Sunday polls

I’ve been caught up with various family commitments this weekend, so a very brief summary of the polls in the Sunday papers. We have the monthly ComRes poll in the Independent on Sunday, the fortnightly Opinium poll for the Observer, two YouGov polls (one in the Sun on Sunday, one in the Sunday Times) and a Panelbase Scottish poll in the Sunday Times.

Opinium in the Observer have topline figures of CON 28%(-2), LAB 33%(nc), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 20%(+3), GRN 6%(+2) – a return to decent Labour lead after their poll a fortnight ago had shown things tightening up.

ComRes’s monthly online poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror has no such movement, with the race remaining very tight. Their topline voting intentions show virtually no change from last month’s, with topline figures of CON 33%(nc), LAB 34%(nc), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 18%(nc), GRN 3%(+1)

YouGov in the Sunday Times also show a one point Labour lead with topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 32%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 18%, GRN 7%. There is a second (and completely separate) YouGov poll in the Sun on Sunday but with fairly similar topline figures, CON 31% and LAB 33%.

Finally the Panelbase Scottish poll in the Sunday Times has topline Westminster voting intentions of CON 14%(-1), LAB 31%(+3), LDEM 3%(nc), SNP 41%(-4), UKIP 7%(nc). The SNP lead of ten points would still be pretty good for them by historical standards, but it’s a drop compared to the very large leads they’ve been showing in other Scottish polls since October, which have varied between 16 and 29 points. As ever, it is only one poll – it may be the first sign of that SNP lead narrowing a bit, or may just be random sample variation.

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 34%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 15%, GRN 7%. All looks normal by YouGov’s recent standards (the two polls showing UKIP up at 17% and 18% that we saw immediately after the attacks in Paris seem to have gone away again – perhaps it was a Paris effect, perhaps it was just a random blip).

A word about the debates and polling on them. If the debates go ahead, they obviously have the potential to have a big impact upon public opinion and the election result – we saw that in 2010 and the boost they gave the Liberal Democrats. Think in particular of the potential impact for Nigel Farage or (if she ends up being included) Natalie Bennett – it’s the challenger candidates they are a real opportunity for. If the debates end up going ahead, but without David Cameron, that will probably have an impact too. It would really highlight his non-participation.

I’d be more wary of whether there will actually be much impact if they end up NOT going ahead, if it ends with them not happening. We’ve seen several polls on how people think it’s bad that David Cameron might not take part and so on… but regular readers will be very familiar with the flow of polls showing that people don’t like David Cameron doing this and don’t like Ed Miliband doing that which make not an iota of difference to voting intention or to people’s attitudes towards the leaders. Most Westminster stories make no appreciable difference to anything in terms of public opinion. A lot of the time, most people probably don’t even notice the story – they give an opinion because we pollsters have prodded them with a question, it doesn’t mean they care.

In this case, I think people are at least aware of what’s happening, it’s not a pure Westminster bubble story. Without giving any information about what stance the leaders had taken YouGov asked a question on Sunday on whether people thought each leader did or did not want a debate. Obviously lots of people said don’t know, but on balance people thought Miliband, Clegg and Farage did want a debate, and by 51% to 22% people thought Cameron was trying to avoid one. So, it has got through to the public.

Whether it makes any difference to their opinions of David Cameron is a different matter though. The measure to look for here – if it happens – won’t be the sort of questions saying “Does blocking the debates make Cameron look bad?”, “Is Cameron a coward?” and so on. You’ll get people cynical about politicians or hostile to David Cameron saying yes anyway. It will be whether David Cameron’s actual ratings go down – does not taking part in a debate damage his lead on being Prime Ministerial? Does it make his approval ratings worse and make him look less of a leader? Does it make his (already bad) ratings on being out of touch worse? Does it damage the Conservative party’s voting intention at all? Those are the things that count and the things to watch, if they don’t go down then, frankly, the bullet will have been dodged.


ComRes had a poll yesterday which got some attention because it showed the NHS as the issue people thought was most important facing the country, up eleven points since they last asked. This followed a YouGov poll last week which showed the NHS in third place in the list of salient issues, but also increasing by 13 percentage points since December, putting it 6 points behind the economy and immigration.

These look like contrasting findings (first place and third place) but they really aren’t – both show big increases in the salience of the NHS and similar proportions of people picked out the NHS as a major issue (50% in ComRes, 46% in YouGov). There is a significant difference in the proportion of people picking the economy in the two polls, but that’s because of the way the question is asked: YouGov offer a single option for the economy in general (picked by 52%), ComRes offer three or four different economicy sort of options that responses were split between (promoting growth (20%), distributing benefits of growth (20%), reducing the deficit (19%), keeping down costs (25%)).

This highlights one of the challenges of asking “important issues” questions like this – they are really influenced by the options you offer. The other regular important issues tracker by Ipsos MORI doesn’t suffer from this problem as it is asked face-to-face and completely open ended – people are asked to say what issues they think are important in their own words… but Ipsos MORI still have to decide how to code them up. In December MORI found the most important issues were immigration (42%), economy (33%), NHS (33%). We haven’t had their January figures yet and if they pick up the same trend as YouGov and ComRes we should expect to see a big jump for the NHS, but it’s up there in the top three already anyway.

Exactly which issue comes “top” isn’t really that important anyway unless you are a headline writer. It’s not like an election, there is no prize that is won by being considered important by one more person than the next issue, and which issue comes “top” in a poll is largely determined by how pollsters divide up the options or categorise people’s responses. The point is that immigration and the economy have been considered important issues by very large proportions of the British public for a couple of years and, for now at least (for the ComRes and YouGov polls were taken in the immediate aftermath of some very negative headlines about the NHS), the NHS has become an issue of comparable importance.

