[This is crossposted from the Spectator Coffee House – the original is over here]

In YouGov’s poll this morning for the Sun the Conservatives had 33% support, Labour 40%, the Liberal Democrats 9% and UKIP 11%. While it would be a gross exaggeration to say all of UKIP’s support comes from the Conservative party, they do gain a disproportionate amount of support from ex-Tories and it’s natural for people to add together that Conservative 33% and that UKIP 11% and think what might be.

The reality though may not be as simple as adding the two together. In yesterday’s poll YouGov also asked people to imagine that UKIP and the Conservatives agreed a pact at the next general election where they would not stand against each other, with UKIP backing the Conservative candidate in most constituencies and the Conservatives backing the UKIP candidate in a small number of constituencies. We then asked how they’d vote under those circumstances. Once you’ve taken out the don’t knows and wouldn’t votes, the new Conservative/UKIP alliance would be on 35% of the vote (up just two points on their current support), Labour would be on 45% (up five points on their current support), the Liberal Democrats on 11% (up two points), 9% of people would vote for other parties (down eight points).

So what goes wrong, how does 33 plus 11 equal only 35?

The bottom line is that parties don’t own their voters – even if the Conservative party and UKIP were to want a pact, it wouldn’t follow that their voters would be happy to play along. Amongst people who currently vote UKIP 56% would vote for the new Conservative/UKIP Alliance, but that leaves 44% of them who wouldn’t – who would go to Labour, or stay at home, or find an alternative non-mainstream party to back. Many of the people voting UKIP are doing so because they are unhappy or disillusioned with the government or the Conservative party (or in many cases with *all* the mainstream parties). A deal between the Conservatives and UKIP is not necessarily going to make them any less unhappy or disillusioned, many would just find a different way of expressing it at the ballot box.

Meanwhile a quarter of current Tory supporters wouldn’t vote Tory if they entered a pact with UKIP – 5% would switch to Labour, 4% to the Lib Dems, 16% would stay at home or are not sure what they’d do. A deal with UKIP might get many UKIP voters back on board, but it would lose voters in the centre to Labour and the Liberals. Equally the Conservative core selling point at the moment is the claim they are the safe pair of hands, the party willing to make the tough and hard-headed decisions needed to get the economy back on solid ground. UKIP’s well documented teething-troubles with amateurism, gaffes and somewhat eccentric people who have attached themselves to the party during its rapid growth may not be exactly complementary to that message.

But if parties don’t own their voters, can’t buy and sell them in electoral pacts, that also means the Conservative party can target UKIP’s voters without necessarily needing to deal with UKIP – although once again, the difficulty is doing so without alienating more centrist voters. The overwhelming majority of current UKIP voters say they would be more likely to vote Conservative if they promised harsher policies on immigration… but that would risk the Conservative party losing more moderate votes and playing to negative perceptions that it was bigoted or racist. However, 57% of UKIP voters say they will be more likely to vote Conservative if the economy improves, 40% if they thought it was the only way of stopping Ed Miliband being Prime Minister. There are ways the Conservatives can appeal to UKIP voters without necessarily apeing their policies.

YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun this morning has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 10%. For the record the 34% for the Conservatives is the highest since early February.

Out yesterday there were also some more results from YouGov’s poll of Conservative party members for Tim Bale and Paul Webb – the new results are here and I’ve written about them in more detail over on Huffington Post here.

Also worth reading this morning is Peter Kellner’s take on Miliband’s latest polling figures and Labour’s relationship with the Unions here.


Whither Boris?

Last week Lord Ashcroft released some new polling on Boris Johnson and I said I’d write more about him in a couple of days time. Alas I should have been quicker, for everyone is now busy fussing about Unite and Tom Watson, but the what the hell! I’m not going to go through Lord Ashcroft’s findings – you can read them yourself here – but cut straight to the bit that always gets the attention, the potential for Boris as Prime Minister or leader of the Conservative party.

In Lord Ashcroft’s poll he found 23% of people said they would be more likely to vote Conservative if Boris was leader, 17% less likely. So a small net advantage, with UKIP voters the sub-group most likely to say that Boris would increase their chances of voting Conservative. Now, regular readers will know I’m not the biggest fan of questions that ask “would X make you more or less likely to vote Y” (the people who say more likely are often people who’d vote for that party anyway, the people who say less likely are often people who’d never vote for that party under any circumstances). However, we’ve also seen the Boris leadership question asked as a hypothetical voting intention question by YouGov and that shows a similar pattern. Compared to a control question Boris as Conservative leader would cut Labour’s lead by 6 points, with the biggest transfer coming from UKIP voters.

The polling is pretty consistent in terms of people saying they’d be more likely to vote Conservative with Boris Johnson as leader. However, most people also said they preferred the taste of New Coke, people are not very good at answering hypothetical questions, and reality doesn’t necessarily pan out the way hypothetical polls suggest. The challenge therefore is to look below the topline questions, understand why people say they are more likely to vote for Boris Johnson and from there, decide if it helps us work out whether people really would be more likely to vote Conservative with Boris as leader.

