A YouGov poll in the SUnday Times has topline voting intention figures, with changes from their last poll, of CON 45%(-4), LAB 25%(+2), LDEM 18%(+1). The poll was conducted between the 15th and 16th of May, so after the announcement of the increase in personal tax allowances in response to the fuss over the 10p tax rate.

Labour have narrowed the gap significantly, but the Conservatives remain 20 points ahead, still their second largest lead for decades. The previous poll was taken almost immediately after the local elections and Boris Johnson’s victory and, I suspect, was a result of the aura of victory around the Tories at the time (for another example look back at Lib Dem support straight after Brent East when they got up to 31% briefly). They are still above where they were prior to the local elections, so it will be interesting to see where other pollsters put them.

The recovery could also, of course, be a result of that increase in tax rates, but the other questions in the poll suggest that went down badly. 47% thought it was a cynical ploy to bribe voters in the Crewe and Nantwich election (more on that later), with only 36% thinking it was a sensible move to correct a mistake. 47% also thought it made the government look weak, with only 23% thinking it made them look strong enough to admit mistakes.

Opinions of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were dire – only 17% thought Darling was up to the job of Chancellor, only 21% thought Brown was up to being Prime Minister. The percentage thinking Brown was doing a good job was 17%, with 78% thinking he was doing a bad job. Cameron and Osborne now have a 18 point lead over Brown and Darling as the team people would most trust to improve their family’s standard of living.

YouGov also re-asked the same series of questions they used back in 2007 to measure the public perceptions of Brown and Cameron’s qualities. The only one of Brown’s ratings that has held up at all is honesty – 22% thought him honest in October 2007 (after the announcement of the non-election) and 22% think so now. In October 40% still thought him strong, now only 17% do. In October 27% thought him good in a crisis, now only 10% do, in October 20% thought him in touch, now it’s 10%. The biggest transformations though are decisiveness and leadership. In October 2007 37% thought Brown was decisive, now that figure is a derisory 8%. In October 17% thought Brown a natural leader, now it is only 3%.

In contrast, despite having been in the role for over two years now David Cameron’s figures are rising. Apart from honesty, where he is down to 17% from 20% last year, and in touch which is unchanged, he has risen on every other measure. Most noticeable was “a natural leader” up from 14% last year to 26% now. He appears to be growing into the role.

So, if Brown’s perceptions have sunk so low, what of his future? 59% of people think Brown should stand down before the next election (though we’ll have to wait and see the partisan split there, Tory supporters always say they want a Labour PM to go, it’s the Labour split that’s interesting). Asked who they would like to see succeed him if he did go, Jack Straw and David Miliband were the two frontrunners, picked by 14% and 12%, though all this really tells us is that they are the more recognisable names.

PoliticsHome have put up the Phi5000 results of their daily tracker on most important issues from the last month. I’ve commented on the way the economy is climbing up the list of important issues in Ipsos MORI’s monthly polls, but these show it finally overtaking immigration to be what the Phi5000 panellists see as the most important issue facing the county.

Hard economic issues are generally on the rise, there have been similar rises in the perceived importance of taxation as an issue and, more surprisingly given it really has been off the agenda for a very long time – inflation.

On the way down, immigration is no longer the number one issue: at the start of April around 50% of respondents were naming it as one of the top three issues facing the country, it’s now dropped to 39%. “Soft” issues are also on the decline, it’s most noticable with climate change and the environment. At the beginning of April 19% were naming it as an important issue, that has fallen to 12%. There have been smaller falls in people seeing education and health as important issues.

Looking at the longer term trends from MORI, back at the end of the last Conservative government the big issues were health, unemployment, education crime and Europe. During the Blair years unemployment and Europe gradually disappeared as major issues and immigration and – at times – international terrorism and the war in Iraq topped the poll. Now we appear to be seeing another shift in priorities as the economy takes centre stage.


ICM’s Crewe and Nantwich poll – which I look at here – also heralds two new changes to ICM’s methodology, which will probably be rolling out across their other political polls for the Guardian and Sunday Telegraph.

The first change is to to adjust their targets for past vote weighting to be slightly closer to the actual result of the 2005 election – specifically, the target is now based 80% on the 2005 election results, and 20% on the average recalled vote in ICM’s polls. In theory this will produce results that are slightly better for the Conservatives and Lib Dems and slightly worse for Labour, but in practice it is a very, very minor change. Taking the Crewe and Nantwich poll, the change was not large enough to change the results by a percentage point.

The second change is more interesting. As I discussed before the London election, turnout is actually very challenging to predict and is probably one of the reasons MORI seem to have overestimated Labour’s lead. One of the reasons it is so tricky is that people aren’t very good at predicting their own likelihood to vote. In the UK pollsters normally rely on asking people to rate their likelihood to vote on a scale of 1-10, but this still often produces more people who are 10/10 certain to vote than actually do. ICM’s new approach seems to draw some lessons from the more complex approaches taken in the USA where pollsters take into account not just people’s own estimates of their likelihood to vote, but also attitudinal factors like their interest in politics, whether they see voting as a duty, and so on.

In this case ICM asked a question on attitudes to voting, asking people whether it was their duty to vote, or if people should only vote if they cared who won, or whether it was really not worth doing at all. This was then cross referenced with the 1-10 likelihood to vote scale to produce a 30 cell matrix and people were weighted by the result. This appears to be a slightly harsher likelihood to vote filter – in the case of the Crewe and Nantwich poll it increased Conservative support by 1 point and reduced Labour by 1 point – but we won’t really be sure of the effect until we’ve seen it in action over a couple of polls.

