ICM’s last poll was back at the tail end of May and was something of a sensation – showing the Liberal Democrats up on second place and Labour pushed down to 22% – something that wouldn’t be particular unusual from YouGov, but was incredibly low for ICM, whose polls have shown Labour support as far more resiliant; they very rarely show Labour dropping below the high 20s.

Their lastest poll is something of a return to normality therefore – the topline figures, with changes from their last poll, are CON 39%(-1), LAB 27%(+5), LDEM 18%(-7!). From their poll a week before that the changes are far less radical – the Conservatives unchanged, Labour and the Lib Dem’s down slightly – suggesting that poll with Labour in third place was probably something of an outlier. Certainly while MORI had them neck and neck, no one else has shown the Lib Dems overtaking Labour.

Meanwhile, unlike YouGov’s last poll, there is no sign of the level of “other” support waning yet. It stands at 15%, which includes 6% for UKIP and 4% for the Greens.

On other questions, Cameron leads Brown 48% to 22% as best Prime Minister, Cameron & Osborne lead Brown & Darling by 47% to 31%. Expectations for the result of the next general election show 54% expect the Conservatives to win, 9% think Labour will win and 34% expect a hung Parliament.

ICM also asked about attitudes towards electoral reform. The actual question asked isn’t clear, but the Guardian’s report says 52% supported a new electoral system, with 43% opposed.

YouGov have a new poll in the Sunday Times, the topline figures with changes from their last poll are CON 40%(+3), LAB 24%(+2), LDEM 18%(-1). It was conducted on Thursday and Friday.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are up slightly – in YouGov’s polls you need to go back a month or so to get the Conservatives up at 40 or Labour into the mid-twenties. Perhaps this suggests the beginnings of a decline in the “other vote” now the European elections have passed, though it is just the one poll. Even it is, it’s only a small decline: others remain up at 18%, with UKIP taking the largest share with 8% (the Greens are on 4% and the BNP on 3%).

As with Populus’s poll in the week, there is an increase in economic optimism. The net percentage of people who think the economy is doing badly is minus 80 – an atrocious figure in itself, but up from minus 86 a month ago and minus 91 back in February.

On other questions 60% of people said that Brown should step down prior to the election, and 73% wanted an election this year (49% now, and 24% in the autumn). Interestingly, while David Cameron’s ratings remain very high with a net popularity rating of plus 25, there was less enthusiasm for the team behind him: only 36% thought he had “the right team” to tackle Britain’s problems, with 50% disagreeing.

UPDATE: There’s also a Scottish YouGov poll in the Scottish edition of the paper, though I have only seen partial figures: the SNP are on 31% in Westminster voting intentions, the Conservatives on 17%. No doubt someone with access to the Scottish paper will leave the results in the comments section.


New Populus Poll

Full report to follow tomorrow, but there is a Populus poll in Friday’s Times with topline figures of CON 36%(-5), LAB 24%(+3), LDEM 19%(+4).

UPDATE: Lots of comment already on this one. Clearly it appears to show a sharp drop in Conservative support, an increase in Labour support and an increase in Lib Dem support. This is rather surprising – in recent years we’ve normally seen a boost for the victors following the local elections, a “winner’s aura effect”, and certainly disunity of the sort Labour have suffered in the last week has normally damaged a party.

However, the point of polls is to tell us something we don’t know, and the public don’t always react to events the way you’d expect. This is the first poll since the Euro-elections, other companies might paint different pictures, but in the wider context this isn’t that odd anyway: while this poll shows a sharp narrowing of the Tory lead, it’s much in line with other polling from the days before the election, which had also shown the Conservatives heading down into the 30s with Labour in the low 20s.

Looking forward does this indcicate a Labour recovery? Well, what happens in voting intention polls in the coming months largely depends on what happens when support for “others” declines – in this poll it remains at 21%. Currently it is high because of two factors – one of which will fade away, the other of which will probably lessen. Firstly there is the effect of the European elections, which judging by the past precedent of 2004 will fade over the next few months as people put their minds to voting in FPTP elections that choose a government, and the publicity UKIP and the BNP get around European elections fades. Secondly there is the “plague on all your houses” effect of the expenses scandal – it’s less of a given that this will decline, in theory it could stay high, but now the Telegraph has seemingly used all its best stories it will get considerably less media attention and will likely fall down the agenda. Where some of that “other” vote goes – does the UKIP vote drift back to the Conservatives? Do some protest votes go back to Labour? Do they become don’t knows or won’t votes? – will have a big effect upon our topline voting intention figures.

