A brief update on the state of the polls as we head towards Christmas. First let look at voting intention. The six voting intention polls we’ve seen published so far in December have all shown the two main parties essentially neck and neck – two have shown tiny Labour leads, two have shown tiny Conservative leads, two have had them equal (the YouGov poll for the People’s Vote campaign in the Sunday papers today may have had a slighter larger lead, but it shouldn’t upset the average).

Opinium (14th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 39%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 6%
YouGov (7th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 37%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 3%
Kantar (6th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 5%
Ipsos MORI (5th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
YouGov (4th Dec) – CON 40%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
ComRes (2nd Dec) – CON 37%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 6%

Despite the incredibly turbulent situation in British politics, there has been relatively little change in voting intention since the general election. Through late 2017 there was a very small Labour lead, for most of 2018 there was a very small Conservative lead (with a few periods of Labour ahead – most significantly the weeks following the Johnson/Davis resignations). At no point has either party really pulled away. Politics may have been chaos, but voting intention have been steady.

This itself is remarkable given the state of the government at present. If you look at any other measure, they are in a dire situation. The government’s net satisfaction rating in the MORI poll last week was minus 45 (24% satisfied, 69% dissatisfaction). That is comparable to the sort of figures that the Brown government was getting in 2008 or the Thatcher government in 1990… both periods when the opposition had a clear lead in voting intention. Any question asking about the government’s main policy – the delivery of Brexit – shows that a solid majority of people think they are doing badly at implementing it. Today’s poll from Opinium found people thought the party was divided by 69% to 18% (and quite what those 18% of people were thinking I do not know!). And yet, the Conservatives remain pretty much neck-and-neck in the polls.

I can think of three potential explanations (and they are by no means exclusive to one another). The first is that people have simply switched off. The ongoing chaos isn’t impacting people’s voting intention because they are not paying attention. The second is that voting intentions may still be being largely driven by Brexit and, regardless of how well the Conservatives are delivering Brexit, they are the main party that claims it is committed to doing so, and while support for Brexit has fallen, the split in the country is still normally around 47%-53%.

The third potential reason is that Labour are not a particularly attractive option to many voters either – one of the few clear changes in the polls this year is a sharp drop in Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings. At the end of last year his approval rating from MORI was minus 7, in the MORI poll last week it was minus 32. On YouGov’s Best Prime Minister question he continues to trail well behind Theresa May (and often both of them trail behind “Not sure”).

While it is interesting to ponder why the voting intention figures remain stable, it’s not necessary particularly meaningful. In the next four months Brexit will either go ahead with a deal that many will dislike, go ahead without any deal with whatever short or long term consequences that may bring, or be delayed or cancelled. Any of these has the potential to have massive impact on support for the parties.

On Brexit itself, public opinion on what should come next is not necessarily much clearer than opinion in Westminster. Throughout 2018 opinion has continued to drift slowly against Brexit – asked if we should remain or leave polls tend to find a modest lead for Remain – typically showing a swing of around 5 points since the referendum (They are helpfully collated by John Curtice here – his average of the last six polls to ask how people would vote now currently shows a Remain lead of 53% to 47%).

While the majority of people don’t support Brexit any longer, that does not necessarily translate into clear
support for stopping it, or indeed for most other courses of action. Poll after poll asks what the government should do next, and there is little clear support for anything. Theresa May’s proposed deal certainly does not have majority support (YouGov’s Sunday Times poll last week found 22% supported it, 51% opposed. MORI’s poll found 62% thought it was a bad thing, 25% good). When Opinium asked what should happen if the deal was defeated, 19% wanted to re-open negotiations, 20% said leave with no deal, 10% said have an election, 30% have a referendum, 11% cancel Brexit altogether. When MORI asked a similar question with slightly different options 16% said renegotiate, 25% said no deal, 10% an election and 30% a referendum.

When polls ask directly about a referendum they tend to find support (although, to be fair, most polls asking about referendums normally find support for then – it is essentially a question asking whether the respondent would like a say, or whether politicians should decide for them). However, a new referendum is obviously a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

And therein lies the problem – there is scant support for most plausible leave outcomes, but reversing Brexit in some way risks a significant minority of voters (and a majority of the government’s supporters) reacting extremely negatively indeed. In the YouGov Sunday Times poll last week they asked what people’s emotional response would be to the most plausible outcomes (current deal, no deal, soft Brexit, referendum and no Brexit). Would people feel delighted, pleased, relived, disappointed, angry, betrayed, or wouldn’t mind either way?

If Britain ended up leaving without a deal 23% would react positively, 53% negatively.
If Britain ended up leaving with the proposed deal, 20% would react positively, 51% negatively.
If Britain ended up with a softer Brexit, staying in the customs union and single market, 27% would react positively, 35% negatively.

Finally, if there was a referendum and Britain voted to stay, 42% would react positively, 39% would react negatively. This is the outcome that would have a positive reaction from the largest proportion of people, but it would also be by far the most divisive. When asked about their reaction to the deal or a soft Brexit, most people gave people towards the middle of the scale – they’d be disappointed, or relieved, or wouldn’t mind. Asked about reversing the decision to Leave, answers tended to the extremes – 26% would be delighted, but 23% would feel betrayed, including 51% of people who voted Brexit back in 2016.


