Tony Blair’s legacy

Yesterday I got a strange phone call from a journalist who’d heard there was a poll out showing Blair in a positive light – presumably she meant the ICM poll in today’s Guardian. Despite the rock bottom current approval ratings of Tony Blair, when asked to take into account his whole premiership the figures are not so atrocious. The overwhelming majority (80%) of Labour votes think that he was good for the country, though of course, that is of the remaining rump 30% of voters backing Labour, not the 44% of people who elected him way back in 1997. More meaningfully though 44% of people overall thought he had been good for the country over the last 10 years, far more than the sort of approval ratings he gets these days.

58% of people though thought that he had been a disappointment given the expectations when he first became Prime Ministerm and 64% of voters thought he had been too concerned with foreign policy. Despite the loans for peerages inquiry, 44% of people still agreed that Tony Blair was “an honest kind of guy”. Perhaps given the wording of the questions that isn’t that surprising – polls about Tony Blair over the preceeding decade have shown ratings on things like trust plummet…but he has always remained likeable. A majority of people might well think that Blair is unprincipled, untrustworthy and ineffective, but a majority of people have always continued to think that he is a normal, likeable sort of chap.

From now on, I suspect his ratings will gradually climb – everyone can see the positives in an ex-leader, the staunchest Tory started to notice Neil Kinnock’s oratorical skills after he was no longer Labour leader; now he is no longer Tory chief William Hague regularly tops YouGov’s brandindex ratings of politicians. After the initial announcement in October 2004 that Tony Blair was to stand down after a third term his ratings shot up in Populus’s monthly poll and a YouGov poll last month suggested that people already think that history will treat Tony Blair more kindly in hindsight – only 24% of people told YouGov they thought Blair had done a good or excellent job, with 45% thinking he had done a poor or very poor job. In contrast, asked how history would view him, 32% thought he’d be seen as a pretty good or very good PM, with only 30% thinking history will view him negatively.

Still, Blair’s ratings now are largely academic – in 7 weeks time he will be history.

With the results from the Scottish election in, how did the pollsters do? All the pollsters underestimated the level of Conservative support in the constituency section (and all by the same amount), Populus’s Labour support was too low and YouGov’s SNP support too high, leaving ICM as the most accurate in the constituency section.

Constituency Vote

RESULT YouGov ICM Populus
Conservative 16.6 -3.6 -3.6 -3.6
Labour 32.2 -1.2 -0.2 -3.2
Lib Dem 16.2 -2.2 -0.2 -1.2
SNP 32.9 4.1 1.1 -0.1
Average Error 2.8 1.7 2.0

Polling predictions were closer in the regional vote, with all three pollsters have an average error below 2% on the 4 main parties. Populus and ICM’s figures for the Liberal Democrats were both noticably high, but very accurate figures for the other parties meant Populus ended up with the figures closest to the actual result. YouGov were close behind, but got the balance of support amongst the smaller parties wrong, overestimating the level of support for the Greens – this is perhaps the result of switching to including all the minor parties in their question prompt for their last few polls. The final YouGov poll not to prompt using minor parties would have had an average error of 2.0% for the main 4 parties, and 1.6% if you included the Greens – suggesting it would have been less accurate on the main parties, but more accurate for the Green share of the vote. That said, it was done in the middle of April, so voting intention could have changed over the last couple of weeks of the campaign.

Regional Vote

RESULT YouGov ICM Populus
Conservative 13.9 -0.9 -0.9 0.1
Labour 29.2 -2.2 -0.2 -1.2
Lib Dem 11.3 -1.3 4.7 3.7
SNP 31.0 1.0 -1.0 0.0
Green 4.0 5.0 0.0 0.0
Average Error 1.4 1.7 1.3
Average Error (excld. Greens) 2.1 1.4 1.0

There weren’t any polls for the local elections, but Rallings and Thrasher predicted notional national shares of the vote of CON 39%, LAB 24%, LDEM 29%. In the event, the notional shares have been calculated as being around CON 40%, LAB 26%, LDEM 26%. Rallings and Thrasher projected that the Conservatives would gain around 330 seats, Labour lose around 500 and the Lib Dems gain around 110, the Labour prediction was almost bang on, but the Conservatives ended up gaining almost 900 and the Lib Dems losing almost 250. Rallings and Thrasher’s projections based on local by-elections have been wrong for two years in a row now, and this time there was no foreign prisoner release scandal to explain it. I suspect that the Liberal Demomcrat’s honed expertise (and the Conservative’s relative incompetence) at by-elections these days simply means that by-elections are not as good a guide to future performance in local elections as they once were.

Finally, the Welsh polls were pretty poor, generally under-reporting Conservative support and overestimating Plaid Cymru’s support. Beaufort’s average error was 3.2% in the constituency section and 3.0% on the regional vote. NOP did well in the constituency section, with an average error of 1.9%, but less so in the regional vote with an average error of 3.5%. Again, it’s worth noting that none of these were eve-of-poll predictions, so it could just be that voting intention changed in the final days of the campaign.