ComRes have done their monthly online poll for the Independent on Sunday. Topline figures are CON 31%(+2), LAB 34%(-1), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 19%(nc), GRN 4%(nc). For clarification, given some of the misunderstandings on Twitter earlier today, this is using ComRes’s normal methodology and prompting, they haven’t changed anything (I have no idea if they intend to do so or not… though I expect they’ll be getting a lot of people asking them tonight!). The sample size however was smaller than usual, as with the other half of the sample ComRes carried out an experiment asking the voting intention question including UKIP in the main voting intention prompt. The result using that different method was CON 29%, LAB 31%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 24%, GRN 5%.

Now, I should underline the importance of noting that this is just one poll. It is comparing two samples of 1000 or so people, with the usual margins of error that implies – so not all the difference will necessarily be prompting, some could just be normal sample variation. Please don’t go away with the idea that prompting for UKIP will always has the effect of bumping up UKIP by 5% – it’s just one data point. I think it probably does make a difference (we’ve tested in the past), but five points does seem rather high. Also remember that prompting may affect different methods differently, so the way it affects a ComRes online poll using their methods would not necessarily reflect the way it would affect any other poll (I am personally intrigued by the possibility that prompting may have a different impact in telephone polls, where people may feel obliged to pick one of the options offered by a human interviewer, than in an online poll where it’s just clicking through to another list of options – but obviously I don’t have phone polls to test it on!)

Knowing that prompting does make a difference – something that pollsters knew anyway – doesn’t actually get us any closer to an answer to the real question though, whether prompting for UKIP produces more or less accurate results in GB election polls. It the ComRes figure of 19% more or less accurate than the figure of 24%? Whether polls prompt or not for UKIP is often a issue that produces a lot of comment. Part of that is from people whose concern is, shall I say, more to do with maximising the reported level of support for UKIP than it is to maximise the accuracy of polling. Part of it is that, prima facie, it does seem somewhat strange that a party (normally) running in third place isn’t prompted for when the party that’s (normally) running in fourth place is. Another part is people looking for an explanation for the big difference in reported levels of UKIP support between different pollsters; typically the companies showing the highest levels of support, Survation and Opinium, show UKIP at about twice the support of ICM or MORI, who typically show the lowest. In the latter case I think the attention is misplaced – the reason for the biggest differences in levels of UKIP support in the polls appears to lie elsewhere – companies like Opinium manage to show some of the higher figures without any prompting! Rather they appear to be a contrast between telephone polling and online polling, for some reason online polls show consistently higher levels of UKIP support than telephone polls. That may be something to do with the mode (perhaps people are more ready to admit they are voting UKIP to an anonymous computer screen than to a human interviewer) or it could be something to do with sampling (for some reason phone samples have fewer of the sort of people who vote UKIP than online samples do).

As a pollster it is more important that methods produce the most accurate results than it is whether they appear “fair” (and certainly it’s more important to be accurate than to produce the higher possible score for UKIP!). The fact is that there isn’t a hard and fast rule about when you do and don’t prompt, we don’t have the evidence to say the cut off point is x% support, or y place, or z number of MPs. It’s a matter of judgement. We know from experience over the last couple of decades that prompting for smaller parties tends to overestimate their support (probably because it gives them a prominence and perception of equality with the major parties that may not be there among the general public), we also know that in the 1980s NOT prompting for the Lib Dems used to underestimate their support, so getting it wrong either way can produce error. Sometimes you can get it wrong by prompting, sometimes you can get it wrong by not prompting. There is no real way of knowing when a party switches from a position where prompting risks overestimating them to one where not prompting risks underestimating them – but clearly we are equally keen to avoid both errors. If UKIP establish themselves to the point that they have lots of MPs, consistent support over time, have known people and policies, are treated as a major established party that is given equal treatment by the BBC and OfCom and so on the time will come when the risk of not prompting outweighs the risk of prompting (it has already come, for example, in European elections)… but when you reach that point? It’s a judgement call.

It’s in a bigger context too. The last general election was held in the middle of “Cleggmania” and a surge of enthusiasm for the Liberal Democrats. The polls overestimated their support. The European elections earlier this year saw a great big surge of enthusiasm for UKIP… and of polls in the last week all but one company overestimated their support. In the Scottish referendum I don’t think anyone could deny that the YES campaign were the more enthused, and the polls seem to have all slightly overestimated their support. I may very well be reading something into these that isn’t there, but you get my drift – polls may be overestimating support for parties and movements that have particularly enthusiastic and zealous supporters. There’s also that unexplained difference in UKIP support between telephone companies and online companies, and what might be behind that. Getting UKIP right at the next election is the big challenge facing pollsters, but its about more than just prompting.


This morning’s Populus poll has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 35%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 14%, GRN 4% (tabs here). Meanwhile this morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 32%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 18%, GRN 7% (tabs here).

Earlier in the week we also had a fresh lot of Ashcroft marginals polls that I didn’t get chance to look at – details are here. This batch were back to Con-Lab marginals, in this case those seats with majorities between 3.1% and 4.8%, so needing a swing between 1.6% and 2.5%. These are still seats that on current national polling should fall to Labour, though given there is variation between the swing in different seats they are not such easy pickings as the ultra-marginals in Ashcroft’s previous polls (in one of the seats polled – Pudsey – Ashcroft found Labour and the Conservatives equal).

The average swing across the eleven seats polled was 5%, the equivalent of a 3% Labour lead in national polls. The average position in the national polls when this fieldwork was being done (10th September – 3rd October) was a 3.6% Labour lead, so once again the difference between the swing in the marginal seats and the swing in the national polls is tiny.


