A look back at the polls: January

by Stephen Tall on January 25, 2008

We tend not to be too poll-obsessed here at LDV – of course we look at them, as do all other politico-geeks, but viewed in isolation no one poll will tell you very much beyond what you want to read into it. Looked at over a reasonable time-span and, if there are enough polls, you can see some trends.

Here, in chronological order, are the results of the most recent five polls since our last round-up in December (hat-tip: Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report Blog, which provides by far the best analysis of the polls on the web):

Tories 43%, Labour 33%, Lib Dems 14% – YouGov/Sunday Times (11th Jan, 2008)
Tories 40%, Labour 33%, Lib Dems 18% – ICM/Sunday Telegraph (11th Jan)
Tories 42%, Labour 32%, Lib Dems 15% – Ipsos-MORI/Sun (10th Jan)
Tories 37%, Labour 33%, Lib Dems 19% – Populus/Times (6th Jan)
Tories 40%, Labour 35%, Lib Dems 15% – YouGov/Sunday Times 27th Dec, 2007)

Which gives us an average rating for the parties in January as follows (compared with December’s average):
Tories 40% (-2%), Labour 33% (+1%), Lib Dems 16% (n/c)

Nothing too surprising with this state of affairs – the polls were conducted over the quiet (ish) holiday time, during which international affairs (Pakistan, US primaries) were dominating the political headlines. We’ll see if the coming polls suggest Labour has been hit by the further Northern Rock controversy, or by Peter Hain’s resignation – it seems unlikely, as Labour has probably absorbed much of the flak from both issues already.

The next few months will be interesting times for the Tories. They’re hovering at the 40% mark – which is okay, but is it good enough? That’s the question being asked, albeit subtly, by ConservativeHome – and which has been picked up more sharply by the Daily Mail’s Ben Brogan – suggesting there is a divide in the Tory camp between the cautionary ‘tortoises’ led by David Cameron, who believe the Government will implode under its own steam; and the bold ‘hares’ led by George Osbourne, who are urging the Tories to step up a gear. There’s no doubt the Tories are in bullish mood right now; but so they were back in June, too. And look what happened then. Their slender opinion poll advantage suggests there’s a lot more they need to do to justify their self-proclaimed confidence.

Labour is digging in. It has yet to recover from Gordon Brown’s disastrous handling of the election-that-never-was, and his intended start-of-year re-launch never really got off the ground. Still, there have been signs that Mr Brown believes he’s put the worst behind him, with (for example) his performances against David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions improving: he might not float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, but he’s at least starting to live up to his ‘clunking fist’ epithet. Whether any of that translates into an opinion poll recovery is yet to be seen.

The Liberal Democrat rating is harder to measure. Conventional wisdom would have it that we should experience a boost from the media coverage of Nick Clegg’s election as leader, which appears not to have happened. Which might either be because the result was announced before Christmas, when no-one was really looking; or because he’s an unknown quantity, at least for the general public, and they have yet to make up their minds about his leadership (which would be fair enough).

It’s also harder to assess Lib Dem poll results because of the continuing divide between the pollsters, a feature we noted in November: the party tends to perform badly when measured by YouGov and Ipsos-Mori, and well when measured by Populus and ICM. Once again, they more or less cancel each other out, producing a January poll average of 16%, which none of the individual polls records! This continuing disparity between the professional pollsters does nothing for their collective reputations.