ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian is due out later tonight, around about 6pm according to Mike Smithson. I’ll be on a train about then, so those of you fortunate enough not to be commuting are free to discuss it here. ICM’s last poll was immediately after the Hoon-Hewitt “attempted coup” broke, and had figures of CON 40%, LAB 30% and LDEM 18%.

I’m sure someone will put the new figures up in the comments once they surface, and I’ll put up a proper post later on.

UPDATE: While you are waiting though, there’s an ICM poll for Channel 4 News already (tables here).

ICM asked what people thought was responsible for the economy’s recovery, assuming that tomorrow shows the country out of recession. Only 20% of people attributed it to the government, with a further 14% saying the Bank of England. 13% put it down to the private sector and 21% thought it was down to international recovery (worldwide factors 17%, the USA 3% or the EU 1%). 32% didn’t know.

Asked if Britain coming out of recession would make people more or less likely to vote Labour, there was very little difference – 12% said it would make them more likely, but 10% said less likely, so little net gain. I should add my normal caveat about “more or less likely to vote X” being not much use, especially when they are not broken by voting intention so we can’t see if those “more likely” people are already voting Labour anyway, or those “less likely” people are not.

And for methodology watchers, this was an online ICM poll (and for that reason, it’s very unlikely it was done as part of the ICM/Guardian poll).

Tomorrow’s ComRes poll for tomorrow has also surfaced – the topline figures are CON 38%(-4), LAB 29%(nc), LDEM 19%(nc). There’s a sharp drop in Conservative support since ComRes’s last poll, but it actually reflects a straight reverse of the changes in ComRes’s previous poll. In their poll a week ago “others” dropped 4 and the Conservatives gained 4. This week its gone straight back in the other direction again!

UPDATE: ComRes also asked some questions on family policy. The public were pretty evenly divided on the Conservative proposal to give tax breaks to married couples but not cohabiting couples, 47% thought it was a good idea to 50% saying it was a bad idea.


The News of the World has a new ICM poll of marginal seats in tomorrow’s paper. ICM’s sample covered the 97 seats where Labour are in first place and the Conservatives in second place, and where the Conservatives need a swing between 4% and 10%. The implied assumption is that seats with a majority of less than 4% are going to be Conservative gains anyway on the current national polls and not worth looking at – instead these are the seats that span from a hung Parliament to a chunky Conservative majority.

The topline voting intention figures in these seats, with changes from the last electon, are CON 40%(+9.2), LAB 37%(-7.4), LDEM 14%(-3.8) – so a swing of 8.3% from Labour to the Conservatives. In contrast the last ICM national poll showed a national swing of 6.5%, so once again we find a slightly larger swing towards the Conservatives in the Con-Lab marginal seats they need to win. This has been pretty consistent in all polls of marginal seats in the last couple of years.

What it doesn’t tell us is how well the Conservatives are doing against the Liberal Democrats in their marginal seats. On these particular figures it isn’t critical – if there was a uniform swing amongst Lab vs Con marginal seats these figures would net the Tories around 124 extra seats, and added to the 214 seats they start with on the new boundaries that alone would be enough for David Cameron to win a small overall majority even if the Con vs LD battle was completely static.

However, for a healthier majority the Conservatives would also need to make some progress against the third party. There is much less evidence of what is happening in Con vs LD seats, and it is much harder to judge what it means when there is, since personal votes and tactical voting plays a larger part and we don’t know for sure how to factor that in.

Going back to the ICM poll, there was scant evidence that the larger Conservative swing in marginal seats came from out-campaigning Labour or having more money to throw about. 28% of respondents recalled having received party literature, been canvassed or seen other signs of campaigning by the Conservatives, not significantly more than the 24% who recalled seeing signs of Labour campaigningin their local area.

ICM also asked whether people trust Cameron or Brown more on various issues. Cameron led decisively on modernising the NHS, cutting crime, controlling immigration and improving standards in schools and united his party. Brown led on dealing with an emergency. On transport, Afghanistan, taxation, the recession and terrorism the two leaders were almost even.

Still to come tonight there is also a ComRes poll to come later on tonight.

I’ve seen various people pick up this article by Julian Glover today, so it probably needs some background. On Wednesday there was a joint conference with the BPC and the National Centre for Research Methods and at the end of the day the chairman put all the speakers on the spot and forced them to make a prediction of the election result (actually he asked them to predict the Conservative lead at the general election, but everyone apart from Nick Moon gave predicted shares).

The title of this article is a line that Bob Worcester likes to roll out at election time when he is asked the question (and in fact, Martin Boon from ICM prefaced his answer on Wednesday with it). Opinion polls ask what would happen in a general election tomorrow – apart from the final eve-of-poll figures when there actually is an election tomorrow, they don’t try to predict what will happen in several months or weeks time. Wednesday’s predictions are just the personal opinions of the particular pollsters who were there.

For the record though, as Julian reports, Nick Moon of NOP predicted an 8 point lead. Simon Atkinson of MORI predicted a tight 4 point lead. Everyone else clustered closer to a 10 point lead, the highest specific lead predicted was Andrew Cooper of Populus who plumped for CON 41% to LAB 29% (though Martin Boon went for a Tory score of “one point more than the next highest”, so I suppose he actually gave the most Tory answer).

