A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has topline voting intentions of CON 34%(-1), LAB 39%(+1), LDEM 15%(nc). The Labour lead is two points higher than the last YouGov poll, perhaps on the surface suggesting that the sharp cut in Labour’s lead in the last round of polling was to some extent a temporary effect of crime being so high on the agenda after the murder of Rhys Jones in Liverpool, but the changes in each party’s support are insignificantly small, so realistically it would be wrong to draw any conclusion beyond the fact that Labour’s position remains down on where it was at the height of the Brown boost.

The poll would have been conducted on Thursday and Friday of last week – YouGov’s responses are mostly received in the first 24 hours of a poll going live, so the majority of responses to this poll would have occured before the news of Northern Rock’s difficulties, but at the height of media coverage of the Conservatives’ rather Quality of Life policy report.

Along with any other polls that come out this Sunday, this will be the last poll before conference season kicks off – so this will be our baseline to see how well the parties perform over the conference season.

UPDATE: With the Liberal Democrat party conference starting the Sunday Times coverage of the poll lingers over Sir Menzies Campbell’s ratings. His approval rating stands at minus 21, compared to minus 15 for David Cameron and a healthy plus 40 for Gordon Brown.

45% of people think the Liberal Democrats would do better if they replaced Menzies Campbell with a younger leader, only 5% think they’d do worse. Amongst Liberal Democrat supporters opinion is even starker – 63% think the party would do better with a younger leader. Asked about how they viewed the Liberal Democrats, 41% of people said they are a useful third force, but 36% said they were an irrelevance.

The majority of the poll was carried out before the problems that have faced Northern Rock, but the economic questions already suggest that economic confidence is somewhat shaky. Only 26% of people said the economic outlook for their family was healthy, 50% said under some pressure and 21% under a lot of pressure. 46% said they expected to spend less on non-essentials in the next 12 months, compared to 12% who expected to spend more. 52% still expected house prices to rise in their area, with only 9% expecting a fall – it will be interesting to see if that figure changes next time a similar question is asked.

The poll included questions on some of the policies suggested by the Conservative party’s quality of life policy commission. Putting VAT on domestic flights was supported by 39% of people, but opposed by 54%. Stopping the expansion of airports was opposed and supported by equal proportions of the electorate, putting extra tax on large ‘gaz guzzling’ cars was viewed as positive by 80% of people (though as I’ve said before in response to similar questions, I’m sure most people answer such questions in the expectation that it would only cover cars bigger than their own!), there was also strong support for offering lower stamp duty and council tax for energy efficent homes – supported by 83%. Least popular was the idea of allowing councils to force out-of-town shopping centres to charge for parking – 71% were opposed with only 22% in favour.

Finally the poll asked about the parents of Madeleine McCann. 76% of people said they thought the McCanns were wrong to leave their daughter unsupervised, with only 19% saying they were just very unlucky. 48% of people think that the McCanns could have been responsible for her death, with 20% of people saying they are certain they are innocent (the options are somewhat slanted against the McCanns – it asked whether people were certain the McCanns are innocent, rather than what people thought was more likely).


Economic troubles

I’m not an economist so won’t pretend to understand the possible implications of the credit crunch that forced the Northern Rock to go cap in hand to the Bank of England yesterday. If the economy does hit troubled times, is it likely to help or hinder Gordon Brown?

Populus’s party conference poll for the Times will, as usual, be released in dribs and drabs over the conference season. Today has the results of a question that asked whether people “If Britain’s economy were to face problems in the months or years ahead, who would you most trust to deal with it in the best interests of Britain?” Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were overwhelmingly chosen over David Cameron and George Osborne, by a ratio of 61% to 27%. This should hardly come as a shock given the perceptions of Brown and Cameron that are consistently revealed by polls – Brown is seen as strong, competent and experienced while Cameron is seen as caring, likeable and modern. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people would prefer a strong and experienced hand at the tiller in an economic crisis.

