Over the New Year the Times had an end of year YouGov poll, conducted in mid-December. The tables went up on the YouGov website today here. Topline figures were CON 39%, LAB 29%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 17%, GRN 3%. The rest of the poll, covering a lot of the trackers that YouGov used to ask on the regular daily polls, illustrate some of the real problems facing Labour as well as a couple of opportunities.
The net doing well/doing badly figures for the party leaders are minus 6 for David Cameron, minus 13 for Tim Farron, minus 18 for Nigel Farage and minus 32 for Jeremy Corbyn. Not long into the job Corbyn already has pretty dire figures (to be fair, they are up since YouGov last asked when it was minus 41 – albeit at the time of the Syria vote). On who would make the best Prime Minister David Cameron has a solid twenty-six point lead over Corbyn, on 49% to Corbyn’s 23%.
However, on any “best PM” questions we need to keep in mind that Cameron probably won’t be there. Corbyn still trails behind the likely replacements for Cameron, but not by quite as much, head-to-head against Boris he would be fourteen points behind (Boris 43%, Corbyn 29%), head-to-head against Osborne he would be twelve points behind (Osborne 39%, Corbyn 27%).
Asked about which party they’d trust to handle the big issues of the day Labour are ahead on their reliable banker of the NHS (though by only seven points) and on housing (by five points). The two parties are essentially neck-and-neck on education (Con 28%, Lab 27%) and on immigration UKIP lead (29%, to the Tories on 24% and Labour on 15%). On law and order and on economic issues the Tories lead – on tax by 13 points, the economy in general by 23 points, on unemployment by 12 points.
Unemployment is an interesting one here. As I’ve written many times before “best party on issues” questions tend to move in tandem, if the Conservatives improve on education, they also improve on tax, on housing, on transport and so on. Each party has strong and weak issues (so Labour will always do better on the NHS, the Conservatives will always do better on crime) but a lot of the change in figures seems to actually reflect underlying perceptions of a party’s general competence, rather than their specific statements or policies on that subject. What is really interesting on these questions therefore is when a measure moves relative to other ones – over time unemployment appears to have done so. If you go back to old Gallup or MORI questions from the 1980s and 90s, under Thatcher and Major unemployment became an issued “owned” by the Labour party, up there with the NHS. Whatever their other failings, people trusted Labour with the issue of unemployment. A decade ago YouGov were giving the Labour party a lead of 13 points on the NHS, and 25 points on unemployment. Now it’s switched over, the NHS is still a safe issue for Labour, but unemployment is an issue where people trust the Conservatives.
The other economic questions in the survey were also relatively optimistic (or in the case of personal economic expectations, not as pessimistic as in the past). By 35% to 26% people now think the economy is in a good state, and 21% of people expect to be financially better off in the coming year, compared to 25% who expect to be worse off.
Improving economic expectations are a two edged sword for the government of course. At one level, George Osborne still has a lot of cuts to make to hit his targets, and if people think the economic problems of the country are solved it will be harder for him to sell them to the public. Equally, as perceptions of the economy improve people stop worrying about it. On the question of which issues are most important to the country the economy was practically nailed on to the top spot for years after the financial crisis began in 2007-2008. For a while seventy to eighty percent of people regularly named it as a major issue facing the country. Then, as the economy improved, it started to fall. By 2014 it began to dip below immigration, now it’s down in third place behind health, with just a third naming it as an important issue. Despite the Conservative party’s current strong position in voting intention, UKIP and Labour are the parties people trust the most on what they see as the two big issues facing the country, immigration and health. Then again, perhaps that just illustrates that it’s not really issues that drive voting intentions.
Finally YouGov are still finding a very close EU referendum race – 41% would vote to stay, 42% would vote to leave.