The full tables from the YouGov poll in the Telegraph are now online here.

As I suspected, the poll doesn’t show that immigration is the “top issue” for anybody. The question actually gave people a list of 10 policy aims and asked which ones people would most like the Conservatives to do – so what it actually shows is that more people would support a reduction in immigration than would support the other policies listed, which were things like “scrap ID cards”, “build more prisons”, “cut taxes”, “bring back grammar schools”. It’s an okay question in itself if you want to see how popular the policies it asked about were compared to one another, but it certainly doesn’t show what the Telegraph thinks it showed.

The question gave no opportunity for people to say they’d like the Conservatives to deal with the economic crisis, or indeed do anything about the health service. If people thought education was an issue, but didn’t want selection brought back across the country, they couldn’t say that either. Questions that DO ask what people think the top issue is, and do give people a full list to pick from, universally show that the economy is the number one issue.

As well as the question I mentioned yesterday about whether people preferred Mandelson or Clarke as business secretary, the poll also included head-to-heads between Darling & Osborne, Miliband & Hague and Smith & Grayling. In every case the Conservative shadow was prefered to the Labour incumbent, but as one might expect, people’s responses were largely along party lines. More interesting therefore is probably how big the difference is in each case – we saw yesterday that the net preference for Clarke over Mandelson was 31 points, the net preference for Hague over Miliband was 19 points, for Grayling over Smith was 14 points (which probably says more about Jacqui Smith than Chris Grayling considering how new he is to the job), but for Osborne over Darling was only 5 points. It suggests that either Osborne is seen as the weak link in the Tory top team, or Darling is more positively regarded than his colleagues (or both!).

UPDATE: After pondering about the others in the last post, I forgot to look at them! It was SNP/PC 4%, BNP 4%, UKIP 2%, Green 2%. Another highish figure for the BNP. As I wrote before, don’t read too much into the other figures, they jump about a lot, but keep an eye on it.

YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph has topline figures, with changes from the previous YouGov poll, of CON 41%(-3), LAB 31%(-1), LDEM 15%(+1).

While the poll still shows them at 40% and with a double point lead, the poll suggests a slight fall in Tory support. It’ll be interesting to see if that is reflected in other polls, although sympathy for David Cameron’s loss of his son Ivan may well lead to some temporary blips in figures anyway (a lot of the fieldwork for this poll would have been conducted before people had seen the news).

It looks as though “others” are also up in the poll. This follows a similar pattern to some of the other recent polls. You may remember that Populus’s last poll showed the BNP moving up. Given that support for minor parties fluctuates rather a lot in polls, I warned that the Populus poll alone didn’t mean much, but it’s worth keeping an eye on in case a pattern does emerge.

Other questions in the poll showed Gordon Brown’s approval rating continuing to fall, the Conservative lead on handling the present economic crisis increasing, and that 48% of people thought Ken Clarke would make a better business secretary than Peter Mandelson, with only 17% prefering Mandelson.

The Telegraph headlines on a finding that immigration was supposedly the top issue people want dealing with – the actual question asked isn’t stated in the report, but I’d be incredibly surprised if immigration was seen as a more important issue than the economy. I suspect it was the most important issue out of a list that didn’t include sorting out the economic crisis…

Years ago I slated the BBC for commissioning a poll about religion and trying to draw conclusions about people from different religious groups using pathetically small sample sizes. They are at it again in this poll.

The ComRes poll found that 63% of people agreed with the statement that “Our laws should respect and be influenced by UK religious values”, which is fair enough. The BBC report then goes onto say that “A significantly greater proportion of the Muslims and Hindus polled (albeit in relatively small numbers) supported a strong role in public life for the UK’s (essentially Christian) traditional religious values.”

If we look at the tables though these weren’t “relatively small numbers”, they were minute numbers. The poll interveiwed 21 Muslims and 9 Hindus. The “significantly greater” figures weren’t significantly different at all – 79% of Muslims agreed and 74% of Hindus agreed. The margins of error on these tiny groups are something like 23% and 32%, so they are not significantly different at all.

So, to the BBC, if you want to compare the views of different religious communities, you need to commission a bespoke poll taking representative samples from each religious community you are interested in. You can’t do it for a cutdown price on an omnibus and try to say something about British Hindus based on nine interviews. If you just want to take the views of Britain as a whole, don’t try to draw conclusions about tiny subsamples that your data cannot possibly support.

I suppose we should at least be grateful for that small caveat about sample size and that the tables are there on the BBC site to see, since the BBC story then gets picked up by other people who report it even more badly. For example, the Telegraph make the findings about Muslims – based on 21 people remember – the headline of the story. The Daily Mail surpass that by also highlighting that “three-quarters of Sikhs said…” There were 3, that’s THREE, Sikhs in the sample.

ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has voting intention figures, with changes from their last poll, of CON 42%(+2), LAB 30%(+2), LDEM 18%(-4). It was conducted between the 20th and 22nd of February.

The raw changes from the last Guardian poll obviously suggest a sharp fall in Lib Dem support, with both Labour and the Conservatives benefitting. However, if we cast our minds back that last ICM poll showed a rather surprising 6 point leap in Liberal Democrat support with no obvious cause. Despite the lack of an obvious cause, Populus and ComRes polls showing a similar pattern seemed to support it, until YouGov and MORI showed a distict lack of a Lib Dem gain. With ICM now showing them back down, it’s looking like that 22% was a blip. It’s possible that the Lib Dems really shot up temporarily for a week then slumped back down again, but more likely random chance just provided ICM with a particularly Lib Dem inclined sample. We’ll never know.

Taking a wider view the poll shows the Conservatives maintaining a healthy double point lead, and unlike some other recent polls doesn’t show Labour falling below the psychologically important 30 point level.

On other questions in the poll ICM asked about the best party on issues. Exact figures aren’t available yet, but the Guardian reports that the Conservatives now lead on most issues. Predictably they are ahead on law and order, which is normally a Tory banker. They are now pretty much neck and neck on education, substantially ahead on the economy in general and narrowly ahead on the present economic crisis. Labour remain ahead on health, which is normally a banker for them and apparently on terrorism. The article implies the Lib Dems are ahead on the environment – at least, they are ahead of the Conservatives.

I take issue with one sentence in the Guardian’s report, “Fears that the recession would push issues such as immigration up the political agenda are backed by today’s figures. It lies fourth equal in importance, cited as a priority by 9%.” This shows the peril of taking a poll in isolation. There are far more regular and better trackers of what issues people think are important, and they have not yet shown any rise in concern over immigration. MORI’s monthly, unprompted tracker of what issues people think are important – full data here – shows 21% cited immigration as an important issue in January, the third highest after the economy and unemployment. That is high, but if you go back to early 2008 and 2007 it was typically cited by over 40% of respondents, so the trend is downwards. It may very well rise in the future – we haven’t seen MORI’s issue tracker for February and the effect of the BJFBW strikes – but so far there’s no evidence of it.

Over at Political Betting Mike Smithson is taking John Rentoul to task for saying in his Sunday column that the polls could be overrepresenting Labour support by up to 5 points, and the Conservatives may only need a lead of 3 points to win. Mike is right to do so.

Polls back in 1992 vastly overestimated Labour. In 1997 most of them overestimated Labour, with the honourable exception of ICM, who in their final poll actually erred towards the Conservatives. In 2001 many of them still overestimated Labour, but the lessons were slowly being learnt. In 2005 all the pollsters were very close to the actual position, though the errors were still slightly in Labour’s favour.

The graph below shows the difference between the actual Labour/Conservative lead at each of the last four elections, and what the last 8 published polls of the campaign showed. If there was not a systemic skew to the polls we would expect to see as many errors in favour of the Conservatives as in favour of Labour – as you can see, there is one lone instance of a eve-of-poll election underestimating Labour’s position (ICM in 1997).

However, what’s also clear is how much better the polls have got – in 1992 they all grossly erred in Labour’s favour. By 2005 they were all very close to the real position (the one tall bar in 2005 is a MORI poll, but their final poll of the campaign was much closer, so no one disgraced themselves).

If the polling companies behaved in exactly the same way as they did in 2005 we would expect a skew in the Conservative/Labour gap of about 2 points in Labour’s favour. However, they aren’t behaving in the same way: to give two examples, ICM have shifted their weighting to be marginally more favourable to the Conservatives (weighting past vote to a point 75% of the way towards the real result, rather than 50% as last time); Ipsos MORI are weighting by public and private sector employment, which also shifts things in the Conservatives favour. ComRes have adopted past vote weighting. Other companies have reformed their methods in ways where it harder to say what the partisan effect will be, but no one is resting on their laurels.

On past performance and the changes made since then, I would expect the polls to be pretty close to the actual result at the next election or even, in some cases, to overestimate Conservative support. Of course, the unknown quantity is how well the polls will reflect the large shift in political support since the last election. All three of the elections since the 1992 debarcle have been Labour victories, and the pollsters have been gradually honing their techniques under those circumstances. Aside from mid term polls like European and London mayoral elections, where some pollsters have done far better than others, this will be the first time the post-1992 polling methods are tested in an environment with the Conservatives ahead.


We should be getting ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian tonight. My laptop has thrown a wobbly, so I may not be as quick on the uptake as usual, but I will report when I get the chance.