YouGov’s monthly tracker poll is in today’s Telegraph and shows the Conservatives continuing to enjoy a slight lead over Labour. The topline figures with changes from YouGov’s poll last weekend are CON 38%(+1), LAB 36%(nc), LDEM 18%(nc). It won’t be for a month or two until we can tell if if Conservative advance is a real change, or just the boost from a new leader. As Tony King points out in his analysis of the poll, YouGov found almost identical levels of support a month after Michael Howard became Tory leader and in his case they fell straight back behind.

David Cameron has also caught Tony Blair in the best Prime Minister rating, with both leaders on 30%. Again, there is a precedent for this – Michael Howard ever so briefly matched Tony Blair as preferred Prime Minister in 2004 before dropping behind. The main loser on the best Prime Minister question is Charles Kennedy, who had been up at 18% at the last general election and is now at 10%. Once again though, there is a precedent – back when Michael Howard became Tory leader Kennedy’s rating for best PM fell to 10% before recovering.

All in all, on YouGov’s polls at least the topline figures for David Cameron are no improvement on those Michael Howard achieved when he first became Tory leader – it’s the normal “new Tory leader” boost. Only when you look at the underlying figures do we find significantly more positive figures for David Cameron.

Firstly, there seems to be far less hostility towards the Cameron-led Conservative party. Back in 2003 when Howard became leader YouGov asked what people’s reaction would be were Michael Howard to form a government – 19% would have been delighted, 32% wouldn’t mind, 34% would have been dismayed, a net balance of -15 (by February 2005 this had decayed to -28). In today’s poll 21% of people said they would be delighted if David Cameron formed a government, with only 24% saying they would be dismayed, a net balance of only -3.

YouGov also asked a series of questions offering respondents pairs of words and asking which best applied to David Cameron. YouGov asked the same questions about Tony Blair at the end of November. On every count more people associate David Cameron with the postive option, and on every count his figures are better than Blair’s, in some cases quite startlingly so. 52% of people thought that Tony Blair did not listen to reason, a net rating of -22. Cameron’s rating was +15. While 46% of people thought that Blair was likeable, 38% of people though he wasn’t. In contrast Cameron was seen as likeable by 51% of people, with only 12% saying he was not likeable. Blair’s net score on trust was -34, Cameron’s +2 and so on. A lot of this is because people don’t yet know Cameron – on nearly every count the majority of people said don’t know – but those that did have an pinion tended to be positive.

Populus’s monthly poll in the Times also shows a boost for the Tories, up three points under their new leader, however unlike ICM and YouGov this is not enough for them to overtake Labour. The topline figures are CON 35%(+3), LAB 38%(-2), LDEM 19%(nc). In Peter Riddell’s commentary he suggests it may be because Populus conducted their poll slightly later than ICM and YouGov – personally I think the difference may simply be one of methodology – while before the election Populus and ICM weighted their polls almost identically, last month Populus weighted past Labour voters signficantly higher, and past Conservative voters significantly lower than ICM did.

(UPDATE – part of the difference was indeed this – if Populus had used ICM’s weightings it would have been LAB 37%, CON 36%. The Labour lead could, as Peter Riddell suggests, be the immediate rush of Cameron euphoria passing, but it could equally be normal variations within of margin of error)

While Labour retain a lead at the moment, Populus also asked how people will vote on the assumption that Gordon Brown becomes Labour leader by the time of the next election – the result would be CON 41%, Labour 35%. Hypothetical questions like this are just that – hypothetical – and you shouldn’t read too much into them. That said, this follows polls by ICM and YouGov that showed Labour performing worse under Brown than under Blair, and if polls continue to show that Brown would damage Labour’s electoral hopes it will over time damage his chances of succeeding Blair.

Populus also asked about the images of the political parties. David Cameron’s accession has not changed the underlying perceptions of the party – the number of people thinking the Tories are honest, or that they care about the problem of ordinary people, have not changed. What has significantly increased is the proportion of people thinking that the Tories have a good team of leaders, and are united. It’ll be interesting to see if David Cameron can build upon that to improve the more fundemental problems with the Tory image.


Tories take the Lead

Two new polls in the Sunday papers show the Conservative party in the lead for the first time since April.

The ICM and YouGov polls were conducted immediately after David Cameron’s election. YouGov’s topline figures, with changes from their poll for Sky News conducted immediately prior to Cameron’s victory, are CON 37%(+1), LAB 36%(nc), LD 18%(nc). ICM’s topline figures, with changes from their last monthly poll for the Guardian conducted in mid-November, are CON 37%(+4), LAB 35%(-3), LDEM 21%(+2). While there is no significant change in YouGov’s poll, their last two polls were conducted when the media were treating Cameron’s victory as a foregone conclusion – if you go back six weeks YouGov too were showing an 8 point Labour lead.

There is, therefore, a pretty unambiguous Cameron boost. The important question is what happens next – it may be a purely temporary phenomenon, once the media circus dies down and some of the novelty rubs off Cameron the Conservative vote may well drop back down again. On the other hand it may be start of a permanent sea change – Tony Blair’s election as Labour leader in July 1994 saw Labour’s lead in Gallup’s monthly polls increase by almost 10% and, except for a downwards blip in October 1994, it pretty much stayed up thereafter.

