There is a new ComRes poll for the Independent out tomorrow. The topline voting intentions, with changes from ComRes’s last poll which was done immediately after the Lib Dem conference, are CON 41%(+2), LAB 29%(+2), LDEM 18%(-3). We’ve got the Lib Dem conference boost fading, and something of a boost for the Labour party.
It’s clearly a smaller boost for Labour than the weekend polls displayed, but then the fieldwork was done a couple of days later when Gordon Brown’s conference address was no longer ringing in respondents’ ears. It’s also still a comparatively low Conservative lead as the Conservatives have not recovered the support they lost to the Lib Dems in ComRes’s last poll. Still, our next polls should be post the Conservative conference and we’ll be able to see what effect their conference has – assuming they aren’t completely pushed off the news agenda by the economic turmoil.
The comments I’ve received on the post-conference Labour polls contain a lot of encouraged Labour supporters thinking that the mood may have changed, sometimes seemingly quite bewildered about why people are quite so dismissive of the polls showing a smaller Labour lead. I’ve been phoned up by some journalists this morning asking what weight we should give polls showing Labour catching up with the Tories. The answer is – for now – not much at all.
It is, of course, possible that Labour caught the public mood at their conference and things have indeed changed, but looking at polling around Labour conferences in the past, it seems more likely that it is a publicity boost. In the past when party conferences do have any meaningful effect, it has been extremely short lived.
The graph below shows Labour’s ratings from YouGov (since they tend to do more polls around conference than other pollsters) at each party conference since 2002. The first column for each year is Labour’s average rating from the start of August that year until the beginning of conference, the red column is the YouGov polling done immediately after Labour’s conference (in a few cases the average, when YouGov did more than one poll in the few days afterwards). The final two columns are the Labour score in YouGov’s monthly polls at the end of October and November.
Labour enjoyed boosts in the polls from their conference in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and in every case they fell back down within a couple of months – in 2006 and 2007, they went back down almost immediately. Only looking at 2003 does the conference season appear to have given Labour a long term boost – but that is actually the effect of the Conservative party collapsing into internal leadership ructions after their own conference.
Of course, it is hard to draw rules as every conference is in its own way its own special case: in 2007 there was the non-election announcement, 2006 was Blair’s valedictory conference. It’s possible that this one will be different and will have a lasting effect, but looking at recent conferences, there aren’t many encouraging precedents. No doubt there will be plenty of polls next weekend – if nothing else we are due YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph. If Labour have still narrowed the Conservative lead then, then we can start talking about the game having changed. If not, then only when any Conservative boost from that conference has died away will we actually know if the conference season has made a difference – but it would be quite an unusual conference season that did.
Unless there is anything still to come out before the Conservative conference begins and starts to have its own effect (or lack of) on the polls, the final post-Labour conference poll has appeared, this time from BPIX in the Sunday Telegraph. The topline figures, with changes from the last BPIX poll which was prior to the Lib Dem conference, are CON 43%(-4), LAB 31%(+7), LDEM 17%(+1).
ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian is out and shows very similar figures to YouGov’s poll. It was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, just after Brown’s conference speech and one day after YouGov’s poll, and shows a similar boost in Labour’s fortunes. The topline figures, with changes from ICM’s last poll, are CON 41%(-3), LAB 32%(+3), LDEM 18%(-1). The one day’s difference in fieldwork means that this poll would have been after Ruth Kelly’s resignation, which doesn’t appear to have dampened down the Labour poll boost.
The combined picture from ICM and YouGov’s polls is that Labour have had a pretty successful conference in terms of the polls. The question now, however, is where they all settle once the Conservatives have had their bite of the cherry.
The first poll conducted since Gordon Brown’s speech has some good news for Labour. The YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 41% (-3) LAB 31%(+7) LDEM 16%(-4). It was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the fieldwork starting after Brown’s speech.
The poll shows an impressive 7 point jump in Labour’s support, putting them over 30 for the first time in months and resulting in the lowest Conservative lead since way back in April (though perhaps it’s a sign of how much things have changed that a poll showing the Conservatives 10 points ahead is now considered a fantastic advance for Labour).
Does this mean the corner has turned and Labour are pulling things back? It could do – nothing’s impossible – but right now it’s probably more likely to be a passing conference boost. To see how ephemeral they can be we only need to look at the Lib Dem score in this poll. The YouGov poll conducted after their conference put them up 4 points to 20%, their highest score for years. This poll puts them back down at 16%, where they were before the conference season began. We’ll know the real position after all three conferences and all three conferences bounces have come and gone.