Two new polls tonight, and both show a one point Labour lead. ComRes’s monthly telephone poll for the Independent has topline figures of CON 37%(-1), LAB 38%(nc), LDEM 14%(+2). Meanwhile the daily YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 39%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%.

The gap between Labour and Conservative is obviously the same (and seems to be very typical of recent polls showing the two main parties pretty much neck-and-neck.) There is more contrast with the Lib Dems: YouGov normally give the party their lowest scores, the 14% from ComRes is one of their better scores of late from a non-ICM pollster.

I’m regularly sniffy about questions asked in the format of “do you agree or disagree with this statement”, a construction much beloved of the Independent. Here is why, using the December ComRes phone poll as an example.

ComRes found 74% of people agreed with the statement that “The Government should not increase public borrowing any further and its top priority should be to pay off the nation’s deficit as soon as possible” with only 18% disagreeing. Fairly clear result there surely, people agree with the government’s policy?

Except, ComRes also asked whether people agreed with the statement “The Government should borrow more in the short term to increase economic growth as much as possible even if it means reducing the deficit more slowly”, roughly the Labour policy at the time. On that one 49% of people agreed, with 40% of people disagreeing. In other words, at least 23% of people agreed with both.

Now, in this particular poll we could compare the two results and make reasonable conclusions about public opinion overall. However, imagine that only one of the statements had been asked. If a poll had only asked the first statement, one might reasonably have concluded that people overwhelmingly supported the government’s policy. If a poll had only asked the second statement, one might reasonably have concluded that people preferred Labour’s policy.

Another good example was this poll for UKIP from back in 2009. It found 55% of people agreed with the statement “Britain should remain a full member of the European Union”… but also found that 55% agreed with the statement “Britain should leave the European Union but maintain close trading links”. Depending on which statement you asked people to agree with the results were polar opposites.

Again, in this case you could see the contradition because it was asked both ways. But what if the poll had only asked it one way? Well, the BBC did just that the same year – leading to a headline saying “Poll: Brits want to leave EU”. Of course, if they’d asked people to agree or disagree that Britain should stay in the European Union rather than agree or disagree that Britain should leave they’d have found the exact opposite.

Thus is the problem with “agree or disagree with this statement questions” – the statement itself goes in one direction and often gives some justification for it, hence people are more likely to agree… but if the statement had been in the opposite direction they’d have been more likely to agree with that one. They carry a heavy risk of bias in the direction of the statement.

Agree or disagree statements do have a place in testing out various messages that can’t really be unbiased and comparing them against one another, and they are acceptable as trackers where the story is the change in them rather than the absolute value, but they should be interpreted with extreme caution, especially when the poll doesn’t test opposing views in the same way.


There was a new Ipsos MORI Scotland poll out this morning, using the wording that Alex Salmond has suggested for the Scottish referendum.

“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

Topline results were 37% Yes, 50% No, 13% Don’t know. Taking only those certain to vote boost support for YES slightly, shifting the balance to Yes 39%, No 50%. On the other hand, those saying NO were more likely to say they had definitely decided how to vote. Full tabs are here.

As an aside, a year or two ago I did try to encourage people to keep discussion of Scottish independence to threads about Scottish polling, as it was developing a tendency to turn up and transform every discussion on the site into one about Scottish independence. It is starting to get that way again, so can I ask commenters to try and keep discussion of Scottish independence to threads about Scotland – like this one.

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 40%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10%. It’s the first Tory lead from YouGov for the best part of a week, but only serves to underline that the two main parties are still pretty much neck-and-neck.

This has been the position in the polls for about seven weeks now – ever since David Cameron’s “veto” at the European Summit, and probably reinforced or replaced by the turbulent month that Labour have had since then.

Full tabs for the YouGov/Sunday Times poll are now up here.

On the regular leader ratings all three are up: David Cameron stands at minus 1 (up from minus 3 a week ago), Nick Clegg at minus 38 (up from minus 50) and Ed Miliband at minus 48 (up from minus 53).

74% of people now expect Britain to go back into recession in the next 12 months. This isn’t actually much changed from before the recent negative growth figures (it was 72% when last asked in November), but that’s probably to be expected that people already expected a second recession anyway (not to mention that most people don’t pay much attention to economic figures!)

On the cuts, 42% think the government should reduce the scale of the cuts, 45% think they are right as they are (33%) or should be bigger (12%). On taxes 47% would like to see taxes cut more to encourage growth, 11% think taxes should be increased to reduce the deficit, 30% think the present balance is about right.

Exploring taxes a bit more we see the usual pattern – people support tax cuts, but support tax hikes for people significantly richer than they are. Hence 83% support increasing the personal allowance to £10,000, but 65% support a “mansion tax” on houses worth £2 million or more. Interesting support for a mansion tax does drop somewhat if the threshhold comes down to £1 million, bringing support down to 50% and to under half in London and the South-East. On the 50p tax rate, there is high support for keeping the tax rate (by 68% to 19%, up from last year), but much less support for expanding it. People are pretty evenly split on bringing down the threshhold to £100,000, with 39% in support and 42% opposed.

Moving onto the benefits cap, 72% of people support the principle of a benefits cap and, of those who support it, 33% support the proposed £26,000 cap, 52% support a lower cap, 9% a higher cap. 24% support the House of Lords amendment excluding child benefit from the cap, with 58% opposed.

Finally there were a series of questions on honesty: 65% of people think that people have become less honest in the last decade. Asked about various professions, people overwhelmingly think it is likely they would lie – over 90% think it is likely that politicians, celebrities and business leaders would lie. 77% think lawyers are likely to lie. Only in the case of doctors do a majority (68%) think it is unlikely they would lie. Asked if it is acceptable for figures in public office to lie, 70% think it is never acceptable on matters of public interest, but they are more understanding when it comes to their personal lives, where 57% think it is sometimes acceptable for them to lie.