1) The Labour lead narrowed

Labour’s lead has gradually eroded over 2013. We started the new year showing a Labour lead of around about ten points. It started falling in the spring as the economy improved, and continued over the summer. There appeared to be something of a reverse in the autumn, one assumes because of the impact of Labour’s energy pledge and the political narrative focusing on gas and electricity prices for a few weeks, but we still ended the year with an average Labour lead of six points, compared to ten. Note however, that the majority of this change came from Labour losing support, dropping from an average of 42% in the polls to 39% – there has been comparatively little increase in Tory support.

2) People got more optimistic about the economy

There has been a sharp increase in people’s view of where the economy is growing. Looking at the monthly questions MORI and NOP both ask on how people think the economy in general will perform in the twelve months ahead shows a sharp increase early this year, thought it has rather stagnated since September. Asked in a more narrative way, earlier this month YouGov found 43% of people now think the economy is showing signs of recovery or is well on the way to recovery, up from 37% in August and just 14% in April.

However, people are less optimistic about their own household finances. YouGov’s economic optimism tracker for the Sunday Times asks about people’s expectations of their own finances, rather than the economy in general, and while it has shown a similar rise the net figure is still much more negative. In November MORI asked the two questions in parallel – 42% expected the economy to improve in the year ahead, but only 23% expected their own finances to improve. In a similar vein YouGov found 35% of people thought the economy as a whole was growing, but only 22% thought it was growing in their own region. More and more people are thinking that the economy is growing, but people are not necessarily feeling in their own pockets yet.

3) The Conservatives have moved ahead on the economy

As the economy has improved, it has had an impact on political attitudes towards the economy. At the start of 2013 the Conservative and Labour parties were essentially neck and neck on the economy. As the year progressed the Conservatives gradually pulled ahead and established a consistent lead.

Other trackers have moved in the same direction. Since the end of 2010 YouGov’s fortnightly trackers on attitudes towards the cuts had consistently shown that while people thought the spending cuts were necessary, they thought they were bad for the economy. That reversed in September and now finds more people think that the cuts are good for the country’s economy, than think they are damaging. However, while preferences on who people trust to manage the economy are heading in the Conservatives direction, Labour still lead on their preferred ground of prices and living standards.

4) But people have started to care more about other issues

The two regular trackers of what people think are the most important issues facing the country (YouGov’s which offers a list and Ipsos MORI’s which is unprompted) have both had the economy as the number one issue for years, and it remains there at the moment. However, it’s dominance has begun to fade over 2013. Back in 2012 well over 50% of people consistently told MORI that the economy was one of the main issues facing the country, YouGov’s prompted question consistently found over 70% picking out the economy.

In 2013 both trackers have shown the proportion of people thinking the economy is one of the big issues facing the country falling, presumably as a result of people starting to think the economy is improving. In the case of MORI the proportion of people saying the economy is a big issue has fallen below 50%, and in their December poll down to 39%. On YouGov’s tracker the figure has fallen below 70%, and in their final December poll down to 58%. At the same time other issues have risen up the agenda, most notably that of immigration – in MORI and YouGov’s December polls they both found immigration the second most mentioned issue, in both cases just two percentage points behind the economy. Note also the increase in the number of people mentioning issues of inflation from Autumn, as Labour started to try and shift the agenda more towards cost of living.

5) UKIP have continued to gather strength

The advance of UKIP in the polls has continued, though perhaps hampered by the lack of any elections or by-elections in the second half of 2013. UKIP’s support so far this Parliament has been a series of spikes and plateaus, seeing sudden increases in their poll ratings on the back of election successes like Rotherham, Eastleigh and local elections and the ensuing publicity and then flattening out again until the next opportunity to demonstrate their support comes along. This has certainly been the pattern in 2013 – they started the year at just below 10% in the polls, enjoyed a big jump in national support following their successes in the county council elections and, since the publicity boost from the county elections faded have rather stagnated. They still end 2013 above where they started, and have the inevitable publicity boost of the European elections to come next year.

6) Ed Miliband’s ratings went down, and up, and down again

Ed Miliband’s miserable job approval questions have continued to go downwards, with one notable exception. Three companies do regular questions on what people think of the party leaders – MORI ask if people are satisfied or dissatisfied, Opinium if people approve or disapprove, YouGov if they are doing a good or bad job. Ed Miliband’s ratings have been on a downwards trend for most of the year, but he enjoyed a reverse after the party conference and his energy price pledge, briefly reversing some of the year so far’s decline. All three measures still showed him ending the year with lower approval ratings than he began with.

The final YouGov poll of the year is up here. Voting intentions are CON 34%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%. The six point Labour lead is the same as the average in YouGov’s polls across December, in comparison in December 2012 YouGov was showing an average Labour lead of eleven points, so year-on-year Labour’s lead has almost halved – the YouGov average for December 2013 is Conservative 33% (up 1 since 2012), Labour 39% (down 4), Lib Dem 9% (down 1), UKIP 12% (up 3).

