More Miliband polling

The cause of today’s polling excitement are MORI’s questions asking respondents to compare Ed Miliband and David Cameron, results here. Briefly put, David Cameron enjoyed leads over Ed Miliband on most measures, often by a long way. He led on being eloquent by 59% to 15%, on being Prime Ministerial by 57% to 17%, on being tough enough for the job by 54% to 18%, on being smart enough for the job by 54% to 22%, represents Britain by 46% to 26%, on being fun to meet in person by 34% to 21%, likable by 38% to 29% and a good person by 35% to 30%.

Miliband lead on understanding people like me, by 36% to 26%, and protecting British jobs, by 37% to 31%. The two men were pretty much neck and neck on having the right values.

The fact that people think David Cameron is better suited to the job of Prime Minister than Ed Miliband is not particularly new. Cameron has a consistent lead on best Prime Minister, as we saw in July on PM preference Miliband trails a long way behind Labour’s position in VI. There was a Populus poll earlier this week showing even a majority of people who thought David Cameron was doing a bad job as PM would still rather have him in the role than Ed Miliband. All this new poll helps us to understand is some of the reasons why… and again, the picture is in line with other polling about Cameron and Miliband’s respective strengths and weaknesses. Ed is better on understanding ordinary people, but trails badly on being Prime Ministerial or being strong.

What does it actually mean though? As I wrote in July, people’s answers to this are very much coloured by what they would like to be true. I see an awful lot of Labour supporters trying to convince themselves that how voters see the leader is an irrelevance, and an awful lot of Conservative supporters trying to convince themselves that it is impossible for people to actually vote for Ed Miliband and he will be a fatal block to Labour’s chances. As ever, I expect both ends of the spectrum are wrong in their own ways.

Unfortunately, the evidence on which one is closer to the truth is not cut and dried. The last three British Election Studies (the major academic study of why people vote at British general elections, based on extensive parallel face-to-face and online polling and key driver analysis of the data) have consistently shown that voters’ opinions of the party leaders is a significant factor in deciding how they vote. It certainly convinces me, and I would have thought it almost a statement of the bleeding bloody obvious that perceptions of the party leader colour people’s perceptions of the whole party and, therefore, influences votes. However, it would be wrong to say that all academics agree on this – it is a controversial subject and some argue the opposite.

What causes me more pause for thought is the fact that opinions of party leaders are, as it were, already factored into the price. People don’t rate Ed Miliband highly as a potential Prime Minister… and yet they are telling us they would vote Labour. Clearly it can’t be putting them off that much. The question here – and again, it is one to which there is no good answer, is whether the issue will become more important as we get closer to a general election. It is a reasonable hypothesis that people answering opinion polls mid-term (and voting in mid-term elections) are largely registering a protest against the incumbent government, whereas once we approach an actual general election it becomes more of a comparison between two alternative governments, parties and Prime Ministers. If that were the case, Ed Miliband’s ratings now wouldn’t necessarily matter much, but could become increasingly important as the election approached.

I don’t particularly expect to cause many pauses for thought here, I’ve read enough comments to know it is one of those issues where people believe what they would like to be true. I shall leave, therefore, with the historical example that is nearly always cited in discussions like this.

In any conversation about this issue, the topic of Margaret Thatcher is brought up. Mrs Thatcher wasn’t particularly popular as Leader of the Opposition, while Jim Callaghan was comfortable and avuncular and likeable. He pretty consistently outpolled Margaret Thatcher on who would make the best Prime Minister. It certainly shows that people can and have voted for the less popular “Prime Ministerial candidate”. It does not follow, however, that it doesn’t matter. How much better would the Conservatives have done with a more popular leader than Thatcher in 1979? How much worse would Labour have done with a less popular candidate than Callaghan? We can’t tell.

157 Responses to “More Miliband polling”

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  1. Glad I stuck to my 3 YGs out of 4 rule before believing Lab lead was widening.

    I think what could be the most interesting thing about this poll is how it is reported or not reported.

    Before the budget I think it would have been taken as lab lead falls blah blah etc but I think the media narrative has changed so most commentators are working on a lab lead of around 10% and will ignore this poll or if they comment at all say one poll moe etc.

