Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 45%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 8%, so back to a fourteen point Labour lead.

The big temptation in looking at polls is to see patterns that aren’t really there, to twist purely random movement into patterns and trends and then seek to explain something that isn’t actually there. So one way of looking at the last couple of weeks with YouGov is that Labour had a boost from the local elections that produced a couple of 14 point leads, which fell back last week as the local election effect faded and this week has grown again as the government get into another tricky patch of U-turns and omnishambles.

The alternative explanation is that random chance produced a couple of polls on the high side one week and a couple of polls on the low side another week, and actually the underlying Labour lead has been at around about 12 points for the whole time. The first explanation is more attractive – our minds like to seek out narratives and patterns in data – that doesn’t make it more likely to be true.

YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun has topline figures tonight of CON 32%, LAB 44%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 7%. A Labour lead of twelve points, again pretty typical of YouGov’s daily polls for the last week or two.

Tonight’s poll also has YouGov’s fortnightly question on who would make the best Prime Minister. David Cameron is on 31%(-1), Ed Miliband 21%(-3), Nick Clegg 5%(+1), Don’t know 43%(+2).


I started writing this blog back in 2005, largely because I thought the media’s treatment of opinion polls was so unremittingly awful. One problem was the media’s tendency to treat whatever poll they had commissioned themselves as it if were the gospel truth, while ignoring polls commissioned by other papers. In voting intention at least they have improved on this – I quite often see journalists putting reports of voting intention figures in the context of other polls that have shown similar or contrasting trends in support. However, the problem is still rife with other polling questions – newspapers will write a whole story based on a single question in a poll they have commissioned, ignoring the evidence from many other polls on the same subject.

There is a classic example in the Independent today and their treatment of last night’s ComRes poll. I don’t wish to criticise the Indy too much- they have not misrepresented the poll in anyway, it is reported in an entirely fair and accurate way. Nevertheless, but taking a single poll question in isolation it ends up creating a shallow and one-sided picture of public opinion.

ComRes’s poll yesterday 72% of people agreed with the statement “It is time for the Coalition to change its economic policy to be focused more on promoting growth and less on spending cuts”. Taken in isolation, that suggests overwhelming opposition to the government’s economic policy and support for Labour’s alternative.

However, we don’t have to take it in isolation, as we have lots of other evidence too. I’ve written in the past about the shortcomings of “do you agree or disagree with this statement” questions – they risk skewing answers in the direction of the statement. For example, in December ComRes asked whether 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” and found 74% of people agreed. Taken in isolation that would have suggested overwhelming support for the government’s position… except that ComRes also asked if people agreed that “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” and found that 49% of people agreed. In other words, 23% of people agreed both that the government should not borrow any more, and also that they should borrow more. ComRes’s findings in that poll suggest that the picture is not as clear as the single question today would suggest.

Unsurprisingly given the importance of the question, other polls and companies have come at the same question from different angles. Populus this month read out two sentences summarising the government view and the Labour view on the economy and cuts (without identifying them as such), and asked people which they most agreed with. They got an almost even split, 48% in favour of the government’s stance, 49% in favour of Labour’s stance.

YouGov do a similar question as a semi-regular tracker, asking people to say if the government should stick to its present strategy of reducing the deficit, even if this means growth remains slow, or whether the government should change its strategy to concentrate on growth, even if that means the deficit stays longer or gets worse. The last time YouGov asked that, also this month, showed 33% supported the present strategy and 39% wanted to change (29% weren’t sure or didn’t want either), so slightly more support for Labour’s stance than the Conservative one.

If you take a broad overview of all the polling evidence you end up with quite a mixed picture – certainly opinion seems to be moving in the direction of more of an emphasis on growth and less on the deficit, but the public remain quite evenly split. Looking at other polls people are opposed to the cuts, and they want to see more emphasis on growth. But they also want to see the deficit reduced, and think the cuts are necessary in order to do that. Ask them if they want to have their cake they say yes, ask them if they’d like to eat it they also say yes. Taking just a single polling question doesn’t give this broad picture at all – and indeed, depending on what the question was could produce entirely contradictory pictures.

The question we should ask ourselves is this – when the media talk about opinion polls, should they actually be doing their best to explain and illustrate the public’s opinion on an issue, taking all the available evidence into account, even if it ends up being muddy, confused, unclear and possibly quite dull? Or should they be plucking out single findings and trying to weave them into a sensational story?

There are two new polls out tonight ComRes in the Independent has topline figures of CON 34%(+1), LAB 42%(-1), LDEM 11%(nc), Others 13%(nc) – changes are from ComRes’s last telephone poll, which was conducted in late March, just after the budget. No significant change in that poll.

Meanwhile YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 44%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 7%. The eleven point Labour lead is bang in line with the average leads YouGov showed last week.

The full tables for the YouGov/Sunday Times poll are now up here, covering mainly the Beecroft recommendations and the monarchy.

On the regular leader approval ratings David Cameron is on minus 26 (up from minus 30 last week), Ed Miliband is on minus 23 (from minus 27 last week) and Nick Clegg is on minus 55 (from minus 56) – so Miliband remains above Cameron for a third week.

Other questions also show perceptions of Cameron falling slightly. His biggest weakness remains being seen as out of touch. Only 20% see him as in touch (down 3 since April), compared to 69% who see him as out of touch. The percentage seeing him as strong is down 2 points to 39%, the percentage seeing him as likeable is down 3 points to 39%. The coverage of him “chillaxing” however doesn’t seem to have had much purchase – only 33% say that he doesn’t work hard enough, compared to 39% who think he gets the balance right and 4% who think he works too hard.

Turning to business, there is a perception that Britain is less competitive than countries like Germany (70% see us as less competitive) and the USA (55% see us as less competitive), but people are evenly split on whether or not the government should be cutting regulations more. 33% think the government are cutting regulations too much, 34% think they should be cutting them more, 11% think the current balance is about right.

Asked about specific employment regulations around about a fifth of people support extending employment rights, with the rest split between supporting reductions or supporting the status quo. On maternity and paternity rights, 20% think they should be extended, 30% think they should be cut, 42% that the present balance is right. On dismissals, 17% think it should be harder for companies to sack workers, 39% think it should be easier, 33% think the current balance is about right. On anti-discrimination legislation, 15% think it does not go far enough, 36% that it goes too far and 36% that the present balance is about right.

On the politics of the issue, 25% of people think Vince Cable is too hostile to business, 25% that he gets the balance right and 14% think he is too pro-business. 36% of people, however, say they don’t know and the public’s perception is very much that the Conservatives, not Vince Cable, have the power when it comes to employment and business regulation. 59% of people think the Conservatives have more influence over business and regulation policy compared to only 9% who think the Liberal Democrats do.

I expect we will have an awful lot more polling on attitudes to the royal family and the monarch over the next week but to kick off there were some questions here on the jubilee and the monarchy. 56% of people now see the Queen as one of our greatest monarchs (up from 50% when YouGov asked the same question in February). 60% now think that the level of celebrations for the Jubilee are about right. 20% expect to attend a party, 52% expect to watch the royal flotilla.

Asked about Charles, 37% think he will make a good king, 37% do not – 44% think that Prince William should be the next King instead of Charles. William is also seen as the royal who has done most to improve their reputation since the death of Princess Diana.