There are bucketloads of American websites that collate opinion polls, comment on the latest figures and try to predict election results. Rather than try to do any analysis myself, here is a round up of the some of the best links for those of you interested in following the US polls.

Polling Report is the best known US polls site, but you’ll have to pay to see any of the state level polling
Mark Blumenthal, late of, now blogs at
as does Professor Charles Franklin, who also maintains his own blog at Political Arithmatik. also has graphs of all the recent state and district polls for the mid-term elections.
Crosstabs is another US polling blog, written by several professional pollsters
Electoral-Vote is a daily projection of the results based on the latest polling data (and like Pollster, has graphs of the latest polls for each race).
Majority Watch is a project conducted by two polling companies, Constituent Dynamics and RT Strategies, which is regularly conducted automated telephone polls in the most contested seats in the House of Representatives to create a rolling prediction of the result.

ICM/NUS – 74% of people (in general, not potential students) think that the rising cost of getting a degree will put people off applying.
ICM/Department of Education – proportion of people thinking that education is getting better has fallen over the last year, discipline is the worst problem and the overwhelming majority of people think is it getting worse. 56% think school food is getting better.
YouGov/Telegraph – the rest of YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph suggests the public think there is no clear idea what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can’t win and we should withdraw.
Populus/Channel 4 – on British Muslims and freedom of speech. 62% of people think the West should be more respectful of Islamic traditions and beliefs, but 58% say we should be allowed to say anything we like within the law even if it does offend Muslims. 53% think protests by Muslim extremists are threatening freedom of speech in this country.
Populus/BBC – 67% think Madonna should be allowed to adopt David Banda
Populus/BBC – 62% think faith schools in general are divisive, 47% think that Christian schools are fine, but Muslims schools would be a problem. 38% think all religion should be kept out of schools, with 61% disagreeing.
ICM/Observer – apparantly 96% of us are ardent recyclers…or it’s a classic example of an “are you a heartless bastard?” question. In voting polls questions are always couched in words like “At the general election in May last year, many people didn’t vote. If you did vote in the general election could you tell me which party you voted for?” to try and make it as easy as possible for people to admit to doing things that might be seen as socially irresponsible, such as not being bothered to vote. If you want realistic answers the same sort of thing should be done on questions asking people about how ethical their own behaviour is towards the environment.


There is somewhat less confusion about the actual state of the parties with YouGov’s monthly poll, which tallies with the sort of lead produced by ICM and Communicate during the past week. The topline figures with changes from YouGov’s last poll are CON 39% (+3), LAB 32% (-4), LDEM 16% (nc). YouGov’s last poll was conducted immediately after the Labour conference and was probaby the result of a “Blair boost” from his conference speech. Rather than a sudden Conservative boost, this poll looks more like a return to the sort of figures YouGov had been producing prior to the Conference season.

On a forced choice question asking, if they had to choose, whether people would prefer a Labour government led by Gordon Brown or a Conservative government led by David Cameron, Cameron now leads Gordon Brown by 46% to 33%, a thirteen point lead. This compares to a lead of 7 point lead when the same question was asked in September and a 17 point Labour lead at the last election. When YouGov release the full tables for this poll it will be interesting to see how Lib Dem voters split on the question – I’ve always viewed forced choice questions like this as a potential pointer to the way tactical voting may play in the future.

In the last week we’ve had one poll putting Labour at their lowest level since 1987, and another poll giving Labour their largest lead since April. Earlier in the week David Cameron was being asked on the radio why his party was 2 points behind, now a poll shows him 10 points ahead? That’s a 12 point difference in the lead between polls just a week apart. So, whats the real picture?

There are three basic reasons why different polls produce different figures. Firstly the actually level of party support can change, the actual picture might have changed between them. Secondly there are the methodological differences between the pollsters, the way they draw their samples, the way they weight them, the way they take account of turnout and so on. Thirdly there is sample error – the so called “margin of error”.

Underlying party support in Britain is pretty stable – if you graph opinion polls over the last couple of years it’s clear that the only events that have actually shifted political support have been David Cameron’s election as Conservative leader, which moved the Labour and Conservative parties pretty much neck and neck, and the week prior to the local elections when Labour was hit by both John Prescott’s affair and the foreign prisoner release scandal, since when the Conservatives have had a consistent lead.

However, while the underlying picture is quite stable, political events do have a short term effect. For example, Tony Blair’s conference address this year saw his personal ratings shoot up and this was reflected by several voting intention polls that showed a dramatic drop in the Conservative lead.

These short term shocks can explain part of the difference – MORI’s poll was conducted in the middle of October, and was perhaps affected by the tail end of Labour’s fading conference boost. ICM’s poll was conducted when the Conservatives were getting a lot of publicity over the report of their policy commission on taxation, which in theory could have given them a boost.

