This week’s YouGov/Sunday Times results are now up online here. Topline voting intention figures are CON 30%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%. The ten point lead is now on the upper side of YouGov’s recent polling (the Labour lead has started to settle at around 8 or 9 points) but within the normal margin of error.

Attitudes towards the economy remain pessimistic, but less so than the last two years. A majority of people now regard David Cameron and George Osborne being at least a fair amount to blame for the state of the economy. 25% think Osborne should take a lot of the blame, 28% a fair amount; 21% think Cameron should take a lot of the blame, 30% a fair amount. However Gordon Brown is still much more widely blamed for the state of the economy, with 37% blaming him a lot, 32% a fair amount.

Of the people asked about (Cameron, Osborne, Brown, Darling and Balls) Ed Balls is the least blamed, but even then 44% think he should carry a lot or a fair amount of blame, only 35% little or no blame. I’m intrigued by this finding, for the political anoraks amongst us Ed Balls is a man who was extremely close to Gordon Brown and was his political ally, confidant and one time advisor. However, I can’t believe the public, 36% of whom can’t even recognise a photo of Ed Balls are particular aware of that. It does raise the question of why people are so ready to put at least some blame on someone who didn’t even hold an economic portfolio at the last election. Some of it will be a purely partisan answer of course, but even 23% of current Labour voters think Balls should carry some blame for the current state of the economy. Perhaps it’s just some people putting some collective blame on all the last government, or blaming the whole of the current political class.

Moving on to Ed Miliband’s welfare announcements, we knew from previous polling that people supported the idea of stopping Winter Fuel Payments for richer pensioners and supported the ending of child benefit for higher earners – they still do. 62% of people also think that Miliband’s proposal to cap the total cost of benefits is a good idea.

There is less confidence whether Miliband really believes in what he is saying – only 23% think he is capping the cost of benefit because he thinks it is right, 60% think he doesn’t believe it but is only doing it for political reasons. This may well just reflect general cynicism towards politics though, rather than anything about Miliband in particular – YouGov found almost identical figures in the past when we asked about David Cameron and gay marriage.

Finally YouGov asked a chunk of questions about social mobility. People are broadly divided over levels of social mobility in Britain today. 38% think that anyone with talent who is willing to work hard can rise to the top, 43% think that success is mostly reserved for those from privileged backgrounds. 37% think that social mobility has improved, 40% that is has got worse. There is a very obvious difference between supporters of different political parties, the vast majority (71%) of Tory voters think that talent and hard work will bring success, wherever you start from, most Labour supporters (59%) think success is mostly reserved for those from privileged backgrounds.

The perception seems to be that social class is much more of a barrier in the professions than age or gender. Only 21% think that senior professional positions are unfairly dominated by white people, 63% think they are open to people from all racial backgrounds. 39% think they are unfairly dominated by men, but 49% think men and women have equal opportunities. When it comes to social class 56% think the professions are unfairly dominated by the affluent middle class, while only 31% think they are open to people of all class backgrounds. This may, of course, just be an “I’m alright Jack” distinction – most respondents are white, so won’t be personally disadvantaged by race. Almost half of respondents will be male, so shouldn’t lose out through gender. However, for almost all respondents there will be someone higher up the class scale who they can worry they are losing out to.

On nepotism people overwhelmingly think it is acceptable for parents to help their children to get jobs (by 78% to 12%), and would overwhelmingly arrange for a child to get work experience at their own place of work, or call in favours to arrange work experience elsewhere. A majority (55%) do, however, think that it is wrong and unfair for companies to offer UNPAID internships.

This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 39%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 13%. Whereas once the YouGov daily poll was pretty consistent in showing an average Labour lead of ten points or so, the lead is now in single figures more often than not, suggesting an underlying average of around 8 or 9 points. Full tabs are here.

The Sun this morning also had some YouGov polling on how people see the political leaders, in particular how they compare to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, both in their own way challengers to the current system and politicians who manage to present themselves as “anti-politicians” (Farage quite explicitly, Boris just by being Boris!). Full tabs are here.

