Pimhole is an area of Bury, just off the M66. More relevantly though, it was used in a Fry and Laurie sketch way back in 1990 as a fake swearword. The joke was that the BBC wouldn’t let Fry and Laurie swear on the telly, so they’d had to make up their own swearwords, like pempslider, frunk, fusking and pimhole.

Last week YouGov carried out a poll asking about attitudes to swearing on the television and asking people which words they thought were acceptable before the watershed, which should be limited to after 9pm and which were totally unacceptable on the television. As an experiment, we also added one fake swearword – pimhole – to the list to see how people would react.

25% of people, naturally enough, said they didn’t know. A further 14% said that it would be quite alright to say pimhole on the telly before the watershed (I have no idea how many recognised its provenance or suspected it was made up). However, 38% of people thought that pimhole should only be broadcast after the watershed and 23% thought it should be totally banned on the television. The survey suggested pimhole was regarded as being more offensive than words like bollocks or bastard.

There are various explanations why – I expect the main reason was context. The question was all about bad language on television, and pimhole was included in a list of swearwords including some that are considered extremely offensive. It’s likely many respondents assumed that pimhole must, therefore, be a swearword. The very fact that people hadn’t heard of it may have lead them to assume that it was particularly crude or offensive.

It’s also possible respondents may have been guessing what “pimhole” might have meant and coming up with very offensive meanings (and after all, the point of the original Fry and Laurie sketch was that the fake swearwords did sound as it they might be very rude). In the 20 years since the Fry and Laurie sketch, urbandictionary even has entries making assumptions about exactly what Fry & Laurie meant by pimhole.

It goes to show that what is a swearword is very much down to context – put an innocent word (admittedly one that sounds slightly rude) in the context where you find swearwords and a significant minority of people assume that it must indeed be something obscene.

My write up of the rest of the results is here and the full tabs are here. The rest of the poll found more people thought there should be tighter restrictions upon swearing than were themselves ever offended, and with the normal heavy age skew with older people far more likely to support restrictions and be offended by swearing on the telly. In terms of specific words, racial slurs, “spastic” and, erm, Jeremy Hunt, were regarded as the most offensive words.

How to read polls

Forgot to mention this earlier – a article I wrote for Total Politics last month giving tips on the best way to get the most of opinion polls http://www.totalpolitics.com/magazine_detail.php?id=1127


The full tables for YouGov’s weekly poll for the Sunday Times are now up here. As usual there were a range of subjects.

Firstly, there are some bad findings for Ed Miliband. Asked if he is “up to the job” of Labour leader, 27% said yes and 40% said no. Of course, most of those condemning him will be supporters of other political parties – for questions like this the more relevant figures are those for Labour supporters. 19% of current Labour supporters and 21% of people who voted Labour in 2010 think that Ed Miliband isn’t up to it. 23% of Labour supporters aren’t sure.

Asked whether Ed or David Miliband would have made the better leader, 36% of Labour supporters think David wouild have been better, 26% think Ed was the right choice. To some extent this shouldn’t be a surpise – after all, polls before the leadership election consistently showed the public preferred David to Ed – but clearly Ed hasn’t yet been successful in altering opinions.

As I’ve said in response to other negative ratings about Miliband – right now these ratings aren’t disasterous. Miliband doesn’t seem to have impressed people yet, but he doesn’t seem to have made a strong negative impression on the public either (there is no perception of Miliband as having “something of the night”, or Hague in his baseball cap, or even the poor old “Quiet Man”). I don’t think there’s anything so far that Miliband can’t come back from. There’s also some better news for Miliband is that people don’t think Cameron’s “son of Brown” jibe is fair – only 24% thought it was a fair description of his policies, 43% thought it was not (though I wonder whether questions like this are just the public rejecting the playground politics of slinging insults across the despatch box)

Turning to Ed Miliband’s policies, YouGov asked whether he should have done more to support the student protests, done more to distance himself, or whether he got the balance about right. Overall the public were pretty evenly spliy between the three answers, 23% thought he got it right, 23% that he should have supported it more, 26% that he should have distanced himself. Amongst Labour supporters 46% thought he got it right and 33% thought he should have supported them more, only 8% wanted him to distance himself more from the protests.

On the 50p tax rate for those earning over £150,000, the subject of disagreement between Miliband and Alan Johnson, 37% agreed with Miliband’s view that it should be permanent as it is a question of fairness and values. 46% thought it should be a temporary measure to tackle the deficit and eventually be reduced to 40%. This is an unusual finding – after all, we are used to most polling showing high levels of support for higher taxes on the rich.

Moving on, there were a series of questions upon prison and sentencing policy. Asked about the government’s broad policy of using fewer short prison sentences and more community sentences, the public were evenly split – 42% supported the policy and 44% were opposed. Amongst the Conservative party’s own supporters opinions were not much different – 48% of Tories supported the policy and 44% were opposed. Asked about the opposing arguments of Ken Clarke and Michael Howard – between Clarke’s view that short prison sentences are expensive and ineffectual, and Howard’s view that “prison works” – 35% were more of the view that prison worked, 40% were more of the view that community sentences would do more to reduce crime.

Both these findings go slightly against the grain – there is an assumption that the public are very right wing on law and order, and in many cases they are (look, for examples, at polls on early release, what proportion of sentences criminals should serve, or many polls on the death penalty). However, the British public’s views on law and order are often not a stereotypical kneejerk – look, for example, at this poll from back in 2007.

