The first poll of the year shows the Conservative gap narrowing, and a boost for the Liberal Democrats under their new leader. The Populus poll has topline figures, with changes from last month, of CON 37%(-3), LAB 33%(+1), LDEM 19%(+3).

We had some contradictory polls last month, some showing the Tory lead narrowing, others showing it growing to record levels. This poll again shows Labour recovering slightly – the one point change is not itself significant, but the context of the ICM and YouGov polls last month that also showed them up, it appears that they have rallied somewhat from the disasters at the end of last year.

More significantly this is the first poll that can really show the Clegg effect – the other polls since he became leader were either done partially before the result, or in the case of the last YouGov poll, has a fieldwork period that hardly instilled confidence. It looks like the change of leadership has given them a long overdue boost, putting them up at 19%, the highest the Lib Dems have recorded in a Populus poll since April (and at the expense of the Conservatives).

A poll showing the Tory lead cut by 4 points should at first sight be a good poll for Brown, yet the Times headlines it “Fresh poll blow for Gordon Brown as David Cameron cements lead”. In one sense it’s a reflection of the media environment Gordon Brown has to operate within these days, a poll shows his party up and his opponent’s lead cut and it’s a “blow”. However, this isn’t going into UKPollingReport’s “crap media reporting of polls” hall of fame – while this poll certainly isn’t good for Cameron, it isn’t particularly good for Brown either, a one point recovery having dropped 5 points last month isn’t something for Labour to celebrate, and certainly isn’t as positive as the ICM and YouGov findings. More importantly, the Times headline refers not to bad news for Labour in the voting intention figures, but to poll findings about Brown himself, which are certainly a blow.

On having what it takes to be a good Prime Minister Brown now trails Cameron by 40% to 44%, where he lead Cameron by 9 points as recently as November. Brown’s reputation for strength, shattered by “chicken Saturday” has not recovered, he leads Cameron by only 6 points when he once dominated him with a 32 point margin.

Looking at the 1-10 scores that Populus ask people to rate party leaders upon, Brown has fallen to an average of 4.6, down from 5.79 in September, the lowest he has yet recorded and lower than nearly ever score that Tony Blair recorded – to put it in context, it’s the sort of figure Michael Howard and Ming Campbell used to record. David Cameron meanwhile was up to 5.07, but first time he’s popped back above the 5.0 mark since January last year. (Clegg is even lower than Brown, but a very large proportion of respondents said don’t know). It looks as though while Labour are rallying slightly, perceptions of Brown himself are still deteriorating.

75 Responses to “Clegg effect boosts Lib Dems in first poll of 2008”

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  1. No doubt Anthony is more informed than the rest of us, but Adam Boulton was reporting that the exit polls in the US primaries are ‘notoriously unreliable’, for what ever reason.
    It does seem unfair and premature to smear all our own polling organisations on the basis of the experience of another polster in another country in another election. At least let them stand or fall on their own record.

  2. I am with Sally on this one.

    The Polls or rather the pundits have made the basic mistake of taking the trend in the first election, High turnout and a Barak win and on that basis predicted High turnout must mean a Barak win.

    That’s a basic mistake and indeed one Anthony has warned of here on numerous occasions particularly with regards to churn amongst parties as opposed to straight switchers.

    If the Tories rise and Labour fall it doesn’t automatically mean that Labour voters are switching to the Tories, equally if the Tories are up by 5% it doesn’t mean they are 5% up in London and New castle , far from it.


  3. As regards turn out in by elections, it’s more a case of political motivation rather than sophistication.The Lib Dems in particular are very good at making a local elections about one issue, “vote Lib Dem to save this or that” .Thus making a by election more of a referendum on an issue, people aren’t actually making a political judgement, they are recording their view on a particular local issue.That’s why they should be dismissed as a reliable guide to party support.

  4. Just a comment on Obama.It wouldn’t be the first time the public told pollsters what they think pollsters wanted to hear, the Obama bandwagon seemed the place to be.However, in the privacy of the polling booths it seems quite a few of those people voted for someone else. Personally I’m delighted the voting public can still pull out a few surprises.

  5. However inapplicable it might be to the UK, I really enjoyed the discomfort of the commentators who took too much notice of a few polls, rubbished the “failing” candidate for being too cold and lacking in charisma, and so yesterday – completely dismissing her chances against a bright personable newish face! (Maybe they will make a dream ticket if they can stand each other enough to stand together)? Meanwhile, back to our own commentators and a much longer race…

  6. You haven’t been ridiculed for saying that real votes matter more than polls, Mark – that’s a truism; what you’re mistaken in claiming is that local by-elections provide a more accurate measure of national party support than polls measuring specifically that.

    And you occasionally erode whatever justification you might have for such an argument when you make partisan extrapolations from one week’s by-election results, which you don’t always do, but occasionally manage.

    Thanks for the correction about ICM – something didn’t sit right with me when I typed that but I was a little distracted at the time!

  7. Seems some websites are crying fowl [US Primaries]. The surprise result has led some to inquire further and BO was ahead in the ‘by hand’ counts and HC in the computer counts in New Hampshire. Hanging chads all over again or just a fruit cake of a web site? We will see but if it runs but it will be an example of the opinion polls leading to scepticism about the real thing!

  8. With regards to the NH primary, I think we need to differentiate between what the polls were saying and what the pundits were saying.

    As far as I can see the Polls were saying,

    “It will be a very high turnout”.

    It was the news commentators who were predicting an Obama win, not the polls.

    That for me is a bit like this site. Each of us here puts our interpretation on the results, but if that interpretation is wrong it’s our fault not YouGov’s.

    It’s not a slap in the face for polsters, it’s a slap for the likes of us.