  2. There are two problems here. The first, as Anthony implies but is too polite to say, is that by fixating on the lead rather than the individual Party poll rating, people effectively double the normal random variation. This then gives them an excuse to go round proclaiming that the sky has fallen in or UFOs have landed or whatever. No, it’s just the gentle ebb and flow of sampling mathematics.

    But there is another recurring problem, which Colin has already picked up on, which is our old friend Da Yoof. Normally Labour have their strongest lead in the under-25s but in this sample the Conservatives lead 40% to 35%. The 6% for the BNP looks a bit unusual too.

    Of course this can work both ways. If you look at yesterday’s poll:

    the Labour-Tory split for 18-24s was 71% to 16%. This is probably as bad the other way (I think YouGov did do a decent size sample of just their under-25s a while back, but forgot to note the results of the VI).

    As I explained the last time we got a 6 point lead (and obviously no one took a blind bit of notice) YouGov’s under-25 sample is particularly volatile for a number of reasons and has a disproportionate effect on the headline VI. I suspect that the sampling people are playing about with their algorithms trying to minimise this and this may lead to even greater short-term variation as they try out various solutions. Today’s sample is actually quite large for the Under-25s, but of course it hay not be representative of them.

  3. SOCAL

    I like your analysis but I think you’re over complicating it. The only states worth watching are OH, PA and FL. If Obama wins one of them… he wins IMHO. Romney has to win all three.

    I understand that different regions and states will move in different directions over a 4 year period but that’s already factored into the polling data we’ve got. Looking at the state of play there is no way that Obama would lose Michigan and/or Pennsylvania unless Romney is also so well placed he picks up OH, PA and FL.

    There’s also no way that Romney wins if Obama picks up NC.

    I thought your comments on the sunbelt states are interesting. I didn’t realise that Obama is outperforming his ’08 position with Latino voters. I thought a lot of his Latino support would have drifted away once the novelty of a ‘minority’ president had worn off.

    I don’t think those states in the South West are electorally that important at the moment (not enough EV’s) but it should be a major cause for concern for the Republicans. Especially, if it starts to look like Lationo’s are locked in to voting democrat.


    “As I explained the last time we got a 6 point lead (and obviously no one took a blind bit of notice) YouGov’s under-25 sample is particularly volatile for a number of reasons and has a disproportionate effect on the headline VI.”

    Is it the same panel of voters that produce the 6 pt leads?

  5. @Allan Christie


    Very interesting response and I don’t doubt most of what you have said and in fact agree with most of it but I do think public perception (rightly or wrongly) will either be key to who wins the keys for No 10 or at the very least determine if Ed can muster a majoirty if he indeed becomes the next PM.


    Perception will matter no doubt. I’m just saying it’s not all about perception of Miliband. It’s about perception of Osborne and Clegg etc. too. And it’s about the policies and outcomes as well. Miliband is going to have to be perceived really quite badly and/or a change of LD leadership to make a sizeable difference.

    Even with a chunk of UKIP back, a lot of LDs are going to have to go back to the LDs to give Tories a decent shot at even being the largest party, and as long as Cleggie’s in control, Miliband is going to have to be truly abysmal. But the likelihood is Labour will keep him out the firing line, much as Tories do with Cam. So the hapless footsoldiers have to go on Newsnight or wherever and explain what he was going on about regarding Predistribution, much as what happened with the Bug Society.

    Miliband does seem to come with some advantages, too. Less associated with the old regime, and less infighting. RIght now, the Tories don’t just hope Miliband will be a complete liability. They NEED him to be. You can kind of understand it. I mean Brown started off rather more popular and look how that wound up. But it’s rather harder when in government and Cam himself hasn’t really been tested with a crisis yet. A proper crisis, not just a self-inflicted wound where you just sack a SPAD and move on…

  6. @ Old Nat

    “Thanks for that more detailed analysis. I’ve bookmarked it so that I can compare it with the results!

    Hope you are right about NC!”

    I hope I’m right too. Now that you’re bookmarking me, the pressure is on I think! Lol. :)

  7. Polls leads can evaporate very quickly indeed. I do enjoy those here who think the next PM of the UK will be Ed Miliband, though.

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