As you’ll have no doubt spotted from the copious library footage of cigar-smoking fat men in fedoras on the news bulletins, Ken Clarke has lumbered into the ring to contest the Conservative leadership again. You can’t be a perennial Conservative leadership contender for a decade without having had quite a few polling questions asked about you, so what do the polls say about Ken Clarke?

The first, and most obvious, thing to point out is that Ken is the most popular contender. As I write there have been four polls asking the general public who they would prefer as Conservative leader; Ken Clarke had a good lead in all four.

Obviously this doesn’t mean he will necessarily do well. With the honourable exception of YouGov’s poll of party members on the one occasion that Conservative party members actually elected the leader, opinion polls have been a remarkably poor predictor of who will win a Conservative leadership election. In 1990 the public told ICM that Heseltine was their preferred candidate, in the 1997 leadership election Clarke was the first choice of more people than the other four candidates combined. In 2001 Clarke lead, with almost double the support of Michael Portillo. In October 2003, just prior to the ousting of IDS, YouGovfound that the public’s preferred leader of the Conservative party was – surprise, surprise – Ken Clarke. Ken has been the public’s choice for Conservative party leader for the last ten years, for what little good it’s done him (in comparison, in each of those polls the eventual winners of the subsequent leadership election were backed by 9%(Major), 9% (Hague), 7% (IDS) and 3% (Howard))

Ken Clarke’s remarkable popularity in questions like this is probably down to a mixture of three factors: recognition, ideological stance, and genuine likeability. In recent polls a large factor in Clarke’s lead is almost certainly recognition – respondents haven’t a clue who the other names they are presented with are. Prior to the 2003 “contest” Populus asked if various potential leaders would make people more or less likely to vote Conservative – the most common answer for David Davis, Theresa May, Oliver Letwin and Michael Ancram was that people had never even heard of them – only 10% of people said this about Ken Clarke. While David Davis has presumably become a more recognisable figure since then, Ken Clarke is still head and shoulders above other candidates in terms of recognition – last month Populus asked people to name various Tory politicians from photographs – only 6% could name David Cameron, only 27% could name David Davis and even Ken Clarke was only named by 50% of respondents.

Secondly there is Ken’s ideology. A survey that asks the whole country who they would like as Tory leader includes an awful lot of people with left of centre views, who naturally find Ken Clarke’s views the closest to their own. Ken Clarke is the favourite Tory politician of the left in the same way that many Conservatives will sing the praises of Frank Field and Kate Hoey. A another recent poll on the leadership, carried out by YouGov, asked only Conservative members and voters. In this poll Ken trailed behind David Davis, so it seems Ken is less popular amongst Conservatives than amongst non-Conservatives.

This is not necessarily a bad thing – part of his platform is that he can win the votes of people who don’t currently vote Conservative – but if his support is confined to people who would never vote Conservative, while alienating those who currently vote Conservative, it would hardly be a positive. The two groups of voters that matter therefore are those who currently vote Conservative, and those who don’t, but might be pursuaded to. There have been a few polls of Conservative voters that asked about the leadership, and they have shown contrasting results. Populus have found that Ken Clarke is the most popular candidate, even amongst current Tory voters, albeit with a much lower margin over Davis than amongst the public as a whole. YouGov on the other hand found that Ken Clarke came second amongst Tory voters, with 23% making him their first or second choice. Unfortunately 42% of people named him as the candidate they definitely wouldn’t want as leader. There is, therefore, a question mark over Clarke’s popularity amongst current Conservative voters, presumably due to his past refusual to compromise on his pro-European views.

What about people who don’t vote Conservative though? Populus’s July poll broke down figures for “swing voters” – i.e those people who told Populus they might change their voting intention before the next election. This demographic group had the strongest support for Clarke, with 30% chosing him as the best potential leader, compared to 9% for Davis. So part of Ken Clarke’s appeal in polls does seem to be due to his support amongst non-Conservatives, but these are not write offs, in fact his support seems to be strongest amongst people who might switch to the party.

