The full details of the YouGov/Sunday Times poll are now up here. Topline figures are CON 34%, LAB 43%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 8% – so a nine point lead and pretty much in line with YouGov’s recent polls (the seven point lead some people were tweeting last night comes from hypothetical match ups, of which we’ll come to later).

The regular leaders approval ratings stand at minus 21 for Cameron, minus 29 for Miliband and minus 63 for Clegg, this is Clegg’s worst score so far (although only marginally down from minus 61 last week, which itself was a record low).

As I mentioned, YouGov asked several hypothetical voting intention questions. I should start with the normal caveats about these type of questions – they are quite low information, so while they can give us a steer on whether politicians who are very well known, respondents don’t know what policies those politicians would actually put in place if they were leader, what their priorities would be, how the media would react to them as leader and so on.

If the leaders remain as they are now at the next election (which YouGov ask as a control question) people’s voting intentions would be CON 34, LAB 41, LDEM 9 (when asked this way it consistently shows a slightly smaller Labour lead than usual – probably the effect of mentioning Ed Miliband in the question).

If the Liberal Democrats replaced Nick Clegg with Vince Cable they would increase their vote by a third, taking support from Labour – CON 34(nc), LAB 39%(-2), LDEM 12%(+3). If the Conservatives replaced David Cameron with Boris Johnson they would increase their support by four percentage points, wiping out Labour’s lead – CON 38%(+4), LAB 38%(-3), LDEM 9%(nc). And if you combine both changes and the leaders at the next election were Boris, Ed and Vince, voting intentions become – CON 39%(+5), LAB 35%(-6), LDEM 11%(+2): a Conservative lead. As I said, extremely hypothetical and I expect many people are projecting onto Boris and Vince whatever they would like their ideallised Tory or Lib Dem leader to do.

On the Liberal Democrats and the coalition, with the benefit of hindsight 34% of people think entering the coalition was the right thing for the Liberal Democrats to do, compared to 48% who think it was the wrong decision. A majority (52%) think the decision to go into coalition has turned out to be bad for Britain. Asked what they would like to happen in the future, 30% would prefer to see a Labour/Lib Dem coalition, 26% a minority Conservative government, 19% for the coalition to continue. More interesting are the breakdowns amongst party supporters – slightly more Tory supporters would prefer a minority government (49%) than the present coalition (44%), amongst remaining Lib Dem supporters only 38% support the coalition, 26% would prefer a coalition with Labour, 16% would prefer a minority Conservative government. A hefty majority (63%) of Labour supporters would naturally prefer a Lab-LD coalition.

Turning to Nick Clegg himself, he is seen as indecisive by 66% (decisive 14%), untrustworthy by 58% (trustworthy 24%), weak 75% (strong 11%)… but is still seen as likeable by 42% (dislikeable by 38%). Attitudes to the apology are mixed – while people say it had made Clegg look weaker (by 41% to 21%), they are evenly split on whether they feel more positive or negative about him as a result of it – 16% of people say it has made them more positive about Clegg, 17% more negative. They are also quite evenly split on whether the apology was genuine – 35% think it was, 40% think it was not.

Better results for Clegg are that people do at least think he apologised for the right thing – 47% think his mistake was to make a promise he couldn’t keep, compared to 31% think the bigger mistake was to back the policy. 7% think he needed have apologised for either.

Moving on to policing, 64% would oppose the routine arming of police officers, with only 24% in support. A majority (57%) would support the death penalty for the murder of a police officer. There are also majorities in support of the death penalty for terrorist murders, multiple murders and the murder of a child but people were narrowly opposed to the death penalty for all murders, by 42% to 38%. Apart from a slight increase in support for the death penalty for the murder of a police officer, these are pretty much unchanged since the last time YouGov asked.

The figures from the Survation poll last night have also shown up, topline figures there are CON 29%, LAB 41%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 12%.

Lots of polls tonight. We have figures for ComRes, Opinium and ICM with YouGov and Survation to come.

