Under the British Polling Council’s disclosure rules Populus have released the full table for the Conservative party’s private polling that was mentioned in the Telegraph this morning. The topline results, with changes from the last Populus poll, are CON 36% (+3), LAB 37% (-2), LDEM 16% (+1). It was carried out between the 25th and 28th August.

It is obviously a sharp drop in the Labour lead and, for the Conservatives, this is back to the sort of levels of support they were recording in Populus polls prior to Gordon Brown becoming leader. The only reason they are not ahead is that Gordon Brown has won back some of the support Labour had lost to the Liberal Democrats.

Private polls for political parties carry a certain mystique, not entirely deserved. Mainstream political parties don’t generally commission polls to deceive, they are after accurate polling information to inform strategic decisions about what messages to run with, what demographic groups and areas to target. They are after accuracy, not flattery (and if they wanted someone to tell them they were doing wonderfully regardless of reality they wouldn’t need to cough up hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to do it.)

Prior to the BPC disclosure rules you had to take internal polls leaked or briefed by political parties somewhat sceptically – after all, you never knew for sure of they were what they claimed to be – had they used different wording? Or had different weighting for turnout applied that we were used to? Exactly when had they been carried out? In this case, Populus have released the full tables so we know exactly what we are looking at – the only substantial difference is that there is no sign of Populus’s normal topline adjustment, and that wouldn’t necessarily be reflected in the tables anyway (and doesn’t necessary make the slightest difference to the topline figures). This poll can be treated pretty much in the same way as a normal Populus poll.

So, why such a contrast between the Populus and YouGov polls? Well, we’re used to some differences between their figures – no other pollsters has shown the sort of 9 and 10 point Labour leads that YouGov reported – but there must be something else here. Both polls were carried out over the bank holiday weekend and they are notorious for producing rather strange samples (many readers will remember the Populus tracker poll from the last election which carried on over a bank holiday weekend immediately before election day and produced a ridiculously large Labour lead because of a strange bank holiday sample). The Populus poll was also conducted marginally later than the YouGov one – the sample periods are similar, but the majority of responses to YouGov polls are received on the first day, so in effect many responses to Populus’s poll will be from a day or two later when the effect of the reaction to Rhys Jones’s murder in Liverpool would have begun to have an effect.

More simply it could just be that one of the polls is an outlier. As luck would have it we’ve got another Populus poll due next week, this time for the Times (Communicate and MORI also have polls due). IF Populus’s Times poll echoes the findings of this poll then firstly, I think we would be able to forget any possiblity of an autumn election, and secondly it looks like the Conservatives are back in the game again.

YouGov August Poll

The last ICM poll showed the Conservatives gaining a single point, a movement too small to be significant by itself. This month’s YouGov poll also shows the Conservatives starting to inch upwards. The headline voting intention figures with changes from YouGov’s last poll are CON 33% (+1), LAB 41% (-1), LDEM 14% (nc).

The Labour lead in this poll is obviously larger than in ICM’s poll – YouGov’s methodology seems to produce lower levels of support for the Lib Dems to the advantage of the Labour party – and in both cases the changes are too small to be significant looked at in isolation, but if the pattern continues in Populus’s poll next week we could be seeing the beginnings of a narrowing of the gap.

The vast majority of the fieldwork for this poll was carried out prior to the announcement of Conservative policies on crime and the positive coverage it received in the newspapers, so that will not yet be reflected in the polls – Populus’s poll next week will be our first chance to judge that properly (according to Benedict Brogan, Populus’s private polls commissoned by the Conservative party are already showing the parties neck and neck again. When we see the sort of figures their published polls are showing next week we’ll know how trustworthy that little snippet was!)

UPDATE: Looking at the rest of the figures Brown’s ratings continue to rise – his approval rating is now +10 from +7 last month, with both approves and disapproves going up as the don’t knows gradually make their minds up about him. Government approval has risen slightly too to -22, though interestingly, despite Brown’s strong positive ratings it is still very negative. David Cameron’s ratings have fallen lower, his approval rating has reached -26, with 50% now thinking he is performing badly as Conservative leader.

