There’s a fun little question over on PoliticsHome I haven’t seen before. They’ve asked each party’s voters how enthusiastic they are about their choice.

Conservative voters are by far the most enthusiastic, 47% say they are very enthusiastic about their choice, with a further 32% quite enthusiastic. Labour’s remaining voters are less enthusiastic – only 34% are very enthusiastic, with 31% quite enthusiastic. So most of the Tory vote isn’t holding its nose and forcing itself to vote Tory, it seem pretty happy about it.

Perhaps surprisingly, Liberal Democrat voters are least enthusiastic – only 24% are very enthusiastic, and 11% are “actively depressed but can’t see a better option” (the comparative numbers for Conservative and Labour voters is just 5%). My guess is that this is a reflection of the Liberal Democrats often being the natural benificiary of the “a plague on both their houses vote”.

Iain Dale, and others who oppose 42 day detention are greeting with great joy a new ICM poll for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust that suggests 60% of people think the limit on the length of time terrorist suspects can be held should be less than 42 days. I’m afraid I have to rain on their parade.

Firstly, some bloggers are interpreting this poll as showing that that David Davis’s campaign has swung public opinion against 42 day detention. I’m afraid it doesn’t – what it does show is that if you ask the question in a drastically different way, you often get a very different answer. If you want to discern a change in public opinion, you need to compare like with like.

On PoliticsHome they have done just that, asking their panel indentically phrased questions on the 20th June (2 days after David Davis resigned as an MP) and this Monday (7th July). Back in June at the start of Davis’ campaign the figures were 65% supporting extending the period terrorist suspects can be held without charge from 28 days to 42, with 31% opposed. This Monday the figures were 66% support, 30% oppose. There is quite obviously no significant change at all in opinion.

So, if there is no shift in opinion why does the ICM/JRRT poll show such a different answer? Because of the way the question was asked. It prompted people to begin with by reminding them of the long standing traditions of British justice: “Britain has long-standing rules and principles that have been put in place to protect people from being arrested and wrongly held for an indefinite time in custody.” This is perfectly true, but isn’t necessary for people to answer the question and risks skewing answers.

It then asked about offences in general, then murder suspects, then terrorist suspects – this firmly grounds the treatment of terrorist suspects as part of the wider legal system in the UK, when in political and media discourse it is often talked about as if it is a separate thing. It also made the fact that the people being held may be innocent far more explicit than most questions.

So what do people actually think? When designing surveys with clients something I often need to point out is that a poll is designed to measure public opinion as it is, not as we would like it to be. If the public are ignorant of the arguments about something, then generally speaking a poll should not try to educate them about it, because it only serves to make them more informed than the wider public they are supposed to be representative of!

The JRRT poll suggests that when people are primed to consider 42 day detention for terrorist suspects within the context of Britain’s legal traditions, comparison with treatment of other suspects and that those people might be innocent then support is lower. In reality do people really consider those arguments when forming their opinions about 42 detention? Probably not, or unprompted polls wouldn’t show such different answers. If people thought more about these particular angles upon the issue then no doubt they would have different opinions (and that is a positive sign for those campaigning against it – opinion on this can be moved), but if you give people a straight yes or no on 42 days then around about two-thirds of them consistently say they support it, and there is nothing to suggest that has changed yet.


Tory sleaze?

Yesterday I had a post up on PoliticsHome looking at some of the recent Phi5000 results, specifically Caroline Spelman’s ratings.

Since the first revelations about her once paying her nanny from public funds came to light her ratings have slumped. There’s nothing particularly surprising about that, bad news story leads to negative perception about that politician. The question is whether it is damaging the wider party, and the answer appears to be yes. Comparing the figures for Spelman to the figures for how people see the Conservative party itself it’s clear that at the same time as “nannygate” broke, the proportion of people seeing the Conservatives as “corrupt” rose from 21% to 26%, and has stayed up. It is perhaps unfair to blame it all on her, it was about the same time that the Tory leader in the European Parliament resigned, but it still doesn’t look good.

How it went wrong

I have a long post up on PoliticsHome looking at how Labour got into the position of being 20 points behind, based on the daily data produced by their Phi5000 panel.

It’s very clear that the point when their reputation really crumbled was during the 10p tax row, when approval of the government collapsed, they were seen as increasingly divided and the last few shreds of Gordon Brown’s reputation for competence fell away. In contrast, the Conservative increase then is still mostly just a result of them looking good when compared to Labour – their negatives have reduced, but there is no obvious positive boost for them. The exception is Cameron himself, whose reputation has improved significantly since the local elections and mayoral elections, particularly in terms of competence and effeciency.

Still, that is how we got here. If you look at the graphs over on the post you can also see a couple of wobbles in the Conservative ratings over the last week or so, look particularly at the way the percentage of panellists who think the Conservatives are united has dropped, and those who aren’t clear what they stand for has increased since David Davis’s resignation.

PoliticsHome have put up the Phi5000 results of their daily tracker on most important issues from the last month. I’ve commented on the way the economy is climbing up the list of important issues in Ipsos MORI’s monthly polls, but these show it finally overtaking immigration to be what the Phi5000 panellists see as the most important issue facing the county.

Hard economic issues are generally on the rise, there have been similar rises in the perceived importance of taxation as an issue and, more surprisingly given it really has been off the agenda for a very long time – inflation.

On the way down, immigration is no longer the number one issue: at the start of April around 50% of respondents were naming it as one of the top three issues facing the country, it’s now dropped to 39%. “Soft” issues are also on the decline, it’s most noticable with climate change and the environment. At the beginning of April 19% were naming it as an important issue, that has fallen to 12%. There have been smaller falls in people seeing education and health as important issues.

Looking at the longer term trends from MORI, back at the end of the last Conservative government the big issues were health, unemployment, education crime and Europe. During the Blair years unemployment and Europe gradually disappeared as major issues and immigration and – at times – international terrorism and the war in Iraq topped the poll. Now we appear to be seeing another shift in priorities as the economy takes centre stage.