After the first leaders debate there was a single poll showing Ed Miliband with a better approval rating that David Cameron. It produced a typical example of rubbish media handling of polls – everyone got all excited about one unusual poll and talked about it on news bulletins and so on, giving it far more prominence than the far greater number of polls showing the opposite. Nevertheless, it flagged up a genuine increase in Ed Miliband’s ratings.

I talk about leader ratings, but the questions different companies ask actually vary greatly. Opinium, for example, ask if people approve or disapprove of what each leader is doing, YouGov ask if they are doing a well or badly, ICM if they are doing a good or bad job. To give an obvious example of how these could produce different figures, UKIP have quadrupled their support since the election, so objectively it’s quite hard to argue that Nigel Farage hasn’t done well as UKIP leader…but someone who supported EU membership and freedom of movement probably probably wouldn’t approve of his leadership.

The graph below shows the net ratings for David Cameron and Ed Miliband from the four pollsters who ask leader ratings at least monthly (ComRes, ICM and Ashcroft all ask their versions of the question too, but not as frequently).

leaderatings

You can see there is quite a lot of variation between pollsters, but the trends are clear. Ed Miliband’s ratings have improved over the course of the campaign, though on most pollsters’ measures he remains significantly behind David Cameron. The main exception is Survation’s rating – I suspect this is because of the time frame of their question (Survation ask people to think specifically about the last month, other companies just ask in general – my guess is that the difference is people thinking Ed Miliband has done well in the campaign). Cameron’s ratings too have improved from three of the four pollsters, but not to the extent of Miliband’s.

What’s the impact of this? Theoretically I suppose it makes the potential for voters to be deterred from voting Labour by their lack of confidence in Ed Miliband that bit smaller. Whether that’s any real difference or not is a different matter – on one hand, while it is one of the Conservative party’s hopes that Miliband’s poor ratings will drive people towards voting Tory at the last minute, that’s very different to it actually happening. This could be the case of a window closing upon something that didn’t see to be happening anyway. The alternative point of view is that no one realistically expects some vast last swing producing a Tory landside – we are talking about grinding out a few percentage points at the margins. Hence Miliband’s ratings overall don’t necessarily make much difference – much of the increase is amongst Labour’s own voters anyway – it’s how he is seen amongst those small groups who are undecided whether or not to vote for Labour, and those who undecided whether or not to vote Tory to stop Miliband.

As we come to the final weeks of the election campaign, that’s a key to understanding a lot of polling. Most voters have already made their minds up (and even many of those who say they haven’t, are probably less likely to switch than they think they are). As postal votes have started to go out, an increasing number of people will have actually voted anyway. Most things that happen over the next two and a half weeks will have no impact on public opinion anyway – for those that do, it’s not national opinion that will make a difference, it’ll be the impact on that dwindling group of people who may yet be persuaded.


Time for a round up of Sunday’s polls, with new stuff in the Sunday papers from YouGov, Survation, Opinium and ICM.

YouGov’s weekly poll for the Sunday Times has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6%. The poll also asked a series of questions about how people would vote with different Labour leaders. In a control question asking how people would vote if the leaders remained Cameron, Miliband and Clegg the answers were CON 33%, LAB 31% (so the effect of reminding people of the current party leaders still seems to produce a slight positive Cameron effect or negative Miliband effect). If Yvette Cooper were Labour leader the position would be the same, a two point Conservative lead. If Ed Balls was the leader it would be worse, a three point Conservative lead. In contrast with Alan Johnson as leader Labour would be two points ahead (CON 31%, LAB 33%.

I’ll give my usual caveats about questions like this – people are answering them when on very little information, they don’t know what policies or priorities those alternative leaders would set, how the media would react to them and so on. In the same poll, YouGov found that only 42% of people think they could recognise Yvette Cooper from a photo… if you don’t even know what Yvette Cooper looks like, I’m guessing you don’t have a thorough understanding of what she would prioritise as Labour leader. It’s a response based on a very crude impression of those potential leaders based on what tends to be the very limited public awareness of opposition politicians. Nevertheless, those crude first impressions count, so it’s a good sign for Alan Johnson.