On that issue, we should have a big lovely lump of Ashcroft polling on the NHS out tomorrow.

This week’s YouGov/Sunday Times poll is out here. Topline figures are CON 32%, LAB 32%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 18%, GRN 6%. YouGov’s average for UKIP this week has been running at only been 14%, so the 18% here looks unusually high – it could be an effect of the the events in Paris, or could just be a random blip.

Part of the rest of the poll addressed the attack on Charlie Hebdo – of course, these figures need to be seen in that context and people’s opinions may very be different in circumstances that are not so emotionally charged (it’s an issue I’ve sometimes commented on about polling about the death penalty – people only commission polls on the death penalty when there is a particularly heinous murder in the news, so polls are always influenced by a particular event).

Looking at the polling, a strong majority of people think the press should be free to criticise, mock and ridicule religion, but even in the current context a sizeable minority disagree. Around a quarter of people think the media should not be allowed to mock or ridicule religious beliefs or figures, 18% think the media should not even be allowed to criticise or question religion. More specifically, 69% of people think it was acceptable for Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, 14% unacceptable. In the aftermath of the attack, 63% think that other newspapers should have reprinted the cartoons, 71% that the media in general have an obligation to show controversial items that might offend people if they are newsworthy.

Moving back onto party politics, YouGov asked about the two issues that dominated the first few days of campaigning last week – the economy and the NHS – along with expectations and preferences for the result.

A majority of people (58%) think that the pledges and promises that Labour have made mean they would end up having to increase taxes on people like them. However, people feel almost the same about the pledges and promises made by the Conservative party – 51% think they would end up having to increase taxes for people like them. Overall 37% think George Osborne has been a good Chancellor, 44% a bad one – a net rating of minus 7. This actually compares relatively well to people’s recollections of past Chancellors – Alistair Darling scores minus 19, Gordon Brown minus 18, Ken Clarke minus 8 and minus 19 for Norman Lamont.

Labour maintain their normal lead on the party most trusted to deliver NHS services – 31% would trust a Labour government under Ed Miliband more, 22% a Conservative government under David Cameron (there was a ComRes poll late last year that showed David Cameron more trusted than Ed Miliband on the NHS, which caused some comment. I think that’s probably just a salutory lesson of not paying too much attention to single polls with unusual results – the overwhelming majority of polls on the NHS show Labour are more trusted on it even if you do mention David Cameron and Ed Miliband in the question.

Asked about their own experience of GP services, 15% say their local GP service has got better, 34% worse, 40% that is has stayed about the same. 49% of people say they are normally able to get an appointment when they need one, 36% that they are often unable to. 8% say they have had to go to A&E when they were unable to get a GP appointment. Long waits at Accident & Emergency are mostly blamed on people turning up with minor ailments, rather than funding shortages from this or the previous government. 54% blame people turning up with minor problems, 29% blame immigration and health tourism, 28% not enough social care and 27% lack of GP out of hours service.

Looking towards the next election people are split down on the middle on their preferences – 38% would prefer the Conservatives to have the most seats, 38% for Labour to have the most seats. 52% would like one of the parties to win an overall majority, 24% would prefer a hung Parliament. Asked what they think the result will actually be, 59% expect a hung Parliament, only 18% expect a majority government. The Conservatives are seen as slightly more likely than Labour to be the largest party, 42% to 35%. Asked a more detailed question about coalition preferences, Tory voters would prefer another deal with the Lib Dems to one with UKIP (48% to 37%). Labour voters would prefer a Lib Dem deal to one with the SNP or UKIP (42% Lib Dem, 29% SNP, 12% UKIP).

This evening’s daily YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 7%

After a couple of days with the Greens equal or ahead of the Liberal Democrats, today’s poll has them behind. These little variations between one poll and the next are mostly irrelevant of course, the broader picture remains that YouGov show the Greens and Lib Dems essentially equal, but that’s because YouGov tend to show some of the highest support for the Greens and some of the lower figures for the Lib Dems. TNS and Ashcroft have also shown the Greens in fourth place, but other companies are still show them consistently behind the Liberal Democrats.

On that issue, today OfCom published their consultation on which parties should be treated as major parties at the general election – more specificially, they are classifying UKIP as a major party along with the usual big three, but not the Greens. This has been widely reported through the prism of the leaders debates, but I think that’s missing the bigger point – the debates will or won’t go ahead depending on the political realities of what the broadcasters can get the leaders to agree to. The more important impact is probably that broadcasters are required to give due weight to all the major parties in their editorial coverage come the election campaign, so UKIP are now ensured an appropriate level of TV coverage, the Greens less so.

From this blog’s point of view it’s also interesting because the polling plays such a role in OfCom making their decision. It’s not one I envy. In making their decision OfCom take into account both past support and current support. In the past this must have been a comparatively easy exercise for OfCom – there were clearly two and a bit main parties (Con, Lab and LD) and this was always the same for both past and current party support. The difficulty now is that past and current support are different – in the last two elections the main parties were clearly Con, Lab and LD. In the last couple of years opinion polls have put UKIP as clearly the third most popular party, with the Liberal Democrats in fourth place and the Greens advancing. One can easily see how the Lib Dems would qualify as a major party on their past support, how UKIP could qualify through their recent support in polls and in local elections, and how the Greens could fall between two stools. It still just draft guidance of course, the consultation is open until next month.