The press reaction to the PBR hasn’t be particularly nice, but now we have to wait for the first polls to show us how the public have reacted. We are due the regular YouGov poll for the Telegraph this week – normally on Friday but it could be earlier. ICM’s poll for the Guardian is also awaited, and I’d expect that to turn up soon. I’d be surprised if there aren’t other ad hoc polls run by other companies.

When they do turn up, look for two things. Firstly remember the broad range of figures we’ve seen in recent polls. If an ICM poll pops up first showing the Conservatives with a 10 point lead it doesn’t mean that the PBR has been a hideous disaster for Labour sending the Conservatives back to a double point lead after the gap fell to only 3 points, as the last ICM poll from before the PBR showed the Tories with an 11 point lead anyway. Conversely YouGov have been showing some of the smallest leads for the Tories – their last poll had Labour on 36% to the Conservatives’ 41%, so a 5 point lead from them would be no change, rather than a Labour triumph. Given the contrasting figures, it’s important to compare like to like.

Secondly, pay attention to when the fieldwork was done. There is an urgency in the media to have the very first poll out and get the exclusive. It should go without saying that polls that were conducted prior to the PBR can’t give us a real answer as to how it has gone down, but also be careful about those done immediately afterwards. Amazingly enough not everyone is glued to BBC News 24 – if a poll’s fieldwork is done straight after a speech or announcement, respondents might not actually see the news until they watch the news or read the paper the next day. It can take a while for people to digest the news. A good example would be after the May 2008 elections – they were the trigger that pushed the Conservatives from around about 40% in the polls to around about 45% in the polls… but the very first poll afterwards, conducted partially while the London mayor votes were still being counted, showed the Conservatives unchanged on 40%.

A ComRes poll for the BBC’s Daily Politics found that 65% of people said they had cut their expenditure because they were worried about the future and that a majority of people – 54% – disagreed that they would spend more if the government cut their taxes. An overwhelming majority (79%) thought that any tax cuts now would mean higher taxes in the future.

More positively for the government a majority – albeit a narrow 51% – thought that Britain was well placed to weather the economic troubles compared to other countries.

Trust in Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling to handle to present economic downturn realtive to David Cameron and George Osborne also improved – they led 47% to 28% compared to 42% to 31% last time, though it is important to note that unlike normal ComRes polls this is not politically weighted and, given that questions like this are highly correlated to voting intention, the actual Labour lead will be exaggerated.

For a proper reaction to the PBR today we should be getting the monthly YouGov poll at the end of the week and may possibly be getting a few extras in the meantime. ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has yet to rear its head – it may be out tomorrow (too early for PBR) or it may have been held back so it can be done straight afterwards, in which case it might turn up around Thursday.

On a unrelated note, cheers to MPs and journalists who voted this one of the best ten blogs in the Total Politics poll here.


A new ICM poll for the Sunday Mirror shows the Conservatives still enjoying a double point lead. The topling figures with changes from last month are CON 42%(-1), LAB 31%(+1), LDEM 19%(+1). I can’t find any details of the fieldwork dates yet, but it’s very likely to have been done after David Cameron’s announcements on Tory economic policy on Tuesday.

The trend continues to be against the Conservatives – albeit, the one point shifts in each party’s share are not in themselves significant. This poll is, however, likely to be seem as a great relief for the Conservatives simply because the 3 point lead from MORI earlier in the week received so much publicity. This poll doesn’t reflect a shift back to the Tories, it reflects ICM’s different methodology – they weight their samples by past vote so their sample contains fewer former Labour voters to begin with, and their question wording, weighting and adjustment of don’t knows all lead to a higher level of Lib Dem support – which in recent months has been at the expense of Labour.

This should be a good reminder that you need to look at the broad sweep of the polls. The 3 point lead was a single poll, from a single pollster, when other companies’ most recent polls were still showing 11 and 13 point leads. You should always look at the big picture, not the most recent poll.

Early Election?

With a poll showing the parties within touching distance, the speculation about an early election have been rife. How likely is it, I really don’t know, but let’s look at the pros and cons.

On the pro side…

1) The economy is likely to get worse. The CBI’s predictions last week had the recession continuing through 2009 and reaching its nadir in early 2010 with unemployment at around 3 million. In other words, if Brown waits until the last moment for an election he will be fighting it at the very worst moment economically, when the public’s spirits have been sapped by economic hardship, they are likely blaming him for lost jobs, lower incomes and repossessed houses and yet, there aren’t quite any tangible signs of recovery.
2) The polls are close enough to stand a chance. On the new electoral boundaries the Conservatives need a lead of somewhere around 10 points for a majority (it depends on how well the Lib Dems do) and Labour can be the biggest party in a hung Parliment even if they are a couple of points behind. So while the polls are still all showing the Conservatives ahead, we are for the first time in months in a position where Labour would have at least a chance of coming out of an election with the most seats.
3) Waiting till the last minute leaves no room for maneouvre. If Gordon Brown waits until the very last minute in 2010 it does leave him with no room for maneouvre at all. Think back to Tony Blair being forced to delay the election because of foot and mouth. If Brown waits all the way to June 2010 he has no such wiggle room, if there is a fuel protest or a major strike or some political scandal he can’t shelve the election for a season.
4) Signs of preparation. Labour are getting on with selecting candidates in unwinnable seats, ConservativeHome reported a rumour of Labour candidates getting all their candidate with Gordon photos done this month, the implication being they are for election leaflets. The NEC has apparently set up a new campaigning fund for future donations to go into. It would be wrong to say that Labour are going onto an election footing, we would have picked up much firmer signs, but the foundations are going down.
5) The cutting and running argument wouldn’t wash. If a big reason against calling an election is how it would look, the reality is that it would be only one day’s news story. Once an election really gets started the media and the political parties will be talking about more important things than the timing of the election.
6) He hasn’t ruled it out. There has been a lot of speculation about an early election, even in September and October it kept cropping up. While Gordon Brown has made coded comments about concentrating on getting on with the job he has conspicuously failed to rule out an early election.

