There is a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times showing topline figures (with changes from YouGov’s last poll) of CON 46%(+1), LAB 27%(+1), LDEM 16%(nc). Effectively no change again, giving us a very static summer in the polls. Unless there is more to come from the Sunday papers that is the last pre-conference poll (and apparently the last pre-Labour leadership crisis poll), so we shall see what effect that has.

The Sunday Times normally ask quite a wide range of questions in their YouGov polls, so I’ll update later on or tomorrow with anything else interesting.

The first results from Populus’ grand conference poll are starting to come out in the Times. Every year Populus do a larg poll before the conference season and drip-feed out the results that are relevant to each party in the run up to their conference. Amongst other things, this is one of the few times we get poll questions devoted to the Liberal Democrats – though there aren’t any yet!

The first set of results is the question Populus have asked for the last 5 years on how people place each party and party leader on a left-right political spectrum. People might argue, with some justification, that a one axis left-right spectrum is far too simplistic to actually place parties these days. I’d agree, but these polls are still very useful, since they tell us how close people see parties to their own position.

The poll suggests that people are starting to see more contrast between the political parties – both Brown and the Labour party and Cameron and the Conservatives are seen as having moved away from the centre. Gordon Brown is seen as being to the left of the Labour party as a whole.

More interestingly David Cameron is seen almost exactly the same as his party. In the past he used to be seen as to the left of the Conservatives, and I pondered whether he could bring perceptions of his party with him. In fact the opposite has happened, perceptions of Cameron have moved to match ideological perceptions of the Tory party as a whole. This is an interesting development – the difference in perceptions between Cameron and his party was a potential point of vulnerability that the Labour party were apparently planning to target (“David Cameron might be a nice centrist, but look at the scary gargoyles behind him!”). This suggests that opportunity has closed.

Meanwhile, despite perceptions that he has tried to move the party to the right, Nick Clegg is placed in almost exactly the same place on the left-right spectrum as Ming Campbell and almost the same as Gordon Brown. The exact figure for the Liberal Democrats doesn’t seem to be the article, but it’s implied that they are still seen as to the left of Labour (Labour are on 4.82, and the Lib Dems are reported as being slightly to the right of Clegg’s 4.66).

As Guido comments here, all these perceptions – that Cameron is not to the left of his party, that Labour and the Conservatives are moving further apart, that Nick Clegg is to the left of the Labour party, let alone his own party – are somewhat questionable to say the least. It just underlines that people’s perceptions don’t necessarily match parties’ policies.


Channel 4 news has a new YouGov poll of marginal seats. The poll covered Labour held Conservative target seats that require a swing between 3% and 7% to capture, the logic being that those “low hanging fruit” are certain Conservative gains in the present environment, so the battleground becomes those seats the Conservatives need to win to obtain an overall majority.

It showed support of CON 45%, LAB 32%, LDEM 13%, which suggests a swing to the Conservatives of 12 percent, enough to easily capture all these seats and, if one assume they are doing as well in more distant marginals – not necessarily a given – would suggest a Conservative majority of around 150. There is also an attempt to estimate what the effect of tactical voting might be – people were also asked how they would vote if they thought only Labour or the Conservatives could win in their seat. This reduces the swing to 10.5%, suggesting there is still some anti-Conservative tactical voting in these seats by Liberal Democrat supporters.

Other questions in the survey (the full results are here) asked the 59% of people who recorded a negative opinion of Brown why people had such a low opinion, the most popular answers were that he was out of touch (66%), indecisive (60%), incompetent (52%) and gloomy (50%). Asked what he could do to improve their opinion of him, taking more radical steps to protect people from the economic crisis (44%) was the most popular answer, followed by being more frank and honest (37%). 33% said none of the things suggested would improve their opinion of Brown.

David Cameron is interestingly still seen as a lightweight by 55% of people, but at the same time, people clearly don’t thing this is a major problem, as 71% have a positive opinion of how he is doing his job.

Turning to the state of the economy, only a minority (29%) blame the government for causing the problems, but they do seem to think the government’s reaction has been ineffective or counter-productive. Only 12% think the actions Gordon Brown has taken, or is planning, will improve maters. 24% think they will make things worse. 75% think the government are out of touch with how the economic problems are impacting ordinary people

Finally the survey asked about Gordon Brown’s future and potential leadership challenges. Perhaps surprisingly a majority of people did not want Gordon Brown to stand down as Labour leader, with 53% wanting him to stay until the election. Jack Straw and David Miliband were, as usual, the favoured replacements for Brown but, as usual, tiny proportions named them (14% and 12% respectively) with most saying don’t know. Asked to compare Gordon Brown and David Cameron, and David Miliband and Gordon Brown, the only really significant difference was in the level of don’t knows.