Survation also had a new poll with topline figures of CON 29%(+2), LAB 34%(+3), LDEM 6%(-3), UKIP 23%(-1), and they too asked a series of hypothetical voting intention questions with different Labour leaders. In the Survation poll they displayed a biography and played a video clip of each potential leader and asked people questions about them before the questions. This allowed them to include people with extremely low public awareness like Chuka Umunna, though does of course rely upon the choice of biogs and video clips (given bias is often in the eye of the beholder, choosing clips that even those who don’t like the eventual results think are fair is incredibly tricky). The control question with Ed Miliband had a Labour lead of 4 points. In the Survation poll Yvette Cooper did worse than Miliband (neck and neck with the Tories), Andy Burnham just the same (4 point lead), Alan Johnson and Chuka Umunna did best – both extending Labour’s lead to 8 points. A voting intention question asked after video clips of Labour leaders is obviously skewed towards Labour, but it’s the relative performance between the different leaders that counts, and again it’s good for Alan Johnson, and now also for Chuka Umunna.

Meanwhile the fortnightly Opinium poll for the Observer has topline figures of CON 29%(-4), LAB 32%(-1), LDEM 9%(+3), UKIP 19%(+1).

Finally there was an ICM poll in the Sunday Telegraph. As usual with ICM/Sunday Telegraph polls, this asked the public to predict vote shares rather than ask people how they would vote themselves. The average response now has the Conservatives getting slightly more votes than Labour.


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The weekly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times is up on the website here, topline figures are CON 32%, LAB 38%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 14%. Tabs are here

A large part of the poll covered perceptions of Ed Miliband, something that we’ve seen in other polls lately and seen covered a lot in the media. There is nothing particularly new in the Ed Miliband figures in this poll – a majority (51%) think he’s weak leader, 56% think he’s out of touch with ordinary people, 60% think he wouldn’t be up to the job of PM. Nothing here we didn’t already know, though they are still worth asking to see if opinion changes. At this point though I doubt they will unless Ed Miliband actually becomes Prime Minister. Once the public have taken against a politician, whether that perception is fair or unfair, it’s mighty hard for them to shift(the exception tends to be when they actually become PM, then people can see them in a new light.)

The Ed Miliband paradox is something I’ve come back to several times here, partly because it’s one of those things that I think has the potential to make a difference at the next election, partly because I see such partisan idiocy written about it. I see some people writing about it as if a popular or unpopular leader is the utter be-all and end-all of politics, a guarantee or victory or defeat, and see others writing as if it’s a total irrelevance. Both are utter nonsense.

I wrote about it at length here and while the figures have changed, the essential situation hasn’t, in summary:

  • People’s perceptions of party leaders ARE an important factor, the key driver analysis of British Election Study data at recent elections demonstrates it, some respondents will consciously say it is that a primary concern, many others it will be a factor in the mix. It would be almost perverse if the main public face of a party and its policies and principles was not a factor.
  • But it is by no means the ONLY factor. Perceptions of party competence on the issues people consider important are of critical importance, so are party identities. By extension (since they drive those factors) government performance and wider perceptions of the parties and their values are also extremely important. Hence it is perfectly possible for a party with a duff leader to win if it is outweighed by other factors like competence and party identity. Thatcher won in 1979 despite trailing badly to Jim Callaghan, presumably because other factors outweighed the minus of her leadership.
  • Labour have been in the lead in the polls for a couple of years, despite the public being well aware of Ed Miliband and having a negative view of him. That does NOT mean that he is not a drag on Labour’s support (we don’t how whether Labour’s lead would be larger under a different leader), but it does mean that his negative ratings are already “priced into the market”.
  • The questions is whether the importance of the opposition leader grows in the immediate run up to an election. There is the potential for people’s opinions to be driven mainly by unhappiness and disapproval of the government mid-term, but to view it increasingly as a choice between two alternative governments and Prime Ministers as the election actually approaches (thus contributing to the familiar pattern of “mid term blues”). That brings the potential for the “Miliband issue” to matter more as we get closer and closer to the election… but it is impossible to reliably test.
  • In short – are Miliband’s ratings bad? Yes. Is it damaging Labour? Probably. Is it preventing Labour being ahead in the polls? No – even if it is a factor, others are outweighing it. Will it increase in importance come the actual election? We can’t tell.

Anyway, looking at the rest of the poll, since we touched on party image and competence as other big issues further up, YouGov re-asked a question from last February essentially exploring the contrast between parties being “nice” and being “effective”. They asked if parties were seen as “nice but dim”, “mean but smart”, “mean and dim” or “nice and smart”. The Conservatives clearly still have “nasty party” issues – 40% think they are smart, but only 26% think they are nice. For Labour it’s the other way around “their heart is in the right place, but…”; 48% think they are nice, but only 20% think they are smart. It might get less attention than Miliband, but right there you’ve got two big issues for the two main parties: people still don’t think the Tories’ hearts are in the right place, and still doubt Labour’s competence in government.