There is also the question of Gordon Brown – voting intention figures 4 years from a general election are of little importance at the best of times, let alone when we know the sitting Prime Minister will probably change before the next election. ICM also asked a voting intention question asking how people would vote assuming that Gordon Brown was Labour leader – like YouGov’s poll earlier this week this showed Labour doing worse under Brown than under Blair; with Brown as leader voting intention would be CON 40%, LAB 37%, LD 18%.

Polls like this are purely hypothetical, but if polls continue to suggest that a Brown lead Labour party would fail to achieve a Commons majority, it will hardly ease Gordon Brown’s accession to Downing Street when Tony Blair does step down. YouGov’s poll also suggests that Brown’s reputation as Chancellor has plummeted in recent months. In recent years YouGov’s polls have consistently found that the overwhelming majority of people thought that Gordon Brown was doing a good job as Chancellor – his approval ratings have been consistently high – normally around +30 and, at the end of last year and earlier this year, +40 and +41. YouGov’s poll this week – conducted just after his announcement that his earlier growth figures were wrong – has Brown’s net approval rating down to only +4.

At this moment in time the Conservatives’ new leader seems to have given them a boost at just the time that the iron Chancellor’s reputation has begun to tarnish. In both instances though, it remains to be seen if it is a permanent change or purely a passing whim – if nothing else politics suddenly looks more interesting.

UPDATE – the newspaper reports are here and here. There are a few more interesting findings in them – David Cameron’s initial net approval rating from YouGov is +34 – that the third highest approval rating I can find for any Tory leader ever (the top two being John Major’s approval ratings during the Gulf War). It doesn’t signify much other than that he hasn’t done anything to annoy anyone yet.

ICM also asked abouit who should replace Blair as Labour leader once he stands down, Brown, or an unnamed younger leader. The public are evenly split, 41% to 42%. So far polls asking who should succeed Blair have always shown Brown to be far and away the most popular candidate, but this suggests that the reason is because there is no obvious younger alternative to Brown for opposition to focus upon. If one were to emerge Brown could potentially face a problem (in terms of public preference at least, Labour MPs or members are obviously a different matter). ICM also asked who people saw as Tony Blair’s natural sucessor – 46% said Brown, but 40% said Cameron.

Finally there is a BPIX poll in the Mail on Sunday which shows a continuing Labour lead – CON 37%, LAB 38%.

Voting Intention

The Conservative party has finally chosen a leader and normal politics has resumed. Sky have released the final opinion poll of the Tory interregnum, conducted by YouGov. With the last few days newspapers having been an orgy of Cameronia, it is rather unsurprisingly a good poll for the Tories – for the first time since the beginning of the general election campaign it shows the parties neck and neck: CON 36% (+1), LAB 36%(-1), LD 18% (-2).

The change from the last poll is well within the margin of error and, if repeated at a general election, these shares of the vote would still give Labour an overall majority. However by the time of the next election Gordon Brown will be Labour leader, not Tony Blair. A separate question asked respondents how they would vote at the time of the next election assuming that the party leaders are Charlie Kennedy, David Cameron and Gordon Brown. Far from Brown increasing the Labour vote, the Conservatives took a 5% lead: CON 38%, LAB 33%, LD 18%. Of course – the same caveats that I used to attach to polls asking hypothetical questions about voting intention under potential Tory leaders apply to questions about potential Labour leaders as well – it may be a long time until we know what effect a Gordon Brown leadership would really have on Labour support.

YouGov also asked about how the three present party leaders and Gordon Brown were seen by the public. Cameron was seen as having an attractive personality by a greater proportion (23%) of people than any other party leader, and significantly more than Gordon Brown on only 6%. He was also seen as less out of touch with people’s problems than Brown or Blair and, while 29% of people said they didn’t really know what he stood for, similar numbers of people said the same about Brown. Cameron’s lowest score was the proportion of people who thought he was more honest than most politicians – only 9% compared to 16% for Blair, 20% for Brown and 29% for Kennedy.

Gordon Brown had better ratings than Tony Blair on every count, except upon having a likeable personality where he trailed badly. Finally Charlie Kennedy as usual scored very highly across the board – he was the leader who people though least out of touch with people’s problems, the least unclear about what he stood for and far and away the most honest. The only places where he was beaten by other party leaders were being seen as likeable by fewer people than Cameron, and as having good ideas by fewer people than Brown.

Cameron set to win

There is what really amounts to a Conservative leadership exit poll in tomorrow’s Telegraph. It was conducted between Thursday and Friday and over 80% of Tory members polled told YouGov they had already voted – the actual turnout may well be lower than this since CCO’s turnout figures won’t take into account situations like members who died (i.e. on CCOs turnout figures they’ll count as a member who didn’t return a ballot paper, however dead people are very unlikely to fill in YouGov surveys saying they didn’t vote) and ballots lost in the post.

The figures for members who have voted are David Cameron 67%, David Davis 33% – unchanged from the last YouGov poll of Conservative party members. Taking those people who told YouGov they were still intending to vote makes no significant difference. Cameron led in every single demographic split, though his lead was greatest amongst younger members.

YouGov’s poll of the last Conservative leadership contest was precisely correct. This one won’t necessarily be as bang on as that in 2001, a poll of 661 party members has a margin of error of about 4%, so we could be looking at actual splits between 63/37 to 71/29, but either way, Cameron has won the election and is going to be the next Tory leader.