ComRes January poll

ComRes have released their monthly poll for the Independent. The full tables are here. The topline figures, with changes from ComRes’s December poll are CON 38%(-3), LAB 30%(nc), LDEM 17%(+1).

The pattern here is in line with the recent YouGov and ICM polls – the Conservatives down, Labour largely stuck in the low thirties, a slight rise in the Lib Dem score. This poll was conducted between 25th and 27th January, so it is the first poll conducted entirely after Peter Hain’s resignation and – as yet – there is no obvious damage to Labour’s support.

Economic Pessimism

Monday’s Telegraph published the economic part of their monthly YouGov poll (it also had the best Prime Minister question, which gave David Cameron a 4 point lead over Brown).

Reports of economic questions in polls are always a bit lacking. They inevitably show that everyone thinks we are headed for hell in a handbasket (if they don’t, the papers don’t bother emphasising them), and findings like 56% of people think the economy are reported without much context at all. Is that really bad historically, or are we just a doom-laden bunch of miseries convinced that we’re doomed anyway. The Telegraph article does give a bit of context, it says they’re the worst figures since 1994, but since YouGov has only been polling since 2001 or so that comparison itself raises questions (presumably they are comparing to Gallup, the Telegraph’s old pollsters, which is a poor show).

Looking at YouGov’s question on whether people think the Economic will get better or worse, this month 56% of people thought it would get worse, with only 17% expecting it to improve – a net score (the so-called “feel good factor”) of minus 39. This is indeed the lowest YouGov have registered since they began the tracker in 2003. Looking at the graph below you can see the lines look pretty consistent until September 2007, the month of the Northern Rock collapse. Since then they have been trending negatively. I make no judgement about what state the economy is actually in, but since September the public have clearly been more and more convinced that it’s in trouble.


But what about some context? They may be the worst figures since YouGov began tracking in 2003, but those 5 years have been pretty benign economically. To go back further, lets look at the same question from MORI, who have trackers going all the way back to 1979. Ipsos MORI’s most recent figures showed 55% expected things to get worse, with only 9% expecting an improvement – a feel good factor of minus 46 – and here’s the graph showing the historical figures.


This doesn’t give much comfort to the government. As you can see, people do in general tend to be pretty pessimistic. There are a couple of points where there is a net positive rating (after the 1997 Labour landslide or the 1987 Tory victory, for example) but most of the time we’re comparing different extremes of pessimism.

There are recent drops to compare to current figures – the rating was worse than it is now as recently as February 2003 (the impending war in Iraq perhaps?), it hit what really was the lowest rating since 1979 after September 11th 2001. There is another dip in 1998 that I can’t think of an obvious explanation for. After Black Wednesday in 1992 the net figure was down to -46, the same as it is now and in the dog-days of the end of the Thatcher government in summer 1990 it had descended to a similar level. Before that you need to go back to 1979 – whatever economic turmoil and recessions there were in the early 80s, people were more optimistic about the economy than they are now.

For the majority of the time the figures vary between 0 and minus 30, it normally drops below that score only for brief extreme reactions to unusual events (often non-economic ones that have just shook confidence in general) – the only real exceptions are way back in 1979, the end of Thatcher, and the last year or two when it has sunk below that figure several times.

Compared to ratings in the past, economic optimism really is very low indeed – perhaps even irrationally so. Still, I’m not an economist and I don’t pretend to know what state the economy is actually in, but in terms of public perception things are very bleak indeed.

One getout clause for the government on this is that people do not necessarily blame a poor economic outlook on the government. Populus ask a semi-regular question on whether people think the economy is doing well, and whether or not that is attributable to Gordon Brown. The last time I can find it is back in December 2006, when they found 51% though the economy was doing well, and 40% thought it was doing badly. 47% thought the state of the economy was due to Brown, 44% thought it wasn’t much to do with him.

It maybe that the public with accept that harder economic times are due to the world economy, and not pin any blame on the government of the day. On one level I am sure that’s the case, but on another level I suspect it doesn’t matter. My guess is that hard times will gradually sap support for the government of the day across the board, even if people do not directly blame the government for specific economic problems.

Polls by ICM and YouGov both show the Conservatives falling slightly and a boost for the Lib Dems under their new leader. YouGov in the Telegraph has topline figures of CON 41%(-2), LAB 33%(nc), LDEM 16%(+2), ICM for the Guardian have figures of CON 37%(-3), LAB 35%(+2), LDEM 20%(+2). The 2 point Tory lead from ICM is the lowest in any poll since back in November.

The ICM poll was conducted last weekend, so before both the lastest on Northern Rock, and Peter Hain’s resignation. YouGov’s poll was carried out at the start of the week, so would have taken in Northern Rock, but not Hain.

While YouGov’s figures are obviously a lot nicer for the Tories and a lot less nice for the Lib Dems than ICM’s, but we should be used to the differences produced by the pollsters different methods. The important thing is that the trend is the same.

