Lord Ashcroft has done another great big chunk of polling, this time focusing upon the rise of UKIP. Over on his site he has the results of a big poll of 20,000 people plus a series of focus groups with UKIP supporters and considerers.

Looking first at the demographics of who is supporting UKIP, amongst the 1000 people who said they would vote UKIP at the moment in Ashcroft’s poll, 45% say they voted Tory in 2010, 27% UKIP, 15% Lib Dem, 6% Did not vote, 4% Labour and 4% other parties. The demographic breaks show UKIP supporters continue to be heavily skewed towards elderly men – 43% of their support is from over 65s, just 8% from under 35s. 66% is from men, 34% from women.

Lord Ashcroft headlines his article on one of the most persistent myths about UKIP, that people vote for them over the issue of Europe and, therefore, winning the support of those people is all about offering policies related to Europe.

Past polling has shown this to be nonsense – a huge YouGov poll of voters in the 2009 European election found that Europe was only the fourth most important issue for UKIP voters after the economy, immigration and crime; a 2010 YouGov poll of UKIP voters at the 2010 election found the issue of Europe trailing behind the economy and immigration – and Lord Ashcroft finds the same now. Amongst people considering UKIP (he doesn’t provide a crossbreak for people saying they actually would vote UKIP) 68% name the economy as one of the most important issues facing the country, followed by immigration on 52% and welfare dependency on 46%. Europe is fifth on 27%… meaning almost three quarters of UKIP considerers really don’t see the issue of Europe as that important. Ashcroft found a similar pattern in his focus groups – Europe was mentioned comparatively little compared with immigration, welfare and general disatisfaction with modern Britain.

Asked which party people think has the best policy on particular issues, UKIP come nowhere at all on most issues. Even people considering voting UKIP don’t think they have policies on the economy, health, crime or whatever. There are only two issues where even UKIP considers think they have good policies – Europe and immigration. Essentially, UKIP have managed to break out of the ghetto of being a single-issue party to become a two-issue party, or a three-issue party if you count being generally dissatisfied with modern life.

As I endlessly say here though, policies really aren’t that important in determining voting intention. Ashcroft’s UKIP considerers say that they think the economy is the most important issue and they overwhelmingly think the Conservatives are the best party on that, they think David Cameron would be the best PM, they would prefer a Conservative majority at the election… yet they say they would consider voting UKIP. Why?

Crunching the data Ashcroft found the strongest correllations with considering voting UKIP were statements associated with values and party image – people who thought UKIP reflected their values, or was prepared to say the sort of things other parties wouldn’t. Lord Ashcroft also asked UKIP considerers whether they agreed with various reasons people might support UKIP. The most agreed with statement was to send a message about immigration and Europe (sadly lumped together in the same statement), followed by agreement with UKIP’s immigration policy, wanting to “take Britain back in time when things were done more sensibly” and the “bigger parties seem more interested in trendy nonsense than listening to ordinary people”.

Putting aside European elections (when much of UKIP support is from otherwise loyal Conservative voters sending a specific message over Europe), UKIP support is not particularly connected with Europe, it is an anti-immigration vote and protest vote against some aspects of modern Britain, a general reactionary vote in support of taking Britain back to a status quo ante.

Ashcroft also asked how some of the things that might stop people voting UKIP. The statements that UKIP considers agreed with least were the statements that UKIP seem “quite old fashioned”, or “seem a bit racist” – hardly surprising given the elderly age profile of UKIP supporters, their support for things being as they used to be and opposition to immigration – such voters are highly unlikely to see being anti-immigration as racist or being a bit old fashioned as a bad thing. The most agreed with statements were tactical ones about voting UKIP letting a party they didn’t like win their local seat or form the government.

So what of the future? The fact that UKIP support is not primarily driven by attitudes to Europe suggests that a referendum on EU membership is not the sort of elixir that some people seem to consider it to be. That’s not to say it wouldn’t shift votes, or appeal to people with the sort of values that lead them to support UKIP… just don’t expect it to magically lure all those votes back to the Conservatives overnight.