The poll also had a batch of questions about education in England – essentially showing appetite for reform in general, but opposition to the specifics of Michael Gove’s reforms. 43% think schools are doing well, 46% badly and people tend to think they provide worse education than in comparable European countries. 64% think schools need reforming to a large or moderate degree. Asked about Michael Gove though 55% think he’s doing badly as education secretary, people are opposed by 41% to 31% to schools becoming academies and by 53% to 23% to the idea of free schools.


This week YouGov/Sunday Times results are here. Topline voting intention figures are CON 34%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%.

Politically the most interesting questions were about Harriet Harman and the ongoing NCCL/PIE/Daily Mail row, essentially measuring its lack of impact. Only 34% of people say they have been following the story very (6%) or fairly (28%) closely. 42% of people haven’t followed it at all or are completely unaware of it. This is reflected in the other questions which all produced large levels of “don’t knows” – it appears to be a story that hasn’t really caught the public’s attention or at least, the public don’t know what to think about vague allegations from long ago.

Public opinion towards Harriet Harman is very much divided – 26% say PIE probably did have influence over NCCL, 33% that it probably didn’t, 41% say they don’t know. 34% agree with Harman that is it is just a politically motivated smear, 35% that it is legitimate investigation. 35% think that Jack Dromey probably did active condemn PIE, 20% think he probably did not, 45% don’t know

Overall 34% think that Harriet Harman and Jack Dromey do have cause to apologise, 32% think that it’s a storm in a teacup and they do not. There’s a consistent party skew to the answers throughout – most Labour voters think it’s a smear and take the side of Harman and Dromey, many Tory supporters think they have something to apologise for.

The broad thrust of the results is that the story hasn’t really cut through to the public – rather than some great swathe of public outrage, people who disliked Labour to begin with seem to think they’ve done something wrong, people who support Labour to begin with seem to think it’s a smear, most people don’t seem to care one way or the other.


YouGov’s weekly results for the Sunday Times are out here and show Labour continuing to enjoy a boost from their conference. Topline voting intention figures are CON 31%, LAB 42%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%, the first double-digit Labour lead this month. Ed Miliband’s own ratings are also up – 30% now think he is doing a good job as Labour lead, up from 22% last week. In YouGov’s polls at least there appears to be a real change from Labour’s conference – what remains to be seen is whether it lasts, or is rapidly cancelled out by the Conservative conference next week.

For now though let’s look at the post-Labour party conference polling. 50% think it is true to say that Miliband has moved his party to the left, but they are divided over whether this is a good or bad thing – 23% see it as a positive, 27% see it as a negative. More empirically (since people aren’t very good at comparing their views now to their views in the past), YouGov asked people to place the parties on a left-right scale, from very left wing to very right wing. 34% now see Labour as very or fairly left wing, up from 26% last year and the highest since YouGov started asking this question back in 2006 (under Blair and Brown it tended to be around 20%). Note however that the Conservatives are seen as very or fairly right wing by 39%, so Labour may been seen as having moved more to the left, but it does NOT mean they are seen as less centrist than the Conservatives are.

Looking at some of the specific policies Labour promised at their conference, 63% support the energy price freeze, but the most widely supported policies were actually increasing the minimum wage (71%) and increasing corporation tax for big companies and cutting rates for small firms (71%). There was majority support for seizing land from developers who don’t use it (53%) and making firms offer an apprenticeship for each immigrant they employ (52%). The only major announcement from the conference that people did not support was giving the vote to 16 year olds, opposed by 61%.

Looking more specifically at the energy promise, while people support the principle of it, there are some doubts about whether it would actually work. Asked it if would actually deliver better value and no big prices rises for ordinary people 42% think it likely would, 47% that it’s unlikely it would. While only 27% of people thought it likely there would be power cuts and shortages because of a price freeze, 58% thought it was likely that it would lead to less investment in renewable and green energy. 53% did think it would likely reduce the profits of the energy firms (while the poll made no judgements as to whether that was a positive or negative outcome, I suspect many respondents would have seen it as a plus!)

Another worry for Labour is while people support the policy announcements, there seems some doubt about whether they are actually affordable – 52% think Labour are making promises the country can’t afford, 23% disagree. To put that in context only 35% think the Conservatives are making unaffordable promises, 36% do not (though who knows what they’ll announce in the week ahead that might change that).