There is a new Populus poll in the Times. Topline voting intention, with changes since Populus’s last poll, are CON 39%(-1), LAB 29%(-1), LDEM 18%(nc).

It’s another no change poll, but as I’m sure many will note, 10 points is a particularly low lead compared to other recent polls. Populus use very similar methodology to ICM, and I’d expect them normally to show pretty similar pictures. However, the last two Populus polls have shown Tory leads of 10 points and the last two ICM polls have shown Tory leads of 17 points. Technically speaking they are within the margin of error of a position somewhere inbetween, and since there’s no methodological explanation my guess is that it is just that – normal sample error with the real picture being a lead around 13 or 14.

Others are up slightly to 14%, this is mostly a boost for UKIP who are up to 4% from 2% a month ago. It’ll be read as a result of the Conservative Lisbon policy, but I would be wary of reading too much into that – there’s no significant shift in Tory support and the level of support for minor parties does tend to bounce about a bit. For the record though, it is higher than UKIP normally reach in Populus polls (as opposed to around the time of the European elections, when they were as high as 8%)

Asking specifically about the Conservative European policy, 48% of respondents backed the Conservative policy that “it would be pointless to have a referendum on Europe unless specific further changes in Britain’s relations with the EU were being proposed”, with 46% instead saying that “should be a referendum early in the next Parliament on the general issue of Britain’s relations with the EU”. Conservative supporters however were less supportive – only 37% agreed with their own party’s policy, with 59% supporting a referendum.

Populus also asked about MP’s pay. 68% disagreed with the statement that MPs should have their pay increased “to ensure that good quality people from all backgrounds are not deterred from standing”.

ConHome, Political Betting and now David Blackburn at CoffeeHouse have all picked up on a paragraph from Jackie Ashley’s column this morning which says “Some Labour people may think I’m sounding too gloomy, but those who have been privy to recent private polling are a lot more than gloomy. This suggests that Labour could return to the Commons with just 120 MPs or thereabouts”.

Rumours of private polling from the political parties are often given far more credence than they deserve, as if it’s some special secret knowledge that trumps the stuff that is fully available for us to pore over.

Private polling isn’t more accurate, pollsters are not like NHS consultants. They don’t do cheap bog-standard polls for the papers, then bugger off down the road to plush, oak-panelled private polling offices to do much better polls for private clients. The voting intention polls that are carried out for the papers are the best that the pollsters can do and if some of the pollsters have private polls from the main UK pollsters, their voting intentions will in all likelihood be carried out in the same way with the same results (in fact, on principle I’d advise due scepticism of anyone showing anything wildly different).

For Labour to be reduced to only 120 seats on a uniform swing would require a Conservative lead of around about 28 points. With the main pollsters all showing leads in the mid-teens, I would treat any poll showing a Conservative lead of 28 points with extreme scepticism.

Of course, what political parties can do as part of their private polling is commission polls in specific seats, or specific groups of seats. It’s just possible that is what is what is behind Jackie Ashley’s claim. For Labour to actually be reduced to 120 seats, we’d have to see them lose seats like Vauxhall, Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Scunthorpe, Worsley & Eccles South, Alyn & Deeside, Stoke on Trent South – that sort of place, as opposed to Labour’s absolute safe areas like former mining villages and Northern inner cities. Perhaps Labour have done some private polling in that sort of area and seen horrid results. More likely, some minister has just said something off the cuff to demonstrate how horrible their polling position is, and it doesn’t reflect some great poll finding at all.

One of the issues at the time the British Polling Council was set up was political parties making outlandish claims about their private polling showing something different from the published polls. When Conservative morale flagged Lord Saatchi would wheel out some “private polling” allegedly showing how well the Conservatives were doing. Whether they actually showed that, or were slanting reporting or interpretation the public and media couldn’t tell, since the tables and questions were not made public.

These days under BPC rules if parties release stuff like this, they are obliged to release the tables that the research is based upon and observers can see for themselves what they really say, and whether the parties are trying to hoodwink them. In practice though, it doesn’t work like that, the only difference it makes is that when they used to mention figures, now parties just say that their private polling “shows” something, without mentioning any actual figures or questions that interested parties could demand the release of under BPC disclosure rules. Hence we are even less able to tell if they mean anything at all.

My advice would be to ignore what political parties claim, or tell friendly journalists, their private polling says unless there are actual figures (and consequently tables) to check.


Today’s Herald has a new TNS-BMRB poll (TNS-BMRB are, I should add, the rebranded System Three, not some strange newcomers!)

Westminister voting intentions with changes since the previous TNS-BMRB Westminster poll in April are CON 18%(-1), LAB 39%(+3), LDEM 12%(+3), SNP 25%(-7).

There were also Holyrood voting intentions, but the figures are incomplete in the newspaper article. I’m told by a commenters here that the full figures are for the constituency vote, CON 13%(+1), LAB 32%(nc), LDEM 11%(nc), SNP 40%(+1). For the regional vote the figures are CON 12%(+2), LAB 29%(nc), LDEM 12%(nc), SNP 37%(-2). Changes are from a more recent TNS-BMRB poll in June which didn’t have Westminster voting intentions.

The poll shows a significant shift back towards Labour at the Westminster level, but not at Holyrood. The time periods are, of course, slightly different, but even comparing the Holyrood voting intentions with those from April there is a much smaller shift at that level. The contrast between a 14 point Labour lead in Westminster voting intentions and a 18 point SNP lead in Holyrood intentions is startling. I’m no expert on Scottish politics, but to throw out some possible explanations, perhaps it’s a positive judgement on both the Westminster and Holyrood governments, or perhaps it a squeeze on the SNP vote at Westminster as Scots move to voting Labour as an anti-Conservative vote.

There’s rather too many partisan comments cropping up in the comments threads, so I can I remind people to follow the comments policy please… except in this thread, where you are welcome to indulge yourselves in tiresome and pointless partisan rants and oneupmanship.

There were two purported polls of medical professionals this week. A survey by Pulse, a magazine for GPs, surveyed 326 GPs on their voting intentions and found support standing at CON 52%, LAB 8%, LDEM 22%.

Meanwhile a survey of NHS managers by the Health Service Journal found voting intentions at CON 29%, LAB 50%, LDEM 16%.

I can’t actually vouch for either of them. The latter one smells a bit voodoo-ish – it seems to have been a survey of visitors to the HSJ site, and I’ve no idea if measures were taken to ensure respondents actually were NHS managers, and even if they were, how representative of NHS managers they would have been. Equally, I don’t know how those 326 GPs in the first poll were selected or how representative they were.

Even if we take it as “just a bit of fun” though, the contrast between NHS managers and GPs is stark to say the least!

UPDATE: A comment from a contributor below suggests both polls were just done as open access polls on the respective websites, with no obvious attempt at doing any weighting or controls to get an accurate sample. With that in mind, fun though the contrast is, they probably don’t tell us anything at all about NHS managers or GPs.