This morning’s YouGov poll in the Sun had topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 11%. I wasn’t going to write anything because – at end of the day, there are only so many ways you can write “within the normal margin of error of YouGov’s recent polling”. However, with the New Statesman asking “What Lies behind Labour’s Shrinking Poll Lead?” and coming up with answers more exciting than “normal sample variation” I should probably put pixel to page.

For what it is worth the seven point Labour lead from YouGov is the lowest they have shown for a couple of months, and it comes after an eight point lead yesterday. I would still caution people to hold on a sec before looking around for reasons why Labour’s lead might be falling – there is not yet anything here that needs an explanation beyond “normal sample variation”. There was also a 14 point lead last week, and that too was within the normal margin of error. The dull and rather unnewsworthy truth is that unlike the polling rollercoaster of the last Parliament, this Parliament has seen very stable polls. While both main parties have declined a bit over recent months as UKIP have advanced, the Labour lead over the Conservatives really hasn’t seen any significant lasting change since April 2012.

The monthly ICM poll for the Guardian is out tonight. Topline voting intentions stand at CON 32%(+1), LAB 38%(-1), LDEM 15%(nc), UKIP 9%(+2).

The Labour lead of only six points is significantly lower than other polls are showing (indeed, it’s the lowest we’ve seen since February), but this is due to methodological reasons not some sudden Tory recovery. ICM typically show lower Labour leads and higher levels of Lib Dem support than other companies because of the way they reallocate people who say don’t know to the party they say they voted for last time and weight down the answers of people who didn’t vote last time. The figures are, therefore, pretty much in line with what we’d expect, with the changes from last month’s ICM poll all within the normal margin of error.


YouGov’s weekly results for the Sunday Times are now up online here. Current voting intentions are CON 31%, LAB 42%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 11% – typical of late, and no signs of any “Thatcher effect”, positive or negative.

46% of people think Thatcher was a great (20%) or good (26%) Prime Minister, compared to 35% who think she was a poor (9%) or terrible (26%) Prime Minister. Only 10% said she was just average. For what it’s worth these figures are a bit more negative than when YouGov asked the same question for the Sun at the start of the week – could be people less willing to be negative when the person being asked about has only just died, or the coverage grating on people’s nerves, or just normal sample variation. We can’t tell.

How much Thatcher divides opinion is apparent when you compare here to other past Prime Minister. She is rated more positively than Blair, Brown and Major, but more striking is how opinions on her are more extreme – many people say either great or terrible (46% between them), where with other recent PMs opinion tends to cluster around the mid-point.

So for Tony Blair 30% thought he was good, 36% bad, 30% average (and only 4% and 14% said great or terrible). For Gordon Brown 10% said good, 62% bad, 25% average (2% great, 31% terrible). For John Major 12% said good, 35% bad, 40% average (1% great, 9% terrible). YouGov asked about Heath too… but got lots of don’t knows, showing the limitations of asking the general public about politicians who were in power before many of them were born. Asked which later Prime Minister can best claim to be the heir of Thatcher (a good or bad thing depending on your point of view!), 52% of people said either none of them or don’t know. Of those who did answer, David Cameron was the most common response with 23%.

People were somewhat more evenly split on whether Thatcher was good or bad for the country – 42% thought she was good, 38% bad. On balance people thought that she left a country that was better off, was more respected in the world and offered more opportunities for women. However, people also thought she left a country that was more divided and less equal. Overwhelmingly they thought she did not do enough to support areas where traditional mining and manufacturing industries were closed.

Asking about the specific policies Mrs Thatcher introduced in office there were very divided opinions. Large majorities (68%) thought she was right to use force to retake the Falklands and to get a rebate on Britain’s EEC contributions. Majorities of people thought it was right to introduce the right to buy (60%) and to take on the trade unions (55%). By 46% to 36% people also thought it was right to cut the top rate of income tax from 83% to 40%.

People were negative about the introduction of Section 28, prioritising inflation over unemployment, deregulating the City of London and privatising utilities like British Gas and British Telecom. By far the most negative reaction was to the Poll tax, which 68% of people thought was the wrong thing to do.

Moving on to the reactions to her death, on balance people support the BBC coverage of her death – 24% think it has been too positive, 16% too negative, 40% that they have got the balance about right. The decision to recall Parliament is seen as wrong by 49% of people compared to 35% who think it was right, and 53% think those Labour MPs who did not attend were right to say away. David Cameron’s own response is seen as appropriate – 47% think he has respondents in an appropriate and dignified way, as opposed to 28% who think he has tried to play her death for political advantage.

On the funeral, 8% of people think Thatcher should have been given a full state funeral, 42% that the ceremonial funeral she is being given is correct, 43% that she should have been given neither. The Queen’s decision to attend is seen as correct by 57% of people.

There is comparatively little support for any further commemoration. Only 29% would support a new statue of Thatcher in London (and only 18% a statue in Trafalgar Square) and only 17% would support renaming Port Stanley after her. However, there is also wide scale rejection of people who have organised parties to celebrate her death – only 14% of people think this is acceptable, 75% unacceptable (including a clear majority of Labour party supporters).

The monthly ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror is out tonight and has topline figures of CON 30%(+2), LAB 38%(+1), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 15%(-2). The figures don’t show any significant change from a month ago. The only other poll I am expecting in the weekend papers is the regular YouGov/Sunday Times which, as usual, I’ll post on tomorrow.

This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 28%, LAB 42%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 11%. The Conservative figure is the lowest YouGov have shown since the election… though normal caveats apply, almost by definition record breaking polls are the ones that turn out to be rogues and outliers!

While there are sensible responses in the comments here (I would expect nothing less!), it has naturally released a glut of excitement elsewhere about the effect of Thatcher’s death on the polls. So far there have only been two opinion polls asking voting intention since the death of Margaret Thatcher (ICM also did a quick poll for the Guardian, but it did not include voting intention). TNS-BMRB published a poll earlier in the week, but it was conducted wholly before Thatcher’s death so doesn’t tell us anything.

YouGov’s poll on Wednesday morning had figures of CON 33%, LAB 41%, LDEM 10%
YouGov’s poll on Thursday morning had figures of CON 28%, LAB 42%, LDEM 12%

Now, as I hope everyone reading this knows, opinion polls have a margin of error of around about plus/minus 3 points (it is actually both more complicated than that, and a bit artificial since no polls use a pure random sample, but plus/minus 3 points is a good rule of thumb). Therefore both these polls are within the normal margin of error of CON 30.5%, LAB 41%, LDEM 11%: the average of YouGov’s polls over the last month.

It may be that in coming days we get lots more polls showing Labour leads up in low teens, there is a genuine drop in Tory support and Wednesday morning’s poll turns out to have been a rogue. It may equally be that we get lots more polls showing Labour’s lead dropping into single figures, the Tories recover and this morning’s poll turns out to be a rogue. It may also end up that the average continues to bump along at around 10-11 points and that both of these are just normal sample variation. Any of the three are possible (though my expectation is the last one!).

Anyway, if any change is a Thatcher effect (as opposed to a welfare cuts effect or something else), it wouldn’t actually be that important anyway. Almost by definition, it would be a short term boost from positive coverage of Thatcher, negative comparisons with Thatcher or reminding people of their negative opinions of Thatcher – nothing of long term importance.

As ever, in writing and interpreting polls I point people back to what I wrote last year about how not to do it. Don’t cherry pick polls you like and assume the others must be wrong, don’t forget there is a margin of error that – more often than not – ends up explaining away the polls that people on Twitter wet their pants over.