Finally there were a group of questions about Wikileaks. 46% of people thought the release of the diplomatic cables was wrong, with 36% supporting it. 42% thought the releases did pose a threat to Western security.

Asked about Julian Assange, views were evenly divided – 26% agreed with the characterisation of him as a traitor to the West, 28% saw him as a champion of freedom of information. 31% did not view him as either of these extremes. In regard of the Swedish sexual assault charges against him, 43% thought the allegations against him were probably trumped up to try and silence Wikileaks, 18% thought they were probably genuine. Despite this, 52% thought he should be extradited to Sweden.

YouGov’s weekly poll for the Sunday Times has topline figures of CON 40%, LAB 42%, LDEM 9%. It’s the first time YouGov have shown Labour pulling ahead of the Conservatives since just after the first big student protests in November (the one where the building containing Conservative party HQ was invaded).

I’m not sure if this is co-incidence or not – it could be the Labour leads both then and now are the effect of highlighting an unpopular government policy or unhappiness with the government. Alternatively today’s could just be an outlier. Even if it isn’t, there have been so many protests in recent weeks that whenever Labour went ahead there was bound to have been some sort of protest in the days leading up to it.

Meanwhile I’ve had a closer look at the Lib Dem polling from Lord Ashcroft. I am assuming that all this polling is from Populus, who usually do work for Lord Ashcroft, but annoying his report doesn’t seem to actually mention it.The tabs for Lord Ashcroft’s polling aren’t up on his site yet, since the most interesting things will probably be the cross-breaks for lost Lib Dems and retained Lib Dems and the comparison between them. Still looking what’s released so far…

Lord Ashcroft commissioned a poll of 2000 people who voted Liberal Democrat in May in Lib Dem seats – basically those that matter when it comes to defending Lib Dem seats come the next election.

Looking first at peoples reasons for voting Liberal Democrat, the poll asked people to say in their own words why they voted Liberal Democrat (clearly from the numbers people were able to give more than one reason). 34% said they supported Lib Dem policies or values, up to 57% (since people could have fallen into multiple candidates) said they voted for negative reasons – that they didn’t like Labour or the Tories or both, or it was time for a change from them, up to 32% said their local Lib Dem MP was good or there was strong Lib Dem support in their local area.

These answers have both positive and negative sides for the Lib Dems – the proportion who cite reasons like time for a change, not liking the Conservatives or not liking the main parties is very high, and lots of that support will be vulnerable (since the Lib Dems won’t be a change, and will have been in coalition with one of the main parties).

More positive is the high proportion of people who said the main reason for their vote is high regard for their local MP. These voters will presumably be less concerned about the Lib Dem party, though it’s important not to overegg this difference – at the end of the survey the poll asked how people thought they would vote come the 2015 election – while people who said they voted Lib Dem because of their local MP were most loyal to the party, still only 64% said they would vote Lib Dem, compared to 54% overall.

It’s also worth noting that if 46% of Lib Dem voters in Lib Dem seats are saying they are likely not to support the party in 2015, then it suggests that the Lib Dem vote in Lib Dems seats is not behaving drastically differently to elsewhere.

Turning to attitudes to the coalition, about half of 2010 Lib Dem voters who gave an opinion say the Liberal Democrats made the right decision to enter coalition, 21% say they should have gone with Labour with the rest saying they should have remained in opposition. 36% of Lib Dem voters say they wouldn’t have voted Lib Dem at the last election had they known the party was going to enter coalition with the Conservatives.

In most policy areas few 2010 Lib Dem voters thought the presence of the party in the coalition had made the government’s policies better. The highest scoring ones were welfare reform (where 37% thought they had improved policies) and the environment (where 32% thought they had made things better). On tuition fees only 11% thought the Lib Dems had made the policy better, and 49% thought they had made it worse (a bizarre finding. I expect this is actually people expressing their anger over the Liberal Democrat stance on tuition fees, rather than people who actually think the Conservatives on their own would have carried out some tuition fees policy that was closer to their preference).

Sunday polls

I think there will be three polls tonight – Ipsos MORI, ICM (probably) and YouGov. Ipsos MORI’s poll in the News of the World had a sample of only 800, so presumably won’t have any voting intention figures. It finds 28% in support of the coalition’s tuition fee policy and “almost two thirds” opposed.

The Press Association coverage concentrates on one of those awful “does X make you less likely to vote for party Y” questions. You all know how lowly I rate such questions – people tend to use them to indicate support or approval for a policy regardless of how lightly it weighs upon their vote.

In this case it’s particularly difficult to tell if it’s meaningful, the PA says the poll shows 46% of “previous” Lib Dems voters are less likely to vote Liberal Democrats as a result of their stance on tuition fees. Now until we see the tables we can’t tell exactly what that means, but presumably it’s that 46% of people who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 are less likely to vote Liberal Democrat because of fees. If that’s the case, then given most polls show getting on for half of 2010 Lib Dem voters wouldn’t vote Liberal Democrat tomorrow anyway, it’s hardly a surprise. “People who no longer vote Liberal Democrat less likely to vote Liberal Democrat shocker!!!”

UPDATE: Much more interesting should be this big of chunk of polling on the Liberal Democrats, commissioned by Lord Ashcroft. I haven’t had chance to look through it yet, but it looks promising.

UPDATE2: The Lord Ashcroft polling is in the Sunday Telegraph tomorrow, so clearly no ICM after all.