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Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor is out in today’s Standard. Topline figures are CON 30%(-4), LAB 33%(nc), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 16%(+1). The 16% for UKIP is up only one since last month, but that makes it the highest UKIP score MORI have yet recorded. There was a similar pattern in this morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun – topline figures were CON 30%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 18%, beating YouGov’s previous UKIP high of 17 (Tabs are here: MORI, YouGov)


So far today we have three new opinion polls, all conducted since the Clacton by-election result. Yesterday’s Survation poll was conducted just on Friday, in the immediate glare of the post by-election publicity, and saw UKIP spikng up to 25%, three points above Survation’s record high for the party. Today’s polls were conducted over the weekend and seem to show a more mixed picture.

Populus – CON 35%(+1), LAB 36%(+1), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 13%(nc), GRN 3%(-1) (tabs)
Ashcroft – CON 28%(-4), LAB 32%(+2), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 19%(+2), GRN 5%(-2) (tabs)
ICM – CON 31%(-2), LAB 35%(nc), LDEM 11%(+1), UKIP 14%(+5), GRN 4% (tabs)

Populus have UKIP unchanged at 13%, and have recently had UKIP as high as 15% so this certainly doesn’t reflect any sort of new high. Ashcroft has UKIP up two points since last week, equalling their record high from an Ashcroft poll, but not breaking new ground. ICM have the most impressive showing for UKIP, up five points on last month’s poll – a significant boost compared to the 9%-10% UKIP have been registering in recent ICM polls, but below ICM’s previous highs for UKIP. We still have the daily YouGov/Sun poll to come, but so far the overall picture from today’s polls is looking like a respectable UKIP boost on the back of their by-election success, rather than a huge breakthrough.


There are four polls in the Sunday papers – Lord Ashcroft, Opinium, Survation and YouGov.

The majority of the fieldwork for the YouGov/Sunday Times and Opinium/Observer polls was conducted before the results of the Clacton by-election were known. Opinium have topline figures of CON 28%(-4), LAB 35%(+1), LDEM 9%(+2), UKIP 17%(n/c). YouGov have topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 34%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 16%. Lord Ashcroft didn’t put voting intention figures in the headline results but they were asked and are in the tables themselves, results were CON 31%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 18% – note that the poll was conducted online, whereas Ashcroft’s regular VI polls are done by phone.

Survation’s poll in the Mail on Sunday was conducted wholly on Friday – in the full glare of the post-Clacton by-election media coverage, and it shows the big boost for UKIP that we expected. Topline figures of CON 31%(nc), LAB 31%(-4), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 25%(+6). 25% is the highest that UKIP have ever hit in a poll. To put that in context Survation do tend to show the highest levels of support for UKIP anyway, but their previous highest was 22% and their average this year for UKIP has been 19%, so this is a significant boost anyway.

Lord Ashcroft’s poll was largely a repeat of some pre-conference questions to see if there was any impact. The survey included an opened ended question asking if people had noticed the Conservatives and Labour saying or doing anything over the last few weeks – for both parties 20% of people said that there had been a conference, the most recalled specifics were 15% remembering proposed tax cuts from the Tories, and 15% remembering that Ed Miliband forgot part of his speech. Changes in other questions were largely just a reinforcement of the existing pattern – so Labour increased their lead on “being on the side of people like me”, the Conservatives increased their lead on things like “being clear what they stand for”, “cutting the deficit” and “reforming welfare”.

Ashcroft did ask one interesting new question – a forced choice asking if people wanted Labour & Miliband to win, Labour despite Miliband, Miliband despite Labour, and the equivalent options for the Conservatives. The balance of opinion was 54% Conservative/Cameron and 46% Labour/Miliband, but the splits were interesting. Amongst Tory voters 75% wanted to see Cameron & the Conservatives win the election. Amongst Labour voters only 37% were happy with Labour and Miliband, 47% said they wanted Labour in government, even if it meant Miliband as PM. Amongst Liberal Democrat voters 66% opted for the Conservatives/Cameron, but mostly because they’d rather Cameron remained PM even if it meant the Conservatives in power. Amongst UKIP voters 66% opted for Conservatives/Cameron, 30% saying they’d want to keep Cameron even if meant the Tories, 26% because they’d rather keep the Tories even if meant Cameron.

Both YouGov and Ashcroft asked about likelihood to change at the next election. YouGov found the UKIP vote was a little softer than the Conservative and Labour parties’ – 58% of Conservatives say they are certain to vote that way, 59% of Labour voters, but only 46% of UKIP voters. Looking at potential changes, 24% of current Conservative voters said they’d consider voting UKIP at the general election, as would 11% of current Labour voters. Looking at possible movement in the opposite direction, 27% of current UKIP voters say they’d consider voting Conservative come the election, 9% would consider Labour. If the UKIP vote does get squeezed closer to the election it will benefit the Tories… but if they don’t, if the rollercoaster keeps going, there is more risk for the Tories too. Ashcroft asked the question slightly differently, only targeting those who said they might change and asking a “tick all that apply”, but the pattern of support was exactly the same.

YouGov also asked people how they might vote if their own seat looked like it would be a race between certain parties – the aim was to try and see how UKIP voters might be squeezed in marginals, but of course it also gives us some interesting pointers of possible tactical behaviour in other seats. In Conservative/Labour marginals 34% of UKIP voters say they would vote for the Conservative party, in Conservative/Liberal Democrat marginals 30% of Ukippers would vote Conservative. Imagining themselves in a Con/Lab marginal the remaining Lib Dems voters are as likely to vote tactically for the Conservatives as for Labour. 39% of Conservative voters say they’d vote tactically for the Lib Dems in Lab/LD seats, 36% of Lab voters would still be prepared to hold their nose and vote tactically for the Lib Dems in Con/LD marginals.

Tabs are here: YouGov, Survation, Ashcroft.