think he has much chance of being Prime Minister (only 14% think it’s likely), but beyond that attitudes are currently quite evenly divided. 30% think he’s strong enough to be a good leader, 41% think he is not.

36% of people agree with the description that Corbyn has dangerous and unworkable views and would be a threat to the economy and national security, but 32% agree with the description that he’s a man of integrity & principle who has caught the mood of people disillusioned by politics. 7% don’t agree with either, 6% agree with both (which is fair enough – one could be a decent and principled man with unworkable and dangerous views!).

YouGov also asked about a list of policies that have been supported by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in the past, announced by Corbyn or floated as possible Labour policies. Again, they found a mixed bag. Some, like withdrawal from NATO, negotiating over the Falklands and abolishing the benefit cap are extremely unpopular, but other things like a higher top rate of tax, rent controls and nationalising the utility companies meet with wide public approval.

The rest of ComRes’s poll had bank of favourable/unfavourable opinion questions on leading politicians. Boris Johnson had the most favourable net score of those asked about with plus 8, followed by David Cameron on minus 7, Theresa May (minus 11), Vince Cable (minus 14), George Osborne (minus 17), Jeremy Corbyn (minus 18), Nicola Sturgeon (minus 19), Nick Clegg (minus 27).

Tom Watson actually had a comparatively good score – minus 8 – but on a low number of responses (71% said don’t know or no opinion), Tim Farron and John McDonnell got similarly high don’t knows, though more negative scores. At this stage, the public simply aren’t familiar enough with them to hold any strong positive or negative opinions.

UPDATE: I missed a third national GB poll, Opinium for the Observer. They had topline figures of CON 37%, LAB 32%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 14%. Opinium also included a best PM question (Cameron 41%, Corbyn 22%) and had some figures on whether Labour under Corbyn could win that were a little more optimistic for them – 32% think Labour could definitely or probably win under Corbyn, 55% though they probably or definitely could not. Tabs are here.

ComRes’s monthly telephone poll for the Daily Mail is out today and has topline figures of CON 42%, LAB 28%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 9%, GRN 6%. The last time the Conservatives reached the heights of 42% in any poll was way back in 2010. Full tables for the poll are here.

The poll also had a bank of questions on perceptions of the four Labour leadership contenders and whether people would vote for them. In my last post I wrote about how such questions really don’t tell us very much: none of the candidates are well known to the public, and how people would vote with x or y as leader is an extremely hypothetical question – what policies will they follow? How will the media and public react? Will the party be united, split or riven with dissent? I don’t know and neither do the poll respondents.

For what it’s worth though, the main finding here was how little there was to choose between the candidates. ComRes asked if people would vote for Labour with the four candidates, the spread was between Burnham and Corbyn on 22% down to Kendall on 18%. They asked who had what it took to be PM, Burnham, Cooper and Corbyn were essentially in a three way tie on 23%-24%. Given the standard margin of error on a poll this size, it suggests the wider public really aren’t that enthused by any of them.

With the window for taking part in Labour leadership election closing and ballot papers going out there were several polls over the weekend asking about the leadership candidates, though no fresh polling of people voting in the actual contest. ComRes, Opinium and Survation all had polls asking about the general public’s perception of the candidates. While the polls weren’t presented that way, I’ve seen various people writing about them as evidence of which candidate would actually do better as leader. In particular the Survation poll had Jeremy Corbyn ahead among the public after they were shown video clips, so was taken as a sign that he may not be as damaging electorally as the commentariat widely assume.

Questions about how well different leadership candidates would do in a general election are always popular and sought after, but extremely difficult if not impossible to make meaningful. Asking the general public who they think would do better or worse is perfectly reasonable, but is a different question. Who people think would do better is not the same as who would do better, it’s just asking the public to answer the question for you and a poll is not a Magic 8 Ball. Asking the general public who they prefer doesn’t answer the question either, it contains the views of lots of committed Labour and Conservative voters who aren’t going to change their vote anyway, and preferring is not necessarily the same as changing your vote.

If you ask how people would vote with x, y or z as leader, or if people would be more or less likely to vote Labour with each candidate as leader then you are getting a little closer, but the problem is still that people are expected to answer a question about how they would vote with the candidates as leader when the general public know hardly anything about them. A fair old chunk won’t even know the candidates names or what they look like, the majority will have little real idea what policies they will put forward. None of us really know how they will work out as leader, what the public, press and political reaction will be, how they will really operate. How can respondents really judge how they would vote in a hypothetical situation with so little information? They can’t.