More pertinent is the degree to which UKIP sympathisers who prefer Cameron and the Conservatives to Miliband and Labour will end up returning to the Conservatives once an actual election arrives, and the degree to which UKIP has replaced the Liberal Democrats as a vehicle for mid-term protest votes from people unhappy with both the government and the opposition. Right now there is no good way of measuring that.

We have two new telephone polls tonight, both of which show solid advances for UKIP at the expense of the Conservatives. ComRes in the Indy has topline figures of CON 31%(-4), LAB 41%(-1), LD 10%(nc), UKIP 9%(+3). This is the highest ComRes’s telephone polls have shown UKIP, although as with the ComRes online poll at the weekend, it is helped by a tweak to ComRes’s methodology to treat minor parties in the same way as the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats when it comes to turnout.

Meanwhile Populus’s poll for the Times has topline figures of CON 29%(-6), LAB 40%(nc), LDEM 11%(+2), UKIP 10%(+5), again the highest they have shown UKIP (indeed, it is the highest any telephone poll has shown them). Changes are from the previous Populus poll back in October, as they didn’t conduct a November poll.


This week’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times is CON 33%, LAB 45%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 8%. The climb of UKIP support into the mid-teens that has been appearing in other online polls doesn’t appear to be replicated in the daily YouGov polls. The rest of the poll dealt with immigration, gay marriage, the royal baby prank call and teachers’ pay.

Two thirds of people (67%) think that levels of immigration into Britain over the last decade have been bad the country, compared to 11% who think it has been good for Britain. 80% say they support David Cameron’s stated intention to reduce net immigration to the “tens of thousands”, although there is very little confidence in his ability to deliver it (only 15% think it is very or fairly likely he will deliver the pledge). On the specifics of foreign students, 50% of people think they have a positive effect on Britain compared to only 15% who think they have a negative impact. Despite this 53% people think they should be included in the immigration figures, only 40% think they should be excluded. Finally on the subject of immigration, people are evenly split on whether British companies should discriminate towards British workers – 45% think they should, 47% think they should not.

People support gay marriage by 56% to 36% who are opposed, pretty typical of YouGov’s previous polling on the subject. There are the same demographic patterns that we’ve seen in other polling on the subject – women are more supportive of gay marriage than men, and young people are MUCH more supportive than over 60s. Asked if David Cameron should continue with the proposed changes in the face of opposition from some Conservative MPs the figures were very similar – 51% think he should continue regardless, 36% think he should abandon the policy.

There is very little perception that supporting gay marriage will help the Conservatives electorally. Only 9% think it will help them, 17% damage them, 66% think it will make no difference (needless to say, people’s perception of whether it will help or hurt the Conservatives is not necessarily the same as whether it will. Polling on how policies directly affect voting intention is extremely dubious, but what there is suggests it is very much a case of swings and roundabouts – they lose about the same as they gain). Asked how they would react to their own son or daughter being gay, 63% of people say they would be very or fairly comfortable with it. 17% say they would be fairly uncomfortable, 8% very uncomfortable.

On the Royal Baby prank call 67% of people think that the Australian radio station should take some or a lot of blame for the suicide of the nurse who took the prank call. However, they are fairly evenly split over whether the DJs responsible should be sacked – 39% think they should be, 43% think they should not. 61% think that the offer of AUS$500,000 to a memorial fund to the nurse’s family is the right way to make amends, compared to only 24% who think there should be greater compensation or people should pay with their jobs. More generally, 50% think that similar prank calls should not be allowed in the future, 41% think they are harmless as long as they are done responsibly.

Finally people continue to narrowly support the existing arrangements for teachers pay over more performance related pay (by 48% to 43%). Asked about the role of teaching unions, 26% think that they are an obstacle to reform and that the government are right to take a hard line, 45% think that the government should listen to them more (28% say don’t know or neither). 31% of people would support a ban on teachers taking strike action.