It sounds like a obvious point, but when people answer survey questions, they know what you’re up to: coming round here, asking all your questions about voting intention and elections tomorrow, you’re just going to add up the figures, weight them and publish them in the newspapers. I know your game matey.

This may seem a statement of the bleeding obvious, but it does have an important impact in how you should interpret poll findings, particularly on one of my personal bug-bears, the “would X make you more or less likely to vote Y” question.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of, say, a staunch Conservative supporter who likes fox hunting. The man from ICM rings you up and asks “would you be more or less likely to vote Conservative if they promised to bring back fox hunting”. Now, you’ll vote Conservative anyway so really you should say no difference, but since you like fox hunting, you want the poll to show that fox hunting is a popular policy, and you can genuinely say that you’d scamper along to the polling station with more of a spring in your step with that policy in that manifesto, so you say yes.

You see the problem. Questions like this are liable to be used by people to give a preference on the policy being asked about, without them really considering whether it would change their vote. To their credit YouGov normally ask the question with two no difference options, one saying “no difference – I would vote for party X anyway”, one saying “no difference – I wouldn’t vote for party X anyway” to try and push people towards really thinking about whether it would actually change their voting intention, but I’m sure a lot of people are still likely to use it to indicate approval or disapproval of a policy.

Migration watch have one today – it has 33% of people saying they would be more likely to vote Tory if they promised to limit immigration to the level of emigration, with only 5% saying it would make them less likely. This certainly suggests it would be a popular policy, but it probably overstates its electoral effect: look at the actual figures and you’ll see over half of that 33% are people who already say they are voting Tory anyway. True, they may be indicating that that it would firm up their intention, but they could also just be Conservatives who want to indicate support for a policy they like.

Questions like this probably over-egg the importance of any policy they ask about anyway. Firstly, “more likely” is a long way short of actually changing your vote, secondly it draws undue attention to a specific policy which would probably be a minor factor in actual voting intentions. My view remains that broad party image is the important factor, specific policies are important only in how they affect that. A hardline anti-immigration policy may make people who support that policy think of a party that adopts it as being in touch with their feelings, prepared to stand up for people like them… but also risks being seen as bigoted, negative, spiteful and so on.

Immigration, as it happens, is an interesting example. Polls always show that people are negative on immigration and that they support harsh policies on it. Yet parties generally don’t play on it because it is perceived as actually being electorally unpopular to do so. At the last election the Conservative ran very heavily on immigration, and it was seen as a flop.

The exhaustive polling that Michael Ashcroft commissioned privately during the election campaign shows that the messages that people overwhelmingly recalled from the Conservative campaign were those on immigration and travellers (despite the fact that as the campaign progressed the Conservative’s didn’t actually concentrate on them that much). The same evidence tells us that the Conservative campaign didn’t work – only 20% said afterwards that the campaign made them more positive about the party, 36% less positive. 49% thought it was “mean, negative and nasty”. 41% characterised it as negative, it was also seen as aggressive and depressing.

That said, polls also showed that the immigration policy itself was popular. This seems strange, but consider that even after a campaign where one party, deliberately or not, made it the perceived main plank of their campaign, only 12% said it was the most important issue for them in deciding their vote, and some of those voted Labour or Lib Dem. For those who immigration policy was the deciding factor, it presumably helped the Conservatives. For the other 88% of people it probably contributed to the party being seen as negative and mean.

To return to those “more or less likely” questions, I suppose they have their uses, especially if they are carefully filtered so you can see the answers of actual swing voters – people who say they are undecided or likely to change their vote – and exclude people who will definitely vote for their party anyway. It is often a lot more complicated than policy that seems popular in polls equals electoral success though.

(Danny Finkelstein offered his own take on what he called the immigration mystery a couple of years back here, which incidentally includes a fantastically boneheaded comment from a would be constituent on the doorstep)

A new YouGov poll in the Sunday Times in Scotland has Westminster voting intentions in Scotland of CON 17%, LAB 32%, LDEM 13%, SNP 34%.

The Holyrood voting intention figures are Constituency CON 13%, LAB 26%, LDEM 15%, SNP 42%%, and regional CON 14%, LAB 25%, LDEM 14%, SNP 35%.