Asked which party is best on individual issues the Conservatives have largely been pushed back to their core issues – immigration, where they have a 17 point lead, and law and order where they have a 10 point lead. On taxation, terrorism and pensions the two main parties are pretty much neck and neck. Labour lead elsewhere, most obviously on child care where they have a 21 point lead and the economy, where they have around an 11 point lead on the various facets of running the economy.

UPDATE 2: I’ve confirmed the dates, it was actually done early, carried out between the 24th-28th August. This means it would have been before most of the reaction to the murder of Rhys Jones, let alone the Conservative policy announcements this week. It also means…shudder…that it was conducted over a bank holiday weekend. I’m not sure if there is any actual emperical evidence that bank holiday weekends do produce unreliable samples, but people do tend to be a bit wary of them.


There is a widespread perception that the public are very draconian on law and order: hang ’em, flog ’em, lock ’em up and throw away the key. In one sense they certainly are. Asked in this month’s ICM poll if sentences passed by the courts are too soft, too harsh or about right people overwhelmingly think the courts are not handing down harsh enough sentences. 77% think too soft, 18% about right and only 2% too harsh.

However, asked if the solution is to build more prisons and send more criminals there only 46% of people agree. 51% of people think you shouldn’t build more prisons and should instead look for other ways to punish people and deter crime. Only 42% of people agree that prison works, 49% of people think that it turns people into professional criminals who go on to commit more crime.

It would appear people don’t really think prison works, but at the same time wouldn’t want any alternative that would be seen as an easy option. They want harsher alternatives to prisoners, not nicer ones!

The first question though can also be interpreted though by looking at whether people actually have an accurate perception of what sort of sentences are currently handed down. Unless people work in, or find themselves the subject of the criminal justice system, the only contact they’ll really have with sentencing is newspaper outrage about whatever short sentence has been handed down for the latest heinous crime, and that doesn’t necessarily give a very balanced view. Last year YouGov did a poll for the Reader’s Digest that gave people several real life examples of court cases and asked people what sentence they would give to the person convicted, allowing them to compare the sentences people thought criminals should be given, and the sort of sentence they were given in real life. Here’s what they said:

  • A 16 year old pleading guilty to 12 charges of graffiti was in reality given a £100 fine, 76% of respondents would have given him community service.
  • A 14 year old found guilty of four counts of causing criminal damage to parked cars was given a 4 month referreal order. 53% of respondents would have given him community service.
  • A woman who racially abused a kebab shop owner when drunk was given community service by 45% of respondents, in reality she was sent to prison for 6 months.
  • A barman who stole £9000 from the tills at his work after being diagnosed with a medical condiction was in reality given 200h of community service and a suspended prison sentence. 33% of respondents would have given him a fine, 31% an 18 month prison sentence.
  • A businessman who conned a company out of £35m who had a previous conviction for stealing £1m from another firm’s pension fund was given a prison sentence by 90% of respondents, on average for 8 years. This is also what he got in reality.
  • A plurality (44%) of respondents thought that a battered wife who stabbed her abusive husband to death should have received no punishment at all. In real life she was given 3 years probation.
  • A crack-addict who broke into a home and stabbed the owned to death was given a life sentence by 50% of respondents, and varying lengths of sentence by most others. In reality he got a life sentence with a minimum of 27 years.
  • A man who shot and killed a burgular in his house was given a prison sentence of, on average, 5 years by 36% of people and nothing at all by 40% of people. In reality he ended up serving 4 years for manslaughter.
  • A man found with 200 images of child porn on his computer who pleaded guilty to posessing indecent images of children. 59% of respondents would have jailed him, with an average sentence of 6 years. In real life he was given only 8 months in gaol.
  • A ban abducts and rapes a 6 year old was given a life sentence by 52% of respondents and the death penalty by 27%. In reality he received 3 life sentences.
  • A driver 10% over the drink drive limit was given a £280 fine in real life. The average fine dished out by the 58% of respondents who thought it appropriate would have been £1718.
  • A man driving without insurance was given a £200 fine, respondents to the survey would have given him a two and a half thousand pound fine.
  • A mugger who attacked a man in the street, kicked him on the floor and stole his wallet was given a 2 year sentence. 91% of respondents would have given him an average sentence of 4 years.
  • A woman who acted as an accessory to her boyfriend snatching the bag of an old lady was given 50h of community service. 56% of respondents would have given her an average of 2 years in prison.
  • A man who raped three strangers he had forced into his car was given a life sentence, with a mininmum of 7 years. 92% of respondents would have sent him to prison, with the 63% who didn’t give him life giving an average sentence of 12 years.

