This isn’t really a opinion poll, but its the same sort of rubbish media reporting of surveys. The Sunday Telegraph had a survey at the weekend which claimed “only one in five schools are­ planning to perform a traditional nativity play this year.” It showed no such thing.

The results showed 64% of the primary schools they surveyed were putting on a religious nativity play, the headlines about only one in five were based on taking only what they called “traditional” nativity plays, excluding all the modern versions. Personally you might find all the modernised musical nativity plays appallingly cheesy, but things like “Hosanna Rocks”, “Whoops-a-Daisy Angel” and so on are nativity plays: they do involve angels, censuses, Bethlehem, Herod, baby Jesus being born in a manger and so on. They also sometimes involve bashful sheep, or stuck up angels or other peripheral nonsense or alternative POVs, but the core story is there. They might well be an affront to good taste, but not a threat to Christianity.

Why does it matter? Well, anyone reading the Sunday Telegraph story with a critical eye will have picked up the real picture, but after that people will quote the headlines and give a false picture. Mark Pritchard has an adjournment debate this week on ‘Christianophobia’ and is quoted as saying that the debate is particularly topical, “as recent findings suggested four fifths of schools were not staging nativity plays this year”. There it goes – dodgy representation of survey findings and, two days later, we have a bit of misinformation happily ensconced in the debate that will probably crop up for years to come.

A new ICM poll in the Sunday papers apparently has topline voting intention figures (with charges from their last poll) of CON 41% (+4), LAB 30% (-1), LDEM 19% (-2). The exact dates of the poll aren’t available yet, but normally ICM polls published on a Sunday have fieldwork conducted between Wednesday and Friday, so it’s likely this poll was conducted when Labour’s funding row was at its height. (UPDATE – the News of the World report is here, and the poll was actually conducted on Wednesday and Thursday. It should go without saying that this isn’t the strongest Tory lead for 15 years, it’s the strongest lead for 8 months…but hey, that wouldn’t have been a less impressive headline wouldn’t it? Sheesh)

If confirmed the the changes in vote share would suggest a boost for the Conservatives, a slight fall for Labour and a larger fall for the Liberal Democrats since the last ICM poll a week ago. However, that poll was itself somewhat strange, showing a huge drop in Conservative support and an equally massive 6 point jump in Lib Dem support. I suspect those were down sample error, and hence the Conservatives haven’t really risen so much and the Liberal Democrats haven’t really fallen in this latest poll.

Putting the immediate changes from the rather dubious last ICM poll aside, the poll confirms the same picture we’ve seen elsewhere: the Conservatives are pretty steady around the 40% or low 40s mark – YouGov had them up at 43% but we’ve seen no consistent sign of them profiting from Labour’s misfortune. The Lib Dems have progressed from their autumn lows are are back in the mid or high teens depending on the pollster. Labour’s support has fractured over the last month, compared to the polls at the end of October they are between 6 and 8 points down. As with YouGov and MORI’s recent polls – the picture ICM are giving is that Labour are back where they worse during their worst ratings under Tony Blair.


Mike Smithson at political betting is reporting the YouGov poll of Lib Dem members, due to be released by Sky News later on tonight, shows Nick Clegg leading Chris Huhne amongst the 678 Lib Dem members surveyed by 56% to 44%. When the poll was conducted 52% had already voted, 24% were as yet undecided.

Polls of party members can be tricky to do – they are hard to sample (there are no publically available lists of party members to ring up or email) and hard to weight, since no one really knows the demographic make up of the party memberships. If there is no real demographic division in support hat doesn’t matter – for example, in the last Conservative leadership election YouGov’s polls suggested that Cameron’s lead over David Davis was much the same whether members were young or old, activist or armchair supporter. The record of polls of Lib Dem members in the past is hard to judge – YouGov overestimated Chris Huhne’s support in their poll during the last contest and showed him ahead of Campbell, when in reality Campbell beat him by 13% on the first round. However, the poll was conducted several weeks before the end of the contest, so it is impossible to say whether Campbell simply picked up support and overtook Huhne in the final weeks, whether Lib Dem members on YouGov’s panel were more likely to support Huhne or whether the survey (which included several questions prior to the ones on voting intention) has biased the sample in favour of Huhne.

Either way, since many members have already voted this poll should be close enough to give an idea of the final result and – if it is representative – it looks likely that Nick Clegg will be the next Lib Dem leader.

There is also a new ICM poll out tomorrow, presumably for either the Sunday Telegraph or the News of the World. No full figures yet, but it reportedly shows an 11 point Conservative lead, with the Tories on 41% and Labour on 30%. The last ICM poll had figures of CON 37%, LAB 31%, LDEM 21%, so this would suggest a significant increase in Conservative support and a drop in Labour support.

UPDATE: Another interesting finding from the poll, given that a hung Parliament is relatively likely next time round. 44% of Lib Dem members would oppose a coalition with the Tories under any circumstances; 26% would oppose a similar deal with Labour. I’m sure some Lib Dem readers will be able to tell me, but I have the perception from coalition wranglings in Wales and Scotland that the Lib Dem leadership need the approval of Lib Dem members to actually agree to any coalition deal. In the event of David Cameron being the largest party and trying to cut a deal with the Liberal Democrats, it looks like it would be very difficult for (presumably) Nick Clegg to win Lib Dem members approval for all deal he secured.

UPDATE 2: Over at Lib Dem Voice they are pondering whether the polls’s sample is too young. YouGov’s weighted figures had 35% of Lib Dem members under the age of 40, 32% between 40 and 60 and 33% over 60. Looking at the breaks in the table under 40s were far more likely to back Clegg than over 60s – Clegg has a 32 point lead amongst under 40, but is neck and neck with Huhne amongst over 60s.

As I mentioned above, polls of party members are tricky because there are no accurate demographic figures to weight to. I don’t know where YouGov got their 35/32/33 figures from, but if they are incorrect it would skew the figures. In short, if Lib Dem members are actually older than that, the poll would have underestimated Huhne, if they are younger than that, it would have underestimated Clegg. Either way, Clegg will still be ahead, since even if the party was entirely over 60, which it isn’t, Huhne could only manage to be equal with Clegg.

UPDATE 3: The YouGov target weights were based on comparing the age of Lib Dem members with the age of the panel as a whole – effectively giving Lib Dem members an average age of 51. The only academic study of party membership is that done by Seyd & Whiteley which was well over 10 years ago (I can’t remember the exact date, it came out in several different volumes concentrating on the different parties) when they had an average age of 59. That age profile would have put Clegg 10 points ahead, rather than 12, so no great difference.