The Times this morning has some intriguing YouGov results on Ed Miliband. Taking the simplest bit first, Yougov asked if people thought Ed Miliband was a better or worse leader than Gordon Brown, and a better or worse leader than Tony Blair. Miliband was seen as better than Brown by 32% to 17%, and worse than Blair by 41% to 20%.

All straightforward so far. However, YouGov also repeated a bank of questions asking about Ed Miliband’s qualities that had previously been asked about Gordon Brown in May 2010, immediately after the general election. Miliband got higher don’t knows than Brown for obvious reasons, but looking at net figures Miliband had better ratings than Brown on being in touch and being honest, but worse (in some cases MUCH worse) on being a strong leader, on being decisive, on having a sense of purpose, on caring about ordinary people and on trying to do the right thing. So people think Ed Miliband is a better leader… but also give him worse ratings than they gave Brown?

It’s interesting to ponder the apparent contradiction – there are several possible explanations. One is that the Gordon Brown polling was done right at the very end of his premiership, and his personal ratings increased during 2010 so these figures are how Brown was seen at a comparatively positive point, not Brown when his ratings were at their worst. It’s possible that the “folk memory” of Gordon Brown that people are comparing Miliband to is Brown at his lowest point, or an image of Brown that is actually much worse than the reality at the time.

There is also a question of people’s changing perceptions towards an incumbent party leader – in many ways the “right” answer for a Labour supporter in May 2010 was to give Brown a positive rating, while the “right” answer now is for them to say Miliband is an even better leader. That’s not to say people are somehow not giving their genuine opinions – I am sure they are. It’s just, if you are a Labour supporter you are going to see the party’s leader in a positive light, overlook his weaknesses, notice his strengths. Labour supporters in May 2010 would have seen Gordon Brown in a positive light, now Ed Miliband is leader they’ll note his strengths and perhaps take a more neutral view of Brown. In just the same way Conservative supporters in 2002 told pollsters that Iain Duncan Smith was a good leader… and I’m sure if asked today would recognise that, when all is said and done, he was a bit of a duffer as leader.

While we are here, we should stop to look at the figures in their own right, whatever people thought about Gordon Brown, they are also a chance to see how people see Ed Miliband as a politician in his own right. Looking at them that way, Ed Miliband’s most positive rating by far is on honesty – 39% think he is honest, compared to only 24% dishonest. His ratings are also comparably good on “trying to do the right thing” (39% v 41% serving his own interests) and caring about ordinary people (36% v 42% caring about only a select few). He scores much more negatively on being dithering (57% v 19% who think he is decisive), weak (56% v 19% who see him as strong) and being unclear what he stands for (53% v 27% who think he has a clear sense of purpose).

I’ll end up with by my normal summary about the Ed Miliband question, since it’s always a subject that provokes a lot of discussion and some very entrenched views – I invariably see Labour supporters wedded to the idea that Miliband’s ratings will be irrelevant come the election, and Conservative supporters convinced that it would be impossible for Labour to win under Miliband.

Suffice to say, Miliband’s ratings are bad, and are bad compared to past opposition leaders. It seems likely that he is having a negative effect on Labour support. HOWEVER, Labour are ahead in the polls, and have a lead that would give them a comfortable overall majority at an election, so the idea that they cannot win with Ed Miliband is clearly false. Right now, people are telling pollsters that they will vote Labour regardless of Ed Miliband’s negative ratings. The question is whether or not those negative opinions of Miliband (assuming they don’t change) will play more of a role in influencing people’s voting intention as the general election gets closer and voting intention becomes more of a choice between alternate government as an anti-government statement. Current polling cannot answer that question – and the key to interpreting polls is often as much about recognising what they can’t tell you as what they can.

Following the very peculiar ComRes poll for Open Europe there is a more normal one out tonight – their monthly telephone poll for the Independent. Topline voting intention figures with changes from last month are CON 30%(-2), LAB 34%(-4), LDEM 10%(+1), UKIP 17%(+4).