Of course, in reality the complexities of the case that couldn’t possibly be put across in a short polling question may have resulted in a longer or shorter sentence. The question about the man shooting a burgular is the case of Tony Martin and the simple question asked here ignores points like the burgular being shot in the back as he fled and the fact the gun was illegally held, is also ignores the fact that Martin’s sentence was only eventually reduced after a plea of diminished responsibility due to Martin’s paranoia was accepted. No doubt in many cases the judge’s decision was influenced by the particular circumstances of the criminal.

The overall picture though isn’t one of the public being wildly more draconian than the actual legal system though – the public would give longer sentences to muggers, thieves and people in possession of child porn and larger fines across the board, but across the board there really isn’t a major contrast here between what sentences the public hand down and what sentences judges hand down.

So is the perception that being tough on crime is a vote winner wrong? Not necessarily – people who consider the issue of crime to be important and whose vote may be heavily influenced by crime policy may well be more right wing on the issue than people who really don’t care much about crime. Equally, just because demands for harsher sentences may be based upon misconceptions about how tough sentencing currently is, it doesn’t make that feeling any less of a driver of opinion.

ICM August Poll

ICM’s August poll for the Guardian has Labour’s led broadly steady at 5 points. The headline figures with changes from the last ICM poll, conducted for the Sunday Mirror, are CON 34%(+1), LAB 39%(nc), LDEM 18%(nc). Since bank holiday weekends are notorious for producing weird and wonderful samples, this poll was actually conducted in the middle of last week.

The Guardian reports the poll as showing that Gordon Brown could lose his majority in an early election. On a uniform swing these figures would give Labour 368 seats and an increased majority of 86, so presumably something else is going on. I’ll update when the poll is available online and I’ve had a look.

UPDATE: Slightly less interesting than the headline suggests. The Guardian explains the headline “PM could lose majority if he goes for early vote” on the basis that Labour could lose support to the Conservative during an election campaign and then end up with only a small majority and then suffer backbench rebellions. Obviously it’s true that Labour could lose some support in an election campaign, but there’s nothing in this poll in particular to suggest it.

Elsewhere there are interesting findings, including one I’ve been waiting for since Brown took over. Last September ICM asked if people thought it was “time for a change”, or if continuity was important and we should stick with Labour. Back then 70% of people thought it was “time for a change” – now that’s a powerful public narrative, one that can sweep a government from office. Gordon Brown has sought to portray himself as that change to sate the public’s demand for it. He has done…a bit. ICM asked the same question against last week and found that 55% of people still think it’s time for change.

ICM also asked about which party was more likely to deliver on certain issues. Labour led on being likely to deliver rising house prices, higher educational standards, a fairer distribution of income and an effective approach to climate change. The Conservatives had a substantial 10 point lead on law and order, an issue which has moved up the agenda since the poll was carried out and – more surprisingly – were seen as less of a threat to the NHS and the economy than Labour.

UPDATE 2: The Guardian also contains regional figures based on the aggregate of ICM’s data since Brown became leader. You should always be a bit wary of data like this – by aggregating the data from a number of polls the problem of small sample size is solved, but polls are still not weighted to be representative within regions, only to be representative of the country as a whole. That said, the figures suggest that Labour’s support has fallen in Scotland since 2005, risen strongly in London and less strongly elsewhere in the country. The Conservatives have fallen back slightly in the North, but substantially increased their support in the South. The Liberal Democrats have held steady in the North, but collapsed in the south.

