YouGov’s weekly poll for the Sunday Times is now up here. Topline figures are CON 33%, LAB 41%, LD 9%, UKIP 10%, so a higher Labour lead than usual, but with a recent average lead of six points it’s well within the margin of error. As usual with the YouGov/Sunday Times polls there is a broad range of subjects, including the economy, the NHS, education and support for stay at home mothers.

The regular economic optimism question now shows a feel good factor (the proportion of people expecting their financial situation to get better, minus those who expect it to get worse) of minus 25. While still negative, it equals the least negative rating since April 2010.

Asked more specifically about the state of the economy, 25% think the economy is still getting worse, 34% that it has stopped getting worse but there are no signs of recovery yet. 30% now think there are signs of recovery and another 5% think we are on the way to full recovery. This is a big shift from when YouGov last asked the question in April, when only 14% thought there were any signs of recovery. Asked how much they think the government have contributed to any economic recovery, 32% of people think the government’s actions have helped the economy recover, 23% that they made little difference, 36% that they made things worse.

41% of people think that A Levels got easier over the last ten years and 53% think that the toughening up of the exam marking last year was the right thing to do (21% disagree). An Oxbridge education is seen as being worth £9000 a year tuition fees by 52% to 29%. People are more evenly split over other top universities (37% think they are worth £9000 a year, 41% do not), and almost two-thirds of people think tuition at universities outside the top twenty is not worth the money. Despite this people are still evenly split over whether it is financially worthwhile going to university – 41% think increased graduate earnings are worth more than the cost of going to university, 40% think they are not.

Labour maintain their usual strong lead on the NHS, 32% to the Conservatives’ 20%. Only 21% think that Jeremy Hunt is doing a good job as Health Secretary, 52% a bad job. Looking to the future 51% of people think it will be possible to keep the NHS free at the point of delivery, even if costs continue to rise, 38% think that the NHS will eventually become unaffordable. A majority (58%) would oppose means testing NHS services in the future.

By 39% to 14% people think the government is doing more to help mothers who go out to work than those who stay at home (15% said they were doing equal amounts and 32% didn’t know). Asked which group NEED more help, 43% say they both need support, 25% think working mothers need more support, 15% think stay at home mothers need more support. The £1200 a year allowance for childcare for working parents is supported by 49% to 34%. People are less supportive of giving similar financial support to stay at home parents, 41% would support it, 41% would oppose it.

Finally, by 67% to 20% people see zero-hour contracts as a bad thing, and 56% would support a ban on them.

The weekly YouGov/Sunday Times results are now online here. Voting intention is CON 31%, LAB 39%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 13%. The leader ratings are Cameron minus 18 (up from minus 25 last week, and his best rating for a couple of months – perhaps on the back of statesmanlike coverage at the G8), Miliband minus 33 (from minus 35 last week) and Clegg minus 52 (unchanged). The rest of the poll largely covered the NHS and education.

58% of people don’t trust the NHS much, if at all, to be to open about its standards, a drop from last weekend as cover-up stories continue to come out. Neither are people confident that the rules will be changed to stop future cover ups.There is widespread support for the sacking of staff found to be involved in cover ups (88%), their criminal prosecution (71%), and slightly less so for stripping them of their pensions (54%).

Labour continue to have a narrow lead as the most trusted party on education, 26% to the Tories’s 22%. Michael Gove’s approval rating stands at minus 27%, and his flagship policy of free schools is supported by only 29% of people (38% are opposed and 33% don’t know). The balance of opinion is that British schools are worse than those in other western countries, and that standards have dropped over the last three years. In contrast most people think our universities are equal (33%) or better (31%) than those in other western countries, though a majority (63%) think that tuition fees do not represent value for money.


You may remember my blog post about the Observer reporting a voodoo poll as if were representative of members of the Royal College of Physicians a couple of weeks ago. Back then an open access poll hosted on a website campaigning against the government’s NHS bill found 92.5% of respondents wanted the RCP to “publicly call for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill”, and this was reported as being representative of the RCP’s membership.

I dutifully wrote a letter to the Observer’s readers’ editor, Stephen Pritchard, and he addresses the report in his column for the Observer today. Mr Prichard writes “we know opposition among hospital doctors is extremely high, but readers have a right to expect that things that we proclaim to be polls are properly conducted, using scientifically weighted samples of a population or group” and, as I have before, points journalists to Peter Kellner’s British Polling Council guide for journalists on how to report opinion polls. Full marks to the Observer for addressing the matter seriously.

Meanwhile, the RCP has since commissioned a ballot of its whole membership, professionally carried out by Electoral Reform Services. The ballot managed a 35% response rate. It found that 69% of members were opposed to the bill, but that only 49% thought the RCP should seek the withdrawal of the bill, with 46% saying the College should work constructively with the government to try and improve it.

That’s 49% who wanted the RCP to call for the Bill to be withdrawn, not 92.5%. That, dear readers, is an example of why voodoo polls are bunkum.

