New party leaders normally enjoy a honeymoon in the polls. It’s noticeable for leaders taking over in opposition, on the relatively rare occassion that the party leadership changes hands in government the honeymoon is often remarkable. In the last fifty years there have been three previous occasions when the premiership changed hands between-elections:
- Wilson-Callaghan, 1976. When Harold Wilson announced his resignation in the middle of March the polls were showing a Conservative lead of between two and five points. The polls immediately following Wilson’s resignation and during Callaghan’s first month in office showed Labour leads of between one and seven points, before returning to a steady Tory lead in May.
- Thatcher-Major, 1990. Margaret Thatcher was famously removed by the Tory party in November 1990. In the month before the leadership election Labour had an average poll lead of thirteen points. In the month immediately following her resignation and replacement by John Major the Conservatives had an average lead of five points, peaking at 11 points. Over the next few months the polls settled down to an average Tory lead of four points or so.
- Blair-Brown, 2007. The Blair-Brown handover was a more drawn out affair: Blair announced his resignation at the start of May 2007, when the Conservatives had a poll lead of around six points, and actually handed over to Gordon Brown at the end of June. Through July and August Brown enjoyed an average Labour lead of around five points, peaking in double-digit leads during the Labour conference at the end of September… and their rapid collapse afterwards. The Conservatives were ahead again by October, and remained so for the rest of the Parliament.
Every mid-term change of Prime Minister has been accompanied by a significant boost in polling figures – in the three historical cases, they’ve gone from trailing the opposition to a clear polling lead. The boosts have tended to be comparatively short though – Callaghan and Major only enjoyed a month or so before settling down into a new equilibrium, Brown enjoyed a honeymoon that lasted several months, but that was probably because he was seem to have responded well to the Glasgow Airport attack and Summer floods. There’s no clear pattern as to where the polls settle after the honeymoon: I suppose it depends very much on the leader. Once the honeymoons had passed the change in leader didn’t make that much difference in 1976 and 2007 (in both cases Labour’s position absolutely tanked a few months down the line… but for different reasons), in 1990 though there was a long lasting improvement in Tory support.
So to the current polling position. Today’s ICM poll has topline figures of CON 43%(+4), LAB 27%(-2), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 13(-1) (tabs are here). It follows on from an ICM poll last week showing the Conservatives ten points ahead, a YouGov poll giving the Conservtives an eleven point lead and an Opinium poll giving them a more modest six point lead. All four polls had Labour around or just below 30% and the Conservatives nearer 40%, UKIP down a little from the levels of support they’d been showing before the referendum.
Viewed together it certainly looks like the sort of boost a new Prime Minister normally receives, which is a good reason not to read too much into it. New Prime Ministers receive good poll ratings because they haven’t had to annoy too many people yet – the public can project their hopes onto them and convince themselves they really will be different, really will deliver this, that or the other. Before long, however, the shine will come off and they’ll have to start making compromises and disappointing people. This is one good reason for Theresa May not to plan for an early election (and the mistake Gordon Brown made in not shutting down such considerations) – the current polls look wonderful for her, but on past timescales they won’t necessarily be so rosy in a couple of months time. It’s also a crumb of comfort for Labour… though quite a small crumb.
UPDATE: YouGov have fresh voting intention figures that also show a strong lead for the Conservatives, albeit, not quite as big as ICM’s. Their topline figures are CON 40%, LAB 28%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%. Tabs are here
ICM have a new poll in the Sun on Sunday with topline figures of CON 39%(+1), LAB 29%(-1), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 14%(-1), GRN 4%(nc). This is the first poll conducted since Theresa May became Prime Minister, so may be expected to show a typical “new leader” bounce in government support (when Brown took over in 2007 and Major took over in 1990 the governing party went from being behind to having double-digit leads). The Tory lead is up a little, but not outside the normal margin of error, that said ICM’s previous poll already had an eight point Tory lead, so they were already at a high base.
ICM also did some hypothetical voting intention questions asking about varous leader match-ups. A control question, asking how people would vote if Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were still leader at the general election has voting intention figures of CON 43%, LAB 28%, suggesting either a significant positive effect from mentioning May or a negative effect from mentioning Corbyn.