Because of the pattern of marginal seats around the country if there are contrasting trends in different parts of the country it could result in a smaller Labour majority despite a better position in the headline polls. We don’t have the full figures for all these regional breaks, or know where ICM have drawn the lines of “the North” or “the South”, but just to give some examples – the figures suggest a 2 point swing to Labour in the North – in Yorkshire, the North West and North East this would give Labour an extra 7 seats, with the Conservatives losing 4. The sort of swing suggested in London would give Labour an extra 6 seats, with the Conservatives losing 2. These would be cancelled out by the sort of swing ICM suggests is happening in the South – in the South-East, South-West and East Anglia that would see Labour losing 14 seats and the Conservatives gaining 37, largely at the expense of the Lib Dems.

These regional figures really shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but it’s a reminder that there isn’t necessarily a uniform swing across the country and that marginal seats aren’t necessarily spread evenly across the UK. If a party does well where is doesn’t need the votes, and badly where is does, it can end up losing seats even if it’s vote is up.

UPDATE: The print edition has the full figures for each group of regions: Scotland and Wales, CON 18%, LAB 36%, LDEM 13%, OTH 33%. North, North-East, North West: CON 26%, LAB 47%, LDEM 22%. East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern: CON 40%, LAB 37%, LDEM 17%. South-East, South West: CON 48%, LAB 28%, LDEM 19%. London: CON 34%, LAB 48%, LDEM 15%.

The Guardian takes swings from the same aggregated figures during the last election campaign – applying those swings to each region of the country produces a House of Commons with 249 Conserative MPs, 335 Labour MPs and 35 Liberal Democrats – a Labour majority of only 20 (applying the swings from the actual results of the 2005 election is a bit kinder, giving Labour a majority of 40). The seats Labour gain in London and the North on these figures are not enough to outweigh the losses they’d make in Scotland and the South.

UPDATE 3: A fantastic entry in the continuing series of “truly atrocious newspaper reporting of polls”. BROWN’S POLL LEAD SLASHED! is how the Daily Express reported the poll, somehere between stories about Princess Diana and Madeleine McCann (or possibly Princess Diana and Madeleine McCann – it will happen), happily comparing it to the last YouGov poll which was conducted using totally different methodology and which isn’t comparable. Brown’s lead isn’t slashed. It is down 1 point, an insignificant change.

A YouGov poll for the Fabian society suggests that on average people think the Prime Minister should be paid a salary of £135,000. This is lower than Gordon Brown achieved receives (the PM’s salary is about £187,000) but was higher than the salaries people thought fair for every other group YouGov asked about.

They thought a fair wage for the managing directors of top companies should be around £120,000 – obviously far, far less than the direcctor of a real FTSE 100 company would be paid. Next was best selling authors, who on average the public though should be paid £80,000. GPs were on £70,000 – again far less than the actual average salary of a GP, which is now supposedly just over £100,000. The gap for Premiership footballers was even larger – the public though they should be paid around £62,000, in reality the average is supposedly £676,000. The average wage people thought appropriate for secondary school headteachers was £52,000, lower than their real average of around £63,600.

For the occupations with lower wages that that, the salaries people thought fair were generally above what people actually earn. People thought a police constable should earn around £29,500, compared to around £26,000 in reality, an experienced nurse £33,000 (compared to £26,000), plumbers £28,500 (apparently £24,000), bus drivers £22,500, supermarket check out workers £15,000 (on average apparently £12,000), fast food restaurant workers £14,000.

Does it mean anything? Thinking it would be fair if X got paid more and Y got paid less doesn’t mean we’d actually like to see it enforced. People almost always say nurses are underpaid for the contribution they make, but it doesn’t necessarily follow they’d like to see the cuts in budgets elsewhere or the higher taxes overall that would be required to give them all the big pay rise they think they deserve. The vast majority of people think footballers are overpaid, but I suspect few fans would want to see an enforced salary cap and the resultant flow of premiership stars to foreign countries.

More to the point, I suspect what it is partially reflecting that people on average salaries don’t have a particularly good idea of just how much those at the top of the salary scale earn, or how little those at the bottom take home.