Labour leads have seemed a tad lower since the Autumn statement, but the vast majority that narrowing came in the early part of 2013 when economic optimism first stating picking up. We can see the changes in attitudes to the economy in the other regular YouGov trackers here. 17% now think the economy is doing well, 50% badly. It’s still strongly negative, but compare it to December 2012 when it was 5% well, 73% badly. 41% of people now think the coalition are managing the economy well, 51% badly – it’s still a net negative, but compare it to December 2012 when it was 31% well, 59% badly.

The most interesting questions in the rest of the poll were on shale gas and fracking, 44% of people support fracking/shale gas, 29% of people are opposed. This is up slightly since YouGov last asked in August when it was 41% to 33% opposed. Asked about its impacts people see it as safe by 47% to 33%, as good for the economy by 64% to 14%, but as environmentally damaging by 42% to 34%.

Compared to other potential ways of generating energy, fracking is seen as broadly preferable to coal or imported gas, but seen as less desirable than nuclear or renewable energy. People would, unsurprisingly, be less positive about fracking in their immediate area. Only 25% of people would support fracking within a couple of miles of their home, but it rises to 32% support if its further away, but in a local town or village, and goes up to 46% support if it was somewhere else in their local county, but not their own town or village.


YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun this morning had topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 39%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 12%. The five point Labour lead is pretty typical of what YouGov have been showing over the last fortnight. The full tabs are here.

Meanwhile Populus’s twice-weekly poll has topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 40%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 8%. Full tabs are here. This is the last Populus poll of the year. For YouGov there is one still to come (the weekly YouGov/Sunday Times poll) then they too stop for the Christmas period.

This morning there was a substantial YouGov poll on EU renegotiation in the Sun – the full tabs are here. YouGov have done regular tracker polls in the past on how people would vote in a referendum on the EU, which tend to show a slight majority for leaving as things are, but a hefty majority for staying in if David Cameron manages a renegotiation of some sort and recommends a yes vote. It raises the question though of what exactly would past muster as a renegotiation.

On the principle of renegotiation most people think it is desirable – three-quarters of people want to see some renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU, but are split over how extensive it needs to be. 24% think our current relationship is broadly okay as it is, and just needs some reassurances and rule changes. 27% want to see more substantial renegotiation with opt outs or changes to EU powers. 25% think there needs to be massive and fundamental changes for EU membership to be in British interests. Asked what things they’d like to see as part of renegotiation, what powers they’d like to see returned, immigration unsurprisingly came out top (and the related issue of benefit rights for EU migrants came third).

However, whatever they might like to see, in practical terms only 15% think that other EU countries would agree to significant changes. 43% think only minor changes and clarifications are achievable, 24% think other EU countries wouldn’t agree to any changes at all.

So, how would people vote if there was only a modest renegotiation?

  • If David Cameron secures a major renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union, with substantial changes and opt outs then 52% of people say they would vote to stay in, 23% would still vote to leave.
  • Realistically however, the chances of David Cameron getting massive British opt outs are probably quite remote – more likely if it happens he’ll get some more modest rule changes and guarantees, but no major changes in which areas the EU has powers. In that scenario then the vote would be much closer – 39% say they would vote to stay, 38% would vote to leave.
  • Finally, if David Cameron secured no renegotiation at all and had to come back and hold a referendum on the relationship with the EU as it is now 32% say would vote to stay, 45% would vote to leave.

Of course, these are just snapshots of the present situation, not predictions of what would happen after a referendum campaign… a lot could change in an actual EU membership referendum campaign (remember early AV referendum polls!), but it underlines the importance of the renegotiation and how it ends up being framed in the public debate – a referendum in the wake of what is portrayed as a win that protects British interests would be very different from a referendum in the wake of a perceived failure to get a good deal for Britain.

Meanwhile, tonight’s regular daily YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 38%, LD 10%, UKIP 11%

The monthly ComRes phone poll for the Indy is out tonight and shows almost no change from last month. Topline figures are CON 32%(nc), LAB 37%(nc), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 10%(-1). ComRes also asked people what was most important to them about the economy in the coming years. Top came ensuring economic growth on 41%, following by increasing wages above the rate prices rise (25%), keeping down inflation (17%) and cutting the deficit (12%).

Meanwhile the daily YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 41%, LD 8%, UKIP 13%. It looks as if yesterday’s 2 point lead was indeed a blip, though today’s may be the same: the average in YouGov polls since the Autumn statement is a Labour lead of around about 5 points, so the two point lead and today’s eight point lead look like outliers in opposite directions.

With ComRes’s poll done, we’ve had all of the regular monthly polls from ComRes, MORI and ICM and we’re headed towards the Christmas break. YouGov don’t poll over Christmas, so will come to a halt this weekend. I’m not sure whether or not Populus or Opinium will continue over the holidays.