After every local election I start with the same warning – local elections are not general elections. Fewer people vote, on different issues, and for some who don’t vote on local issues it’s an opportunity for a mid-term protest vote. They aren’t a prediction of the general election. That does not, however, mean that local elections tell is nothing about the bigger picture and it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t have a massive impact on the wider political narrative and public opinion. What can we pick up from last night’s results so far?

Let’s start with UKIP. At the most basic level UKIP have obviously done very well. As I write the BBC suggest they are getting about 25% of the vote in wards they contest (though much worse in London) and have gained about 100 councillors. Two things to put this in context though – the first is that this is roughly the same level of support as they got at the local elections last year. I don’t really know if that’s good or bad for them. At one level they’ve sustained last year’s advance, it’s not a flash in the pan and they are more firmly establishing themselves as a major force. On the other hand, these are local elections on the same day as the European election… shouldn’t they be improving on last year? Second caveat, their vote is still very evenly spread. They are getting many more votes than the Lib Dems, but far fewer councillors. As was the case last year, UKIP are doing fantastically well at coming second in many places and that doesn’t build the council base they require in target seats for the general election. They have made some breakthroughs though – most notably in Essex councils like Thurrock and Basildon where they took seats from both parties, pushing Labour Thurrock and Tory Basildon into no overall control. They’ve also done extremely well in Rotherham.

Moving onto Labour, their results nationwide seem a little lacklustre. They’ll be pleased with the performance in London where they’ve gained several councils, most notably the Tory “flagship” of Hammersmith & Fulham, but they’ve made only sporadic progress elsewhere. As I write John Curtice doesn’t seem to have produced a projected national share yet, but he’s suggested they are up only 3% since 2010 so it sounds like it could be a very anaemic Labour lead. I think the bottom line for Labour is that their local election performance is much like their performance in general election polls. They aren’t an opposition that is soaring ahead in the opinion polls, they’re an opposition that has a very modest lead in the opinion polls. These aren’t soaring local election gains, they are modest local election gains.

The Tory performance is the mirror image of that. They are losing seats and councils, but not disasterously so. They’ve done badly against Labour in London and will be sorry to have lost Hammersmith & Fulham, but happy they have some gains here and there to weigh against it.

Finally the Lib Dems. Horrid council results have become par for the course for them, and these seats were last fought at the height of “Cleggmania” so losses are to be expected. The party normally comfort themselves with the defence that the party do far better in areas where they have sitting MPs. As usual, this is true in some cases, but not in others. The Lib Dems have held their own in places like Colchester, Sutton and Eastleigh… but they’ve also lost ground in Lib Dem held areas like Richmond, Kingston, Haringey and Cambridge, so it’s swings and roundabouts. Either way it is a continuing hollowing out of Lib Dem support as they retreat back towards islands of support around some of their sitting MPs.

And to the wider impact? To some degree we’re still in a holding pattern until Sunday, but the questions are straightforward enough. For UKIP it is how much of a boost they get from today’s successes (however impressive you think they actually are, the media narrative this morning is all “UKIP SURGE!”) and how long that lasts. For the other three parties it is to what extent they hold their nerve – overnight there were a couple of “Tories should have a pact with UKIP” from the Tory backbenches and a few grumbles from the Labour backbenches, but these were all from the usual suspects, the Rees-Moggs and Stringers of this world, who were saying these things anyway. Wait and see if it holds over the next few days and the Euro elections.


The daily YouGov poll for the Sun tonight has topline figures of CON 35%, LAB 36%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%. Putting them all together today’s four Westminster polls are:

YouGov/Sun – CON 35%, LAB 36%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%
Populus – CON 35%, LAB 36%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%
Ashcroft – CON 34%, LAB 32%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 15%
ICM/Guardian – CON 33%, LAB 31%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 15%

Two very small Labour leads, two very small Conservative leads. Levels of Conservative support are actually pretty similar across these polls, as is the level of UKIP support (though other pollsters show contrasting figures), there’s the usual higher level of Lib Dem support from ICM and there’s significant variation in the level of Labour support shown. What is consistent across all four polls is that Labour and the Conservatives are very close to one another in support. In terms of narrative and political impact a poll showing a one point Labour lead looks very different to one showing a one point Conservative lead. Statistically though really isn’t much difference between them in polls with a margin of error of about three points. On today’s polls the parties are looking neck-and-neck, let’s see if it stays that way…and what political impact those polls showing a Tory lead have…


Just catching up on a couple of polls over the last few days.

Friday’s two Westminster voting intention polls from YouGov and Populus were YouGov/Sun – CON 33%, LAB 36%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 14% (tabs) and Populus – CON 34%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14% (tabs).

There was also a YouGov/Channel 4 Scottish poll in the week, showing very little change from the previous YouGov referendum poll in March. YES is on 37%(nc), NO is on 51%(-1) (tabs. Excluding don’t knows this works out at YES 42%, NO 58% – exactly the same as a month ago. This, incidentally, produced some superbly inept reporting from the Daily Mail, well deserving of my much sought after “Crap Media Reporting of Polls” award: Campaign against independence soars to 16 point lead. Apparently there has been a “surge” in support for the Union following “growing anger over Putin praise”. That’ll be a surge from 58% to 58% then.

There is also a new YouGov poll of European voting intentions, conducted for the Green party. Topline figures there are CON 22%, LAB 30%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 27%, GRN 8% (tabs)

Finally there was a Survation poll of London (tabs) which had toplines for the European election in London of CON 21%, LAB 39%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 20%, GRN 7% and for the London local elections of CON 26%, LAB 42%, LDEM 14%, UKIP 11%.