  9. Sorry that should read foul not fowl. One two many chicken stories on today.

  10. One too many…??? bedtime I think.

    Peter you are right of course [I consider myself duly slapped] but just think how much excitment we would miss out on if the polls were absent from the narrative. I am in favour of banning polling in the last few days of an election campaign because it is so easy to put an incorrect spin on a poll in the all powerful media circus just by lazy or poor reporting. If you only turn out to stop the other guy winning or only if your own are desperate, you don’t care enough.

  11. “It was the news commentators who were predicting an Obama win, not the polls.”

    Apparently Obama’s team were telling commentators they were showing a 14% lead for Obama in their private polling.Other polls were also showing an Obama lead, one poll showing only a 1% Obama lead was dismissed as a rogue.

  12. Oh yes, the polls were very much predicting an Obama win. No hiding away from the fact that the polls got this one wrong. I meant to write a piece yesterday on what might have caused it, but so far I haven’t worked out what actually did (though that’s largely because US pollsters aren’t as open as ours, you often have to actually pay expensive subscription charges to look at the detailled tables, stopping me looking through the entrails as much as I’d like).

  13. Staying with Obama et al for a minute and as Anthony says- despite Peter’s denials- the polls DID get it wrong–what do folk make of the worrying suggestion made on the BBC news that voters may have changed their minds in the polling booths because of the colour of Obama’s skin? Is that an unjustified slur on the voters of New Hampshire or is it the case that some white voters even in a state not exactly overpopulated with blacks are still imbued with the old racist views.I don’t know. Personally I believe Hillary Clinton is like George W Bush far too divisive a politican to heal the wounds inflicted on American society. To me the perfect contest in November would be Barack Obama against John McCain. Neither man indulges in attack adds and smears and the mutual respect between them could lead to the first adult presedential debate about where America is going since well Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. The rest of the world would benefit as a result and could rest easy with whichever one was elected. Neither of the frontrunners Clinton or Guiliani are capable of this- they would be at each others throats from day one.

  14. Nick – nope, you don’t become racist in the voting booth. The potential error on that front is that people actually didn’t vote for Obama because he was black, but didn’t admit such things to pollsters, therefore artifically inflating his support in polls. There is a long history of polls overestimating the level of support that black candidates have, presumably because people are worried about looking racist if they tell a pollster they’ll be voting against them. I’m not sure that actually was the problem here, PEW produced a paper last year suggesting the race effect in polling had largely vanished – but that is one of the causes that has been suggested.

  15. There seems to be a strong suggestion that a late surge in women’s votes after the “tearfull episode” clinched it for Clinton.
    How would the Polls pick that up?
    It was nip & tuck at the end anyway-39/36, and equal on delegates.

    Two things strike me about it:-

    There seems to be a significant ambivalence in the Democrat electorate between the “Change ” candidate & the “Experience” candidate-some echos of that in Brown v Cameron?

    This exercise in grass roots democracy, where candidates are shunted all across the country for ruthless public exposure of their personalities, to the will of the people at a very local level, is in sharp contrast to UK.It is a superb spectacle for anyone who believes in democracy.

    I love the lists of expenditure-and votes per $ spent-for each candidate. If we tried that here, we would be forever adjusting the numbers!

  16. Concerning the earlier comment, I think the Tories’ lowest rating in any individual poll during their time in office was 23% in about 1995 or 1996. I don’t think they fell below 20% in any national polls.

  17. Andy, I think this was the low point :

    Gallup/Telegraph 09/01/95 Con : 18.5 Lab : 62 LibDem 14 Labour led by 43.5.

    I can’t remember what was happening around that time, though I guess the pundits weren’t advising that the Govt had had the benefit of a “Xmas bounce!

  18. The detailed data for the Populus Poll is on their website . Ther comparison with how people voted in 2005 is interesting as always , the net change is now from Lab to LibDem of +10 ( last poll +6 ) and from Con to LibDem of -13 ( last poll -29 ) and from Lab to Con of -17 ( last poll -30 )

  19. Clegg gave a good account of himself at Prime Ministers Question Time this week. He just concentrated on the one subject re rising fuel/heating bills. However the PMs Question Times may not influence matters greatly: Brown has to answer many questions from many MPs and perhaps, as a result, gets more exposure. All in all the New Year has started better for Brown than expected. What will matter in the end is the size and scaleof the economic downturn. “It’s the economy stupid” as Clinton used to say.

  20. Andy is wrong on the lowest Tory poll rating being 23% in 1995/1996, or never being below 20%.

    It fell to 18.5% in early 1995 in a Gallup poll (whatever happened to them?).
    And it was several times around 21-22% from late 1994 to 1996 – usually Gallup. I think they changed their method to telephone and this reduced the Labour leads from the 40 points or so around this time.
    But we had another 61-22 Xmas present in 1996 – heading for wipeout.

  21. John Charlesworth

    Until the latest government gaff(Hain) the year had started well for Brown. He was in the media nearly every day announcing something or other.
    But once again another bad story(Hain’s donations) have probably undone all his good work.

    Brown would look stronger in the public’s eyes if he sacks Hain asap otherwise this story will run and run and hurt the Government even more.

  22. Clegg has just announced his education policy-less state control & open up the supply side to private/third sector…….ie = Conservative Policy.

    So the centre right position is getting a little crowded with all three main parties moving there!!

    They’re all preaching “choice”-but not it seems for the British voter.

  23. Given that education is one of the primary functions of Local Government (especially in Scotland), I wonder how Clegg’s announcement is going down with all those LibDem Education committees up and down the country?


  24. Indeed so Peter-how soon before Old Labour joins Old Liberal in a proper Left of Centre Party?-then we’ll all know where we are again like in the good old days!

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