The brief post-budget bounce aside, Labour now have a pretty consistent lead in voting intention. However, the answers other questions are often rather bad for Labour.

On best Prime Minister Cameron has a 13 point lead over Miliband, on dealing with the deficit the coalition lead Labour by 14 points, Cameron & Osborne have a 9 point lead over Miliband & Balls on general trust on the economy. Ed Miliband’s own approval ratings are mediocre and 47% think he isn’t up to the job of Labour leader.

To put this in context, if we look back at 2006-2007 when the opposition Conservatives had a comparable single-digit lead over the Labour government, David Cameron was pretty much neck and neck with Tony Blair as best PM, the Conservatives and Labour were pretty much neck and neck on who would run the economy well and Cameron had a positive approval rating.

What explains this paradox? Why have Labour got a solid lead in the polls, but comparatively bad ratings in supplementary questions? Or indeed vice-versa? There are two alternative explanations for this – one more comforting for Labour than the other.

Part of the answer is down to the new landscape of coalition politics. People’s responses to poll questions are often very partisan, supporters of the governing party tend to say nice things about the governing party, supporters of opposition parties tend to say negative things. Now we have a coalition government, we tend to get both Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters saying nice things about the government, whereas prior to 2010 only one party’s supporters did. This translates into higher support for the government in secondary questions, but not in main voting intention questions where government supporters are split between Conservative voters and Lib Dem votes.

This shouldn’t worry Labour of course – in fact it’s a reminder of a positive for them. While it is probably wrong to view voting behaviour too much through an ideological prism (models of electoral behaviour these days tend to be more dominated by voters perceptions of compentence, rather than ideology), throughout the 1980s the left-of-centre vote tended to be split between two parties. With the Liberal Democrats reduced to a rump of supporters who are less antagonistic towards the Tories, the right-of-centre vote is looking more split. Certainly the group of voters who think the present government are competent is split between two parties.

However, this does not explain everything, and here we come to the explanation that is less comforting for Labour. A lot of people who say they would vote Labour do not give particularly positive answers to other questions about Labour. Only 63% of Labour’s own voters think Ed Miliband would make the best Prime Minister, only 54% think he is up to the job of Labour leader. Only 69% of Labour voters trust Labour more than the coalition more than Labour to deal with the deficit, 77% trust Miliband & Balls to run the economy more than Cameron & Osborne. 45% of their own voters think Labour need to make major changes to be fit for government. In short, a substantial minority of people who say they’ll vote Labour don’t seem to be very pro-Labour when you inquire further.

My guess is that the reason is that Labour are really the only major opposition party to the coalition and hence many people will be telling pollsters they’d vote Labour as the only mainstream way of voting against the coalition. If that is the case, you wouldn’t necessarily expect all those people to have positive views of Labour – they are benefitting from a negative anti-government vote, not necessarily a pro-Labour one.

But does this matter? Not necessarily – a negative anti-government vote counts just the same as a positive vote when it goes in a ballot box and the evidence from 2010 suggests that a large proportion of Conservative voters were driven more by anti-Labour feeling than support for the Tories. It does become a problem if it is an indication of soft support for Labour, if the government become less unpopular once they have a better economy behind them, if minor parties establish themselves as alternative recipients of anti-government votes or if during an election campaign it becomes more of a choice between two alternatives, rather than a judgement on the incumbent.

I’ve always stuck hard with the truism that oppositions don’t win elections, government’s lose them. The caveat I always add to that is that while oppositions probably can’t win elections, they are quite capable of losing them – it’s arguably what happened in both 1992 and 2005, when the incumbent governments had done plenty to make themselves unpopular, but the public did not see the opposition as ready for government. Right now there are probably four years to an election, so as long as Labour recognise the issue and address it, it doesn’t need to be a problem at all – the best position for them to build up more positive support again is from a position of strength. What they need to fear (expressed rather well by their former General Secretary Peter Watt today) is complancency.