Finally there is Clarke’s own personal affability. Ken Clarke hasn’t always been popular, as Education Secretary he was loathed and as Health Secretary just before Margaret Thatcher was deposed in 1990, he was one of the only ministers who ICM asked about who had a lower satisfaction rating than Thatcher herself (Thatcher’s was -12, Clarke’s was -42, Major +20, Hurd +28). In recent years he has cultivated an affable, blokish sort of image, and is indisputably a “big beast”. Back during the 2001 leadership election, ICM asked people about whether various descriptions could be applied to Ken Clarke with positive results, particularly amongst former Conservative voters who had abandoned the party, former Tories thought he was a natural leader, a potential PM and that he recognised the need for change. They rejected the idea that Clarke was extreme, arrogant or out of date. So, while part of Clarke’s popularity in the polls is because of his recognition and ideological stance, part of it is simply because he has a likeable image.

So, leaving aside whether people like the man or not, would he actually win extra votes? In the same way that polls asking how people would vote were Gordon Brown Labour leader invariably show whopping great Labour leads, with Clarke’s apparant popularity you might expect a similar pattern when voters are asked how they would vote were Ken Clarke leader of the Tories. The pattern is actually far less clear.

Questions asking if people would be more or less likely to vote Tory with Clarke in charge have shown mixed results. Back in 2001 when William Hague was in charge, ICM found people would have been significantly less likely to vote Tory if Ken had been leader, a month later after Hague’s resignation ICM found that Ken would, on balance, make people very slightly more likely to vote Tory. By the end of IDS’s brief leadership, people told YouGov and Populus they would be significantly more likely to vote Tory with Ken in charge.

I have only been able to find one poll that actually asked voting intention, and then asked it a second time, imagining that Ken Clarke was leader – it was carried out by YouGov in February 2003. Normal voting intention was CON 32%, LAB 37%. If Ken Clarke was leader, people said they would vote CON 30%, LAB 37% – in other words, Ken’s imaginary leadership lost support.

So, while Ken Clarke is pretty indisputably popular, and what’s more popular with the right people, the only time that people have said that his leadership alone would make them significantly more likely to vote Tory was when they were comparing it to the final weeks of IDS’s leadership.

A mixed bag so far. I’ll leave you with two issues that will inevitably face Clarke’s campaign – his age and his views on Europe. Back in March 2002 Radio 4 commissioned ICM to conduct a focus group of Tory party members on the Conservative leadership for them. One of the exercises was to imagine that IDS had resigned, and to select a new leader from a list of 12 using a “weakest link” type knockout. After IDS himself had been eliminated the first one to go was Clarke – not because of his Europhilia, but because of his age. That was four years ago. Now, no pollster has asked “Is Ken Clarke too old?” – the closest we have is a Populus poll from last month, which asked which characteristics people thought were desirable or undesirable in a new leader. The characteristic that elicited the most negative response, by some distance, was for a candidate to be in their mid-60s. Ken Clarke is 65.

It is obviously too soon for there to have been any polls on Ken Clarke’s views on Europe since his announcement earlier this week that he had been wrong to back the Euro, and that Britain would not enter in his lifetime. Back in 2001 though ICM found that 69% of Tory voters thought that a Clarke leadership would split the party over the Euro. The important figures though are probably these ones, from MORI, which show which issues facing the country people think are the most important. Here is a graph, drawn by Chris Lightfoot, showing how the saliance of the issue of the Europe has declined in recent years. Whether or not people think Clarke has changed his mind on Europe or not, he will be relying on the fact that people simply don’t seem to care as much about the EU as they once did.

Last night I reported YouGov’s findings on abortion and the use of embryos for research – today I’ll cover the rest of the poll, which examined stem-cell research, cloning, euthanasia and “designer babies”.