Asking how people would vote if Owen Smith or Angela Eagle were Labour leader does not offer any improvement. With Eagle the figures would be CON 43%, LAB 26%. With Smith the figures would be CON 42%, LAB 27%. I should add a heavy caveat here – hypothetical polls like this are popular in advance of leadership elections, but how useful they are is a different question. Respondents don’t necessarily know what the alternative candidates stand for, what they will do or announce, how they may or may not change the party. I add those caveats when the alternative leaders are well known to the public, like Gordon Brown, Boris Johnson and so on. In the case of someone who is as unknown to the general public as Owen Smith, I expect most don’t know who he is or what he even looks like. Nevertheless, the figures will be influential in the debate – rightly or wrongly Corbyn’s supporters within the Labour party will now be able to say there is no polling evidence that his rivals would do any better.
Note that ComRes also have a poll in the Independent/Sunday Mirror, but they are not currently publishing any voting intention figures while they review methods.
The Conservative leadership election is abruptly over while a Labour leadership election begins. No doubt there will be polling on those over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime ICM put out a new voting intention poll today, with topline figures of CON 38%, LAB 30%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15%.
The eight point lead for the Conservatives is a slightly larger Tory lead than at the general election, and was conducted over the weekend so does not yet account for any honeymoon Theresa May may or may not enjoy. During the leadership election May ruled out the opinion of an early general election, so if she keeps her word she’ll resist the temptation of an early election while Labour are at one another’s throats. If not it may be an interesting result.
ICM rolled out a couple of methodology changes for today’s poll. Firstly they’ve dropped weighting turnout based on self-reported likelihood to vote and replaced it with a turnout model based on demographics, secondly they’ve started weighting by level of political interest – the poll was also conducted online rather than by phone, which seems to be increasingly the case for ICM polls. According to ICM the impact of the changes is typically to increase Tory support by about a point and decrease Labour support by about a point. Full tabs are here.
Two weeks ago ICM produced an unexpected result – they did parallel phone and online polls for the Guardian, and found a five point lead for LEAVE in both online and by phone. A five point lead for leave in an online poll was slightly unusual, but not completely out of line with the then average position of neck-and-neck. The five point lead in the telephone poll was remarkable, given most other phone polls (a) were showing a consistently different pattern to online polls and (b) were showing a robust lead for REMAIN. The poll got a lot of attention, but we reserved judgement a little – it was only one poll, and it was conducted over a bank holiday weekend so perhaps the sample could have been affected.
Today ICM have repeated that experiment and confirmed their earlier findings – their online and telephone polls are painting the same picture, and both have LEAVE with a clear lead. Topline figures by telephone are REMAIN 45%(+3), LEAVE 50%(+5), Don’t know 5% – equating to a six point leave lead of LEAVE 53%, REMAIN 47%. Topline figures online are REMAIN 44%(nc), LEAVE 49%(+2), Don’t know 7%(-2) – also equating to a six point lead for leave. Full tabs for both polls are here.
Following MORI’s methodology switch last week, Martin’s commentary on the ICM website also includes a note about educational weighting. In ICM’s case he says their last two phone polls did have a tendency to have too many people with qualifications… but when they tested correcting for it reduced the weighting efficiency but didn’t actually make any difference to the headline results.
Today we got three more EU referendum polls.
A new YouGov poll for Good Morning Britain, conducted in the middle of last week, echoed the trend we’ve seen towards Leave. Their topline figures are REMAIN 41%, LEAVE 45%, Don’t know/Won’t vote 15%. Full tabs are here.
ICM’s weekly online poll has topline figures of REMAIN 43%(-1), LEAVE 48%(+1), Don’t knows 9%(nc). It’s no significant change from last week, but it consolidates last week’s leave lead. There’s no parallel ICM telephone poll this week. Full tabs for the online poll are here.
Finally there was a “new” TNS online online poll. The topline figures were REMAIN 41%, LEAVE 43%, Undecided 16%. This one is a little harder to interpret than the other two – TNS have made some changes to their methodology, including changing their past vote weighting and introducing turnout weighting and it’s not clear what impact the methodology change had, so we can’t be sure whether the polls suggests any movement in either direction – either way, the fieldwork was completed back in mid-May (full tabs are here).
All three polls show leave ahead, but all three polls were conducted online and most online polls show a close race anyway. What will be interesting is if either online polls do consistently start showing a clear lead for Leave rather than just movement around neck-and-neck, or if other telephone polls echo that ICM phone poll showing Leave ahead.
Filed under: Europe