Looking at voting intentions first, ComRes in the Independent on Sunday is the most unusual (and hence probably the one we should pay least attention to), with topline figures of CON 35%(+2), LAB 39%(-3), LDEM 10%(nc), UKIP 8%(nc). The Labour lead is the lowest ComRes have shown since before the budget. Normal caveats about polls showing unusual movements apply – sure, it may be a sign of Labour’s lead falling, or may be normal margin of error. Let’s see if other polls are showing a similar pattern…

An Opinium poll in the Observer meanwhile has shares of CON 30%(-2), LAB 42%(+2), LDEM 8%(-2), UKIP 10%(+1). In contrast to ComRes, this is the largest lead Opinium have shown for Labour, although not radically different from their recent polling which has been showing an average Labour lead of ten points or so.

YouGov’s full figures haven’t been released yet, but the Sunday Times political editor Isabel Oakeshott has tweeted that the poll shows a 9 point Labour lead, so in line with YouGov’s normal polling. Nothing at all yet from the expected Survation poll.

ICM don’t ask a standard voting intention question for the Sunday Telegraph, instead asking respondents to estimate what they think the shares of the vote will be at the next general election. Public predictions have the Conservatives on 31%, Labour on 37% and the Liberal Democrats on 18%.

Looking at other questions, all the polls seemed to have gone for questions asking people to compare Clegg and Cable as Lib Dem Dem leader. They all suggest Cable as a better bet… but not by a radical amount. ComRes asked if people agree that Vince Cable would make a better leader than Nick Clegg, 27% say yes, 25% say no, 48% don’t know. ICM asked people who they thought would attract more voters to the Lib Dem party – 21% said Clegg, 32% Cable. Opinium asked how likely people were to vote Lib Dem with Clegg as leader and how likely they were with Cable as leader – 12% said they were very or fairly likely to vote for them with Nick, rising only marginally to 14% with Vince. YouGov have done some hypothetical “how would you vote with Cable” as leader questions, with Lib Dem support going from 9% with Clegg to 12% with Cable. I will update on that properly tomorrow.


Polls tonight

The summer is normally pretty light when it comes to polls. Conference season is normally the opposite – I’m expecting rather a lot of polls in the Sunday papers. It’s confirmed that there will be a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday, the weekly YouGov poll in the Sunday Times and an Opinium poll in the Observer.

Martin Boon of ICM was tweeting yesterday that some new ICM figures were forthcoming, so assume we’ll be getting them in one of the papers (they normally poll for the Sunday Telegraph, but Martin said there was a double helping so perhaps there is something else to come as well), and I believe there may also be a Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday.

I won’t be around much tonight, but feel free discuss the figures as they come in and I will do an update when I can.

On margins of error

Last night’s YouGov poll had topline figures of CON 35%, LAB 41%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 7%. The Labour lead of 6 points is unusually low, but as ever, this in itself doesn’t actually mean anything. A series of low Labour leads is meaningful, it would show a narrowing of the gap. Just one or two can be explained through normal sample variation.

I say this repeatedly – yet anytime there is a poll that is an outlier from the average I see Twitter filled with otherwise quite sensible people speculating on what might have caused the movement. The answer is almost always “normal sample error”.

I think part of the problem is people forget the degree of normal volatility we should expect from polls. The quoted margin of error for polls is normally plus or minus 3 percent. This is actually quite tenuous – the 3 point margin of error refers to a genuine random sample, when actual polls are never purely random (most involve some elements of stratification or quota sampling, and even an attempt at a random sample wouldn’t be random because of non-response), there are design and weighting factors, actual voting intentions are based on smaller samples once won’t votes are excluded and so on. However, taking plus or minus 3 points as the margin of error is a good enough estimate for our purposes.

If we look at YouGov’s fourteen polls so far this month, the average Conservative score is 33. All fourteen polls have been within 2 points of this. Eleven have been within 1 point of this.

The average Labour score has been 43. All fourteen polls have been within 3 points of this, and thirteen of them have been within 2 points of this. Eight have been within 1 point.

The average Lib Dem score has been 9 points. All fourteen polls have been within 2 points of this, thirteen have been within one point of it.