Some polls try to get round that by giving respondents a little more information about each candidate: a run down of their main policy positions perhaps, or in the case of the Survation poll a little video clip of each respondent so people could see what they looked and sounded like. This is better, but it’s still a long way from reality. It’s like the famous market research failure of New Coke – in market research tests people liked the taste, but release it out into the real world and people wanted their old Coke back. A video clip or a list of policies won’t factor in the way the media react, the way the new leader is reported, how they actually handle leading, the way their party and their opponents react. There is no really good way of answering the question because you’re asking respondents something they don’t actually know yet.

Is there anything polls can really tell us about how the leadership contenders would do? Well, firstly I think we can be reasonably confident in saying the polls don’t suggest any of the four candidates is any sort of electoral panacea, the most positive net rating in the ComRes poll is Andy Burnham and just 19% think he would improve Labour’s chances, 14% that he’d damage them (Corbyn gets more people saying he’d have a positive effect (21%) but much more saying he’d have a negative effect (31%). None of them have obvious election-winning magic like, say, Blair did in 1994.

They can also tell us some things about people’s first impressions of the candidates, something that shouldn’t be underestimated (people probably made their minds up pretty quickly that Ed Miliband didn’t look Prime Ministerial, for example, or that there was “something of the night” about Michael Howard. Those early impressions are hard to shift.). On that front the Survation poll is pretty positive about Jeremy Corbyn with people saying he came across as more trustworthy and in touch than his rivals (though such polls are always a bit tricky because of the choice of clips – Survation tried to iron out any potential biasing effect by having clips from each candidate being interviewed on the Marr show, so they were all interviews, all the same setting and same interviewer… but even then you ended up with two candidates defending their position on the welfare bill, one talking about the EU referendum and one talking about rail nationalisation. It’s almost impossible to do such things and have a truly level ground).

The argument against Corbyn isn’t about his personal image and manner though, it’s that he’d put the Labour party in a ideological and policy position that wouldn’t win votes, that the Labour party itself would risk ripping itself apart under a leader with little support among the Parliamentary party and a long history of rebellion. On individual policies I’ve seen Corbyn supporters taking succour from polls showing, for example, that a majority of the public support rail nationalisation or much higher taxes on the rich and drawing the conclusion that there is a public appetite for much more left wing policies. Be careful – look at this YouGov poll which shows a majority of people would support renationalisation of the utilities, increasing the minimum wage to £10 and the top rate of tax to 60%… but also a total ban on immigration and benefits for anyone who turns down a job, making life mean life with no parole in prison sentences and stopping all international aid. There are some policies to the left of mainstream public debate that are popular and some to the right that are popular, it no more means that the public are aching for a far-left political party than for a far-right one. Essentially you can pick a list of appealing sounding policies from almost any ideological stance, from far-left to far-right, and find the public agree with them. In reality though policies require trade-offs, they need to be paid for, they are attacked by opponents and the press. They are judged as a package. In terms of how well the Labour party would hang together under Jeremy Corbyn, polling of the public can’t really tell us – a poll of Labour MPs perhaps!

Bottom line? There is no way of doing a simple poll that will give you a ready packaged answer as to how well or badly a potential party leader will do, and the things that Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors worry about are not things that are easily tested in a poll anyway. My own guess is that those who think Jeremy Corbyn would struggle electorally are correct, though it does depend on whether the Conservatives also pull themselves to shreds after the EU referendum. I am a little wary about arguments about parties not winning because they are too left or too right. While putting yourself broadly where most voters are is sensible enough, those voters themselves don’t necessarily see things as ideologically left and right and specific policies aren’t really that important in driving votes. However, broad perceptions of a party, its perceived competence and the public’s views on how suitable its leader is to be Prime Minister are incredibly important. It will be an extremely hard task for Labour to succeed if it is seem as taking up a risky and radical route, if it’s trying to rebuild a lack of public confidence by selling an approach that is radically different from what a normally risk-averse public are used to, if it is seen as being riven by internal dissent and splits, if their leadership patently doesn’t have the support of its own MPs. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but I wouldn’t count on it.

On other matters, the ComRes poll also had voting intention, their first online VI figures since the election (rather to my surprise. Their online polls for the Independent on Sunday dried up during the election campaign itself and I’d wrongly assumed they’d come to halt as part of ComRes moving their phone contract from the Independent to the Daily Mail. I’m pleased to see I was wrong, and the ComRes/Indy on Sunday relationship continues!). Topline figures are CON 40%, LAB 29%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%, and ComRes have adopted the same socio-economic based turnout model for their online polls that they have started using in their telephone polls.