Martin’s answer probably gives you the hint that these were not the most serious of predictions! As Peter Snow says, it was just a bit of fun. Before someone asks, I wasn’t speaking so didn’t get put on the spot for a prediction ;)

Anyway – for those anxiously waiting for the next poll, I’m expecting at least one this coming Sunday.

One thing we’ve seen over the last few months is pressure groups commissioning helpful polls showing that, lo and behold, adopting the policy that they are campaigning for would be really fantastic for the electoral prospects of whatever party they are trying to twist to their end. So, the Electoral Reform Society has commissioned polling that showed how backing a referendum on PR would be really good for Labour’s electoral hopes. The League Against Cruel Sports has commissioned polling that shows that fox hunting is a really important issue that will affect loads of votes, and over the weekend Migration Watch published polling that shows that loads of votes are there for the Conservatives to take if they are more anti-immigration.

The finding that immigration was a major issue to voters was perfectly legitimate (and done using an unprompted question like MORI do – by far the best way of doing it). However, I’d recommend far more caution about the question showing 44% of people saying they are more likely to vote Tory if they adopted a particular immigration policy, or the general conclusion that it would be a politically advantageous thing for the Tories to do. I’ve been dismissive of questions asking “would you be more or less likely to vote x if they endorsed policy z” before, and I’ll do it again here. People tend to use the question to express support or opposition to the policy in question, regardless of whether they would actually switch their vote. More or less likely is a very low bar. Focusing on a single issue gives it artificial prominence, and often people are already voting for the party they say they would be more likely to vote for, or would never vote for the party anyway. All in all, I wouldn’t give it much credence.

The limitations of this particular question aside though, would going hard on immigration actually help the Conservatives? In many ways it is the Conservative equivalent to Labour’s quandary over whether to soak the rich. In both cases polls show the policies themselves to be very popular, the question is whether it would have a negative effect upon a party’s image.

In evaluating a policy there are actually at least three questions. The first is the straightforward one we are all used to seeing in polls – do people agree with it or not. In the case of immigration polls are consistent in showing that the majority of people want harsher restrictions upon immigration.

The second question is the salience of the issue, there are things that everyone agrees with, but that no one thinks is of much importance. For example, I linked to some polling for the League Against Cruel Sports earlier – a substantial majority of people think fox hunting is cruel, but aside from small numbers of very committed people at either extreme, for most people it is not a major issue at elections when compared to health, education or the economy: it is a low salience issue. This is sometimes slightly harder to measure – questions asking if people are worried about an issue give it false prominence. The correct method is the one used in this poll – an unprompted question on what issues are important, and it shows immigration is indeed a very salient issue, in this particular poll second only to the economy.

The third issue is the most nebulous and hard to measure. How do the issues and policies a party puts forward influence their broader party image? Does talking about a particular issue, or putting forward a particular policy make a party seem forward-looking, or caring, or negative, or bigoted or so on. This was the Conservative strategy for much of David Cameron’s early leadership. His early emphasis on the environment was not something that would directly win votes, climate change ranks a long way behind more concrete things like crime, education and taxes when people come to vote, and those who do prioritise it are probably the sort of people least likely to vote Tory. However, the Conservatives no doubt believed that by championing it Cameron made the Conservative party look more moderate, caring, modern and so on.

We don’t really have much direct polling evidence to judge this by, but the potential risk can easily be seen by looking back at 2005 and the exhaustive polling Michael Ashcroft privately commissioned in the run up to the election. Polling then was just as positive about a harsh immigration message as it is now. Questions showed anti-immigration policies met with overwhelming support and it was consistently rated as a very important issue. Presumably this influenced the Conservatives when choosing their 2005 strategy.

Every day during the campaign Populus asked 250 people what they recalled the Conservative party saying recently. Over 30% of people recalled the Conservative message on immigration after Michael Howard announcement at the end of January that the Conservatives would impose an annual limit on immigration. Apart from 3 days after the council tax announcement, it remained the most recalled message when people were asked about the Conservative party for the rest of January and February. In March it remained amongst the most recalled issues, but was topped for a while by opposing anti-terrorism legislation, sacking Howard Flight and cracking down on travellers. Once the election was actually called, on every single day throughout the whole of the campaign the most recalled Conservative message was anti-immigration. Immigration is indeed a very salient issue, and it completely swamped Conservative messages on health, taxes, policing and so on. At the end of the campaign Populus asked people to characterise this Conservative campaign which people had recalled as being almost wholly about immigration. The most popular options were negative and aggressive.

The polling now on immigration is almost identical to the immigration polling in 2004 and 2005. Back then one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that it made sense for the Conservatives to emphasise it. If nothing else, the 2005 campaign tested that hypothesis to its limit, and found it wanting. Put it this way. In 2004 a YouGov poll for the Economist found that 44% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote Conservative if they had “a harder policy on immigration”, compared to only 6% who said they would be less likely – almost exactly the same figures as the YouGov polling for Migrationwatch today. Subsequently the Conservatives did indeed go into the 2005 election with a campaign that, in the eyes of the public at least, was utterly dominated by the message of a harsher policy on immigration. This produced no obvious gain in the Conservative vote at all – they ended up with almost exactly the same level of support as they had when YouGov asked the question back in September 2004.