The tables for ICM’s poll in Crewe and Nantwich are now available on their website, and they reveal some brand new changes to ICM’s methodology which I’ll look at in the next post. First though, let’s dig through the entrails of the Crewe and Nantwich findings.

The narrowness of the 4% was indeed largely down to ICM’s normal spiral of silence adjustment. Taking just those people who actually gave voting intentions to ICM, the Conservatives had a solid 12 point lead. The narrowing of the lead was because a large proportion of respondents who told ICM they voted Labour in 2005 said they didn’t know how they would vote in the by-election: 61 out of 295 apparently – 21% of last time’s Labour voters, compared to 6% of last time’s Conservatives and 23% of the small number of voted Lib Dem last time in Crewe and Nantwich.

This means the vast majority of the don’t knows up there in Crewe are former Labour voters and ICM are making the assumption that those people will disproportionately end up voting Labour. ICM do this by reallocating 50% of don’t knows to the party they voted for last time, based on past research showing this is how people tend to behave at general elections. It is only an assumption of course, and people may behave differently at by-elections. If those former Labour voters actually stay at home or switch to the Conservatives the Tory lead would be much larger. If more than 50% of them end up voting Labour the Tory lead would be smaller than ICM’s poll suggests.

Another intriguing finding in the by-election poll was that the Conservative lead was much higher when people in Crewe and Nantwich were asked how they would vote in a general election – a 16 point lead in fact. On the face of this it is counterintuitive as we are used to bigger swings in by-elections than in general elections, not vice-versa. My best guess to explain this before seeing the tables was that ICM must have used the candidates names in the by-election question resulting in a “Dunwoody effect”. This was wrong – ICM didn’t use candidates names so this can’t be the reason. The actual reason seems to be that more people gave voting intentions for a general election tomorrow than for the by-election.

Comparing people’s answers in the by-election question and general election question, very few people actually changed their answers. Of 478 responses to how they would vote in the by-election, only 13 said they would vote differently if it was a general election. The difference seems to be almost entirely people who didn’t give a voting intention for a by-election, which does rather suggest that those don’t knows aren’t likely to break in Labour’s favour….

What are Phi Numbers?

This Sunday’s Observer has the first figures from PoliticsHome’s Phi5000 – these are figures from daily questioning of a panel of 5000 respondents by YouGov, recruited from the YouGov panel. What this isn’t is a normal YouGov poll, rather the Phi5000 is shamelessly prioritising tracking – the polls are weighted politically in the same way as YouGov’s polls so they aren’t skewed in a party partisan way, but beyond that representativeness takes a back seat to consistency, with the same people being questioned each day. This takes sample variation out of the picture – while the people within the 5000 who respond on a particular day might vary slightly, generally speaking if the figures change, the people on the panel must have changed their mind.

There are also downsides to this – being on an internet panel shouldn’t make you unrepresentative per se, but people willing to fill in a survey every day must be somewhat different to their peers (as would somone willing to do a phone survey everyday). Secondly, if was ever a risk of respondents being subject to a panel effect, it’s going to happen here. The most likely effect of that, and the effect I know Stephan is hoping for, is that members of the panel, aware they are going to be asked about their perceptions of issues of the day become more attentive to them, and the tracker becomes faster and more sensitive.

So what do we take from the first set of figures? The Observer today naturally concentrates upon the absolute figures – and there are interesting findings there – but that’s rather missing the point. What these are all about is the change, what underlying opinions are changing and at what point. Looking at the trends released there are no huge surprises so far – Brown and the government’s ratings have continued to plummet in the last month and more people now think the Conservatives would do better in government (that is a big change from when the same question used to be asked in the BrandIndex trackers, when however unpopular the government was, people didn’t expect the Conservatives would be much better).

The most interesting findings in these early figures are the ratings of party leaders. These are not from just asking yea or nay about individuals, but generated from a list of positive and negative perceptions – how many people think each man is strong, efficient, decisive, etc on one hand, or weak, incompetent or so on on the other. The net scores are the average proportion of people choosing each positive attribute for a leader minus the average proportion of people choosing each negative attribute for him. This produces several interesting findings – firstly, Nick Clegg is a positive for the Lib Dems, his net ratings are very similar to David Cameron’s, so when he trails in third place in things like best PM it’s probably just because he is a Liberal Democrat and because he is less well known than Brown and Cameron. Those who do have a perception of him as a leader have a relatively positive one.

More fascinating is looking at Brown’s underlying figures. His rating hasn’t slumped across the board, it’s only in specific areas. People haven’t just turned against him and given him bad ratings across the board – most of his ratings have been relatively stable and there has, for example, been little change in things like whether he is seen as “in touch”, “caring” or “sleazy”. Where perceptions have drastically altered is a leap in the proportion of people who said they thought Gordon Brown was “indecisive”, “weak”, “ineffective” and “out of ideas”, and a drop in the proportion of people who thought he was “competent”.

Perceptions of the other two leaders have been more stable. The increase in Cameron’s figures is pretty much across the board, just a warming towards him rather than any change in perceptions. The biggest changes for Nick Clegg are an increase in people who think he is “likeable”, “normal” and “intelligent” – the biggest drop in “None of the above” – his increase is from people gradually getting to know him. His percieved gaffe in talking about his past love life seems only to have made people think of him as a normal chap.