(Nigel Hawkes at StraightStatistics also has a post welcoming the RCP conducting a proper survey of their membership, rather than touting voodoo polls here)

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 36%, LAB 43%, LDEM 9%. The seven point Labour lead in this poll is the largest YouGov have shown since before Cameron’s veto in December. Normal caveats apply of course – true, it could be a sign that Labour’s lead is still growing, but if Labour’s underlying lead is around about five points as last week’s polls were suggesting then a seven point lead would be very much within the normal margin of error. Right now this poll is entirely consistent with last week’s.

Tonight’s poll also has the fortnightly question on what issues people think are important – note how high the NHS is still scoring. 33% of people picked health as one of the most important issues facing the country, 38% of people picked it as one of the most important issues facing them and their family (second only to the economy). The second of these is at its highest level since last June.

As I’ve said before, the coverage of the NHS isn’t making that much difference to the proportion of people who back the Conservatives on the NHS, because not many people trusted them on the NHS to begin with. On that front it is more likely to entrench existing views of the Conservatives on the NHS than change any minds. What it has done is drive the NHS up the political agenda and make more people consider it a pressing issue (I suspect Ed Miliband’s focus on the issue of the NHS is also one of the things that has driven his leadership approval ratings up since January).

Another day, more rather over-exaggerated reporting of public opinion on the NHS. The HSJ headlines some MORI polling as showing “Public split over use of private firms in NHS as Labour doubles poll lead on health”. It’s behind some big paywall so perhaps the article itself gives a much better picture (it would be far from the first time that a headline makes a story seem more exciting than it is), but essentially it shows Labour’s lead on the NHS is double what it was at the election. However, it shows very little change since the last time MORI asked the question in June 2011. As we’ve seen in the more regular issue polling from YouGov, the big drop in people preferring the Conservatives on health happened in late 2010 and early 2011, it isn’t a recent thing.

Here is what we actually *know* about attitudes to the government’s health policy, stripped of all the exaggeration and hyperbole.

1) Amongst people who actually have an opinion it isn’t popular. If you ask whether or not people support the government’s health policy based on what they know, more people are opposed than support the policy. However, an awful lot of people don’t seem to know enough about the policy to have any opinion. The last time YouGov asked at the end of last month only 14% supported the policy, 48% were opposed, but 38% didn’t know.

2) Questions about the actual contents and principles behind the Bill also generally show public opposition. When YouGov asked last year about GP consortiums in May last year the public were opposed by 55% to 25%, more recently they found that people thought more competition in the NHS would make things worse rather than better (by 46% to 18%), as would giving doctors more control over their budgets (albeit, by a smaller margin – 36% worse, 26% better, 17% no difference)

However, the Ipsos MORI poll today showed a more even divide on whether people agreed with the statement “as long as health services are free of charge, it doesn’t matter to me whether they are provided by the NHS or a private company” – 44% agreed, 41% disagreed.

3) What little evidence we have suggests most NHS workers don’t support it. There have been a large amount of voodoo polls and claptrap cited as evidence of NHS workers not liking the NHS reforms and an almost complete absence of any proper polling of them. There was a proper poll of doctors commissioned by the Kings Fund, but that was back in 2010. More recently there was a YouGov poll of NHS staff in general for 38Degrees which found 66% of staff questioned thought the reforms would make the NHS worse.

4) It hasn’t necessarily damaged government support, nor further damaged people’s trust in the Conservatives on the NHS. We have seen Labour move ahead in the polls of late, but as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this is just as likely to be the unwinding of the European veto effect, or Ed Miliband getting less bad coverage than in January.

On the NHS Labour re-established a strong lead on the issue of the NHS back in 2011, since then there has not been any obvious trend in the data on which party people prefer on the NHS in YouGov’s regular tracker (graphed in this post). The MORI data today also showed little movement since they last asked in June 2011 – back then Labour lead the Conservatives on the issue of the NHS by 37% to 21%, the figures are now Labour 37%(nc), Conservatives 19%(-2). Essentially not many people trusted the Conservatives much on the NHS anyway, they don’t have much of a reputation to lose.

(While I’m here, it is worth noting that “best party on issue” questions tend to move in tandem with one another, if a party becomes less popular overall the proportion of people preferring them on crime, immigration, the economy, health, etc tends to go down at the same time – hence even the big drop in people preferring the Conservatives on health since 2010 isn’t necessarily anything to do with health. They’ve also dropped on all the other issues, and a significant part is just a more negative perception of the Conservative party overall)

This is not to say the issue of the NHS could not do more damage to the Conservatives in the future, that it isn’t doing deeper damage to perceptions of whether the Conservatives care about public services, or that not being trusted on the NHS isn’t preventing the Conservatives gaining support they might otherwise be getting. All these things are perfectly plausible… we just don’t have the evidence to confirm or deny them.