As you might have noticed, the stem cell question on the Telegraph’s table doesn’t make sense – the use of stem cell research in what “way” exactly? The actual YouGov question refered to scientists using cloned embryos as a source of stem cells to treat diseases such as Alzheimers, diabetes and heart disease, and asked respondents when, if ever, this was acceptable. A large majority (80%) of respondents did support scientists using stem cells from cloned embryos in some circumstances, but the majority of people qualified their support to some extent. 20% supported the use of stem cells from clones for only life threatening illnesses, a further 25% supported it for all serious illness, while another 27% supported it for all medical purposes, but not cosmetic ones. Only 7% would support the use of embryonic stem cells for cosmetic purposes.

Asked about cloning for reproductive purposes the survey suggested found a high level of opposition. 60% of people thought that reproductive cloning should be illegal for at least the foreseeable future, half of them thought it should be illegal forever. 20% thought it should be legal only for couples with infertility problems, with only 10% of respondents thinking it should be legal in general. The question specifically asked about people’s attitudes to cloning, “assuming the cloning of babies was proved safe for both the baby and the woman carrying it,” so in theory this should represent opposition above and beyond what fears respondents may have about the safety of cloning.

YouGov went on to ask about whether people felt well enough informed to make decisions about things like stem cell research and cloning: 60% of respondents said they did not. So, while respondents were mainly opposed to reproductive cloning and broadly supportive, although with caveats, towards the use of stem cells from cloned embryos, most also thought that they didn’t have enough knowledge of the subject to make informed decisions.

Moving on, the YouGov survey showed strong support for euthanasia. Asked if they thought “that people who are terminally ill should have the right to decide when they want to die and to ask for medical assistance to help them die if they are unable to end their own lives” 87% said yes, with only 6% opposed. Asked if people should be able to assist the suicides of close relatives without fear of prosecution, 67% said yes.

YouGov then asked about a number of potential negative effects were euthanasia to be legalised. Despite the previous apparant support for euthanasia, 51% of respondents thought that elderly people would feel pressured to seek euthanasia, 47% of respondents thougth it would lead to a significant number of murders disguised as euthanasia and 21% thought it would lead to worse levels of care for the terminally ill. Only 14% thought there would be no negative effects. Personally I’d have liked to see a follow up question to see if people thought the desirability of allowing people the right to seek euthanasia outweighed these negative effects or not, but there goes.

On a related subject YouGov also asked respondents if there was a “significant moral difference” between doctors ended the life of a patient in a permanent coma by withdrawing nutrition or by giving them a fatal dose of morphine (the wording of the question was carefully but so that both instances were presented as “hastening the patient’s death”). 37% of patients thought there was a moral difference, 54% thought there was no significant difference.

Finally YouGov asked about “designer babies” – i.e. modifying or screening the genetic make-up of babies before they are born in order to select specific characteristics. Respondents attitudes followed a strong pattern in these questions – about 20% of people were steadfastly opposed to any sort of designer babies, while most other respondents were in favour of genetic screening or modifications in order to prevent serious genetic disorders. Only a tiny proportion (2%) of respondents thought that genetic screening should be allowed for purposes like making children more intelligent or increasing their sporting prowess.

So far in the UK permission has been granted for at least one “designer baby” in order to provide a bone marrow match for a seriously ill sibling (although the parents have not yet managed to have another baby), and it has been suggested that selection by gender should be allowed in IVF treatment. YouGov asked about both these situations. While a majority (58%) of people supported “designer babies” to provide donors to save the life of siblings, there was very strong opposition to screening embryos by gender; 77% were opposed, with only 14% in favour.

So, as the Telegraph’s editorial yesterday said, people’s opinions on medical ethics are a bit, well, woolly. People support euthanasia, despite agreeing it might have horrible consequences. They support abortion, but would like to see it tightened up in some way. They dislike cloning, apart from for stem cells to treat illnesses, and don’t mind experimentation on embryos for medical purposes, as long as they are only “spare embryos” left over from IVF treatment.

