The monthly ComRes online poll, conducted for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror, is out tonight and has topline voting intention figures of CON 29%(-1), LAB 35%(-3), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 19%(+4). Changes are from ComRes’s previous online poll in mid-April. The changes are in line with other polls we’ve seen since the local elections, a slight narrowing of the Labour lead over the Conservatives and growing support for UKIP. The 19% is the highest figure that UKIP have scored in any poll so far.
The other questions in the poll asked best Prime Minister (I think the first time ComRes have asked it recently, and a welcome break from their tyranny of agree/disagree statements) with Cameron on 32%, Miliband on 24%, Clegg on 6%.
There is also a question where 49% of people agreed that “If a party wants my support at the next general election, it is important to me that they offer a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU”. The question of whether people actually care about Europe and referendums and whether it will actually change votes is a key issue at at the moment. Unfortunately is it not as easy as this to actually answer it – but that it were!.
Regular readers will know that questions attempting to measure the salience of particular issues at election are a particular bug-bear of mine, one that I’ve written about in the past. There are multiple problems with questions like this. The first is that questions like this take an issue out of context and give it false prominence – that is, if you ask about an issue in isolation (and sometimes on the same page as a grid of other statements asking about the same issue!) people may think they are important, but come an actual election there are all sorts of other issues like the economy, crime, the NHS, pensions, taxes and so on that people may see as even more important. The second is that respondents to surveys are not stupid – they know that such poll questions are used by papers to show unhappiness with a policy and will use it to register their support or opposition to a policy regardless of whether it would actually change their vote. Thirdly, and most importantly, is that as people we are often not very good at actually understanding the drivers behind the decisions we make, normally rather overestimating how rational and calculating we are. Key driver analysis of British Election Study data tells us that things like party identification, perceptions of the leaders and perceived competence are the things that drive votes… not policies on individual issues.
The simplistic view of how policies affect voting intention – if people like a policy it wins votes, if they don’t like a policy it loses votes is just that – simplistic. Individual votes don’t win or lose votes. However, they presumably do play into wider perceptions of parties and leaders and how people rate them. So the issue of Europe may well have an impact in terms of whether parties and leaders are seen as caring about the same issues as the public do, being willing to listen to the people, whether they are strong or weak leaders with a vision or purpose, whether parties are united or competent. How it might affect people’s vote is not a question that can be easily answered, let alone with a single question.
UPDATE: There is also an ICM poll in the Sunday Telegraph. They don’t have normal voting intention (instead having the ICM wisdom index thingy that asks people to predict the shares of the vote rather than ask how they themselves would vote – the figures this month are Conservative 29%, Labour 32%, Lib Dem 16%, UKIP 15%) but do have EU referendum voting intention, asked using the wording in the Conservative party’s draft Bill. 46% say they would vote NO (to leave), 30% would vote YES (to stay).
UPDATE2: The fortnightly Opinium poll for the Observer bucks the trend of a narrowing Labour lead, but does also have its own UKIP high. Topline figures are CON 27%(-1), LAB 37%(+2), LDEM 7%(-2), UKIP 20%(+3)