New Coke, the sweeter reformulation of Coca-Cola that the company launched in the 1980s, is remembered as a failure of market research or at least, of the interpretation of market research. Surveys in advance, focus groups and taste tests preferred the new version of Coke. When it actually launched there was a negative backlash. People didn’t like their Coke being messed with and Coca-Cola eventually reversed and went back to the old formula. It’s a classic example of how a product that tests well in the artificial environment of a survey or taste test doesn’t necessarily perform the same way “in the wild”, when subject to the full chaotic system of public opinion.

This isn’t going to be a post about Coca-Cola market research strategy in the 1980s – I am sure it was far more complicated than the myths that have grown up about it – rather this polling from YouGov for the Times about NHS spending. At the weekend some of the papers reported that Labour were considering an increase in National Insurance contributions to help fund the NHS. YouGov asked people directly about this – would they like to see the basic level of National Insurance go up from 12p to 13p to help fund the NHS – indeed, people would, by 48% to 37%.

Politicians have in the past tended to use National Insurance as a rise that is less noticeable to the public than income tax, even though for salaried employees it is much the same thing (obviously it has different thresholds, but it’s still essentially an extra 1% of your salary deducted at source). I was a little cynical about that – did it really work, or do people treat it just the same? Or even, would people prefer the honesty of an income tax rise? YouGov asked the same question using a rise in the basic rate of income tax. Funded from income tax its the other way around, 34% support it, 51% are opposed. It looks as it the ruse works – if the extra 1% of people’s wages is labelled a NI rise, people support it. If it’s labelled an income tax rise, people oppose it.

Of course there are technical differences between NI and income tax (the way it affects the self-employed, or isn’t paid by pensioners, or is paid by people on lower pay than income tax is) and in theory they could contribute to the difference. I suspect most of the answer is simply that people are more aware of income tax and how it works and understand national insurance less well. Hence they are less supportive of a tax rise when they understand exactly how they’ll be paying it.

To bring it back to the New Coke analogy though, what does the question tell us about the policy? Would it be a popular thing for Labour to promise? Well, I think it tells us there’s a risk there. If support for a tax rise is conditional upon people not understanding it very well it does pose the question of what would happen if they had it explained to them, or even “misexplained” to them (remember how a National Insurance rise was packaged up as a “Labour jobs tax” by the Tories before the last election?). Essentially people like spending more on the NHS, they generally dislike paying more taxes (YouGov also asked if people would support keeping income tax, NI and health spending the same – people supported that too!). In the artificial scenario of a polling question you can link those two things and force people to consider them as one, you can use a form of tax people answering the question aren’t so familiar with. If it was an actual party policy, it would be out there being debated by parties, reported by the media, discussed in the pub. Would it be a discussion about how Labour are willing to make the hard but necessary decisions on providing the funding for the future of the NHS? Or would it be a discussion about how Labour would be putting up ordinary people’s taxes? Until a policy goes out into the wild that’s not an easy question to answer.


This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun also had their latest European election voting intention figures. The topline figures continue to show Labour and UKIP battling it out for first place, with the Conservatives off in third – CON 22%, LAB 30%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 27%, GREEN 6%.

By my reckoning on a uniform swing this would translate into 15 seats for the Conservatives (down 11), 25 seats for Labour (up 12), 5 seats for the Lib Dems (down 6), 21 seats for UKIP (up 8), 1 seat for the Greens (down one) – the BNP look almost certain to lose their two seats. Full tabs are here.


The first two post-Easter polls today share a three point lead for Labour.

The twice weekly Populus poll has toplines of CON 33%, LAB 36%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 13%. (Tabs here).

Meanwhile tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 37%, LD 10%, UKIP 12%


Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%. A rather more typical six point Labour lead after a three pointer yesterday.


Tonight we have the new monthly ICM poll for the Guardian. Topline figures are CON 32%(-3), LAB 37%(-1), LDEM 12%(nc), UKIP 11%(+2).

More intriguing are the European voting intentions in the same poll – other recent European polls have been showing Labour and UKIP in a battle for first place and the Conservatives off in third place. In contrast ICM are still showing UKIP third, and the Lib Dems now equal with the Greens on a measly 6 percent – CON 25%(nc), LAB 36%(+1), LDEM 6%(-3), UKIP 20%(nc), GREEN 6%(-1).

Why ICM are showing a lower level of European support for UKIP than other pollsters is unclear – there is no obvious methodological reason. ICM weight their European voting intention by likelihood to vote which tends to help UKIP and they include UKIP and the Greens in their European election prompt, so it shouldn’t be a question wording issue. I can only assume it is something to do with the ongoing contrast between the levels of UKIP support recorded in telephone and online polls.

As well as the monthly ICM poll, we also had a YouGov London poll in today’s Evening Standard – tabs here. London voting intentions at a general election stand at CON 34%, LAB 42%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%, a swing of three points from Con to Lab, so actually marginally better for the Tories than in GB polls. In European voting intentions the figures are CON 25%, LAB 33%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 24% – so UKIP and the Conservatives fighting for second place behind Labour, a good performance for UKIP in what tends to be a weaker area for them. Finally in Borough elections voting intentions are CON 34%, LAB 40%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 9% – this reflects a swing of 2.5% from Con to Lab since 2010, so would probably be seen as a fairly good performance for the Tories if it was repeated in May. Note the interesting patterns of split votes – there are a lot (18%) of current Conservative voters who would give UKIP their vote in the European elections, but there are also a chunk (12%) of current UKIP voters who would give the Conservatives their vote in the local elections.

Meanwhile the twice-weekly Populus poll had voting intentions of CON 33%, LAB 35%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 13%. Tabs here.

UPDATE: The monthly ComRes telephone poll for the Indy is also out tonight. Topline figures there are CON 30%(-1), LAB 36%(nc), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 12%(+1).