Boris Johnson’s victory in London has produced the predictable flurry of media speculation about Boris as a future leader. Both the polls in the weekend papers – YouGov in the Sunday Times and Survation in the Mail on Sunday had a series of questions comparing Boris and David Cameron and both suggested Boris would do very marginally worse than Cameron.

Polls on alternative leaders are a tricky thing to do, and of dubious worth. Journalists love them as they produce nice easy headlines, but they are often done very badly indeed and even if done well, still have problems.

To start with the methodological problems, firstly you need to ask voting intention in exactly the same way – if you normally filter by likelihood to vote and reallocate don’t knows, you need to do that in your hypothetical question too, otherwise any difference could be down to that (including asking likelihood to vote afresh, you cannot assume it would stay the same). Neither can you say “Imagine Boris Johnson was leader” as it gives undue prominence to one party leader, you have to mention all three. However, you can’t then compare it to a normal voting intention question, as they don’t mention the party leaders – what if any change in the answer is actually down to mentioning Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg? Instead you need to do a control question.

In YouGov’s poll they asked two questions. The first asked how people would vote if the party leaders at the next election stayed the same, the second if the party leaders were Johnson, Miliband and Clegg. You might expect the first one to be the same as the current headline figures – it is not. Current voting intention is CON 31%, LAB 43%, LDEM 9%. If you ask people how they will vote at the general election if the leaders are still Cameron, Miliband and Clegg the answer is CON 32%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10% – mentioning Cameron, Miliband and Clegg in the question reduces the Labour lead by 4 points.

This is interesting in its own right – perhaps more interesting than the Boris comparison! Is it people consciously thinking to themselves that while they’ll say Labour now as a protest, but probably won’t actually vote that way come the election? Or a positive effect from mentioning Cameron, or a negative effect from mentioning Ed Miliband? It’s impossible to tell.

YouGov then asked the same question with Boris Johnson as Tory leader, this changed the figures to CON 32%, LAB 41%, LDEM 11%. So under Boris the Conservatives would perform the same, but Labour and the Lib Dems would do slighter better (it looks as though the Conservatives would lose support to the Lib Dems and Labour, but presumably it is cancelled out by gaining support from Others and Don’t knows). Even this, however, shouldn’t be given too much weight, as people don’t tend to be very good at answering hypothetical questions about how they would vote if X happened. People don’t know what policies Boris Johnson would promote, how he’d handle the job, so the answers are based on pretty flimsy information (not, one should add, that people’s eventual voting intentions are necessarily based on a much greater understanding.)

YouGov also asked whether people were suited to be Prime Minister, and were in touch with the public. On being “Prime Ministerial” David Cameron did substantially better than Boris Johnson and, indeed, the other people asked about. 44% of people thought David Cameron was well suited to being Prime Minister, compared to 24% for Boris Johnson (Ed Miliband was on 25%, George Osborne just 10%). Of course, actually being Prime Minister is a big help in people seeing you as Prime Ministerial! On understanding the problems faced by ordinary people only 21% thought Cameron understood well, behind Boris Johnson on 27% (and Ed Miliband on 32%).

Survation in the Mail on Sunday also asked some Boris Johnson questions. They asked if people were more or less likely to vote Conservative with Boris in charge. More or less likely to vote X if Y questions come with another whole bucketload of problems which I won’t go into today, but they found a similar situation anyway – 22% said more likely, 24% less likely.

Survation also asked a series of questions on whether people rated Boris or David Cameron on various attributes. Boris was seen as more likeable, charming and more in touch. cameron was seen as having better leadership qualities, being more true to Conservative values, better at taking tough decisions, more trusted on the recession and likely to be a better Prime Minister. They scored equally on intelligence.

Personally, I suspect the practical requirement to be a member of the House of Commons at the time a leadership vacancy arises and the timing difficulties around that are a huge block to Boris Johnson ever being in the running for the party leadership. Nevertheless, what data we have does not suggest he is any sort of panacea for the Tories.

470 Responses to “Comparing Boris and Dave”

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  1. Virgilio

    That’s fascinating about the near-complete collapse of Berlusconi’s Party. Though I suppose that if you become mainly associated with the provision of favours, and the patronage stops being available, then there’s no longer any reason to exist. “All that is solid melts into air”.

    It’s interesting that ND and PASOK are scared of new elections. I would have thought that they could present themselves as the only stable alternative. If they think that wouldn’t convince the voters, then things are really bad for them. I can’t see SYRIZA and DEMAR wanting to form a government without very strong guarantees that the support from ND/PASOK will be solid and unquestioning. Which it won’t be – politicians will always play politics.

    Of course the 50 seat bonus also works against stability in this case because a new election could bring a much greater reward for even a small increase in support. There’s no reason to believe that a new election would even simplify things though. Especially if some of the unrepresented minor Parties that nearly 20% voted for form alliances as you suggested earlier and manage to get over the 3% barrier.

  2. @ Max

    Anthony does not want us to go there, So lets leave it at that.