Farage and Boris are both seen as more in touch than any of the main party leaders, and are both seen as less stage-managed than the main party leaders (though Farage is still seen as more stage managed than genuine). In terms of honesty Boris is seen as the most honest of the five, but not by a large amount. The biggest contrast is on whether they would be interesting or boring to spend time with, where Boris is in a completely different league to the others. The two “anti-politicians” score very differently on competence questions. Here the incumbent still does best, with David Cameron scoring the highest on being good in a crisis and on being up to the job of governing. Nigel Farage scores very badly on both – people may well think he is doing well as leader of UKIP, but he is not seen as someone who would be good at governing. In contrast Boris Johnson is only just behind Cameron on both measures – he’s managing to keep that anti-politician charm, while at the same time looking up to the job.

Also out today is some new polling for Lord Ashcroft, or actually two new polls, a telephone one asking voting intention and a couple of other questions, and a longer online one asking background questions. Voting intention there stands at CON 27%, LAB 37%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 15% (as far as I know Populus conducted these polls for Lord Ashcroft, but even if not, they appear to be using Populus’s methodology).

The other findings in the poll are mostly swings and roundabouts, the Conservative lead over Labour on competence and having clear ideas has grown slightly, but they have fallen slightly further behind on values and being for everyone. The people who say they are satisfied with David Cameron as Prime Minister has fallen slightly, but the proportion who prefer him to Ed Miliband is almost unchanged. One interesting point is that David Cameron is no longer significantly more popular than the Conservative party as he was a few years back. It is now much more evenly matched – 18% say they are more favourable to Cameron, 22% more favourable to the Conservatives (the rest were equally favourable/unfavourable about them both). Compare that to Ed Miliband though, who still trails badly behind Labour – 10% are more favourable to Miliband, 38% the Labour party.

Ashcroft also re-asked a question on the European Union from last December, asking people if they were favourable or unfavourable towards the EU and if they think Britain should stay in or leave. Only 19% have a favourable opinion of the EU, compared to 50% with a negative opinion. However, a significant proportion of those anti still think Britain is better in than out, so of the 50% with a negative view, 17% think Britain is better staying. This means that despite negative perceptions of the EU, overall 36% think we are better off in, compared to the 33% who think we would be better off out (the other 32% profess no strong views either way).


Sooner or later, a pollster gets something wrong. It happens to everyone if they are in the game for long enough. There are two responses to that, there is to deny there is any problem and blame it all on a late swing, or you can go away, work out what went wrong and put it right. The good pollsters do the second one – so when all the companies got it wrong in 1992 there was an industry inquiry, and ICM in particular came up with new innovations that addressed the problem and led to many of the methods companies use today. In 2008 when MORI got the London election wrong they went away, looked at what had happened, and made changes to put it right. A pollster that gets things wrong, admits it, and then puts it right isn’t a bad thing.

Anyway, in the US election last year the most venerable of all polling companies, Gallup, managed to get things wrong, showing a small lead for Mitt Romney rather than the eventual victory for Barack Obama. They put their hands up, invited in some academics to help and went away and looked at their methods – the result is here. Gallup tested about twenty different hypotheses of things that could have gone wrong, and found that in the majority things were working okay and there was no issue to address. They ended up with four issues where they think things went wrong and caused the overestimate of Romney’s support.

Most or all of the actual problems Gallup identified aren’t directly relevant to British political polls – different system, different challenges, different methods, different solutions – but it’s still an interesting look at what can go wrong with a poll and how a company should dig through its methods if something has gone wrong.

Likelihood to Vote – In Britain pollsters have a relatively simple way of approaching likelihood to vote: they ask people how likely they are to vote, and then weight and/or filter people’s responses based upon that, either giving people’s answers more weight based on how likely they say they are to vote or excluding people below a certain threshold. The only exception to this is ICM, who also include whether people voted in the 2010 election in their likelihood to vote model. American pollsters tend to use much more complicated methods, they ask people how likely they are to vote, but also whether they voted last time, how interested they are in politics, whether they know where the polling station is and so on – there are seven questions in all, which they use to work out a likelihood to vote score and then include only those most likely to vote. Other American pollsters do much the same, but Gallup’s method put more weight on whether people voted in the past, and their adjustment ended up being more pro-Romney than some other companies. Gallup are going to go away and do more work on turnout, including whether the sort of people who take part in polls are more likely to vote anyway (something that I would certainly expect to be true).

