Political Betting has a new Angus Reid poll, the topline figures are almost unchanged from their previous poll with CON 40%(nc), LAB 24%(nc), LDEM 19%(-1). The company have shown Labour and the Conservatives unchanged in their last three polls, and continue to show a signficantly lower level of Labour support than other polling companies – a difference at least partially explained by weighting past Labour voters to a lower level.

The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, so is the first poll conducted after the announcement of the end of the recession. It’s only one straw in the wind, and we should have several polls coming up in the next week or so, but this first signal suggests it is still business as usual.

Voodoo corner

As we get closer to the election I expect we’ll also get a flurry of what Bob Worcester calls “Voodoo polls” – open access polls that do not make any attempt to gather a representative sample.

In yesterday’s Sun and Times, and today’s Indy, we have a “poll” from a website for mothers, that claims to show mothers rushing to support Cameron and intending to vote in record numbers.

As far as I can tell, it was just an open access poll on a website for mothers. It will, therefore, be skewed towards mothers interested in politics who would have been likely to take such a poll(hence the high figure of them saying they will vote), probably towards mothers with an interest in the sort of issues discussed on websites for mothers, and certainly by the demographics of the people who read the site. We know that last one for sure, since the poll gave some demographic breakdowns of respondents which show that stay-at-home mums and part time workers were over-represented, full time working mums were under-represented, and low income mums and single parents were grossly under-represented. With that income skew it should be no surprise they were very Conservative!

Philip Webster in the Times can be partially forgiven, since he did at least add the caveat that the survey “cannot be regarded as in any way conclusive and is not an opinion poll […] is not representative because it is self-selecting and the organisers accept that people responding to such a survey are more likely to be politically engaged than those who do not.” Unfortunately, he then went on to report the figures as if they did mean something – far better to have done what one editor who mailed me about it on Tuesday, and one veteran political editor who I spoke to today did, and not touch it with a bargepole.

If you see something in the papers proporting to be an opinion poll and it is not from an established polling company, read it very carefully. How did they gather the sample, who are they claiming it represents the views of, and what measures did they take to make sure the it matched the demographics of that group. If the answer is they took whoever came along, and didn’t take any measures at all to make it representative, I think you know how useful it is.


The tables for ICM’s poll are now available here. Firstly the question on the couples’ tax allowance did indeed ask specifically if people would support or oppose a tax break for married couples with children, and found that 65% of people did with only 29% opposed, a far higher proportion of people than other polls suggest support a tax break for married couples per se.

Support amongst married couples with children – the people who might actually benefit from such a tax break – was predictably higher at 78%, but then again 61% of people who were not married or did not have children also supported it. It is very easy to overestimate the extent that people vote with their pocketbooks.

The questions on which social class people think the Conservative and Labour parties stand up revealed an interesting contrast in the way party supporters view their own party. Conservative supporters mostly see the Conservative party as standing up for everybody (57%), with a significant minority saying it stands up for the middle class (29%). Labour supporters however are far more evenly split – 39% see Labour as standing for everybody, but 37% see it as standing for the working classes and 20% see it as standing for the middle classes.

Equally striking is the contrast in how party supporters see the other side. Conservative supporters’ view of the Labour party is quite mixed, 34% see it as a party of the working classes, 22% a party for everyone, 18% a party for the middle classes, 12% a party for the upper classes. Labour party supporters view the Conservatives in far starker terms – 55% think they are a party for the upper classes, 22% the middle classes.

What it suggest to me is while class has greatly declined as an important factor in voting, and doesn’t seem to be a major factor in Conservative support (they tend to see their party as the party for everyone, and are rather unsure about the opposition) there is still a substantal chunk of the Labour vote that sees their party as the party of the workers, and the Conservatives as the party of the toffs.

Finally, a methodological note – ICM seem to have added what I think is a new factor into how they deal with likelihood to vote. Previously they just filtered by likelihood to vote, taking in only those who said they were 7/10 or more likely to vote. They are still doing that, but are also weighting them so that people who are 10/10 likely carry more weight than those who are 9/10 likely. They are also factoring in whether people voted last time, and weighting those people down by half (so someone who says they are 8/10 likely to vote and voted in 2005 gets a weight of 0.8. Someone who claims they are 9/10 likely to vote this time, but didn’t bother in 2005, gets a weight of 0.45

At the end of last year I wrote a piece saying I thought there were four “known unknowns” that might change the political picture before the election campaign. The first was Labour’s final chance to change their leader in January – as we’ve seen, there was an attempt by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt to force Brown out, but it fell flat and does not appear to have had any lasting effect upon the polls.

The second was the end of the recession and, as expected, this morning’s economic figures show Britain’s economy is officially growing again. So, what impact will this have on the polls and will it produce any sort of Labour recovery?

Polls asking if people are more likely to vote Labour if the economy recovers don’t predict any significant advance – but I wouldn’t take them as a particularly good indicator anyway. If Labour do recover on the back of the economic good news I suspect it won’t be on the back of a direct conscious calculation that they have done well and deserve support (we saw with ICM’s poll for Channel 4 yesterday that a relatively small proportion of people attribute the recover to government action). Rather it will be a more subconscious increase in optimism and the “feel good factor”, leading people to think better of the way the country is going and more likely to back the government.

That said, it’s not actually a given that it will be a positive for the government. In ICM’s marginals poll last weekend we saw that one area where Gordon Brown still had much better ratings than David Cameron was handling a crisis. Populus’s poll this month asked a pair of questions they’ve used several times since the credit crunch – asking who would make the best Prime Minister “right now, to deal with Britain’s economy in recession” and who would make the best Prime Minister going forward after the election – Cameron’s lead over Brown was 11 points on the first question, but 17% on the latter. If Gordon Brown is actually still benefitting by being seen as the best man to lead the country in an economic crisis, the passing of that crisis could, perversely, be a negative for him.

We shall see when the first post-recession polls begin arriving.

ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has topline figures of CON 40%(nc), LAB 29%(-1), LDEM 21%(+3). Changes are from ICM’s last poll, which was conducted straight after the Hoon-Hewitt “coup”.

Clearly there is no significant change in the Conservative or Labour vote, apart from a temporary Conservative drop into the high 30s in November they seem to be settling into a pretty steady 40-30 sort of pattern. The Lib Dems however are up to 21%, their highest support in a poll for a couple of months.

In other questions, we’ve seen several recent polls that suggested the public evenly split over whether they supported a tax allowance for married couples. ICM asked something subtly different – whether people supported a tax cut for “couples with children” – that found 65% support with only 29% opposition. We’ll have to check the actual wording of the question for that one to see whether it actually refered to married couples with children (which would seem the sensible thing to ask, but is not how the Guardian described it).

ICM also asked what class they associated the parties with, but the Guardian’s report doesn’t really tell us enough to judge the results. Apparently 57% of people saw the Conservatives as being for either everyone or the middle class, with 48% saying the same for Labour. Just under a third see Labour as the party of the working class, and an unspecified “substantial minority” see the Conservatives as the party of the upper class.

The poll also asked my favourite “time for a change” question. The latest figures show 66% think it’s time for a change of government, with 25% who want to stick with Labour. That’s down from the last time ICM asked the question in March last year when 69% thought it was time for change, but not by very much – it remains a substantial majority.

Finally ICM asked whether Gordon Brown had made the recession better or worse – 43% said he helped the situation, 50% said he made things worse.