    We are both of the same ideals but if we carry on we will sound just like Tory backbenches :)

  3. @Virgillio

    In Greece are you not allowed to have a minority of seats and form a gov? ND and Pasok are combined on 149 seats, but they can’t find anyone else to join them to a majority. So why not just go into it without those 2 extra seats?

  4. Is the relaunch of the coalition a sign of failure? Is there an example of the political relaunch or listening exercise leading to an improvement in polling fortunes?

    The Guardian stated that David Cameron’s initiative on 23 May 2011 was the fourth relaunch of the Big Society, can’t say I’ve been counting.

  5. Heard there is a video circulating online of Cameron and Clegg consummating their marriage. Now that would be more embarrassing the Tulisas.

  6. I thought Tulisas was rather artistic, not that ive seen it of course.

  7. Billy Bob – I think it’s a case of if it prosper, none dare call it a relaunch :)

    More seriously, these things come and go and are rapidly forgotten, so no one knows. The purpose of such things is just to draw a line and move on with new emphasis and purpose. When they work, it is the relative smooth running of things in future weeks that would make a difference, rather than the act of “relaunching”.

  8. The ‘relaunch’ branding is just shocking to me.
    Do they not realise it plays into the idea that they are incompetent; just don’t get it; arrogant (‘the message is at fault’); PR posh boys; all spin; that they’ve failed?

    Milibands didn’t exactly work after all – it was disastrous, same could happen here.
    A relaunch has to actually launch something, not just the same product twice (their not a product, their a government – this is ridiculous).

    I’m guessing its mostly to keep internal problems down(?); not ideal wording if thats the case.
    If this is more of a ‘public’ exercise…Danny Alexander might be nice privately but they really really need to stop taking political advice from him…

    Seriously though – what are they doing?
    Least we’ll see if the relaunches are just political no noes when the polls come in, or if Miliband just managed to do all the wrong things in the one day!

  9. “@bluebob

    I thought Tulisas was rather artistic, not that ive seen it of course.”

    If Cameron and Clegg are subject to any media coverage about the state of their marriage, they should take it on the chin, just like Tulisa.

  10. What time is the relaunch ?

  11. I will note, that the previous “relaunch” by a Cameron this year, was “Titanic 3D”.

  12. I must say I agree. Cameron says he gets it, he hears what the electorate are saying, but then he relaunches…more of the same.

    Repeat after me, then write out a thousand times:

    It’s not the presentation…it’s the policies.

  13. “If Cameron and Clegg are subject to any media coverage about the state of their marriage, they should take it on the chin, just like Tulisa.”

    No she quite literally “turned the other cheek” teehee ;)

  14. Tulisa took it on the chin like poor old Monica Lewinsky had to.

  15. Some obvious- and some interesting- names being bandied about as potential london mayor candidates for Labour (on LL):

    David Lammy
    Jon Cruddas
    Oona King
    Sadiq Khan
    Stella Creasy
    Steve Reed

    No odds being quoted on PB yet.

  16. Getting back to the original item, I think that the difference between the 2 voting intention questions is easily explained – it implies that not everybody believes that Ed Milliband will still be the Labour party leader at the next election and some people expect to vote Labour once he is replaced.


    To be fair it takes a lot of balls to wear these and set them off.

    Back to politics/relaunch etc, Clegg’s moral insistence that the LD’s HAD to side with the largest party [effectively telling people in future you don’t know what a vote for them will mean] would be more convincing if there were not examples in LGovt where they also side with the tories despite labour being the largest party.

    Wish someone would ask him how that works.

  18. Good Afternoon All.

    I would recommend this week’s Economist, week of April 29.

    Critical, surprisingly, of the Merkel Austerity policies.

  19. Too late for tonight’s polls but, at last, something fresh from DC and NC: they are standing up for hard-working families who do the right thing.


    This will really put other parties [who stand up for lazy people who do the wrong thing] on the back foot.

  20. Long day at work, hence late comment on the thread.

    As Phil stated earlier, YG’s decision to go with a 10/10 filter on the eve of the Mayoral poll, tuned out to be a faux pas. But otherwise, excellent work by YG. And while Opiniom might have got lucky, they still got it right, so three cheers for them!

    Interesting comments by Survation on the Dismore/Coleman GLA seat contest in Barnet and Camden. There was a huge anti-Coleman vote. I can understand that in Camden, being the upmarket liberal/socialist place it is, but he seems to have had a negative vibe from people in true blue Barnet too. Survation did indeed pick this up.

    I’m not a fan of Dismore’s on many issues, but he has always been seen as a dedicated, hardworking constituency politician. He only.lost his Hendon seat at the last GE by about 100 votes despite the tide against Labour. He was also a tireless campaigner against the Porter administration in Westminster Council in the 1980s. It is of no surprise to me that he has a personal vote. Indeed I believe hos name came up during the expenses scandal but only as he spent so much on stamps and stationery personally responding to constituent’s correspondence!

    As for Survation predicting a GLA win for Lab in Ealing and Hillingdon, that was always a tight racen But kudos for calling it the right way.

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