This is the first ComRes telephone poll since the local elections and shows the same trend we’ve seen from other companies – a big boost for UKIP at the expense of the main two parties.


Given the news that the EU is not to renew the ban on sending arms to Syria, I thought it worth revisiting some of the recent polling on the subject. YouGov asked about supplying arms to the Syrian rebels at the start of the month and found very little support. Only 17% supported sending arms, with 56% opposed.

Polling back in April had delved a little deeper into opinions of sending arms to Syria. People were actually far more positive towards sending protective military equipment, such as flak jackets and helmets (46% support, 30% oppose). There was much less support for sending actual guns (only 17% support) and overwhelming opposition towards sending heavy weaponry (11% support, 64% oppose).

The full tabs for the ComRes European election poll are now online here. The poll also asked Westminister voting intention and produced topline figures of CON 26%, LAB 37%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 20%. It did not use ComRes’s normal method, excluding the reallocation of don’t knows and their normal squeeze question, so it is not directly comparable.

The strangest thing about the poll though is the relationship between Westminster and European voting intention. I could be reading it wrongly, but it looks as though there is hardly any relationship at all. The overwhelmingly majority of people who said they would vote UKIP in a Westminster election said they would vote UKIP in a European election, as one might expect, but the other figures look very odd. Amongst Conservative Westminster voters, 12% would vote UKIP in the European elections, 39% Labour and 22% Lib Dem. Amongst Westminster Labour voters, 6% would vote UKIP in the European elections, 30% Conservative, 31% Lib Dem. Amongst Westminister Liberal Democrat voters, 2% would vote UKIP in Europe, 35% Labour, 33% Conservative.

People do, of course, vote differently at Westminster and European elections, but not to this extent. If we compare it to the Survation poll at the weekend, the vast majority of people who said they’d vote Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem for Westminster said they vote the same way in a European election. YouGov found the same when they asked back in January. ComRes’s previous European Election poll in January didn’t give cross-breaks for current Westminster voting intention, but the 2010 cross-break did at last suggest the majority of Labour and Conservative 2010 voters were sticking with their party in the European elections. I can’t work out exactly what has gone wrong in this latest poll, but it certainly looks very strange.

The Times today is reporting a new ComRes poll for OpenEurope, asking about voting intention in the European Elections. The topline European voting intentions are CON 21%, LAB 23%, LDEM 18%, UKIP 27%, Others 11%, and show UKIP with the largest share of the vote.

The UKIP figure isn’t particularly surprising. There was a Survation poll of European voting intentions earlier this month that had UKIP in a close second place and Survation and ComRes polls earlier this year when their general election support was lower that had UKIP neck-and-neck with the Conservatives in European election voting intention. Given that UKIP came second in the 2009 European elections when they were barely figuring in general election polling, it seems possible if not probable that they’ll get the largest share of the vote at next year’s European elections.

What does look very odd is the Liberal Democrat figure, four points higher than they got at the 2009 election when their general election support has haemorrhaged since then. As I mentioned above, ComRes have already done one poll of European Election voting intention back in January, and the changes since then are Conservatives down 1, Labour down 13, Lib Dem up 10, UKIP up 4. I can’t think of any obvious reason why Liberal Democrat support in European elections should have more than doubled since January, nor why the Liberal Democrats would be doing better in European election voting intention than in Westminster voting intention, when historically the opposite has been the case. It all looks very odd. The tables aren’t up yet on ComRes’s website, but hopefully they’ll shed some light on what is going on.

In the meantime I wouldn’t worry too much about European election voting intention polls anyway. Past experience is that polls of European elections conducted more than a month have borne very little resemblance to the result. One could, of course, make the same sort of argument about general election voting intention polls, but they do at least act as a general barometer for support of the political parties. A European election voting intention poll a year away from an election doesn’t serve very much purpose at all.