A new YouGov poll for ITV London has topline voting intentions for the London mayoral election of Livingstone 44%(-1), Johnson 40%(-4), Paddick 8%(+1). I can’t find the exact dates of the poll yet, but press reports suggest it was conducted after the Channel 4 Dispatches programme criticising Ken Livingstone, and the preceeding couple of weeks of agressive attacks on Livingstone by the Evening Standard.

If the poll was done after the programme, it suggests that so far it hasn’t actually made any significant impact upon his support. Rather it seems to be the “others” who are gaining support – though at around 8% their total is still very low compared to the 18% minor parties got at the last mayoral election, albeit, that was probably partially to do with the election falling on the same day as the European elections and the consequential boost for UKIP.

Incidentally, Ken Livingstone’s campaign responded by saying “This is a welcome opening up of Ken’s lead, especially as internet polling has always underestimated Ken’s support compared with actual elections and other opinion polls.” In terms of comparisons with actual elections they are wrong. The 2000 election was before YouGov’s time, so there is only 2004 to compare with, and in polls conducted on the same basis as this one, YouGov called that one exactly right.

Judging from a similiar comment after the last poll, I think the Livingstone campaign are basing their claim on the fact that a YouGov poll prior to the last Mayoral election showed Steve Norris only 2 points behind Ken when really he ended up ten points behind. What actually happened in 2004 was that the final YouGov poll showed both figures for all respondents, and figures for only those certain to vote. The figures for all respondents correctly predicted a 10 point Livingstone victory, the figures for only those certain to vote underestimated Livingstone’s support. These recent polls are based on all respondents, not just those certain to vote – so the comparison should with the figures that correctly predicted the 2004 result.

UPDATE: The full figures are up on YouGov’s website here. Two things are worth noting. Firstly there is a breakdown of the “others” vote and, despite the rise since the last poll, there is no sign of any of the fringe candidates sticking out above the others. The highest figure is UKIP on 2%. More important to note is the very small sample size. The poll was of only 339 people, about a third of the size of the last poll. Given that a third of respondents were excluded from the final figures because they didn’t give voting intentions, these figures are based on only around 240 people. The margin of error on these figures is huge, so we probably shouldn’t read too much into changes or lack of them after all.

Scottish Independence

I have added a page listing polls on support for Scottish independence here (and linked from the sidebar). It’s a question that produces some wildly differing responses, allowing people to argue that the polls show almost anything they want. It tends to be asked about in at least four different ways, they all show different things and pollsters aren’t consistent over time in what they ask, so it’s hard to pick up a trend. So, what can we tell about the actual state of public opinion?

When respondents are asked to choose from a broad range of options – complete independence, increased powers for the Scottish Parliament, the status quo or the abolition of the Scottish Parliament – we almost always find that complete independence is only the preferred option of somewhere between a quarter and a third of people in Scotland. The favoured option is nearly always to retain the Scottish Parliament but give it increased tax raising powers. This is one instance were the same question can be tracked over time, since it is asked every year in the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. The most recent figures show 23% of people in favour of independence, 55% in favour of a Parliament with tax raising powers, 8% in favour of the status quo and 10% in favour of the Scottish Parliament being abolished and a return to Westminster rule.

The only question that consistently produces a plurality in favour of Scottish independence is in response to the straightforward question of whether respondents are in favour of Scotland becoming a country independent of the UK. Responses vary over time, but more often than not the balance is in favour of independence.

These have been quite simple questions though – independence or not. Questions that have given respondents more technical or more tightly defined options, asking them to say how they would vote in a referendum to chose between an independent Scotland outside of the United Kingdom, or retaining the Scottish Parliament as it is now, have tended to show a slim overall majority opposed to independence with support for full independence down to around a third.

Two possible explanations for the difference suggest themselves to me. Firstly I suspect that the straightforward “do you support independence” style questions are getting an emotional, gut response driven by patriotism. They are people saying that Scotland is a country in its own right, rather than people thinking about the constitutional arrangements for governing that country. The other possiblity that strikes me is the mention of the Scottish Parliament – in the simpler questions it is a choice between an independent Scotland or some unspecified alternative…when the alternative is spelt out as being the existing Scottish parliament, some respondents are presumably of the view that they are happy with that.

What is the best representation of Scottish opinion? Well in many ways they are just measuing different things – it can be both true that the preferred option is a Parliament with tax-raising powers, but given a forced choice between independence or the status quo people would plump for the latter. In practical terms though public support for Scottish independence is important purely because the day may come when people in Scotland vote on it in a referendum, and since the SNP last year set out what sort of question they would ask in a referendum, we can see what people think about that.

Referendum voting intention polls this far out aren’t particularly reliable – like general election polls they can only tell us how people would vote if there was a referendum tomorrow…and there isn’t. In real life if there was a referendum tomorrow there would have been a couple of weeks of campaigning beforehand and who knows how opinion would have changed once people considered the arguments. For now though, polls using the sort of wording that the SNP have suggested for a referendum show a lead for NO voters, though varying in size between 20 points and a narrow 4 point lead. Given the underlying preference for a beefier Scottish Parliament over full independence, I’m more inclined to believe the former, but who knows what would happen during a campaign.