Veils and Crosses

There are two recent ICM polls on wearing religious symbols and clothing in public. The first for the News of the World last weekend found overwhelming opposition to BA in the “necklace row” – 80% of people said that British Airways had been wrong to enforce their uniform policy over a women who wanted to wear a cross over rather than under her cravat. Overall 92% of people thought that people should be allowed to openly wear a cross in the workplace, with 6% disagreeing. 85% thought people should be able to wear a turba (12% disagreed) and 67% thought it was acceptable to wear the hijab (28% disagreed). 41% of respondents thought that Christians were being discriminated against compared to other religions, a majortiy (53%) rejected this suggestion.

A second ICM poll, this time for the BBC, asked specifically about wearing veils. 33% of people told ICM they would support a legal ban on wearing the veil in all public places, with 56% opposed. This is a rise from previous polls – in October only 20% said they favoured legal restrictions on wearing the veil. Asked about bans in specific places, a majority (61%) woudl approve of a ban on wearing the veil at airports and at passport control or in courtrooms (53%) or schools (53%). 41% of people would approve of a ban in schools, with 47% opposed while a majority (56%) would oppose a ban on wearing the veil on public transport.

A new Communicate Research poll in Tuesday’s Independent puts Labour 2 points ahead of the Conservatives. The topline figures with changes from Communicate’s poll last month are CON 34%(-4), LAB 36%(+4), LDEM 17%(+3). Since April MORI are the only other pollster to have reported a Labour lead in a voting intention poll.

Obviously the poll suggests a movement in support towards Labour from the Conservatives. The Lib Dems are also up noticably, although their 14% level of support in Communicate’s last poll did seem unusually low. The increase in Labour support echoes ICM’s poll last week, although that too might well have been a similar return to normalcy after an anomolously low level of Labour support in the previous poll. The next week should see the monthly polls from both YouGov and Populus, so we should hopefully get a fair idea of any uniform trends that are happening.

Like MORI Communicate do not weight by past vote, only standard demographics. It is highly likely that this produces figures that are more favour to the Labour party. The other two phone pollsters, ICM and Populus, both weight according to past vote and this weighting invariably favours the Conservative party. It also appears to dampen down volatility from month to month.

Since Communicate haven’t been polling regularly since before the last election they don’t have a recent track record to judge by (thought hopefully this poll indicates that Communicate are now producing regular monthly polls for the Independent), but I would expect that the lack of political weighting will tend to produce figures that are somewhat more Labour than Populus and ICM, and somewhat more volatile.


The Indy reports a YouGov poll on the Labour Deputy leadership campaign. Since it comes via the Harriet Harman camp, the report predictably paints a very positive picture for Harman. But, I hear the cynics amongst you cry, what do the actual figures say?

YouGov asked two sets of questions about the leadership contenders. The first listed the potential candidates and asked respondents to say how they rated them on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning respondents felt “very cold & unfavourable” toward them, and 10 meaning they felt “very warm & favourable”. There was also the option of saying they had never heard of the person.

On this first question Harriet Harman was easily the best known of the candidates listed. Only 15% said they hadn’t heard of her, compared to 28% for Hain, 31% for Benn, 32% for Johnson, 38% for Blears and 58% for Cruddas.

This, of course, could also explain why Harman had the highest positive ratings. The figures quoted in the Independent are those for “swing voters” (defined in the normal way, as those people who say there is a fair chance they will change their mind before the next election). The percentage of people who have a positive opinion of Harriet Harman (giving her a score of 6/10 or more) is 24%, followed by Benn on 17%, Johnson on 15%, Hain on 13%, Blears on 7% and Cruddas on 5%. Amongst the public as a whole Hilary Benn is equal with Harman on 17%, followed by Hain 13%, Johnson 13%, Blears on 6% and Cruddas on 4%.

If you take into account net scores, subtracting those who express a negative opinion, then Hilary Benn receives the highest scores with -10 amongst swing voters, then come Cruddas and Harman on -14 (though Harman obviously has a far higher recognition rate than Cruddas), Johnson on -16, Hain on -23 and Blears on -27. Harriet Harman is, interestingly enough, the only candidate whose figures contrast strongly between the public and a whole and swing voters. Her net rating is -23 amongst voters as a whole, but -14 amongst swing voters.

The second set of questions asked how people would vote if each candidate were deputy leader. The question was presented in the terms of a ticket – i.e. leadership teams of “Gordon Brown & Hilary Benn”, “Gordon Brown & Hazel Blears”, etc, etc, so the actual change from now can’t be put down entirely to the deputy leaders, part of it must also be due to Gordon Brown. There are some interesting contrasts between the performances of the different deputy leadership candidates.

I am always wary to some extent of questions that ask people to say if X would make them more or less likely to vote for party Y. I’ve always suspected that some people say X would make them more likely to vote Y when they would actually vote Y anyway, and vice-versa. YouGov normally include, as they have in this instance, the option of saying “No difference – I would vote Labour anyway” and “No difference – I would not vote Labour anyway”, but I still have my doubts. I think people use such questions to indicate if they like a candidate or not. In reality, to what extent does the deputy leader of a party really impact voting decisions?

That aside, looking at the figures 15% of people say that they would be more likely to vote Labour if Gordon Brown was leader and Harriet Harman was deputy. However, another 15% of people say they would be less likely to vote Labour, so the net effect is neutral. This actually compares well to nearly all of the other candidates – Hilary Benn would also have a neutral effect, but everyone else would repel more people than they would attract. Hain’s net score is -6, Blears and Cruddas -8 and Johnson -9. Amongst swing voters Harman does even better, with a positive net score of +5, compared to -4 for Benn, -12 for Blears, -13 for Hain, -17 for Johnson and -19 for Cruddas (though given his low recognition, Cruddas’s figures on this question must be of very dubious worth).

So, while the figures reported in the Indy cherry pick the nicest findings for Harriet Harman, in actual fact the figures as a whole are pretty good for her too. Along with Hilary Benn she is one of the candidates with the most positive perceptions amongst the public, and amongst swing voters she seems to be the most likely to be an electoral asset. The poll also shows that she has the highest recognition rate (substantially higher than the serving cabinet ministers in the survey) which on one hand is a good thing in itself, but on the downside could mean that the other positive findings are all just a result of higher name recognition.

BBC – according to the Telegraph, BBC audience research in the weeks after Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997 found that 44% of respondents thought the coverage had been excessive and over emotional.
ICM/Retail Week – 77% of peopel think that Farepak’s directors should be held liable to give financial assistance to customers who lost their savings.
Populus/BBC – 51% would drive less if it was more important, but 59% of people say they have no alternative to using the car because of poor public transport links. 74% would like to see more money spent on new roads.

The second of ICM’s regular voting intention polls for the Scottish Parliament is in today’s Scotsman. The topline voting intention figures with changes from last month are, for the constituency vote, CON 13%(-1), LAB 29% (-1), LDEM 17%(+2), SNP 34%(+2), SSP 3%(-1) and in the regional vote CON 12%(-2), LAB 26%(-), LDEM 19%(+2), SNP 31%(+3), SSP 4%(nc).

The Scotsman projects that this would result in the SNP winning 43 seats (up 16) and Labour 38 (down 12). The Lib Dems would have 25 seats, the Conservatives 14, the Greens 5 and the others 4. As with the YouGov/SNP poll, it would result in a position where Labour and the Liberal Democrats would lose their majority and an SNP/Lib Dem alliance would seem like the most viable governing coalition.