Of course he isn’t. I don’t normally sink to mentioning PR puff polls, but since reputable sources like Sky and the Guardian haven’t have the good sense not to I suppose I’d better.

Here’s the way PR polls work. You are a PR company, you want your client – let’s call it Wizzytech Treacle – to get their name in the newspapers. Now, Wizzytech Treacle could pay lots of money to actually buy advertising space, but a much cheaper way is to commission a couple of questions on an Omnibus survey, asking the public which celebrity has the nicest bottom, whose head they would most prefer to transplant onto their spouse, who they would rather be trapped under a fallen wardrobe with, or whatever other rubbish appeals to newsdesks after a nice little story to fill a few inches.

Once they’ve got the silly result, they press release it saying “New research commissioned by Wizzytech Treacle shows Stephen Fry has the world’s nicest bottom”, possibly with a ready made quote from the CEO of Wizzytech Treacle extolling the merits of Stephen Fry’s bottom. All the freebie newspapers who don’t have the money for proper journalists happily copy and paste it into their newspapers and voila, plenty of Wizzytech Treacle column inches for a comparatively tiny outlay.

As one might imagine, questions done for this purpose don’t necessarily have the highest research standards. In this context, it appears to have asked people who people thought was most boring out of a short list of people, including David Beckham, Kate Winslet and Chris Moyles. It doesn’t show that Gordon Brown is the most boring speaker, it doesn’t even show he is more boring than other politicians. It reveals the shock news that a politician is seen as more boring than a top footballer, a popular DJ or an oscar winning movie star. Hold the front page!

Populus March Poll

Populus’s monthly poll for the Times has topline figures, with changes from last month, of CON 42%(nc), LAB 30%(+2), LDEM 19%(+1).

The last couple of polls have shown Labour staging a slight recovery. This particular poll took place after Gordon Brown’s visit to the USA and his address to Congress, and after a period where the Conservatives have been largely silence while David Cameron mourns his son. Populus asked specifically about Brown’s visit to Washington – 25% said it made them feel more positive about Brown, 13% less positive – but as usual with questions like this, most of those people saying it made them more positive about Brown were people who are Labour voters anyway.

Cameron and Osborne are now ahead on being the most trusted team to run the economy in the months or years ahead. We’ve seen them regain a lead with other pollsters already, but this is the first time Populus have put them back ahead since October.

The Times’s coverage highlights the difference in voting intention between public and private sector employees. The Conservatives are doing much better amongst private sector employees than amongst the public sector (45% and 38% respectively). Labour too do slightly worse amongst the public sector (26% to 29%). The parties that do better amongst state employees are the Liberal Democrats and Greens. The Times says that the Conservatives are ahead amongst NHS and local government workers and neck and neck amongst teachers, but I expect the samples sizes for occupations are too small to be really meaningful.

This does raise an interesting methodological aside though. Long time readers might remember last year when Ipsos MORI reviewed their methodology after wrongly showing Ken Livingstone ahead in the mayoral race. They discovered their samples were including too many public sector workers, and have since then weighted by public sector or private sector employment. Taking the most recent MORI poll as an example, their raw sample was 25% public sector workers and MORI needed to weight this down to 12%, a huge reduction.

Now, Ipsos MORI these days carry out their polling using quasi-random phone sampling, so if their raw samples are skewed towards the public sector, it’s quite possible that other companies will be too – and MORI are alone in weighting by public sector employment.

In Populus’s sample, they classed 18% of their respondents as public sector employees – so they’ve got substantially more public sectors workers than MORI do in their weighted samples. MORI say that their weighting target of 12% is drawn from the ONS’s Economic & Labour Market Review, so their target at least should be correct. Does this mean the other pollsters are including too many public sector workers? Well, not necessarily – it could be that the questions they are using to find out employment sector are different, or they are classifying different jobs differently (where, for example, do Northern Rock or Post Office employees go? Or employees of private companies doing contracted out local government work? The question isn’t necessarily black and white). Nevertheless, it’s something that might be worth looking at.

UPDATE: Andrew Cooper replies in the comment section here about how Populus classified people as public sector.


Last month I was dismissive of the way the Telegraph had interpreted a YouGov poll as showing that immigration was the public’s number one issue, when actually YouGov had only asked about a limited number of specific policies, that didn’t include things like health or the economy.

I said then that proper questions asking about the most important issues show that the economy is – as you’d expect – far and away the most important issue to the public. Well Ipsos MORI’s monthly issues tracker, the one I prefer since it is entirely unprompted, is now available and does indeed show the economy remains easily the public’s major concern.

