The Brown Boost

Two new polls in Saturday’s papers show Labour back in the lead as the “Brown boost” takes effect. A YouGov poll in the Telegraph has headline figures, with changes from the last YouGov poll, of CON 35% (-2), LAB 38% (+3), LDEM 15% (+1). An ICM poll in the Guardian has CON 35% (-2), LAB 39% (+7), LDEM 18% (-3).

The boost in Labour support from Gordon Brown’s accession to the premiership is clear in both polls, both of which were presumably conducted in the days immediately following Brown becoming Prime Minister while he was recieving blanket news coverage. The important questions in the weeks ahead will be firstly – how high will Labour support peak? Will these polls carried out during the euphoria of Brown’s accession be their high watermark, or is there more yet to come?

Secondly, how long will the honeymoon last? Is it just a publicity boost that will fade almost immediately, like the boost in Labour ratings that accompanied Tony Blair’s final conference speech, will it last the summer, or into the new year, or will it be a step change leading to permanently higher Labour support?

Thirdly, when the boost from Brown’s accession subsidies, whether that be next week, next month or next year, where will it settle? Will Labour retain a lead, if not, will the Tory lead be bigger, smaller or the same as with Tony Blair?

Finally, will the Conservatives and the Lib Dems keep their nerve? They are both going to see their support squeezed over the next weeks or months as Labour ride high in the polls. Will their politicians dismiss it as the natural and temporary result of the publicity surrounding Labour’s new leader, or will they start panicing and agitating against their leaders? We shall see.

There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Economist – it was carried out prior to Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister, so we still await the first opinion poll actually conducted with Brown in office.

YouGov asked about whether people thought a Brown or Cameron government would or would not do a number of things. Looking at taxation first, Brown still has the reputation as a tax raiser: 53% think taxes will go up with him as PM, 31% think they’ll stay the same and only 2% think they will fall. That said, only 16% of people think Cameron will cut taxes (though of course, Cameron himself has repeatedly said the the Conservatives will be putting other considerations before tax cuts, so even that 16% may be people who are putting hope about expectation) and 35% think he would also increase taxes.

Having been custodian of the economy for the last ten years, Gordon Brown was unsurprisingly seen as likely to strengthen Britain’s economy by more people (38%) than David Cameron (27%). More surprisingly though, given the prominence Cameron has given to the issue since becoming Conservative leader, Brown and Cameron are equal on the issue of climate change (31% think Brown will help cut climate change, 34% think he won’t. 28% think Cameron will, 31% think he won’t, so they both have a net score of -3).

On every other issue Cameron is seen as likely to deliver by more people, though in most cases Cameron’s lead in the proportion of people who think he will deliver is small, and the real difference in the proportion of people who think they won’t. 26% of people think Brown will improve the NHS, 47% think he won’t – a net score of -21. 27% of people think Cameron will improve the NHS, 41% think he won’t – a net score of -14. On improving schools Brown’s net score is -16, Cameron’s -5. On protecting British interests in Europe Brown’s score is -8, Cameron’s is +5. On reducing immigration Brown’s score is -40, Cameron’s is +11.

The increasingly positive poll ratings that Gordon Brown is receiving elsewhere suggest that people wish him well and are willing to give him a chance, but these figures suggest that they don’t actually have very high expectations of him and in most cases think David Cameron is actually more likely to deliver. That isn’t necessarily a huge problem for Gordon Brown at the moment – he’s going to be riding high in the polls anyway and low expectations are easier to meet and easier to out-perform. He needs to make sure however, that by the that the public goodwill towards the new man in the job has faded, he has done something to convince the public he is more likely to deliver than David Cameron.


As mentioned below, the voting intention figures in the YouGov poll for Sky News were actually prompted using the names of the party leaders, so aren’t comparable to normal voting intention figures (though they do tell an interesting story in themselves, showing Labour doing better with Brown – only 1 point behind the Conservatives – than under Blair, where they would have had a 2 point defecit. Aside from the voting intention question, which I have a horrible feeling will be bandied about far and wide without the caveats that it isn’t using comparable wording, there are some other interesting questions in the survey.

Public expectations are now that Brown is more likely to be Prime Minister after the next election than David Cameron (by 41% to 29%). YouGov asked whether it was a good or a bad thing to be the ‘heir to Blair’ – 45% of people thought it bad, with only 14% saying it was a plus. Bad news for David ‘heir to Blair’ Cameron then? Well, no, because only 15% see Cameron as the ‘heir to Blair’ compared to 34% thinking Brown is his heir. Whatever the stylistic resemblence between Cameron and Blair, it still appears to be Brown who needs to shake off his luggage.

YouGov then asked about party preference on a number of policy areas, Brown’s Labour party had a large lead on the economy (41% to 23%) and has moved back ahead on the NHS (32% to 25%) and education (31% to 27%). Cameron’s Conservatives were narrowly ahead on the environment (26% to 24%) and foreign affairs (26% to 25%). Incidentally, the question wording makes a significant difference here – we’ve seen in YouGov polls over the last few years that the Conservatives and Labour are pretty much even on the economy when you ask about the parties. If you ask about whether people trust Gordon Brown or David Cameron more on the economy though – the leaders rather than the parties – Brown wins hands down.

YouGov also asked if people thought it would be a good idea for Brown to bring politicians from other political parties into his government. Only 29% of people though that it would be good for him to bring in Conservative politicians, with 42% thinking it a bad idea. A majority of Labour voters thought it a bad idea – Tory voters were split 38% against, 39% in favour (presumably they were thinking of them serving as Conservatives – not defecting Quentin Davies style!). Asked if it would be a good idea to bring Lib Dem politicians into the government, 34% of people thought it would be a good idea, 35% a bad idea…but interestingly a plurality of Labour voters (42%) and a majority of Liberal Democrats (58%) approved of the idea.

The Privy council approved the new Parliamentary boundaries a fortnight ago, meaning they officially come into force today. From now on any general election would be fought on the new Parliamentary boundaries. By-elections in this Parliament – such as the forthcoming ones at Ealing Southall and, by all accounts, Sedgefield will continue to be fought on the old boundaries. UKPollingReport’s guide to all the new constituencies is here.

Sky News have released a new YouGov poll showing voting intentions of CON 37%, LAB 36%, LDEM 12%(!). It appears to be the lowest Conservative lead in a YouGov poll since last September, and the lowest level of Liberal Democrat support in any poll since 2001…except, it isn’t actually a standard voting intention poll.

Look carefully at the Sky News report which says “the survey shows a swing of four and a half percentage points upwards since a similar YouGov poll three months ago.” It’s referring to the last time YouGov asked a voting intention question giving the party leaders in the question, since that’s also what this question did. Lib Dem supporters can breathe a sigh of relief!

But, given that these sort of hypothetical polls usually produce a larger Conservative lead once Gordon Brown is mentioned, does this mean that Labour would have been ahead in a normal voting intention poll? Not necessarily – when the polls were asked before I always used to have to repeat the same old caveats about it being a purely hypothetical poll and about how Brown becoming PM would undoubtedly be accompanied by loads of positive publicity and eye-catching announcements. Well, Brown is now Labour leader and I have no doubt that it will have changed his image – is he an electoral negative anymore? Could he be an electoral positive when mentioned in a question these days? We don’t know. One sign that he might be an electoral plus for Labour at the moment is that when YouGov ask the same question with Blair as leader, Labour perform less well – a reverse from the position a few months ago.

More to come later once the tables are up.