Though it wasn’t published in the Telegraph, the YouGov poll on abortion, medical ethics and so on also included YouGov’s monthly political tracker questions (the figures should be up on the YouGov website shortly). The topline voting intention figures, with changes from last month, were CON 33%(+2), LAB 40%(nc), LDEM 20%(-1).

Most of the trackers showed the government’s popularity slowing reverting to type after the spike that followed the London bombings. As well as their lead over the Conservatives in voting intention falling 2 points, the government’s net approval rating fell from -12 to -18; this compares to -19 immediately prior to the London bombings. The percentage of people thinking Tony Blair would make the best PM has fallen four points to 36%, compared to 37% prior to the bombing.

While YouGov’s Telegraph polls don’t track approval ratings for the Prime Minister, it does seems as though the public support for the government in the face of terrorist attack how now begun to dissipate.

Today’s Telegraph carried an extensive YouGov poll on abortion, embryo research and related topics. There were a couple of polls on abortion earlier this year when Michael Howard indicated he wouild favour a tighter time limit on abortion. They showed that somewhere between a quarter and a third of people supported the current 24 week limit, with most other people favouring a shorter time limit. There was very little support for the complete prohibition of abortion. Today’s YouGov poll shows similar figures.

YouGov found that only a quarter of people support the current 24 week limit, with 58% of people favouring a tighter limit. A 20 week limit was the most popular choice, supported by 30% of respondents. Only small minorities supported allowing abortions up until birth (2%) or totally outlawing abortion (6%). The wording of the question specifically pointed out that premature babies born as early as the 23rd week have been able to survive; this does not, however, seem to have made much difference to the answer – a YouGov poll back in March asked about abortion time limits without mentioning this and found an almost identical 26% of people supported the 24 week limit.

Asked if, time limits aside, abortions were too easy to obtain in this country, the majority (51%) of people thought that the balance was about right, although there is a significant body of opinion (30%) that think that abortions are too easy to obtain. Asked if women are using abortion as a form of contraception, around a quarter of respondents thought that this was common behaviour, 67% thought such behaviour was either confined to just a few, or almost no women.

Finally on the subject of abortion, YouGov asked if it should be free “on demand” on the NHS. There are actually two different concepts here: whether it should be publicly funded, and whether it should be available “on demand” – legally abortions in the UK are not available on demand, two doctors (one in an emergency) must decide that continuing the pregnancy would be detrimental to the mother, the child or the mother’s other children’s physical or mental health. For whatever reason, this question showed the sharpest divide – 41% thought that abortions should be available on demand on the NHS, 48% thought they shouldn’t. While on other abortion questions there were no large differences between age groups, on this question there was; amongst under 30s 53% thought that abortion should be free on demand, while amongst over 50s, 61% thought it should not.

YouGov then moved on to the subject of embryo research. Slighty over two-thirds of respondents were happy with “spare” early embryos from IVF treatment being used for medical research, with only 20% opposed. Opposition rose drastically though when it came to the question of creating embryos specifically for experimentation – 46% were opposed, with 41% in support.

YouGov then asked a serious of questions governing the rights of embryos, how the law should govern the use of embryos and what sort of research justified their use. Responses fell into three broad groups: about a sixth of respondents were broadly opposed to using embryos in research – they thought that the rights of the embryo outweighed the rights of parents, and embryos should have the same rights as human babies. A slightly smaller proportion (11%) of people thought that it was completely unacceptable to use embryos in medical research.

A second broad group of respondents, numbering somewhere around a fifth of respondents, took the view that early embryos were really not human beings and therefore there should be no legal protection, and that it should be up to parents how the embryos are used. The rest, making the up the majority of respondents, didn’t really think that early embryos were really human beings and thought their rights should come second to patients, but thought their use should be limited by law nevertheless. A majority (54%) of respondents thought they should be used only for research into life threatening illnesses.

The poll also included questions on euthanasia, cloning and “designer babies”, which I will cover tomorrow.

