YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph has topline voting intention figures, with changes from their last poll, of CON 41% (nc), LAB 38% (nc), LDEM 11% (nc). Clearly the figures are exactly the same as their last poll, conducted two and a half weeks ago for the Sunday Times.
This is the first poll for almost a fortnight and, after a period of extreme volatility in the polls, it’s makes a change to find things so static. There was potential for the Conservatives to have continued moving head, or for their leads at the start of the month to be have been nothing but a brief recovery on the back of a horrid week for Gordon Brown. On the basis of this poll though it seems to have been consolidated (there should be two more polls early next week to confirm or contradict that). To an extent voting intention polls are once again an irrelevance anyway following Sir Menzies Campbell’s resignation as Lib Dem leader. As was the position before Tony Blair resigned, we once again have a known unknown ahead of us – we know that in mid-December the Liberal Democrats will have a new leader, but we can’t know until then what effect it will have on people’s voting intentions – it may have none, it may see the Lib Dems taking support back off Labour, or off the Conservatives. Until then voting intentions figures are a bit artifical.
More interesting therefore are the underlying figures – and there is some very bad news for them for Gordon Brown. Having enjoyed strongly positive ratings so far as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown’s approval rating has slumped, down into negative territory for the first time as PM, with a net approval rating of minus 14, down from plus 11 last month. David Cameron meanwhile is once again back in positive territory on +4, up from a painful minus 27 last month. On the forced choice question of whether people would prefer a Labour government under Brown or a Conservative government under Cameron the 15 point lead Labour enjoyed in September is down to only 3 points. Labour’s lead on the economy last month was 8 points, now it’s only 3.
Perhaps more importantly Gordon Brown’s image is rapidly tarnishing. YouGov has asked people about the same series of paired statements about Brown, whether he is decisive/indecisive, effective/ineffective, etc, as they did before he became leader and, in some areas he is now viewed even less positively than before he was PM (unfortunately they weren’t repeated when Brown was at the height of his popularity, so we can’t see the full up and down pattern). His net rating on being able to unite the country is much the same (-32 now as opposed to -31 in May and -33 in Sept 2006). The transformation is in perceptions of Brown being effective and decisive: in September 2006 his net rating for being effective minus ineffective was plus 11, in May 2007 it was plus 10, now it is minus 5. In September 2006 he net rating for being decisive was plus 28, in May 2007 it was plus 35, now it is minus 5.
Gordon Brown’s public image was once one of strength, efficency, decisiveness and experience – obviously you can’t take away his experience, but he seems to have squandered his repuation for efficiency and decisiveness. Sadly YouGov didn’t ask if he was strong or weak, but asked if they agreed with the statement “compared with Gordon Brown, David Cameron seems a lightweight” now only 40% agree, with 37% disagreeing. When the same question was asked in September 57% had agreed, with only 23% disagreeing: Brown no longer has a substantial lead over Cameron when it comes to being seen as a heavyweight politican.
The apparant reasons for the turnaround in perceptions of Brown are predictable – 52% agree that Brown treated the public like fools by claiming he didn’t cancel the election because of the polls (32% disagreed), 51% thought Brown copying Conservative policies made him look feeble and opportunistic (29% disagreed). The question will be whether his image is now tarnished for good, or whether it will improve once the agenda has moved on and they are forgotten.
While the news is horrid for Brown, there are some worrying findings for David Cameron too. Before now I’ve highlighted a major weakness when people are asked about the Conservatives is that people don’t actually have any idea what the Conservatives would offer if they got into power and people aren’t sure if there was any substance behind David Cameron’s words. The past month may have improved the Conservatives’ polling position in voting intentions, but these underlying problems haven’t gone – 65% agree they don’t really know what Cameron in power would be like, 60% say it is hard to know if there is any substance behind his words (down from 65% last month, but obviously still very hji
Finally, the poll also asked people who out of Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne would do a better job at leading the Lib Dems. The answer only underlines the two men’s current anonymity – 10% said Clegg to 5% Huhne, with 57% saying don’t know. Amongst Liberal Democrat voters Huhne led Clegg by 16% to 14%, but naturally this is a minute sample size and the views of Lib Dems voters don’t necessarily bear the slightest relation to those of Lib Dem activists.