Elections in 2014

After the Christmas and New Year break we should be getting some polling tonight – Lord Ashcroft at least is promising a new batch of research (and perhaps Opinium will start up their fortnightly Observer polls again – YouGov’s daily polling doesn’t start again till Monday).

In the meantime, I’ve updated the site to reflect the elections in the year ahead:

Polls on the European election so far are here, though note the experiences of 2009 when early polls for the European election bore very little resemblence at all to the actual result. We don’t know if it was because people didn’t really consider European voting intention until much closer to the time, or the increased publicity UKIP got in the run up to the European elections, or because the expenses scandal shook things up, but one way or the other UKIP support massively increased in the run up to the European elections in 2009 and polls conducted more than a month or so before were of little use in predicting them.

On the election guide part of the site I’ve also added information on the candidates standing so far (Scotland, North East, North West, Yorkshire, West Midlands, East Midlands, Wales, Eastern, South West, South East, London)

Aside from the locals on the same day as the European election, the other big election is the Scottish Independence referendum on the 18th September (my birthday incidently – what better present can one get for a psephologist than a referendum for your birthday?). Polls on the referendum so far are all collected here.


1) The Labour lead narrowed

Labour’s lead has gradually eroded over 2013. We started the new year showing a Labour lead of around about ten points. It started falling in the spring as the economy improved, and continued over the summer. There appeared to be something of a reverse in the autumn, one assumes because of the impact of Labour’s energy pledge and the political narrative focusing on gas and electricity prices for a few weeks, but we still ended the year with an average Labour lead of six points, compared to ten. Note however, that the majority of this change came from Labour losing support, dropping from an average of 42% in the polls to 39% – there has been comparatively little increase in Tory support.

2) People got more optimistic about the economy

There has been a sharp increase in people’s view of where the economy is growing. Looking at the monthly questions MORI and NOP both ask on how people think the economy in general will perform in the twelve months ahead shows a sharp increase early this year, thought it has rather stagnated since September. Asked in a more narrative way, earlier this month YouGov found 43% of people now think the economy is showing signs of recovery or is well on the way to recovery, up from 37% in August and just 14% in April.

However, people are less optimistic about their own household finances. YouGov’s economic optimism tracker for the Sunday Times asks about people’s expectations of their own finances, rather than the economy in general, and while it has shown a similar rise the net figure is still much more negative. In November MORI asked the two questions in parallel – 42% expected the economy to improve in the year ahead, but only 23% expected their own finances to improve. In a similar vein YouGov found 35% of people thought the economy as a whole was growing, but only 22% thought it was growing in their own region. More and more people are thinking that the economy is growing, but people are not necessarily feeling in their own pockets yet.

3) The Conservatives have moved ahead on the economy

As the economy has improved, it has had an impact on political attitudes towards the economy. At the start of 2013 the Conservative and Labour parties were essentially neck and neck on the economy. As the year progressed the Conservatives gradually pulled ahead and established a consistent lead.

Other trackers have moved in the same direction. Since the end of 2010 YouGov’s fortnightly trackers on attitudes towards the cuts had consistently shown that while people thought the spending cuts were necessary, they thought they were bad for the economy. That reversed in September and now finds more people think that the cuts are good for the country’s economy, than think they are damaging. However, while preferences on who people trust to manage the economy are heading in the Conservatives direction, Labour still lead on their preferred ground of prices and living standards.

4) But people have started to care more about other issues

The two regular trackers of what people think are the most important issues facing the country (YouGov’s which offers a list and Ipsos MORI’s which is unprompted) have both had the economy as the number one issue for years, and it remains there at the moment. However, it’s dominance has begun to fade over 2013. Back in 2012 well over 50% of people consistently told MORI that the economy was one of the main issues facing the country, YouGov’s prompted question consistently found over 70% picking out the economy.

In 2013 both trackers have shown the proportion of people thinking the economy is one of the big issues facing the country falling, presumably as a result of people starting to think the economy is improving. In the case of MORI the proportion of people saying the economy is a big issue has fallen below 50%, and in their December poll down to 39%. On YouGov’s tracker the figure has fallen below 70%, and in their final December poll down to 58%. At the same time other issues have risen up the agenda, most notably that of immigration – in MORI and YouGov’s December polls they both found immigration the second most mentioned issue, in both cases just two percentage points behind the economy. Note also the increase in the number of people mentioning issues of inflation from Autumn, as Labour started to try and shift the agenda more towards cost of living.

5) UKIP have continued to gather strength

The advance of UKIP in the polls has continued, though perhaps hampered by the lack of any elections or by-elections in the second half of 2013. UKIP’s support so far this Parliament has been a series of spikes and plateaus, seeing sudden increases in their poll ratings on the back of election successes like Rotherham, Eastleigh and local elections and the ensuing publicity and then flattening out again until the next opportunity to demonstrate their support comes along. This has certainly been the pattern in 2013 – they started the year at just below 10% in the polls, enjoyed a big jump in national support following their successes in the county council elections and, since the publicity boost from the county elections faded have rather stagnated. They still end 2013 above where they started, and have the inevitable publicity boost of the European elections to come next year.

6) Ed Miliband’s ratings went down, and up, and down again


Ed Miliband’s miserable job approval questions have continued to go downwards, with one notable exception. Three companies do regular questions on what people think of the party leaders – MORI ask if people are satisfied or dissatisfied, Opinium if people approve or disapprove, YouGov if they are doing a good or bad job. Ed Miliband’s ratings have been on a downwards trend for most of the year, but he enjoyed a reverse after the party conference and his energy price pledge, briefly reversing some of the year so far’s decline. All three measures still showed him ending the year with lower approval ratings than he began with.