The reasons for Boris’ popularity are pretty obvious and for once the intuitive explanations are backed up by the polling. You’d expect Boris’s popularity to be based on being likeable, genuine and not seeming like a typical politician…and indeed the polling does suggest people see him that way. Ashcroft found that 53% of people thought Boris was “different from most politicians, and in a good way” (and a further 18% thought he wasn’t really a politician at all). 71% think he is likeable, 70% a people person. Recent polling for YouGov found 70% thought Boris would be interesting to spend time with, a different league from other politicians, and he was seen as “genuine” rather than “stage managed” by 48% to 37%.

Being likeable and fun and entertaining though might be good qualifications to appear on Have I Got News For You, it might get you high ratings in opinion polls, but it doesn’t necessarily mean people would trust you with important jobs that affect their lives. There is the crux of the “Boris question”. To take a different example of an “anti-politician” leader for a second, Nigel Farage enjoys very good approval ratings as leader of UKIP, he has comparatively good ratings for being interesting company, in touch and genuine… but his ratings drop through the floor if you ask if he’d be up to governing or good in a crisis.

Right now Boris Johnson isn’t like that. While YouGov found Boris was seen as slightly less up to the job or good in a crisis than David Cameron, but his figures were still pretty good. Ashcroft’s findings were even better for Boris, with him scoring more highly than Cameron on almost everything, including being strong, competent and up to the job. Right now, Boris seems to have got the golden combination of being seen as a genuine person and not a politician, and also being seen as someone who is seem as being a reliable, capable figure of government. This is a more surprising finding, given his clownish demeanour sometimes we might have expected people to dismiss him as a serious figure… but the figures speak for themselves. Back in 2007 Stephen Shakespeare wrote about Boris Johnson needing a Prince Hal moment, where he repudiated his own inner-Falstaff and emerged as a sensible, grown up statesman. There was a similar cartoon (by Garland in the Telegraph, I think, though sadly I can’t track it down) showing a new, neatly groomed Boris saying “I know thee not” to his capering, woolly-hat wearing former self. I thought it was a wonderful metaphor at the time, but of course it didn’t work out like that. Boris won the mayoralty without a Prince Hal moment, and is still there, waving a flag while stuck half way down a zip wire, blathering on about wiff-waff and scattering mistresses in his wake. His approval ratings in London remain high, even amongst Labour and Liberal Democrat voters. Boris… is just Boris.

The Ashcroft polling may shed some light on this – one thing he found, particularly in the focus groups, was that a significant minority of people were under the impression that Mayor of London was just an ceremonial role – 42% thought it just about generating publicity – a job that Boris would obviously be perfectly suited to. Ashcroft also found very vague perceptions of what Boris stood for – people were pretty evenly divided on whether he was pro- or anti- Europe, far from certain about what he thought on gay marriage. A majority did think that Boris was anti-immigration (when of course, he’s actually been far more pro-immigration than most of his party). It all points towards something that is common in hypothetical polls like this – people don’t actually know much about someone, but they let their imagination fill the gaps. Given they have a positive view of Boris in terms of his entertaining personality and him seeming to have done pretty well in London, they fill it with positive perceptions of his values and abilities.

The only place where it falls down is when Ashcroft gets round to asking if people they think Boris would be capable of running the country as Prime Minister – only 35% do. 35% don’t and 30% don’t know or neither agree nor disagree. So despite the majority saying he’s likeable, strong, up to the job, gets things done… only just over a third think he’s up to Prime Minister. Those are still probably pretty good figures (I doubt many other politicians would hit 35%), but it’s less than the sum of Boris’s parts. More than that, if you look into the figures only half of present Tory voters think he’d be able to do the job of Prime Minister. The rest of that 35% is largely made up of Labour and Lib Dems voters, at least some of whom would probably take a far more negative view of Boris were he actually to become leader of the Conservative party.

Of course, that’s not to disparage the obvious positives the poll shows about Boris’s potential. To be able to been seen as both an “anti-politician” and someone people think would make a capable and competent leader is the magic ticket for a politician. I would just be rather uncertain how those attributes would hold up under fire, once Boris had to make some serious unpopular decisions and people stopped being quite so ready to laugh with him.

This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 13%. The six point Labour lead is their lowest from YouGov since the local elections (and equals the lowest this year – YouGov had a six point Labour lead and the beginning of May and a couple in January). As ever, don’t get too excited over a single poll, but it is in line with Labour’s average lead with YouGov now being in the high single figures. Full tabs are here.

Also out yesterday was some polling of Conservative party members for Tim Bale and Paul Webb. The results yesterday just covered approval and attitudes towards the European Union. As things stand Conservative party members are overwhelmingly in favour of withdrawal from the European Union, by 71% to 20%. However, asked how they would vote if David Cameron secured renegotiation and recommended people vote to stay in, 54% would vote to stay, 38% to leave.