There is a little press release spat going on between the Tobacco Manufacturers Association and ASH, the anti-smoking pressure group over a poll published by ASH earlier this week. The poll, carried out by the BMRB, claimed to show that 73% of people would support a complete ban on smoking in pall workplaces, including all restaurants and pubs, some of which are to be excluded from the government’s proposed ban. A couple of hours later, the Tobacco Manufacturers Association hit back with a press release claiming that the figures were distorted and that in reality less than a third of people supported a total ban. So, what’s the real picture?

Obviously where you are allowed to smoke is a long running argument and both sides like to use rival opinion polls to demonstrate that everyone agrees with them. You get issues like this sometimes, business support for the Euro was one (which resulted in a long running argument between ICM and MORI about whether businesses with under 10 employees should be included in such surveys or not), fox hunting was another.

The simple picture is this – if you conduct polls that ask a straight yes or no question about whether people would approve of a complete smoking ban in pubs, about two-thirds say yes.

If, on the other hand, you ask people what they would like done about smoking in pubs, and give them a list of options such as a complete ban, or making all pubs have a no-smoking area, or better ventilation or so on, then most people opt for making pubs have no smoking sections (or making pubs no smoking with special smoking sections, which amounts to much the same thing) and against having an overall ban.

In the first group there is the recent BMRB poll commissioned by ASH, but there are also several polls commissioned by non-partisan companies. In an ICM survey for the BBC back in July 2004 they asked whether “the Government should ban smoking in enclosed public spaces such as pubs and restaurants” – 65% of people thought they should. A second ICM survey for the Guardian, in October 2004, asked if respondents approved or disapproved “of a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, such as pubs, restaurants and offices?” 66% of people approved. A YouGov poll for KPMG found almost identical results – 64% supported a ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants. So, all the recent polls seem to agree on a figure of around two-thirds support.

Meanwhile, if you ask people how they would like to see smoking in pubs dealt with, and give them a list of possible options including things other than an outright ban, you get very different results. The Office of National Statistics carry out an annual poll that asks about attitudes to smoking. It shows that around 65% of people would like “restrictions” on smoking, but asked what sort of restrictions people would like to see only 31% say they would like a complete ban; most people prefer seperate smoking and non-smoking areas.

Populus have done at least two polls with this sort of question design. A May 2004 poll on behalf of Forest found that only 24% of people supported a total ban, a May 2005 poll, this time for the TMA, found that only 26% wanted a complete ban. In both cases respondents were given alternative choices to a straightforward ban, and in both cases respondents preferred to have smoking and non-smoking sections in pubs. If you ask the question in this way, then support for a total ban stands somewhere between a quarter and a third.

So, what’s really happening is that the anti-smoking lobby and the Tobacco lobby are both telling the truth, both their figures are accurate and supported by figures from various different companies. They are just measuring entirely different things. Given a free choice of how best to deal with smoky pubs, people prefer to opt for only partial bans, with smoking sections in non-smoking pubs or vice-versa. A complete ban is only the first choice of a minority of people, most people prefer a more tolerant approach. However, if a government was going to actually introduce a total ban, then the majority of people would be supportive of it. The obvious implication is that there is a substantial section of people out there whose personal preference would be to have smoking and non-smoking sections in pubs, but if it was introduced would also be supportive of a total ban.

What the polls do tend to agree on is that support for a smoking ban seems to be rising – the annual ONS surveys have seen support for smoking restrictions in pubs rise from 48% back in 1996 to 65% in 2004. Given alternative options, support for a total ban went from 20% in 2003 to 31% in 2004. Back in 2001 a similar BMRB poll for the TMA showed only 17% in support of a total ban.

Finally it’s worth remembering that the govenment’s actual proposals is not to ban smoking in all pubs, but to ban it in pubs that serve food. AYouGov poll in June 2005 found that 50% of people were strongly in favour of the actual proposal, with a further 29% favouring it on balance. Only 7% were strongly opposed. This is up very slightly from an indentical question last November, when 47% were strongly supportive.