Time for some bad poll reporting, or more specifically, bad poll headlining (Nicholas Watt’s actual article is eventually perfectly clear about the details of the poll). Tonight the Guardian report that “Labour support up 14 points after Miliband’s energy pledge”. Now, one might very well interpret that as meaning Labour’s share of support in the polls has risen fourteen points since Ed Miliband made his pledge on energy prices. Of course, this isn’t the case. Labour were up in the high thirties before conference and now they are in the high thirties – perhaps a tad higher, it’s still unclear. What the poll actually shows is that amongst middle class people who say they are struggling to make ends meet Labour are up 14 points since the general election in 2010. Given the vast majority of Labour’s increase in the polls happened in the tail end of 2010 or after the omnishambles budget in 2012, it’s fair to assume this was not the result of Ed Miliband’s energy pledge.

That said, 14 points is a big increase considering Labour are only up about 8 or 9 points overall. Once
Peter’s actual article and the tables are out it will be interesting to see the contrast between those people who are struggling and those who are doing well (Though its worth considering that correlation will not only work one way – people who feel badly off may be more likely to support Labour, but I suspect people who support Labour are also more likely to say they are struggling. Poorer people will already be more Labour anyway, the interesting contrast will be the changes). It’s not up on the Progress website yet, but presumably will be in the next few days.

Today’s papers also have some ropey poll reporting from a different source in the the Telegraph. It reports a poll of Countryside Alliance members, but headlines as if it were representative the views of rural voters as a whole. Again, the problem is the headline, Steven Swinford’s actual article is fine. Needless to say, the membership of the Countryside Alliance is not interchangeable with the entire population of rural areas, for reasons which I would hope were blindingly obvious (it’s a pressure group, so it attracts more politically active and engaged people. It grew from the campaign against the hunting ban, so it attracts more pro-hunting people. It doesn’t restrict it’s membership to people actually from rural areas, etc, etc). The Speccy has got very excited about the same poll because it shows 13% of Countryside Alliance members saying they’d vote UKIP… so, roughly the same proportion of people as in the country as a whole. If anything, one might have expected a more rural and conservative demographic to be more supportive of UKIP than the population as a whole, in fact, they seem to be exactly the same. It strikes me a bit as a “Pope in no more Catholic than anyone else shocker”.

Finally, while I’m picking on people, I might as well waste a few pixels being horrid to the Daily Express, which today claims 98% of people think Britain should close its doors to all new immigrants. It seems almost superfluous to point out that almost any survey in the Express is complete tripe, like making the effort to write that things in the National Enquirer may be untrue. Perhaps so, but I feel the need to point it out occasionally – it would hardly be fair for me to pick upon upon the motes in the eyes of the Guardian and the Telegraph and ignore the forest sprouting from the Express. Express “phone polls” are premium rate numbers they put in the paper, to get people to ring up to vote yes or no (multiple times if they wish), presumably after reading a foam-flecked Express rant on the subject in question. There is obviously no attempt to get a representative sample and they always show around 97%, 98% in agreement with whatever the Express’s line is. On the Express’s old website they used to have a wonderful archive of them but they don’t seem to be put up online anymore, presumably to stop people laughing at them.

Tuesday round up

There are a few interesting bits of polling news today. First there is a new chunk of Lord Ashcroft polling, this time on the Conservative’s position in Scotland. Full results are here. I won’t summarise the whole report here, but essentially he segments up the Scottish electorate and as well as that poor sorry rump of Tory support left in Scotland, he also finds a group he calls “reluctant Cameroons” – primary Scots who approve of Cameron, trust the Conservatives on the economy… but don’t vote for them because they don’t see the Conservatives as caring about Scotland and view the party as irrelevant to Scottish politics, or a wasted vote. Therein lies the Conservative problem not just in Scotland, but in much of the urban North too. There are people with some sympathy towards Conservative policies, but they live in places or communities where voting Conservative is simply not done, no one else does it, there’s no point doing it, there’s no longer a recent history of it, what would be the point of it? It’s something people in the South do.

Anyway, I’ll leave you to read Lord Ashcroft’s report for yourselves, but for the record it also contained Westminster voting intention figures for Scotland, concucted earlier this month. CON 18%(+1), LAB 40%(-2), LDEM 6%(-13), SNP 31%(+11), UKIP 2%(+1). Changes are from the 2010 election and reflect a big swing from the Lib Dems to the SNP. If it was repeated as a uniform swing across Scotland the Lib Dems would be reduced to three seats in Scotland, the Tories would gain two seats, Labour would gain two and lose one, the SNP would go up to 11 seats.

Secondly there is the regular YouGov poll for the Sun. Topline figures today are CON 31%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%. While it’s within the normal margin of error of YouGov’s recent polling, the nine point lead is the largest YouGov have show since the start of October. My hunch is that this particular poll is probably a bit of an outlier, but that the issue of energy prices coming back into the news agenda following the energy price rises has boosted Labour’s lead a bit. Full tabs are here.

Finally the Electoral Commission have issued advice on the referendum question contained in the referendum bill currently before the Commons. The Bill currently contains the wording “Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union”. The Electoral Commission have recommended that the “do you think” bit is dropped, so the question is shorter and more formal, and that the wording reflects that the UK is already a member of the EU, as some people thought the question read as if it was whether Britain should join the EU. As such the question would become “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” They’ve also floated the idea that it might be better to move away from a Yes/No question, and instead have a Remain/Leave question, along the lines of “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? Remain a member of the European Union/ Leave the European Union”.