YouGov’s monthly Welsh poll for ITV Wales is now out. Topline figures with changes from the last poll (which was actually done at the start of this month, so it was just after the Welsh referendum) are as follows:

Constituency: CON 21%(+1), LAB 47%(-1), LDEM 8%(+1), PC 17%(-2)
Regional: CON 20%(nc), LAB 45%(nc), LDEM 8%(+3), PC 16%(-2), UKIP 6%(+1)

By my reckoning, on a uniform swing this would work out 13 seats for the Conservatives (up 1), 33 seats for Labour (up 7), 5 seats for the Liberal Democrats (down 1) and 9 seats for Plaid (down 6) – thus giving Labour an overall majority.


Tonight’s YouGov poll has topline figures of CON 35%, LAB 45%, LDEM 9% – the Labour lead is back up to double figures.

This particular poll maybe something of an outlier, but even so, the apparent budget boost was certainly very short lived. Perhaps it was just the positive effect of the budget or Libya fading, or perhaps it was cancelled out by the march at the weekend. While the coverage of the march ended up being marred by the violence, it doesn’t mean they didn’t damage the government, in fact the two student protests last year that ended in violence also hit government support – though the poll effect is probably more from the reminder of unpopular policies and opposition to them, than the violence itself!

Following the TNS poll earlier this week that showed the SNP catching Labour in Holyrood voting intentions, there is a new YouGov poll for the Scotsman that shows them ahead in constituency voting intention. Voting intentions stand at…

Westminster: CON 17%, LAB 46%, LDEM 6%, SNP 26%
Holyrood Constituency: CON 11%, LAB 39%, LDEM 5%, SNP 40%
Holyrood Regional: CON 12%, LAB 39%, LDEM 5%, SNP 32%, Greens 6%

Note that YouGov polls for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have now moved onto a campaign footing, so are being weighted by likelihood to vote, hence I haven’t included changes from the previous poll. In this case likelihood to vote didn’t actually make much difference – increasing SNP & Lab by 1 point each in the constituency vote, and decreasing the Lib Dems by 1 point in the regional vote. The poll was conducted before the first Scottish leaders’ debate.

The SNP have overtaken Labour in the constituency vote, but Labour remain ahead in the regional vote, which tends to be more important in deciding who actually ends up with more seats. John Curtice’s projection in the Scotsman has these shares of the vote translating into 57 seats for Labour, 48 for the SNP, 13 for the Conservatives, 6 for the Greens and 5 for the Liberal Democrats. Historically Labour have actually tended to do worse, not better, in the regional vote, so the pattern here is somewhat unusual – looking at the data it seems to be because people who would vote Green or SSP in the regional vote are more likely to vote SNP in the constituency vote.

Polling of local elections is very rare – presumably because they only cover part of the country, and it is hard to actually get any meaning out of the figures. What exactly does a four point Labour lead in local elections in the areas where there happens to be local elections that year mean? Still, we’ve had a go!

The YouGov local election poll in the Sun today is based on just repondents in those areas that actually have local elections in May – that is, excluding London, Scotland, Wales and the 13 or so councils who do not have elections this year (primarily Cornwall, Durham, the Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire, with a handful of district councils with unusual electoral cycles).

Topline figures, with comparisons to how people voted in 2007 when these council seats were last contested, are:

CON 34%(-4), LAB 38%(+16), LDEM 13%(-11), Others 15%

Note that these figures are NOT compable to the Equivalent National Vote shares that are calculated by the BBC, and later by Rallings & Thrasher, on local election night. The NEV is a notional projection of what the local election shares of the vote would be if every single part of the country had had local elections, these figures are just people in areas that actually do have local elections. They are, of course, still not perfect – there will be some wards in councils with elections by thirds that don’t have an election this time round, and many people in three member wards will end up splitting their votes between parties… but it’s the best I think can be reasonably done.

More importantly, how would these figures actually translate into seats? Now, there is no easy formula or calculation for this, but the Sun have got Colin Rallings to do a projection based on these shares of the vote. Prof Ralling’s calculations are that this would lead to the Conservatives losing 1000 council seats (about a fifth of those they are defending), and the Liberal Democrats will lose 700 (well over a third of the 1850 seats they are defending). The Liberal Democrats would lose control of 11 councils out of the 25 they currently control.