I’d take two things away from that. The first is that many Conservative party members are still open to persuasion – if Cameron managed to renegotiate Britain’s membership in some way they could be persuaded to back him (though of course, it would very much depend on what Cameron managed to secure). The second is that many others aren’t, even in the scenario of Cameron’s successfully renegotiating powers (and that itself is a serious challenge), 4 in 10 of Conservative members would not vote with him in a referendum. If a referendum does ever happen, and if the Conservative leadership are campaigning to stay in, it really is going to open up a gulf between the leadership and some party members. Full tabs are here.

This week’s YouGov results for the Sunday Times are up online here. Topline voting intention is CON 30%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 14%, so no obvious effect on voting intention from the Woolwich murder. Economic optimism (the proportion of people expecting their financial situation to get better in the next year, minus those who expect it to get worse) is minus 30. This is still very negative, but is once again the least negative it has been since May 2010.

Turning to the Conservative party and their “modernisation”, 61% of people think David Cameron is not in control of his party, compared to only 24% who think he is. Only 16% of people think David Cameron got modernisation right – 33% think he did not go far enough (including most Labour and Lib Dem voters), 32% think he went too far and abandoned too many traditional Tory subjects (including three-quarters of UKIP supporters).

Asked about the famous description of the Tories as the “nasty party”, 18% reject the whole idea and think the Tories were never seen as the nasty party anyway, 14% think David Cameron has manage to make the Conservatives less of the “nasty party” but the largest group – almost half of respondents – think Cameron has failed and the Tories are still seen as the “nasty party”. YouGov asked the same question in 2011 when 23% of people thought Cameron had managed to detoxify the Conservatives, suggesting a gradual reversal of the progress he had once made.

Moving on to the Woolwich murder, 41% of people think the government are tackling extremism and terrorism effectively, 47% ineffectively. Asked about people’s own fear of being involved in a terrorist attack, overall 10% of people think that there is a very or fairly high chance of them, a friend of member of their family being killed in a terrorist attack. As one might expect this is marginally up on before this week’s attack, but less than it was at the time of the 7/7 attacks in 2005 when YouGov asked exactly the same question. Whether or not they agree with British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority of people (70%) think that it has increased the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain.

Asked about attitudes to British Muslims, 60% of people believe that there is a dangerous minority of British Muslims who feel no identity to the country and would condone terror, 14% think that a large proportion of British Muslims have no loyalty to the country and would condone terrorism. The question was again a repeat of a question YouGov asked straight after 7/7, comparing these results they are marginally worse than 7/7, but the change is hardly significant.

There was a second batch of YouGov polling conducted for Dr Matt Goodwin at Nottingham University, who specialises in studying extremism (of the EDL & BNP sort), and reported in the Observer. Full tables for that are here. Again the questions are mostly repeats from earlier, in this cast from October-November last year (originally done for Matt’s work on the EDL here). This makes it a slightly different comparison to the 7/7 questions, comparing results of questions asked during a normal period to the same questions asked just after an emotive event. One might have expected an increase in Islamophobia and anti-Islam opinions. The actual picture that Matt’s research finds is more nuanced.

On a few fronts opinion has moved in a negative direction, with an increase in the proportion of people who think that conflict between different groups is inevitable and an increase in those who think there will be a “clash of civilizations” between British Muslims and native white Britons (though worth noting there were similar shifts when asked about different religions and ethnicities too).

However on other figures there has been no movement, or even positive movement – 63% of people agree with a statement that “The vast majority of Muslims are good British citizens”, by 40% to 23% people agree that “Muslims make an important contribution to British society” – both questions essentially unchanged from last year. The proportion of people agreeing that “Muslims are compatible with the British way of life” is up from 24% last year to 33% now.

I suspect the contradicting trends in the figures is a case of the Woolwich murder reinforcing people’s existing attitudes. For those people who were suspicious, hostile or prejudiced towards British Muslims to begin with it has strengthened those negative feelings. For those with more positive opinions towards British Muslims it has strengthened their resolve not to stereotype British Muslims and not to let terrorism divide communities.

Matt’s poll also asked about the EDL and BNP anti-Muslim demonstrations, using a split sample. Half the sample were asked about their opinion of demonstrations against what the organisers call “Muslim terror” and whether they had a positive or negative opinion of such demonstrations – a majority (51%) said they had a negative opinion, 20% a positive opinion. The other half of the sample had the same question, but with the demonstrators of the demos identified as the EDL and BNP – that knocked support for such demos down to 17%, and opposition to them up to 60%.

There was also a Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday, which had topline figures of CON 24%(nc), LAB 35%(nc), LDEM 10%(-1), UKIP 22%(nc). It shows the very high UKIP score we associate with Survation, but again no obvious impact on voting intention from the Woolwich murder.