I expect the benefit data incident will result in a deluge of polls over the next few days – the first one is already out, a snap YouGov poll for Channel 4 news. The topline figures with changes from YouGov’s last poll are CON 41%(nc), LAB 32%(-3), LDEM 14(+1).
Labour’s support is down, as might be expected, but it has not benefited the Conservatives who remain static at 41% (the same level they’ve been at for the last 4 polls), the benefit going instead to the Lib Dems, continuing to creep upwards from the appalling figures last month, and “others”. Not that this is likely to dismay the Conservatives too much, it is the largest lead YouGov have given them so far.
It is a snap poll, taken straight after the news of the missing discs that would have been conducted when the news of the missing data was still all over the news. That said it doesn’t necessarily mean that Labour will automatically recover in any later, full-size polls. I remember putting similar caveats in my reports of the snap YouGov/Channel 4 polls after Brown and Cameron’s conference speeches and in the end their findings were supported by full size standard polls the following weekend. I would be amazed if we don’t have many more polls to compare this one to in the next few days.
UPDATE: There are also reports of a snap Populus poll for the Times, this one done on Wednesday night. It reasked the question on whether people would trust Brown & Darling or Cameron & Osborne to handle economic problems. In September, just after Northern Rock first faced problems, Populus found 56% of people trusted Brown & Darling more with only 18% trusting Cameron & Osborne more. The figures now are 28% for Brown & Darling and 34% for Cameron & Osborne. 44% think Darling should resign.
Strictly speaking the figures may not be directly comparable – this survey was conducted online, rather than by phone, so we don’t know what difference the sampling and the absence of an interviewer effect may have had, but realistically any difference would be small and this represents a crushing collapse in confidence in Brown and Darling. Again, we don’t know to what extent it will last and, as yet, most people aren’t suddenly enamoured of Cameron & Osborne.
The poll also found the percentage of people who think the government is competent has slumped from 56% to 25%, the percentage of people who think they are honest and principled has fallen from 37% to 20%. If these figures are maintained in polls when the newspapers aren’t full of hostile headlines, as they were when this poll was conducted, they will be very bad indeed.
UPDATE 2: A lot of commentary in the last couple of days has the air that Labour have blown it, that the next election is all but over. It is worth pointing out that a 9 point lead for the Tories really doesn’t justify this, especially given that on a uniform swing it would deliver the Tories only a small majority. The more significant finding is disasterous drop in people’s trust in Brown and Darling to run the economy, as shown in the Populus poll.
Labour’s big trump card for the last 15 years has been the economy. The Tories have been ahead on things like crime and immigration for years. I’ve seen polls where the Conservatives have pulled ahead on core Labour issues like education and the NHS, certainly people’s perceptions of how well Labour have done on the NHS is very poor. The one thing solid banker Labour have always had though is the economy. The public think that Labour have delivered on the economy, that Gordon Brown can be trusted on the economy and that Labour are, if not far more trusted than the Conservatives on the economy (which polls almost always show) at the very least pretty much equal with them. If Labour lose their advantage on the economy, they have lost their biggest advantage and probably are in deep trouble.
That said, this is a poll done in the midst of bad news for the government. We really want to look at opinion when it has settled to see if permanent damage has been done to the government’s reputation for economy competence. It’s also important to note that the collapse in trust in the government’s running of the economy wasn’t echoed in the YouGov poll which asked people to rate Brown & Darling and Cameron & Osborne separately on competence and found the two of them neck and neck.
UPDATE 3: It would have been conducted bang in the middle of a poll asking about data security, so let’s see what happens when that leaves the headlines, but it’s still worth noting that Populus also found only 29% of people in favour of ID cards, with 55% against.