In other words, while there have been polls showing twelve point leads and polls showing six point leads, all of the polls have actually been within the normal margin of error of CON 33, LAB 43, LDEM 9 and the distribution around that has been very much what you would expect from normal sample variation.

More Miliband polling

The cause of today’s polling excitement are MORI’s questions asking respondents to compare Ed Miliband and David Cameron, results here. Briefly put, David Cameron enjoyed leads over Ed Miliband on most measures, often by a long way. He led on being eloquent by 59% to 15%, on being Prime Ministerial by 57% to 17%, on being tough enough for the job by 54% to 18%, on being smart enough for the job by 54% to 22%, represents Britain by 46% to 26%, on being fun to meet in person by 34% to 21%, likable by 38% to 29% and a good person by 35% to 30%.

Miliband lead on understanding people like me, by 36% to 26%, and protecting British jobs, by 37% to 31%. The two men were pretty much neck and neck on having the right values.

The fact that people think David Cameron is better suited to the job of Prime Minister than Ed Miliband is not particularly new. Cameron has a consistent lead on best Prime Minister, as we saw in July on PM preference Miliband trails a long way behind Labour’s position in VI. There was a Populus poll earlier this week showing even a majority of people who thought David Cameron was doing a bad job as PM would still rather have him in the role than Ed Miliband. All this new poll helps us to understand is some of the reasons why… and again, the picture is in line with other polling about Cameron and Miliband’s respective strengths and weaknesses. Ed is better on understanding ordinary people, but trails badly on being Prime Ministerial or being strong.

What does it actually mean though? As I wrote in July, people’s answers to this are very much coloured by what they would like to be true. I see an awful lot of Labour supporters trying to convince themselves that how voters see the leader is an irrelevance, and an awful lot of Conservative supporters trying to convince themselves that it is impossible for people to actually vote for Ed Miliband and he will be a fatal block to Labour’s chances. As ever, I expect both ends of the spectrum are wrong in their own ways.

Unfortunately, the evidence on which one is closer to the truth is not cut and dried. The last three British Election Studies (the major academic study of why people vote at British general elections, based on extensive parallel face-to-face and online polling and key driver analysis of the data) have consistently shown that voters’ opinions of the party leaders is a significant factor in deciding how they vote. It certainly convinces me, and I would have thought it almost a statement of the bleeding bloody obvious that perceptions of the party leader colour people’s perceptions of the whole party and, therefore, influences votes. However, it would be wrong to say that all academics agree on this – it is a controversial subject and some argue the opposite.

What causes me more pause for thought is the fact that opinions of party leaders are, as it were, already factored into the price. People don’t rate Ed Miliband highly as a potential Prime Minister… and yet they are telling us they would vote Labour. Clearly it can’t be putting them off that much. The question here – and again, it is one to which there is no good answer, is whether the issue will become more important as we get closer to a general election. It is a reasonable hypothesis that people answering opinion polls mid-term (and voting in mid-term elections) are largely registering a protest against the incumbent government, whereas once we approach an actual general election it becomes more of a comparison between two alternative governments, parties and Prime Ministers. If that were the case, Ed Miliband’s ratings now wouldn’t necessarily matter much, but could become increasingly important as the election approached.

I don’t particularly expect to cause many pauses for thought here, I’ve read enough comments to know it is one of those issues where people believe what they would like to be true. I shall leave, therefore, with the historical example that is nearly always cited in discussions like this.

In any conversation about this issue, the topic of Margaret Thatcher is brought up. Mrs Thatcher wasn’t particularly popular as Leader of the Opposition, while Jim Callaghan was comfortable and avuncular and likeable. He pretty consistently outpolled Margaret Thatcher on who would make the best Prime Minister. It certainly shows that people can and have voted for the less popular “Prime Ministerial candidate”. It does not follow, however, that it doesn’t matter. How much better would the Conservatives have done with a more popular leader than Thatcher in 1979? How much worse would Labour have done with a less popular candidate than Callaghan? We can’t tell.