Two new polls today – the daily YouGov poll for the Sun and the monthly Survation poll for the Daily Mirror.

Survation in the Mirror have topline figures of CON 28%(-3), LAB 34%(+4), LDEM 10%(+3), UKIP 19%(-4), GRN 4%(+1). Lots of sharp changes there since their previous poll, but usual caveats apply – the Tory lead in Survation’s previous poll was rather unusual in itself, today’s large Labour lead also unusual, hence the large changes from one to the other. Note also the drop in UKIP support – Survation consistently show the highest UKIP support, so while 19 is large compared to other pollsters’ figures, its a notable drop from Survation.

Meanwhile the daily YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 35%, LAB 33%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 14%, GRN 7%. A two point Conservative lead from YouGov, the first time they’ve shown that for just over a month.

The bigger picture remains the same. The Conservatives probably haven’t moved ahead, or we’d be seeing that across most of the polls, when actually they are averaging out at a tiny Labour lead. Neither is there is big swing to Labour, or we’d be seeing that across most of the polls, when actually they all just seem to be showing normal variation around the margin of error. In terms of the Labour vs Conservative race, 2015 so far has been largely static. The only trend that may be meaningful is the drop in UKIP support.


Now that Survation have published their monthly poll we can compare UKIP’s January and February scores across all the pollsters (I’ve taken an average for those companies who publish more than once a month). There does seem to be a pretty consistent fall in UKIP support, perhaps slightly obscured by the fact that the most frequent pollster, YouGov, shows one of the more modest drops and the second most frequent pollster, Populus, changed their methodology at the start of February in a way that increased UKIP support.

The British Election Study held an event today showcasing some of their latest research. It seems to have provoked another round of the familiar discussion of “does the rise of UKIP hurt Labour or the Conservatives more?”. What should perhaps be a bit of an academic question has become a bit of contentious one – perhaps because of the implications for internal party politics (if the rise of UKIP hurts the Conservatives, is it something that is in Labour’s strategic interests to give tacit support to, or is it a threat to them, and what policy implications does that have?). I shall not seek to offer any such advice, but will have my go at the question.

On the face of it, it seems a reasonable assumption that UKIP are more a threat to the Conservatives. There are several very sensible and straightforward reasons for this. The policies that most define UKIP (hostility towards immigration and Britain’s membership of the European Union) are associated with the right of the Conservative party and might be expected to appeal to their voters. Their broader manifesto at the last general election could also be reasonably characterised as being right wing. Politically the party’s roots are clearly within the Conservative family, many of their high profile members are former Conservatives, two Conservative MPs have defected to them and others have been speculated about and more Conservative councillors have defected to them. Looking at it this way, it would make sense if the party was more of a threat to the Conservatives.

The “worse for the Tories” school of thought also relies strongly upon current voting intention data. People who currently tell pollsters that they would support UKIP are disproportionately made up of people who voted Conservative in 2010. It would be wrong to say that the majority of UKIP support comes from the Tories (it tends to be around 40-45%), but former Tories make up the largest single chunk of that support, the rest gathered from smaller groups of former Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or other supporters or previous non-voters. Finally it is worth considering the pattern of UKIP support at the European election and local election. There has been a concentration of UKIP support in seats along the Eastern coast of England – and below Teeside all but two of these seats (Grimsby and North Norfolk) are held by the Conservative party. With the exception of Great Grimsby, the seats discussed as potential UKIP gains tend to be Conservative ones.

Taken together this seems like a pretty convincing case for UKIP damaging the Conservatives more, but as ever things are a little bit more complicated than that. Here are the reasons why:

First, 2010 is not necessarily a good baseline for judging where support has come from or would otherwise be. Just because people voted Conservative in 2010 and UKIP now, it does not follow that if they weren’t voting UKIP they would jump back to the Tories. Perhaps as a rival opposition party UKIP are picking up anti-government feeling that would otherwise have naturally gone to Labour as the main opposition. Perhaps the people who voted Conservative in 2010 and UKIP now are not dyed in the wool Tories, but people who switched from Lab to Con in 2010 and might have otherwise switched back. The point is it is wrong to assume how people voted in 2010 is a good guide to how they have voted previous to that, or what their voting intention would otherwise be.

