YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times also addresses the row over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by a Danish newspaper, the subsequent protests and wider questions of the fight against terrorism.

56% of respondents told YouGov that it was right the cartoons were published “in the interest of freedom of speech”, while 29% think they shouldn’t have been. The overwhelming majority (86%) of people think that “in many cases” the worldwide Muslim response to the publication has been a gross over-reaction. 76% of respondents thought that extremist Muslims carrying banners glorifying terrorism and threatening violence in the protests against the cartoons in London last week should have been arrested on the scene.

Taking a wider view the public seem to have little confidence in the authorities will to deal with Islamic extremism in the UK. 80% said they though that “In general, British police and politicians are too tolerant of Muslims in Britain urging extreme acts” and 67% though that senior police officers like Sir Ian Blair were too politically correct to deal properly with extremists.

The opinion that the authorities are being too tolerant though doesn’t seem to extend to a blanket backing of the government’s anti-terror legislation. Asked about the defeated 90-day detention period in the terror bill, 44% of people said that the 90-period would have been right, but 42% of people are happy with the 28-day compromise.

In the short term respondents seem to have a very pesimistic view of the future – 67% think tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims in the UK will worsen in the next few years, and 87% think it is very or fairly likely there will be another attack on the scale of the London bombings in the UK. Things are little brighter looking at the longer term global situation – only 34% of people think the West can ever co-exist peacefully with the Islamic world, 45% think we will never do so.

A new YouGov poll in the Sunday Times shows Labour maintaining the small lead they pulled out in the last YouGov poll, while the Lib Dems recover slightly, but remain well down in the mid-teens. The topline figures with changes from YouGov’s last poll are CON 37%(-2) LAB 39%(-1) LD 15%(+2).

The Liberal Democrats have recovered slightly, perhaps due to fading memories of the scandals that engulfed them during January, perhaps because of more positive news coverage of their respective leadership candidates – a small proportion of the fieldwork would have been done after news of their by-election victory in Scotland, but probably not enough to make a difference.

YouGov continue to show a significantly lower level of Lib Dem support than the other pollsters and, perhaps consequently since the Lib Dem collapse co-incided with a Labour advance, they are showing a Labour lead whereas other pollsters have the Tories ahead. This is probably because of the way the polls are weighted by past vote (or in the case of YouGov by party ID) – I will come back to this in a later post.

The poll also asked about the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships – 41% of people now want Tony Blair to stand down as soon as possible. In a forced choice question, asking people to chose between a Labour government lead by Brown or a Conservative Government led by Cameron (with no Lib Dem option) 43% prefered Labour/Brown to 37% for the Conservatives/Cameron (the way some of the Sunday papers report this implies it was a voting intention question – as far as I’m aware they are wrong, and it was a straight forced choice between the two).

On the Lib Dem leadership, 56% of people still don’t know who they would like as Lib Dem leader, with Ming Campbell the most popular choice of those who do (18% think he’d be the best leader), Chris Huhne does seem to be increasing his public profile – 10% of the public think he’d make the best leader, compared to a few weeks ago when the percentage of people who knew who he was was in single figures. Amongst Liberal Democrat voters Simon Hughes is the most popular candidate with 34% support, followed by Ming Campbell on 21% and Chris Huhne on 13%. Remember that this is amongst Liberal Democrat supporters, not the actual members who cast votes in the election.


Opinion polls on voting intention are a snapshot of how the political parties current support stacks up. They aren’t an attempt to predict the next election, they aren’t even really an attempt to show how people would vote in that mythical “general election tomorrow” – there isn’t a general election tomorrow, and if there was there would have just been four weeks of electioneering, the parties would all have permanent leaders, wouldn’t be conducting policy reviews and so on. They are just a snapshot.

That doesn’t stop us all translating poll ratings into general election results – “just for a bit of fun” as Peter Snow used to say. There is a real purpose to it as well – the Conservative party cannot afford to rest on its laurels with a lead of a couple of pencentage points, because when translated into seats the Labour party would still be the largest party in the Commons.