As a pollster you tend to get asked questions about referendum wording. It makes some sense, as writing fair questions is the bread and butter of being a pollster, but in many ways the considerations really aren’t the same. As a pollster I hardly every write questions with just a straight Yes/No as options because there is a fear of affirmation bias, so as a polling question the Electoral Commission’s Remain/Leave is definitely better, giving both sides of the campaign equal prominance. However, it’s NOT a polling question, it’s a referendum question. With a polling question, people are rung up out of the blue (or get an email out of the blue) and get a few seconds to answer the question – those small differences in wording undoubtedly make a difference. In a referendum people have weeks to decide, and will be influenced by the whole campaigns, personalities, arguments, advertisements and so on. What the Yes and No votes mean for the country is something that voters will form their own perceptions of long before they enter a polling station. In that sense, as long as the question is clear and unambiguious, I doubt whether it says yes/no or remain/leave matters much.


ComRes’s monthly poll for the Independent is out tonight and has topline figures of CON 28%(-5), LAB 36%(-1), LD 11%(nc), UKIP 12%(+1), Others 13%(+5). A significant drop for the Conservatives, and a significant increase for minor parties. The eight point lead for Labour is the largest ComRes have shown in their telephone polls since March. Full tabs are here.

I’ll make the usual caveats about big movements in polls – they could be the sign of something, or could just random sample variation (the big increase in “others” looks particularly odd, so do remember Twyman’s Law – if something looks unusual or interesting in a poll, it’s probably wrong). At the end of last week I did say that it looked as though the Labour lead in YouGov’s daily polling could be creeping upwards, perhaps on the back of energy prices being all over the news. On the other hand, the Survation poll at the weekend and the Populus poll this morning don’t show any sign of a widening lead. At the risk of being ever so dull and predictable, wait and see what the continuing trend shows.

Meanwhile looking at the rest of the poll ComRes found the same widespread support for Ed Miliband’s promise to freeze energy prices that we’ve seen elsewhere – 80% support the policy, 17% oppose it. However only 41% of people actually think Miliband would deliver on the promise if Labour formed a government, 52% think he will not.

As I mentioned above, earlier on today we also had the twice-weekly Populus poll. Today’s figures were CON 33% (-1), LAB 38%(-1), LDEM 12%(+1), UKIP 9%(-1), Others 7%(-1). Full tabs here

YouGov’s weekly results for the Sunday Times are out here. Topline figures are CON 33%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%.

The poll started with an interesting question on the economy – directly addressing the queries you sometimes see on whether the GDP figures are actually reflected in ordinary’s people’s experience. 34% of people think the economy is now growing again across Britain as a whole, 41% do not. Asked about their own local area though, 22% think the economy is growing, 55% do not – people in London and the south are more likely to see the economy as growing, the north and Scotland less so. (Note more than half of the fieldwork would have been completed before the new GDP figures came out, so they won’t yet reflect that). You can look at this a pessimistic or optimistic way (or vice-versa, depending on one’s preferred outcome to the election) – one that the government isn’t benefiting from economic growth because many people aren’t feeling it in their own areas, the other that given many people don’t think the economy is growing yet, there’s plenty more potential upside for the government if/when they do.

Most of the poll deal with questions about energy prices. On the cost of living Labour have a lead, but only a tiny one – 26% trust Labour more, 24% the Conservatives. Solid majorities support all the energy price proposals made over the last few days, 72% support Miliband’s price freeze, 73% Major’s windfall tax, 64% Cameron’s reduction in green taxes. Asked to choose just ONE of them though the price freeze is the most popular, picked by 39% to the green tax reduction’s 28% and the windfall tax on 23%.

Looking more specifically at green taxes, only 15% of people support the continuation of the green levy on energy bills. 39% would rather the spending was funded directly from generation taxation, 34% would rather the money was not spent at all. In a forced choice question 52% would rather the government acted to cut bills, even if it mean less action was taken to cut CO2 emissions and protect the environment.

Looking to future energy needs the parties are exactly matched, 22% would trust the Tories more, 22% Labour more. On the principle of the new nuclear power station 49% support the deal, 30% are opposed. There are more concerns about the details – 55% think it’s unacceptable for French and Chinese companies to be involved, 49% think it is unacceptable for the government to promise to pay a minimum price for the electricity generated.

There were also a couple of questions on drug legalisation. 47% of people would support the decriminalisation (25%) or full legalisation (22%) or “soft” drugs like cannabis, 45% would prefer their sale and possession to remain a criminal offence. There is far less support for softening restrictions on harder drugs, 71% think that drugs like heroin and crack should remain illegal.

Looking at the rest of the Sunday papers, there is also a Survation poll” in the Sunday Times which has topline figures of CON 29%, LAB 35%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 17%, and a Panelbase poll in the Herald (but commissioned by Wings over Scotland) which has referendum voting intentions of YES 35%, NO 43%, Undecided 20%. This is broadly typical of Panelbase – with the exception of a single poll in Jan 2013 and the SNP commissioned poll with leading questions, they’ve been consistently showing a lead of between 8-10 points since summer 2012.

This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%. It comes after an eight point lead yesterday, and a couple of six points leads at the end of last week, so we’ve had a couple of polls in a row with leads at the top of the normal range. I’m always wary of reading too much into polls that could be explained by normal sample variation, but it could be that the price hikes from British Gas and the renewed prominence of energy prices as an issue over the last few days has given Labour a bit of a boost. Or it’s just random sample error – keep watching the trend.

There were also some YouGov questions in the Times on Free Schools, which found a significant drop in support since YouGov last asked in September. A month ago 36% of people in England supported free schools, 40% were opposed… a pretty even split. Now 27% of people support free schools, 47% are opposed. I suspect the shift is more to do with the coverage of the dysfunctional Al-Madinah free school in Derby than Nick Clegg’s recent comments, but looking specifically at his comments 66% of people agree that schools should only be able to employ qualified teachers, 56% that all schools should have to follow the national curriculum.