It’s worth noting that immigration has risen up the agenda slightly this month, and was cited as an important issue by 25% of people. In the context of recent years however, that is actually quite low – from 2003 until 2005 MORI tended to find a much higher proportion of people mentioning immigration as an issue, in fact going back to 2006 and 2007 it was sometimes the number one issue mentioned.

On the subject of MORI, there is also a good article by Bob Worcester on their website about spotting dodgy question wording.

Bizarre news story in the Sunday Telegraph. Patrick Hennessey writes about a “secret poll” of Labour activists, commissioned by Compass. He continues “So sensitive was its timing, amid claims that the contest to choose the party’s next leader is already under way, that its very existence was kept under wraps and it is understood that there is no intention to make its results public.”

It’s existance was “kept under wraps” in the sense that some other findings from the poll were reported a week ago in the Guardian, and it is “understood that there is no intention to make the results public” in the sense that they are up on the YouGov website.

Taking the Royal Mail questions that were reported in the Guardian first, two-thirds of Labour party members were opposed to the part-privatisation and wanted to keep the Royal Mail wholly publically owned. 24% supported the government’s plans, and 5% would go further and support complete privatisation. YouGov also tested reactions to the alternative that the Royal Mail could be run like the BBC – an independently-run, non-profit, public corporation. This was more popular (backed by 32%) than privatising it partially (15%) or wholly (3%), but still backed by fewer people than the status quo (43%).

In contrast there was more support for another controversial government policy. Asked about the government’s proposals to force recipients of Job Seeker’s Allowance to show they are seeking work or risk losing benefit, 50% of party members said it should still go ahead as planned, with 46% saying it should be delayed or scrapped.

Looking at the views of Labour party members on other issues they somewhat to the left of the government itself – fitting the normal perception that party members tend to be slighly less centrist than their leaders. Overwhelmingly (80%) Labour party members think the government could raise taxes on people earning over £100,000 without damaging the economy. A similar proportion (81%) support the idea of a windfall tax on utility companies.

On the broader issues, only a small minority (13%) of Labour party members saw the present crisis as the cue for Britain to abandon capitalism. However, many more (47%) thought that capitalism should be “radically reformed”, with much greater regulation of large companies, bans on large bonuses and workers representatives on company boards. 32% said they backed much more limited extra regulation.

Asked directly to place themselves and Gordon Brown on a left-right scale, Labour party members tend to describe themselves as “fairly left-wing”, but Gordon Brown as only “slightly left of centre”. Changing the descriptions into a numerical scale of -100 to +100, as Peter Kellner normally does with these polls, gives an average of -44 for Labour party members, while they perceive Gordon Brown as being at -20.

Before people draw too many conclusions from this, remember that it isn’t unusual, it’s par for the course. You would no doubt find Conservative members to see themselves as much more right wing than David Cameron. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Labour will find itself forced left by its members, nor that members will vote for a more left wing leader after Gordon Brown – just because Labour members are more left wing, doesn’t mean they don’t realise that elections tend to won from the centre and will vote for a leader more centrist than themselves, as they did with Tony Blair.

Finally, YouGov also asked party members whether they thought senior figures were doing well, the bit that the Sunday Telegraph got all excited about.

Most importantly Gordon Brown continues to have the support of his party members – 77% think he is doing well, though a minority (21%) of his party members think he is doing badly. Alistair Darling and David Miliband’s ratings are broadly similar, less popular with their rank and file membership are Peter Mandelson (62% to 30%) and Harriet Harman (58% to 32%). Lowest rated is Jacqui Smith, with 56% of party members thinking she is doing well, but 39% badly.

UPDATE: David Prescott cheekily suggests that Compass asked those left-right scale questions in the hope that Labour members would see Peter Mandleson as more right wing than David Cameron. Needless to say, they didn’t.

ICM poll of Wales

The BBC have commissioned that rare creature, a Welsh opinion poll. On the downside, since it was commissioned by the BBC, there are no voting intention figures. Full tables of the ICM poll are here

Asked about how they would prefer Wales to be governed, 13% supported a completely independent Wales (either outside or insider the EU), 34% supported Wales remaining part of the UK, but with a proper Parliament with full law making and tax raising powers, 10% supported giving the Assembly law making powers, but not tax raising powers, 21% supported the status quo and 19% wanted to see the current Assembly abolished.

With the balance of opinion in favour of greater powers, a second question on how people would vote in a referendum on giving the Welsh Assembly full legislative powers unsurprisingly showed people would back it, 52% to 39%.

Rhodri Morgan continues to enjoy a net approval rating of plus 44, with 65% thinking he is doing a good job and 21% thinking he is doing a bad job. However, asked how well the Welsh Assembly was developing policies to combat the recession, only 17% said well, 34% said badly.