Before the next election though the Parliamentary boundaries will change in England and Wales, with consequential changes to the amount of votes the parties need to secure a majority. Whenever the boundaries change Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings of the University of Plymouth calculate notional votes for the new boundaries, so the media can talk about swings and suchlike. Their figures won’t be available for some months yet though so, as my regular readers will know, last year I produced some early estimates of the effect this would have on the number of seats held by each party. Since then I’ve finished poducing notional figures and the pdf below has list of the parties’ target seats under the new boundaries, some of the most significant changes and a simple swing calculator.

The bottom line is that under the new boundaries Labour would have won 10 seats fewer at the last election, the Conservatives 14 seats more and the Lib Dems one seat more. On the new boundaries it will be more difficult for Labour to retain their majority at the next election (a swing of just 1.5% to the Tories will rob them of a majority, compared to 2.2% on the present boundaries) making a hung Parliament more likely. It will be slightly easier for the Conservatives to gain a majority, but not much easier (they will need a 7.1% swing, compared to 7.4% on the old boundaries).

Let me know if you spot any mistakes, and I’ll repeat two of the caveats in the guide – firstly, the calculation is based just on local and general election results, the overall picture should be good, but in individual seats it’s no substitute for someone with really sound local knowledge. Secondly, notional boundaries make the assumption that people’s voting behaviour doesn’t change – in really if you move someone from a rock solid safe Labour seat to a Con/LD marginal, there’s every chance they might change their voting behaviour.

pdf Download guide to new Parliamentary Boundaries

After a day of bizarre speculation over an unpublished private poll yesterday, YouGov have today released the details of a further poll of Lib Dem members – this time commissioned by John Stevens (presumably the former Conservative MEP and one time leader of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party, who is listed as a Huhne supporter) showing Chris Huhne, the dark horse candidate who only entered Parliament 8 months ago, is in the lead.

According to YouGov first preference voting intentions of Liberal Democrat members who have decided how to vote are Huhne 38%, Campbell 34%, Hughes 27% with 16% of members still undecided. Once Simon Hughes is eliminated his support splits very slightly in favour of Ming Campbell – Campbell 39% to Huhne’s 36%.

Bearing in mind that this poll has a sample size of only 401 and hence a comparatively large margin of error, this means that the Lib Dem leadership race at the moment is too close to call – it could go Huhne, it could go Campbell.

Looking at the other questions in the poll, there seem to be real contrasts between what Lib Dem members think are the strengths of the different candidates – back during the Conservative leadership contest polls tended to show that members preferred David Cameron on almost every ground. The Lib Dem poll on the other hand highlights what members see as the candidates’ strong points – Campbell is seen as the best candidate for party unity and the best Commons performer as well as the most honest and experienced of the candidates. On the downside Lib Dem members see him as the weakest candidate in terms of policy, experience outside politics and in appealling to women and young people.

Huhne is seen as the candidate who will most appeal to women, with the best understanding of life outside politics and the best policies – predictably he performs worst of the three candidates in terms of experience.

Finally Simon Hughes is seen as the least honest, the least able to lead a united party, the worst Commons performer and the candidate least likely to boost the number of Lib Dem seats at the next election. The only question where he tops the other two candidates is in appealling to young people.

Overall this suggests that Lib Dems are divided almost equally between a candidate they see as a reliable and experienced safe pair of hands, and a rival whose policies they prefer, and think might appeal to people more, but who lacks experience. With the race this close it could go either way.

February’s monthly Populus poll has been published – the topline figures with changes from last month are CON 37%(+1) LAB 36%(-3) LD 18% (+2).

Populus’s last poll was taken in the middle of Charlie Kennedy’s ousting had shown the Lib Dems down at 16%, the latest poll suggests that most of the damage from Kennedy’s resignation and the Oaten scandal was short-term.

The poll also puts the Conservatives ahead – until now Populus’s polls had been somewhat anomolous in continuing to show a Labour lead. The other questions in Populus’s poll suggest that David Cameron’s attempts to improve the parties image are slowly succeeding – the percentage of people thinking the Conservative party cares about the problems of ordinary people is up 4 points, the percentage of people thinking they have a strong team of leaders is up 2 points. The Tories are also seen as the most united party – mainly due to a 7 point fall in Labour’s junity rating and an understandable 22 point drop for Lib Dems.

Populus also found that opposition to the war in Iraq had reached a new high – on the weekend of the 100th British death 59% of people said the war in Iraq was the wrong thing to do, with only 31% continuing to back the war. 62% favoured the withdrawal of British troops.