If we look at polls over the last couple of years it is clear that Labour have steadily lost support while UKIP have gained it. This is not necessarily evidence that people have switched from one to the other, but it is certainly a possibility. The British Election Study website has an article by Jon Mellon and Geoff Evans looking at the BES data on how current UKIP voters voted in 2010 and how they voted in 2005. Their findings show, as expected, that by far the biggest chunk of current UKIP supported voted Tory in 2010 (about 40%, compared to about 11% for Labour). In 2005 though the picture is somewhat more even – former Tories are still the biggest chunk (about a third), but there are about about twice as many UKIP supporters who voted Labour in 2005 than did in 2010 (about 20%). UKIP are taking former Labour voters, it’s just those voters have taken two elections to make the journey.

Second is the demographics of UKIP support. While UKIP have taken more support from the Conservatives, their support doesn’t resemble that of the Conservative party that much. UKIP support tends to be very white and is disproportionately from older generations (like that of the Conservative party), but unlike the Conservative party it is also strongly working class. This is the core message of Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin’s Revolt on the Right and one that is now quite widely recognised – UKIP voters are not retired Tory colonels, but are working class, older men. This is not incompatible with UKIP drawing their support from working-class Tories of course, but the potential risk to the Labour party should be clear: there is a significant body of working class Labour support that is hostile towards immigration and receptive to the sort of message that UKIP are offering, UKIP may not have taken full advantage of it yet, but they show every sign of attempting to do so in the future. There is already some sign of that shift – Peter Kellner’s analysis last month based on recent YouGov polls suggest that the balance of the voters UKIP are picking up is changing, and that amongst more recent UKIP recruits the proportion of former Labour voters is growing.

There lies the third issue – timing. A lot of the discussion around who UKIP hurts seems to fall back upon who people think they’ll hurt come next year’s election. Those arguing that there is a problem for Labour are often looking beyond that to what happens in the future, meaning they are often arguing past each other a little. Personally I would think in particular of what happens in a scenario when we have a Labour government and it runs into the unpopularity that inevitably arrives for all governments sooner or later. If UKIP have positioned themselves as an effective protest vehicle in Labour areas (particularly in Labour’s Northern heartlands where the Conservatives are already extinct and the Lib Dems may become so very soon), UKIP could do very well indeed. Part of the reason that UKIP’s current support comes largely from the Tories is probably because the Tories are the government and they are the party people are protesting against… it will not always be so.

Finally there is the issue of geography. Even if at a national level UKIP are picking up more 2010 Conservative voters than Labour voters this is not necessarily uniform across the country. UKIP may draw support from different groups in different areas, so while they may damage Conservative hopes in some parts of the country, elsewhere there is the potential for them to hurt Labour. Marcus Roberts, Rob Ford and Ian Warren wrote a paper for the Fabians earlier this year, based on Mosiac groups and identifying seats in both groups – areas where UKIP is helping and hurting Labour. There is an opportunity cost here too – the list of seats that UKIP could potentially do well in or win may be dominated by seats that are currently held by the Conservative party, but seats like Thurrock, South Thanet, Great Yarmouth and Waveney were all held by Labour until 2010. By definition, if they are won by UKIP it means they are not being regained by Labour.

In an attempt to tie things up, it is clear that UKIP are currently taking more 2010 support from the Conservatives than Labour, and in that sense they are hurting the Tories more. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are hurting just the Conservatives. While it is a good thing for Labour when the Tories lose a vote… it is an opportunity lost if that vote goes to a party other than Labour, especially when it is a voter who might have considered Labour earlier this Parliament or might have voted Labour prior to the 2010 election. There’s also a longer term view – who UKIP are able to appeal to now, with a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in power, is not necessarily a good guide to who they might be able to draw support from in a different political landscape.


A quick catch up of this week’s polls so far, and an update on polling on a Con-UKIP pact.

The first of this week’s two Populus polls had figures of CON 34%, LAB 36%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%, GRN 3% (tabs).
Monday’s Lord Ashcroft poll had topline figures of CON 28%, LAB 31%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 18%, GRN 8% (tabs). Note the Green score there – up to eight points and one point ahead of the Liberal Democrats. The fact they are up in fourth place is probably just a blip – it’s one poll and no one else is echoing it – but it’s a symptom of the genuine rise we’ve seen in Green support over recent months.
Meanwhile this morning’s YouGov/Sun poll had topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6% (tabs)

Stepping back a couple of days, at the weekend YouGov also released an updated version of polling first conducted last year asking how people would vote if there was a Conservative/UKIP pact at the next general election (tabs). There is sometimes a lazy assumption that because the Conservatives and UKIP together have a very healthy level of support a pact between the two parties would be a winner. That is not necessarily the case – parties do no own their voters. If two parties agree to stand to together it doesn’t follow that their voters will go along with it. The usual voting intention in the poll showed Labour four points ahead of of the Conservatives, but with UKIP on 18%. Asked how they would vote with a Conservative/UKIP pact the Labour lead grew to six points. The reason is that only about two thirds of current Conservative voters would back the joint ticket – some would flake away to Labour or the Liberal Democrats, others wouldn’t vote or aren’t sure what they would do. At the same time only just over half of UKIP supporters would follow their party into a deal with the Tories, others would go to Labour, find an alternate “other” party or not vote. This probably paints an artificially bleak picture because many of those don’t knows would hold their noses and vote for the joint-ticket, but it should still serve as an antidote to those thinking a pact is a panacea to Tory woes.