The second factor is the pollsters’ “house bias”. By that I don’t mean that any of the pollsters actually have a partisan bias, but that the differences in their methodology, the differences in the way they draw their samples, the way they weight them, the different approaches to turnout and so on inevitably have a partisan impact on the figures they produce. If you take an average of all the comparable polls since the last election (i.e. excluding polls outside the regular monthly tracker polls, and those from months when not all four companies produced polls) you get the following figures:

YouGov CON 35.8%, LAB 36.5%, LDEM 17.8% (average Labour lead 0.7%)
Ipsos-MORI CON 35.1%, LAB 36.3%, LDEM 20.8% (average Labour lead 1.2%)
Populus CON 34.5%, LAB 36.2%, LDEM 19.5% (average Labour lead 1.7%)
ICM CON 35.2%, LAB 35.5%, LDEM 20.8% (average Labour lead 0.3%)

Despite all the major differences in methodology, on average there isn’t a great difference in the results the different pollsters produce. The main difference in the reported level of Lib Dem vote, with on average 3 points difference between the lowest (YouGov) and the highest (ICM and MORI), with Populus somewhere inbetween. In terms of Conservative and Labour support, there really isn’t a vast difference between the companies.

While MORI’s last two polls have reported Labour leads in amongst polls by other companies showing Conservative leads, looking at these average figures it’s clear that MORI’s methodology does not produce figures that consistently favour Labour (or at least, hasn’t in the past. There is no guarantee that different methodologies won’t react differently to changed situations). On average ICM produce polls that show a Labour lead around 1 point lower than MORI’s polls, so while 1 point of that 12 point difference might be down to MORI’s methodology being more favour to Labour than ICM’s, it’s only a small part of the picture.

That leaves us with sample error. Opinion polls are generally quoted with a margin of error of 3% or thereabouts. In reality this a polite fiction. The formula used to calculate the margin of error is based on a genuine random sample, in reality samples are a long way from truly random. RDD phone samples used by ICM and Populus exclude people who don’t have a landline, and the 5/6 people who don’t answer or refuse to take part. MORI and YouGov polls don’t use random sampling at all, instead using variations on quota sampling. Add to that the effect of weighting, adjustments and so on. The reality of opinion polling doesn’t bear much resemblence to the mathematical theory.

In reality the margins of error are probably somewhat larger than the statistical formulas suggest*, and for whatever reason, MORI’s polls are slightly more variable than their rivals. Two polls with a margin of error of 3% are almost enough to cover the 8 point difference between ICM’s Labour score and MORI’s Labour score anyway, once you’ve considered that MORI’s real margin of error will be larger than that, potentially sample error alone could explain the whole thing.

So, looking back at the recent polls, ICM have Labour at 29%, MORI have them at 37% – a difference of 8%. Take into account the “house bias” of the two pollsters and the difference comes down to 7%. The fading of Labour’s conference boost and the Conservative publicity boost from their tax proposals could easily have shifted support by a couple of points, leaving us with 5 percentage points or so to explain using sample error. The actual levels of party support are therefore probably somewhere inbetween the two polls, but given that ICM is less volatile than MORI, they are probably somewhat closer to ICM than to MORI. Over the next few days we will have the monthly polls from both YouGov and Populus, which – touch wood – will give us a better idea how the ground really lies.

(*Can we estimate the actual margin of error based on the observed variability of the polls, rather then the theoretical formulas? We can’t take the actual deviation from the average, because polls are taken weeks apart and the actual levels of support that the polls are deviating from is moving as political support shifts. I am not a mathematician, but the best estimate I can come up with is if we adjust the figures to remove the house biases, and then measure the deviation from a rolling average of the adjusted polls (I used a rolling average of the last 8 polls for these calculations). These give a standard deviation of 1.35 for YouGov, 1.62 for ICM, 1.67 for Populus and 2.44 for MORI meaning that, assuming a normal distribution, the actual “margins of error” (the 95% confidence intervals) for the polls are about 2.7% for YouGov, 3.2% for ICM, 3.3% for Populus and 4.9% for MORI.)

ICM’s latest voting intention poll has the lowest level of Labour support since before the 1987 election (according to the Guardian it equals the lowest ever rating by ICM, back in May 1987), and puts them below the symbolic 30% level. It is the largest Conservative lead recorded by ICM since May 1992. The full topline figures, with changes from ICM’s last poll in the Sunday Telegraph, are CON 39%(+1), LAB 29%(-3), LDEM 22%(+2).

On a uniform swing this level of support would still leave the Conservatives 9 seats short of an overall majority, though in practice it is likely that such a reverse in the positions of the parties would be accompanied by changes in the pattern of tactical voting, meaning that the Conservatives might well get an overall majority.

ICM also asked a series of questions about people’s views of the NHS. 55% of people stil lthink the NHS is the envy of the world and 60% think it would give them excellent care if they were unwell. 71% of people say their family and friends have had a good experience with NHS care. Despite all this, the majority (67%) of people would go private instead if they had the money (including 61% of Labour voters). People seem to be broadly positive towards increased privatye sector involvement in the NHS – 70% of all voters think that private companies should be allowed to care for NHS patients.

Asked how well Labour have cared for the NHS, 25% of people think the NHS has improved under Labour, but 30% think it has got worse. 72% think a lot of the extra money spent on the NHS has been spent badly, with only 14% thinking it has been spent well.