The converse of this is that, were there to be economic downturn it may itself damage Brown’s reputation for economic competence. In 1991 the Conservatives enjoyed healthy leads when asked which party people most trusted to manage the economy, but it was rapidly reversed after Black Wednesday. The present troubles in the credit market are nothing to do with Labour’s handling of the economy, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t reflect very badly on Brown if the economy soured on his watch. We’ve seen with the hypothetical polls from before Brown became Prime Minister that people aren’t actually very good at predicting how they would react to events in the future. In reality we cannot tell if, faced with economic troubles, people would turn to Gordon Brown…or blame him.


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Since the religion question was added to the census in 2001 this has become a recurring debate on blogs – I was reminded of it when I saw Cramner’s blog talking about Iain Dale’s little survey of his readership where Cramner wrote “The 45% who profess belief in a deity is massively beneath the national average. In the 2001 census, just over 70% professed the Christian faith”.

Iain’s poll was just of a self-selected group of his readers, so isn’t of interest to anyone other than Iain anyway, but on the wider question of how Christian Britain is these days the two questions aren’t comparable. One is belief in a god, the other what religion people identify with. There are obviously some differences anyway, one can believe in a god or gods and be a member of a religion other than Christianity, but leaving that aside a the polling evidence normally suggests that there is probably a substantial chunk of people who said on the census form that they were Christian, but who don’t actually believe in a god.

A MORI poll for the Telegraph in December 1999 found 71% believed in a God, an ORB poll in April 2000 found 62% of people believed in God, MORI poll for the BBC’s Heavan and Earth show in 2003 found 60% believed in a God, a YouGov poll for the Telegraph in Dec 2004 found 44% believed in God, a poll by Populus for the Sun in June 2005 found 70% believed in “God or some form of higher power”, Communicate Research poll for Premier Christian Radio and the Evangelical Alliance in Jan 06 found 45% of people believed in “God or a higher spiritual force”.

A couple come close, but generally speaking polls show a smaller percentage of people believe in God than the 72% who described themselves as Christian on census forms (and that’s ignoring the 5% or so of people who are adherents of other religions). In some cases there is a very large discrepancy. The difference between the highest and lowest figures is probably largely down to methodology – the Populus poll lumped in people who believed in some vague higher power, the YouGov and Communicate Research polls that showed the lowest levels of belief in God were both carried out online, suggesting that however secular Britain might seem, there is still societal pressure to say one believes in god when talking to a human interviewer (in the USA Harris interactive tested this in parallel online and telephone polls and found an 8% difference in the number of people who were prepared to admit they didn’t know if they believed in God or not when they didn’t have to say it to another human being).

So, we can’t tell for sure how big the group is, but we can be fairly confident that at least some of that 72% of Christians don’t actually believe in God. The reasons is presumably people who don’t have particularly strong feeling about religion at all still consider themselves culturally Christian. The concept of a Jewish atheist is more established, Jews who don’t believe in a god at all but are culturally Jewish, have bar mitzvahs and so on. One can only assume that the census is picking up similar in terms of Christianity, people who don’t believe or don’t give a fig about a god, but who are clearly culturally Christian, celebrate Christmas (even Richard Dawkins reluctantly celebrates Christmas, though suspect he didn’t put Christian on his census form), give eggs at Easter, may well get married or buried in a church and so on.

YouGov did a poll for John Humphreys earlier this year that gave a more detailed and nuanced list of options for people to chose from, rather than a straight yes or no: only 22% of people said they believed in a personal God who hears prayers, another 6% believe in a personal God who created the world but doesn’t intervene in it. 26% of people do believe in ‘something’, some sort of higher power but aren’t quite sure what. Beyond that people are largely irreligious – only 16% of people describe themselves as atheists, but between that 28% of people who believe in a personal god, 26% of people who believe in ‘something’ and 16% of athiests there is a block of 30% of people who are agnostic, or who would like to believe but can’t, or most often aren’t really sure what they believe and don’t really think about it.