Asking about the specific circumstances of seats where there is a Conservative standing on the joint ticket or a UKIP candidate standing on the joint ticket sheds a little more light on the don’t knows. Essentially just over 10% of Conservatives and UKIP voters are lost anyway if there is a pact, even if a candidate for their own party is standing locally – presumably people totally opposed to co-operation with the other party. If a candidate for the other party is standing locally, only a minority (36-40%) of the other parties support is transferred across.

So far today we have three new opinion polls, all conducted since the Clacton by-election result. Yesterday’s Survation poll was conducted just on Friday, in the immediate glare of the post by-election publicity, and saw UKIP spikng up to 25%, three points above Survation’s record high for the party. Today’s polls were conducted over the weekend and seem to show a more mixed picture.

Populus – CON 35%(+1), LAB 36%(+1), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 13%(nc), GRN 3%(-1) (tabs)
Ashcroft – CON 28%(-4), LAB 32%(+2), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 19%(+2), GRN 5%(-2) (tabs)
ICM – CON 31%(-2), LAB 35%(nc), LDEM 11%(+1), UKIP 14%(+5), GRN 4% (tabs)

Populus have UKIP unchanged at 13%, and have recently had UKIP as high as 15% so this certainly doesn’t reflect any sort of new high. Ashcroft has UKIP up two points since last week, equalling their record high from an Ashcroft poll, but not breaking new ground. ICM have the most impressive showing for UKIP, up five points on last month’s poll – a significant boost compared to the 9%-10% UKIP have been registering in recent ICM polls, but below ICM’s previous highs for UKIP. We still have the daily YouGov/Sun poll to come, but so far the overall picture from today’s polls is looking like a respectable UKIP boost on the back of their by-election success, rather than a huge breakthrough.

Sunday polls

There were three polls in the Sunday papers today. Opinium in the Observer had topline figures of CON 32%. LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 19%.

The weekly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times also had only a one point lead for the Labour party: CON 34%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%. Tabs here. YouGov also had a couple of tracking questions seeking to measure what effect the heavy criticism of UKIP on things like racism over the last couple of weeks has had. YouGov repeated two questions from earlier in the campaign – a week ago 41% of people thought UKIP were racist, 40% did not. Now 46% think they are racist (up 5), 39% they are not (down 1). A fortnight ago 27% thought Nigel Farage himself was a racist, 50% said he wasn’t. This week that has narrowed to 38% racist (up 9), 43% not racist (down 7).

Together those two make it look pretty conclusive that the attacks on UKIP did damage perceptions of the party. More people think the party and Farage are racist. However, it does NOT necessarily follow that it damaged their vote – it could just have served to further entrench negative views amongst people who didn’t like UKIP anyway. It could even have both helped and harmed them – making their opponents more negative towards them, but also bolstering their anti-establishment credentials amongst their supporters. The results tonight won’t really tell us – if UKIP do well, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done better without all the negative coverage. If UKIP do less well than expected, it doesn’t mean they weren’t headed that way anyway.

Finally there was a new Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday. The fieldwork for the Survation poll didn’t start until late on Friday, so unlike the YouGov and Opinium polls most respondents will have had a chance to see the local election results. Topline figures there, with changes since Survations last pre-election poll, are CON 27%(-1), LAB 32%(-3), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 23%(+2). Survation show some of the highest UKIP scores anyway, but the 23% is a record high for UKIP even by their standards – the first in what I’d expect to be many polls showing a post-election boost for UKIP.

While not a poll, the Sunday Times also had the Rallings and Thrasher Equivalent National Vote calculation for the local elections. This is essentially a very similar exercise to the BBC’s projected national share, but calculated by a different team using different key wards – Rallings and Thrasher’s figures are Conservatives 30%, Labour 31%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 18%. Slightly different from the BBC’s, but it essentially tells the same story – Labour with only a tiny lead over the Tories, UKIP doing worse than in 2013 when R&T had them on 22%.