The monthly online ComRes poll for the Indy on Sunday and Sunday Mirror is out and has topline figures of CON 28%(-3), LAB 39%(-4), LDEM 9%(-1), UKIP 14%(+6). The poll shows a big increase in UKIP support since ComRes’s last online poll which was prior to the Rotherham fostering row and by-elections that gave UKIP a publicity boost last month.

Looking at the tables there appears to have been a slight methodology change. ComRes used to weight turnout differently for minor parties than than for the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats – for the big three they included everyone who said they were 5/10 likely to vote or more (weighted proportionally), for other parties they included only those who said they were 10/10 likely to vote. At first glance it looks like they are now treating all parties the same, which would have boosted UKIP support, though it certainly wouldn’t account for all of a six point increase!

The poll also included a question on government’s policy of increasing benefits by 1%, under the rate of inflation, for the next three years. There was some comment on this earlier this week because YouGov and MORI polls on the subject were showing contrasting results –

YouGov asked if Osborne was right or wrong to raise benefits by 1%, lower than the rate of inflation. 33% thought it was right, 35% thought it was wrong and they should have been increased by inflation or more, 19% thought they should not have been increased at all.

MORI asked a similar question, but didn’t mention it was for three years and gave three examples of benefits affected: jobseekers, income support and child benefit. They found 11% thinking they shouldn’t rise at all, 16% that they should rise by less than inflation, 59% that they should rise in line with inflation and 10% that they should rise by more.

The reason for the big difference is perplexing. I’ve seen and I can think of various possibilities, none that stands out above others. It could be that YouGov mentioned it was for the next three years, while the MORI question didn’t so people thought more about the general principle than what should happen now. Another possibility is that it was down to MORI giving the example of child benefit, which affects many more people, and resulted in a different answer. I’ve also seen suggestions that public opinion moved drastically in the small gap between the two polls fieldwork, which given it was all of two days seems particularly unlikely.

Anyway, today’s ComRes poll asked their own question and found more people in support of the government’s policy than opposed, though not by a big gap. ComRes asked if people agreed or disagreed that “The Chancellor, George Osborne, is right to cut most state benefits by 1% a year for the next three years, in real terms (taking inflation into account)” 42% agreed, 36% disagreed.

The wording is interesting because YouGov and MORI have both presented the change as an increase, but below inflation. ComRes presented it as a real terms cut. The terms mean exactly the same of course, but not everyone will realise that, and simply in terms of language “cash increase” will always sound better than “real terms cut”!

It doesn’t appear to have made a vast difference anyway, since ComRes also asked about it in a poll for ITV News earlier this week, which phrased it in terms of an increase and didn’t even mention inflation “George Osborne was right in his Autumn Statement to limit increases in most welfare benefits to 1%”. One might have thought the wording of this statement was far more positive for George Osborne than the version ComRes used for their Indy/Mirror poll, but the results weren’t that different – 44% agreed, 33% disagreed.

UPDATE: The fortnightly Opinium poll for the Observer is also out and has topline figures of CON 29%(nc), LAB 39%(+1), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 14%(+1). There is no significant change from their last poll, which had already shown a boost for UKIP.

This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 44%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 9%. The twelve percent support for the Liberal Democrats is the highest that YouGov have shown since way back in April 2011. All the usual caveats apply about unusual poll findings apply – more often than not they are just blips – however this is part of a wider pattern in recent YouGov polling, that has shown the Lib Dems sneaking up into double figures on an increasingly regular basis. Eight out of nine YouGov polls in December have shown the Lib Dems at 10 or above, compare that to 5/21 polls in November and 5/23 in October.

If is it sustained it will be worth looking at exactly where the support is coming from and trying to work out what is driving it, but the Lib Dems have been increasingly differentiating themselves from the Conservatives over recent months – that would certainly be a potential cause worth looking at.