The YouGov/Sunday Times poll had some questions trying to tease out people’s perceptions of who has the best claim to be PM in a hung Parliament. This is, obviously, not necessarily the same thing as who will be. Much of the discussion I’ve seen on this has been at cross purposes – some people rightly saying that the leader who can command a majority in the Commons has the constitutional right to be PM, others saying that in circumstances X, Y or Z or with party A, B or C that may be seen as illegitimate. These two things are not contradictory – it is perfectly possible to have a situation where a leader has the perfect constitutional right to be Prime Minister, yet is seen as illegitimate by the public. If the study of public opinion tells you anything, it should be that public opinion is quite often wrong. A good example is Gordon Brown in 2010 – remaining as PM while negotiations took place was quite clearly his constitutional duty… but it didn’t stop him getting flak for “squatting” in Downing Street. Public opinion on the legitimacy of who becomes PM won’t make any difference to who gets the invite from the Palace, the maths will decide that, but it may make a difference to how that government is perceived by the public in the longer term.
On this front, by 47% to 26% of people think that the biggest party has the best claim to form a government, even if other parties collectively have more seats. If there is a difference between the party with the most seats and the most votes, by 43% to 29% people think it is votes that should matter.
Asked about whether parties should try to go it alone or form a coalition there is an interesting difference. Should the Conservatives find themselves the largest party then 58% of Tory voters think they should try to strike a deal with other parties to get a majority, 29% think they should try to go it alone. Should Labour find themselves the largest party the figures are much closer – 44% of their voters think they should try to strike a deal, 39% think they should try to go it alone. YouGov then asked what the other side should do in those circumstances… in both cases, the balance of public opinion is that oppositions should give a minority government a chance. If the Conservatives try to go it alone, 32% think the other parties should vote to bring them down, 40% think they should be given a chance. The figures are almost identical for a minority Labour government, 30% think the Tories should just vote them out, 39% that they should give them a chance.
The polling on all these questions will likely be transformed completely next week when the numbers are known and these questions become opinions on a Cameron government, a Miliband government or whatever, rather than hypothetical situations – these aren’t set in stone. I expect many respondents who say largest party should form the government might change their answer in the event largest party was X or Y. The point us how the parties behave next week, whether they are seen as being in the right and behaving in a responsible way will have an impact on the public’s perception of them.
Both the YouGov/Sunday Times poll and the Survation poll asked people who watched the Question Time leaders special earlier in the week who they thought had won – both found Cameron clearly ahead. YouGov had Cameron winning by 42% to Miliband’s 26% and Clegg’s 13%, Survation had Cameron winning on 38% to Miliband’s 24% and Clegg’s 9%.
As well as the YouGov/Sunday Times poll there was also a separate YouGov poll for the Sun on Sunday. This has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%, GRN 5% so is also bang in line with YouGov’s pattern the parties being roughly neck-and-neck. The poll included a question on people’s preferred coalition/deal which showed a very even split, the same as we’ve seen in many other polls – Con/LD 21%, Con/UKIP 18%, Lab/LD 20%, Lab/SNP 16%. However they also asked which coalition people think would be worst, which produced a much clearer result – Lab/SNP 39%, Con/UKIP 32%, Con/LD 6%, Lab/LD 4% – people fear the SNP and UKIP’s influence on government, the poor old Lib Dems are seen as quite benign.