The teaching of evolution is a big issue in the USA – the archive has whole pages of opinion polls on evolution.

Polls in the UK don’t ask about evolution, after all, we don’t need to. Apart from the controversy over Emmanuel College Gateshead a couple of years ago it simply isn’t an issue here – we don’t have the same brand of vocal Christianity here, we don’t have a written constitution that can be used for court challenges over the issue and we don’t have a long history of battles over the teaching of evolution. Charles Darwin is such an establishment figure he is on the ten pound note.

A BBC Horizon programme last week covering the recent court case over the teaching of intelligent design in US schools commissioned a MORI poll asking what people in Britain thought. 48% of people in Britain thought the theory of evolution best described their view, 17% thought intelligent design best described their view and, startlingly, 22% of British people thought creationism best described their view.

The wording of the question seems fair enough – a potential problem is that people can understand creationism to simply mean believing that God created the universe, perhaps using evolution as a tool, MORI though specifically described it as “God created human kind pretty much in his/her present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”. MORI’s description of evolution could, perhaps, be seen to imply that belief in evolution was incompatible with belief in God, but even so, the percentage saying they believed in creationism seems to be straightforward.

Asked which of the theories should be taught in “science classes”, 69% thought that evolution should, with 15% thinking it shouldn’t. 44% of people think that creationism should be taught in science classes, 39% think it shouldn’t. 41% think that “intelligent design” should be taught in science classes, 40% that it shouldn’t.

There is still, however, a huge gap between British and American beliefs on evolution. A US poll with comparable questions by CBS News in October 2005 found 48% of Americans believed in creationism, 29% thought that evolution had been guided by God and only 15% believed man had evolved from less developed life forms but God had no role in the process.

MORI’s monthly political monitor isn’t quite as grim for the Liberal Democrats as their poll for the Sun earlier this month. The topline figures, with changes from their previous poll, are CON 40% (+1), LAB 38%(-1), LDEM 17%(+2). This probably doesn’t reflect a Lib Dem recovery just yet – the fieldwork was actually carried out before or immediately after Mark Oaten’s resignation – it is more likely to be normal sample error or the minor effects of using a different sampling method (the MORI poll in the Sun was a phone poll, this was a face-to-face poll).

Asked who they would like to see as the next Liberal Democrat leader 57% of people said don’t know or none of the above. Of those who did express a preference, Ming Campbell was the preferred leader of 19% of respondents with Hughes on 18%. Chris Huhne clearly had not been noticed by the public at the time – he had only 2% support, compared to 1% support for “Stewart Lewis” – MORI’s ‘dummy’ candidate they like to put into questions like this to see how many people are just picking a name at random.

Finally David Cameron’s ratings remain positive – his approval rating is now +15 with 52% of people still not having made up their minds. As MORI point out in their commentary, this is not hugely different from Michael Howard, IDS, or indeed Tony Blair when they first became leader of their respective parties. All began with positive numbers and large numbers of don’t knows. The difference was that when those don’t knows made their minds up about Michael Howard and IDS they decided they didn’t like them, whereas Tony Blair’s don’t knows decided that they did approve of him. It remains to be seen what all those don’t knows eventually decide about David Cameron.


A new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph suggests that 39% of Liberal Democrat voters would prefer to have Charles Kennedy back as their leader, while 47% would still like a new leader (though bearing in mind that this is a normal sized sample, the sub-sample of Lib Dem voters is so small that the margin of error on the question will be huge.) Overall 80% of respondents said that the Lib Dems’ recent travails don’t make them any less likely to vote Liberal Democrat.

The topline figures, with changes from ICM’s poll conducted last weekend, are CON 37%(nc), LAB 36%(nc), LDEM 18%(-1). Part of any potential damage from Mark Oaten’s resignation would have been reflected in the poll conducted last weekend, but overall this suggests only slight damage. Matthew d’Ancona’s column in the Sunday Telegraph says that “The Lib Dems will be disappointed with their showing in our ICM poll today” – I rather suspect he’s wrong. After a torrid month I think the Liberal Democrats will be rather happy with 18% in ICM’s poll – at least they’ll be happier with this than the 13% and 15% they have in YouGov and MORI’s latest polls. That said compared to ICM’s polls last month, prior to the Liberal Democrats’ recent troubles, they are still down 3 points.

