Looking back at 2011

In terms of polling 2011 has been almost static. In the last Parliament we were rather spoilt in terms of volatility, seeing the Conservatives move ahead after the election of David Cameron, then the Brown boost putting Labour briefly ahead until the election-that-never-was burst the bubble, then a second Labour recovery after the bank bailout. Even in 2010 there was significant movement as Lib Dem support fractured and support for the government’s cuts programme ebbed away. In contrast the story of 2011 has been one of stagnation.

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In terms of voting intention, in YouGov’s daily tracker Labour have maintained a steadyish five point lead throughout most of the year. There have been a few ups and downs, with the Labour lead temporarily widening to six, seven points or more in the Spring and after Hackgate in July, but most of the time voting intentions have rumbled onwards regardless of day-to-day politics.

The biggest exception was the impact of David Cameron’s veto at the European summit, which put the Conservatives briefly back ahead of Labour. As daily polling paused for Christmas the polls were still showing Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck – it remains to be seen whether this does have any lasting effect. The veto itself will, in all likelihood, fade from memory as things like the economy and public services resume their normal place at the top of the political agenda, but if the veto permanently impacts how people see David Cameron and his leadership there is a possibility of a longer term impact.

Economic optimism has remained resolutely dire throughout the entire year. Confidence in the government’s economic policy and support for the cuts rapidly fell in 2010, but since then have largely flatlined.

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The proportion of people thinking that the cuts are too deep or too fast has actually fallen slightly (“too deep” has gone from around 50% in February to around 42-43% now; “too fast” has gone from around 58% to around 48%), but the balance of opinion that the cuts are bad for the economy remains largely unchanged. More positively for the government people continue to think the cuts are necessary, and despite the passage of time there is little further change in the proportion of people who blame the Labour party for the cuts.

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Where there has been more movement this year is in perceptions of the leaders themselves. David Cameron’s ratings remain the most positive of the three main party leaders but have been on a downwards trend, interupted by peaks after the local elections and the European veto. The latter saw significant increases in the proportion of people who thought Cameron was a strong leader who is good in a crisis and sticks to what he believes in, but it remains to be seen if it endures.

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Ed Miliband’s figures have also been on a downwards trend, even while his party has been ahead in the polls. His decline was dramatically reversed by his response to Hackgate, but this faded away again leaving him languishing in the the minus thirties. Nick Clegg has the worst ratings of all, though they appear to have bottomed out after the defeat in the AV referendum. He suffered a sharp downturn after the European veto, but this was largely the result of Conservative supports, a minority of whom normally give Clegg good ratings, becoming far more negative about him.

Those are the figures, I’ll try to have a bit of broader rumination of the political situation at the end of 2011 over the next few days.


Voodoo polling corner

The Press Association are reporting that “The majority of people from across the political spectrum believe Scotland should be responsible for raising most of the money it spends, according to research from an independent think-tank.”

Because it is on the Press Association feed, this is then repeated verbatim by various other newspaper websites here, here, here, etc, etc, all labouring under the misapprehension that because the Press Association reports a poll it is meaningful. They are wrong.

The “poll” was conducted by Reform Scotland, a think tank that published proposals for devolution plus earlier this year. The “sample” was drawn from people on Reform Scotland’s mailing list or following them on twitter. Needless to say, this is not a method likely to provide a representative sample of the Scottish public as a whole.

I hate to write as if addressing morons, but sadly it sometimes appears as if it is necessary. People who have signed up to follow a think tank that has proposed a devolution plus plan are, firstly, far more likely to be interested in politics (the vast majority of normal people are not on the distribution lists for think tanks!) and secondly, likely to be pre-disposed towards further devolution of power towards Scotland (for what it’s worth, the poll is also three-quarters male, only 10% over 65+ and has more Tory identifiers than Labour ones).

To give them some credit, Reform Scotland themselves haven’t claimed it is a representative poll, saying “We do not claim that this poll is totally scientific as it was self selecting. However, the responses, particularly those broken down by party affiliation, are very interesting, in particular”. Alas, the reality is that these caveats never get picked up by journalists, and such surveys inevitably end up being misreported as representative meaningful polls. For the record, the party breakdowns are not of any meaning either, since in the same way the poll overall will be grossly biased towards people with an interest in Scottish politics and a predisposition towards greater devolution, so will each of the party crossbreaks (i.e. the Labour voters in the sample will be more political and more in favour of further devolution than the average Labour voter, ditto other parties. They are also grossly demographically skewed towards younger men, and apart from the SNP have sample sizes under 100).

Over on the British Polling Council’s website there is an article written by Peter Kellner several years ago titled “A Journalist’s Guide To Opinion Polls”. Amongst other things, it gives guidance to journalists on when to take a poll seriously, and when to bin it. It is still flawless advice today:

“If the poll purports to be of the public as a whole (or a significant group of the public), has the polling company employed one of the methods outlined in points 2,3 and 4 above [quasi-random or quota sampling]? If the poll was self-selecting — such as readers of a newspaper or magazine, or television viewers writing, telephoning, emailing or texting in — then it should NEVER be presented as a representative survey.


ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has finally appeared (it was conducted on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Chistmas, but presumably held back till today’s paper when there is normally no proper news to report!). Topline figures, with changes from the ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll straight after the veto are CON 37%(-3), LAB 36%(+2), LDEM 15%(+1).

The rest of the poll had some questions on economic optimism (unremittingly negative, as usual), and on leadership qualities. On overall approval Cameron’s net rating is plus 5, Miliband minus 17, Clegg minus 19. On the figures shown in the Guardian 55% of people think Cameron has “the courage to say what is right rather than what is popular”, 50% think he is “good in a crisis”, only 34% think he “understands people like me”. For Miliband 41% think he has “the courage to say what is right rather than what is popular”, 37% think he “understands people like me”, 21% think he is “good in a crisis”.


Christmas open thread

No polls over Christmas of course, but here’s an open thread for those of you seeking to escape from Christmas preparations. Reflections on the year just gone? Predictions for next year? No need to stay on topic, but please do try and remain civil and rise above “Brilliant year for party I support and I predict that next year things which I would really like to happen will happen” ;)


Tonight’s is the last YouGov daily poll for 2011 and topline figures are CON 40%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, meaning we end the year with the two main parties neck-and-neck, which is at least quite tidy. I’m not sure if we’ll have any polls until next year now. We haven’t had an ICM poll for the Guardian yet this month, so perhaps they’ll pop up between Christmas and new year, or perhaps they’ve skipped a month. Either way, I’ll try to do a round-up post or two over the next week.