Sampling – Most telephone pollsters in the USA get their phone numbers in a similar way to British pollsters, by using random digit dialling. This ensures that people who are ex-directory are not excluded from samples, but at the cost of getting lots of dead telephone numbers, faxes, modems, business numbers and so on. In 2011 Gallup started doing something different. Like most companies they do a fair amount of their interviews on mobile phones, and noted that the majority of ex-directory people did have mobile phones, so theorised that it was safe to randomly generate their landline sample from telephone directories, while bumping up the mobile phone sample to catch those ex-directory people on their mobiles (mobile people who reported being ex-directory were weighted up to account for the tiny percentage of ex-directory people without mobiles). In theory it should of worked. In practice, it probably didn’t – before weighting the RDD sample was more democratic, younger and more pro-Obama than the listed one, so Gallup are going back to using the more expensive RDD method.

Time zone skews – this is an interesting one. As you might expect, Gallup sample within and weight by the regions in the USA. But within some of those regions there are different time zones, and because Gallup started polling at 5pm local time, it meant that in regions that covered more than one time zone they ended up doing more interviews in the eastern part of the region. Correcting this problem would have increased Obama’s support in Gallup’s final poll by 1%. Of course, in Britain we don’t have different time zones to worry about, but it illustrates a problem that can effect any methodology design – skews within the categories you weight by. A pollster can have, for example, the correct proportion of people in the DE social class or people over the age of 55, but what if within those categories you control for people are skewed towards more affluent DEs, or people only just over the age of 55?

Race – the final problem was a rather specific one on how Gallup asked about race – instead of giving people a list of race categories and asking which applied to the respondent, they asked them one at a time and got people to say yes or no, which produced some rather odd effects like overstating the proportion of Native Americans and mixed race people.

The full Gallup review is here and if you’re interested I’d also recommend reading the verdict of Mark Blumenthal (who spotted some of the problems before Gallup did) here and who has obviously followed it infinitely more closely than me.

Economic Optimism

I’ve mentioned this a couple of times in my write ups of the weekly YouGov/Sunday Times polls, but I thought it worth looking at more closely. Without much comment it appears that people are gradually becoming more optimistic about the economy (or given the net figures are still negative, less pessimistic). There are there regular polls on economic optimism – the YouGov ones for the Sunday Times (actually YouGov do several different trackers on economic optimism, but they are all showing the same pattern), Ipsos MORI in their monthly political monitor and a monthly poll by Gfk NOP for the European Commission. All three are shown in the graph below:

As you can see, the three lines show slightly different results (they ask different questions, and NOP calculate their net figure a different way), but the trends are broadly the same, and all three show a uptick in May this year (though the NOP uptick is less dramatic than the YouGov and MORI ones).

What remains to be seen is whether it is sustained – the graph show previous spikes in economic optimism that eventually came to nowt, more economic bad news could do the same here. If it is sustained, the question becomes what effect it has on politics. My own view is that some degree of economic optimism and recovery (even if very slight) is a prerequisite for the Conservatives to stand a chance at the next election, though by no means enough on its own.

Worth keeping an eye on.

This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 16%. YouGov’s daily polling has shown Labour back in a single figure lead for the the last four polls (though even several polls in a row at the bottom or top of the normal margin of error don’t necessarily mean much – sure, the lead could have fallen again slightly as the Woolwich murder moved the media narrative away from Tory infighting, or it could just be co-incidence).

In other news we have another whipless MP to join Patrick Mercer in Newark, with Mike Hancock resigning the whip in Portsmouth South while he defends a civil court action over an alleged sexual assault.

UPDATE: There is also a new TNS-BMRB poll out today, they have topline figures of CON 24%(-4), LAB 37%(0), LDEM 10%(+3), UKIP 19% (+1).