So, why the huge difference in the Lib Dem score between ICM and YouGov? The polls were conducted almost simultaneously and both pollsters’ figures are very stable. It is probably partially due to ICM’s weighting, which is slightly more favourable to the Lib Dems than other pollsters, and it is possible (though we won’t know until the full tables go up on ICM’s website) that it’s also partially due to ICM’s topline adjustment. Part of the reason for the decline in the Liberal Democrat’s vote in YouGov’s poll was that a larghe chunk of respondents who told YouGov they voted Lib Dem back in 2005 are now saying they don’t know how they’d vote. ICM’s topline adjustment means they assume that 50% of don’t knows vote the same way they did last time, potentially increasing Lib Dem support in the poll.

UPDATE: ICM’s topline adjustment to take account of don’t knows did indeed help the Liberal Democrats, although it only increased their reported level of support by 1 point, so it certainly doesn’t explain much of the 5 point difference.

YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph has the Labour party regaining the lead after a collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote. The headline figures with changes from last month are CON 39%(+1) LAB 40%(+4) LDEM 13%(-5). The poll was conducted between Tuesday and Thursday, so was after Mark Oaten’s resignation but mostly before Simon Hughes admitted having had homosexual relationships.

The survey demonstrates that the ongoing chaos within the Liberal Democrats has done severe damage to their level of support. While the poll was still conducted “mid-crisis” and it’s likely that, once the immediate negative newspaper coverage has passed, their support will recover somewhat the sheer size of the fall in Liberal Democrat support suggests that they may have suffered permanent damage. The Lib Dems are now 10 points lower than the level of support they achieved at the general election – almost halving their support. Excluding MORI’s polls prior to their change in methodology, we need to go back to prior to the 2001 election to find such low figures.

While the poll is bad for the Liberal Democrats, it certainly isn’t good for the Conservatives either. While the level of Conservative support continues to grow – it is the Labour party that has gained almost all of the spoils from the Liberal Democrat decline, suggesting that any decline in third party support may end up bolstering Labour rather than helping the Conservatives.

I’ll post on the other questions on the poll tomorrow. For now a brief note on seat projections – it’s rather silly to speculate about how votes would translate into seats in Parliament based on polls four years before an election but everyone does it “just for fun”, as Peter Snow used to say. There are no swing calculators based on the new boundaries but, if you put these figures into Martin Baxter’s calculator based on the old boundaries, you end up with the Lib Dems reduced to only 2 seats (Alistair Carmichael and Charlie Kennedy). The reason it’s so extreme is because Martin’s calculator is based upon a proportional swing – i.e. the Lib Dems have lost 43% of their vote at the last election so their vote in each seat is reduced by 43%. Standard uniform swing calculators on the other hand are done on the asumption that parties’ votes change by the same amount in each seat – i.e. the Lib Dem vote falls by 10 percentage points in each seat. This would leave the Lib Dems with about 21 seats if they got 13% of the vote.

Both systems have their faults – it’s obviously absurd for the Lib Dem vote to fall by 10% in seats where they currently have less than 10% of the vote, but it’s also unlikely that it would fall by as much as 23% their safests seats. If people voted this way in a real general election the real figure would probably be somewhere inbetween.

UPDATE – the Telegraph also report approval ratings for Blair and Cameron and some questions on the Lib Dem leadership. Cameron’s net approval rating is still +22, compared to other recent Tory leaders this is very high indeed. However, don’t knows stood at 44% in the question. When Michael Howard became Tory leader he had quite positive figures because of the high level of don’t knows. After a while those don’t knows decided they didn’t like Howard after all and his ratings fell. It remains to be seen which way all those don’t knows fall when they make their minds up about David Cameron.

On the Liberal Democrats 61% of the public said they didn’t know who they would prefer as Lib Dem leader. Of the minority who did have a view, Simon Hughes just pipped Menzies Campbell as the favourite (18% to 16%), Chris Huhne was the favoured candidate of 5% of people. The low proportion of people giving an opinion is hardly surprising – a Populus poll this week found that only 41% of people could recognise Menzies Campbell, 34% of people could recognise Simon Hughes and 4% of people recognised Chris Huhne.

Finally YouGov asked respondents if they thought, given recent events, the Liberal Democrats were a credible force in British politics. 27% thought they hadn’t been anyway, 30% thought they were not a credible force, and 29% thought they were.

ICM Monthly Poll

ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has Labour and the Conservatives unchanged from last month, though Labour have narrowed the gap since ICM’s poll in the News of the World earlier this month. The topline figures with changes from the ICM/News of the World poll are CON 37%(-2) LAB 36%(+1) LD 19%(-1).

The Lib Dems are down one point – in itself an insignificant change. However, it does mean that all the pollsters now have the Liberal Democrats below 20%. The fieldwork for the poll was conducted between Friday and Sunday, meaning that only around a third of interviews were conducted after Mark Oaten’s resignation.