The Sunday papers have the first two voting intention polls conducted since the draft Brexit deal was unveiled:

  • Opinium in the Observer have topline figures of CON 36%(-5), LAB 39%(+2), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 8%(+2). Fieldwork was Wednesday to Thursday and changes are from a month ago (tabs)
  • ComRes for the Sunday Express and Sunday Mirror have topline figures of CON 36%(-3), LAB 40%(nc), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 7%(+2). Fieldwork was also Wednesday to Thursday, and changes are from late September (tabs)

Both polls show Conservative support dropping and both now show a Labour lead (though ComRes were doing so anyway), both also show an increase in support for UKIP. It is, as ever, just a couple of polls and it’s worth waiting to see if it is reflected in other polling. However, in both cases the fieldwork was also on Wednesday and Thursday, so would have straddled the release of the draft deal and partially taken place before the resignations of Dominic Raab and Esther McVey. In other words, we may not be seeing the full impact of the latest troubles yet… and that’s not to mention what leadership ructions we may see in the week ahead.

(Note there was a Panelbase poll published yesterday, but the fieldwork for this took place at the start of the month, so sheds no light upon any possible impact of the Brexit deal.)


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Opinium have a new poll in the Observer today (I think it’s the only poll in the Sunday papers, at least, it seems to be the only voting intention poll). Headline voting intentions are CON 41%, LAB 37%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 6%. Fieldwork was Thursday and Friday and the full tables are here. The four point lead echoes the YouGov poll that came out on Thursday, which had toplines of CON 41%, LAB 37%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4% (tabs.

As well as their usual trackers, the Opinium poll also had some questions on the Brexit deal and what comes next. Asked how likely they think it is that there will be a “satisfactory” deal by March 2019, 26% think it is likely, 50% think it is unlikely. Satisfactory is, of course, in the eye of the beholder – some people presumably think there will be deal, but that it will be an “unsatisfactory” one, as the next question asked what people think is the most likely outcome – 30% expect us to leave with a deal next March, 33% to leave without a deal, 16% that we will not leave in March 2019.

The poll also asked what should happen next if there is no deal, or Parliament does not approve a deal. In the event of no deal at all, 14% think there should be a general election, 23% a new referendum, 13% an extension in order to continue negotiations, and 32% that Britain should just leave without a deal. In the event that a deal is struck, but Parliament rejects it, 12% think there should be a general election, 10% a deal vs no deal referendum, 20% a deal vs remain referendum, 14% that the government should return to negotiations, 25% that Britain should just leave without a deal.


Following the midweek YouGov poll, there are two more polls in today’s papers showing the Conservatives falling back behind Labour in the wake of the cabinet Brexit “deal” and the Davis/Johnson resignations.

Opinum in the Observer, conducted between Tuesday and Friday, has topline figures of CON 36%(-6), LAB 40%(nc), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 8%(+5). Changes are from June. There is also new Deltapoll figures in the Sun on Sunday, which have the Conservatives on 37%(-4) and Labour on 42%(+1) – changes are again on June.

This means we now have three polls conducted since the Davis/Johnson resignations, all of which have shown Conservative support dropping down behind Labour (and for Opinium and YouGov at least, showing UKIP up… I don’t have the Deltapoll figure for UKIP yet, but I expect we’ll see the same there).

Full details of the Opinium poll are up on their website here, and other questions paint a generally negative picture for the government. Just 25% of people now approve of May’s handling of Brexit (down 5 since last month), 56% disapprove (up 11). Her general approval figures have fallen to much the same extent, down to minus 24 from minus 8 last month.

Asked specifically about the Chequers deal, however, the public are evenly split. 32% of people approve of the Chequers plan, 32% do not, 35% are either neutral or don’t know. Support is higher among remain voters, opposition higher among leavers. For those intrigued by the difference between be neutral rating here and the negative rating in the YouGov question mid week, one obvious difference in the question is that YouGov asked people if they supported or opposed the deal based on whatever they had seen or heard about it, Opinium gave a short description of the deal in the question, focusing on Britain following EU rules on goods, avoiding a hard border, collecting EU tariffs and being about to set its own tariffs for non-EU countries. As with any policy, I expect many people’s reactions to the deal are based not upon looking at the details, but taking their cues from political and media reaction to it.


The regular poll from Opinium for the Observer came out this weekend. Topline figures are CON 43%(+3), LAB 39%(-1), LDEM 6%(-1). Fieldwork was on Tuesday and Wednesday and changes are since last month. This is the largest Conservative lead Opinium have shown since the election, following the trend we’ve seen from other pollsters of a modest improvement in the government’s position in the polls.

The rest of the survey had a numnber of questions on Brexit. More of the public disapprove (44%) than approve (32%) of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, but it’s less negative than their perception of how Jeremy Corbyn has handled it (19% approve, 48% disapprove) and they would trust the Conservatives more than Labour to handle Brexit negotiations by 33% to 20% (though a chunky 32% say either none or don’t know).

In a forced choice question between the staying in the single market and ending free movement of Labour, 40% would prefer the single market, 34% would prefer ending free movement, 26% don’t know. As you’d expect, this break is overwhelmingly down Remain/Leave lines – by 70% to 8%, remainers would prefer to stay in the single market; by 60% to 14% leavers would prefer to limit freedom of movement. A more interesting question asks what people think the position of the political parties is, underlying that a large proportion of the public don’t know what the parties stand for – 38% don’t know if the Conservatives prefer the single market or ending freedom of movement, 44% don’t know what Labour think, 48% don’t know what the Lib Dems think (and some that do get it wrong – 21% of people think the Conservative’s favour staying in the single market.

On a second referendum, 37% of people said there should be a second referendum on whether to accept the terms agreed or remain in the EU after all, 49% think there should not (as regular readers will know, this is one of those questions that produce quite varied responses depending on how the question is worded – other polling questions show a narrower split, probably because this question is quite explict about the referendum containing the option of staying in the EU after all, resulting in overwhelming opposition from Leavers).

Full tables are here.