Take away the agnostics and atheists and I suspect you have your 70% of Christians: made up as they are of around a third or so people who definitely believe in a personal Christian God who hears their prayers, a third of so who believe in something but aren’t quite sure of the details and a third or so who really don’t know, but who are culturally Christian and, when push comes to shove, identify themselves as Christian.


Grammar Schools

A poll of parents with children in state schools found by YouGov for the Readers Digest found that 59% of parents thought that all children should have the opportunity to go to a grammar school if they passed the entrance exam. It’s a slightly oddly worded question: I think it could easily have been read as saying, “if children passed an exam to qualify for grammar schools in an area that should have them, should they be able to go”. Less ambiguous were the findings that only 41% of parents thought comprehensive schools catered well for children of all abilities, and 59% of of parents would send their children to private schools had they the money.

UPDATE: Looking at the wording of the alternative option, it’s actually pretty clear – see in the comments.


Back in June when Labour’s rating in polls first began to shoot upwards on the back of Gordon Brown’s approaching premiership I wrote that there were four questions we needed to ponder about the Brown boost. Two months later let’s see if we’re closer to any answers:

How high will Labour support peak? For most pollsters it looks as though Gordon Brown’s accession changed a Conservative lead into a Labour lead of about 5 or 6 points, putting Labour in the environs of 39%. YouGov alone reported higher Labour leads, reaching 42% and 10 points ahead of the Conservatives in one poll.

How long will the honeymoon last? In terms of how long before it peaks and begins to decline again, the answer seems to be about eight weeks. Of course it’s still early in Brown’s premiership and many people out there will still be giving Gordon Brown the benefit of the doubt for months to come. While the initial phase of his honeymoon appears to be over it should still be a while until things stabilise.

When the boost from Brown’s accession subsidies, whether that be next week, next month or next year, where will it settle? This is the vital question, in the last week or so the Brown boost has begun to recede. Where will the polls stabilise again – neck and neck? With a Labour lead above where we are now? Back where we were before Brown became PM, or perhaps even worse? We still don’t know much here – at the moment the tide seems to be flowing away from Labour again, but that could be a temporary reverse as the result of good publicity for Cameron last week. It could be a brief reverse, or this could be the start of a larger trend back towards Tory leads. Equally, we still don’t know how long until the polls stabilise, though one would be foolish to draw any conclusions until at least after party conference season.

Will the Conservatives and the Lib Dems keep their nerve? No matter how predictable a Brown boost was, it doesn’t mean that people in the opposition parties wouldn’t take the polls as a cue to panic and turn on themselves. Did they? Well, the Liberal Democrats seem to have kept their nerve, no public shirt-tearing or Ming-attacking there. With the Conservatives it’s more difficult to say, in one sense obviously no, there have been Conservatives preductably sounding off left, right and centre about how they are all doomed and it’s all Dave’s fault for not being beastly enough to Europeans/ immigrants/ gays/ pollsters/ the general public* (*delete as applicable). On the other hand it could have been infinitely worse, a lot of the actual criticisms and more mild in reality than when viewed through the media narrative of Conservative infighting. In general the right’s criticisms have remained in the vein that Cameron is the only game in town, but if he could just do this a little differently.

In addition to those questions, I should perhaps have added one more…

Will it be enough for a snap election? I didn’t include this because I personally never expected there to be anything but the remotest chance of one, but the summer has been full of speculation and some straws in the wind have suggested its a real possibility, such as the first signs in the Guardian recruitment pages of the Labour party recruiting short time election staff on fixed contracts. Perhaps Brown would have called an early election this autumn had polls shown a steady substantial lead, but that time has now passed. Even if Labour go back up again, this week has demonstrated that the lead isn’t stable enough to gamble upon.