On the other hand…

1) Going for an early undermines Brown’s selling point and the narrative that has got Labour back in the running. Currently Brown’s recovery rests on the message that he is the steady, reliable hand on the tiller at a time of crisis, that the country doesn’t need any risky alternatives, just let solid, trustworthy Gordon get on with the task at hand. Obviously this doesn’t sit well with calling an election that isn’t needed for a year – people would ask why Brown was calling an election rather than “getting on with the job”. The story might pass quickly, but it would be a very bad start to an election campaign.
2) You can do a lot in 18 months. At the moment Gordon Brown is Prime Minister and has a substantial majority in the Commons. If he goes now he might be the biggest party in a hung parliament and cobble together a deal with the Lib Dems, he might even scrape a majority. Then again, he might be kicked out, in which case he can do nothing at all and has thrown away his premiership. It isn’t actually a very good bet, and there is nothing forcing him to take it. Even if he has, say, a 30% chance of winning an election now or a 5% chance of winning one in 2010, if he waits till 2010 he has a guarantee of 18 months of being Prime Minister and running the country. That’s not something to be thrown away lightly.
3) On the present polls he would still lose. There is a tendency to take the most recent poll as gospel and think “only 3 points – it’s really close”. In fact we should be looking at the broader picture of the polls, judging the figures produced by all the pollsters and at present there are still companies producing figures that show a Conservative victory – indeed ICM, who have one of the very best track records, have a 13 point Tory lead. The smallest Conservative leads in the polls are found in polls where the level of Lib Dem support has collapsed to the low teens and it seems unlikely they wouldn’t reclaim some of the support they have lost to Labour in the past few weeks once they had the enforced TV coverage an election campaign affords them. It’s perfectly possible that in the future the polls as a whole will suggest that labour could win an election, but right now, the broader picture still shows that the Conservatives would win the hypothetical “general election tomorrow”.
4) Even considering it risks disaster. Last October’s non-election was a disaster for Brown and he can’t risk repeating it. As Ben Brogan suggests here, if it was under consideration it would have to be kept incredibly quiet, but even so. It’s almost impossible to really keep an election under wraps – advertising contracts and extra staff are necessary, but give the game away. If Brown allowed whispers of another election to start building steam and then was seen to chicken-out a second time the damage to his image doesn’t bear thinking about.
5) Character. Put simply, whatever the arguments, Gordon Brown has shown himself to be rather risk adverse and not someone who relishes elections.

Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor shows the smallest Conservative lead so far since the figures began narrowing a few months ago. The topline figures, with changes from MORI’s last poll are CON 40%(-5), LAB 37%(+7), LDEM 12%(-2). The fieldwork was conducted between Friday and Sunday, so after “baby P” had become a political issue and at the same time as the fuss over whether George Osborne was right to say that the government’s policy could damage the exchange rate.

It’s a big month-on-month change, and like Mike Smithson, I wouldn’t be surprised if part of it is related to an increase in Labour’s voters’ certainly to vote, but we’ll have to wait for the detailled tables to be published before we’ll know for sure.

While there is a sharp drop in Conservative support here, it brings it more into line with the sort of figures most other pollsters are showing. Labour though are up to their highest figure for many months, above the support they received at the last election. The Lib Dems are right down to 12%, the same as ComRes’s poll. Frankly I thought that figure looked somewhat suspicious and there seemed to be fewer former Liberal Democrats in ComRes’s sample than usual – but now we’ve had a couple of polls in a row with dire figures for the third party.


While I’m here, a pre-emptive blast at anyone tempted to describe this as a statisical dead-heat (I know you, dear readers, would never stoop so low, but there are other people out there!) since the figures are within the margin of error. A 3 point margin of error (though MORI actually quote their turnout filtered figures as having a margin of error of 4 points) does NOT mean that any score within that range is equally likely. With the Tories at 40% in this poll, it doesn’t mean they are equally likely to be at 43% as they are at 39%, for example. It is more likely to be towards the middle of the range, and their most likely actual level of support is 40%.

On a normal 3% margin of error, 95% of the time the “real” number will be within 3% of the given number. However, 80% of the time it will be within 2% of the given number and 50% of the time it will be within 1%. If a poll shows two parties at 49% and 51%, they are not in a dead heat; it is more likely than not that the party with the higher score is ahead.

Not of course, that any of that changes the fact that things are looking very, very close.

UPDATE: No tables, but Mike Smithson’s been in touch with MORI and they’ve told him that the past vote in the poll was pretty much the same as last month, which had past vote shares of CON 23%, LAB 31%, LDEM 10.5%. This rules out the possiblity that the poll just had far more former Labour voters this month than last month.

UPDATE 2: The tables are here. Surprisingly none of the increase seems to be to do with Labour supporters being more likely to vote – in October 56% of Labour voters were 10/10 likely to vote, now it’s 53%. The shift seems more to be 2005 Labour and Lib Dem voters who said they would vote Tory a month ago, now saying they’d vote Labour – not, I should add, that one should put too much weight on little shifts in the cross-breaks. For the record, the political balance of the sample is slightly different from last month – this month’s sample is made of up 21% people who say they voted Tory in 2005, 30% people who say they voted Labour and only 9% who say they voted Lib Dem.