On other questions in the poll, the Times concentrates upon an increase in economic optimism figures. It’s important to remember that while the political media has been focused on sleaze and corruption over recent weeks, the economy remains the issue that the public rate as the most important. In today’s Populus poll 32% of people now think the economy will do well over the next year, with 63% thinking it will do badly. The balance is clearly still pessimistic, but the trend is improving. I wouldn’t go so far as to connect this with the increase in Labour’s support – there are a whole load of different factors in play (and besides, Labour have increased within the margin of error in a single poll!) but I’ll try to have a closer look at economic optimism figures in the next few days.

UPDATE2: Over on Political Betting, Mike Smithson writes that “It’s always a good indication of how a newspaper regards the findings of a poll that it has commissioned by the reporting. What could be seen as sensational voting numbers here are tucked away near the end of the story.” Probably a good thing, considering the criticism Danny Finkelstein threw at the Independent earlier this week for splashing polls on the frontpage when they show surprising figures, rather than treating them with due caution.

Scottish Independence

A quick update on a poll I missed while everyone was recovering from the European elections and the government reshuffle. There was a TNS System Three (or, as they will be known in the future thanks to TNS’s takeover by WPP, TNS-BMRB) poll in the Herald earlier in the week with their latest tracker figures for voting intention in a referendum on Scottish Independence.

Currently 39% (-1 since January) say they would vote NO in a referendum, 38% (-2 since January) would vote yes – so the lead is largely unchanged from the last time System Three asked, though the percentage of don’t knows has risen slightly.

As soon as there is a leadership crisis in a party, it is only a matter of time before the “how would you vote if X was leader questions” come along. Bang on time they have arrived, with ComRes providing the goods for tomorrow’s Independent.

Now, poll questions like this are an interesting beast. In my opinion they are both of very little use in actually showing how popular leaders would be, but at the same time of massive importance. The first part is because the public are firstly very poor at predicting how they will respond to future events, and secondly know very little about the potential alternate candidates. Even if they are quite well known, like Jack Straw, no one has any clue what Jack Straw would do as leader, what policies he would champion and so on. Anyway, more about leadership polls in general here.

If they are of such limited use, why do I say they are so important? Well, even though I don’t put much weight in them, lots of MPs do. Until now no poll has ever shown an alternate leader doing much better than Gordon Brown, so Brown’s supporters can justifiably say to rebel Labour MPs that there is no evidence that any alternate leader would do any better than Brown. The ComRes poll changes that.

ComRes’s normal voting intention question, with changes from their last poll, has shares of CON 38%(+8), LAB 22%(nc), LDEM 20%(+2). It was conducted between the 5th and 7th June, so after the local election results were out and James Purnell has resigned, but before the European election results. On the face of it, it shows a large increase in Conservative support, but I’d pay that little heed: the previous ComRes poll was that freaky one showing the Conservatives down at 30%, almost certainly a rogue poll.

ComRes went on to ask how people would vote if other people were Labour leader. These showed Alan Johnson cutting the Conservative lead to 10 points, Jack Straw to 11 points, David Miliband to 12 points, Ed Balls and Jon Cruddas to 14 points. Harriet Harman would produce a 16 point Tory lead, and James Purnell a 17 point Tory lead.

Now, for various reasons these figures are not actually comparable to normal voting intentions. Firstly each was prompted with just the name of the hypothetical Labour leader, not the names of David Cameron and Nick Clegg (and to be entirely fair, they should be compared to a question asking specifically about Labour led by Brown). More importantly none took into account likelihood to vote, so we don’t know if any would make Labour voters more or less likely to back their party, only whether they make people actually switch.

For those reasons and the ones I mentioned at the start of the article, I don’t think they tell us much at all about how well all these people would actually do as Labour leader. It doesn’t really matter though, since it provides Brown’s critics with something they can point at as showing that alternate leaders would do better than him.