A look back at the polls: February

by Stephen Tall on February 29, 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 10 polls since our last round-up on 25th January:

Tories 41%, Labour 30%, Lib Dems 17% – ComRes/Independent (24th Feb)
Tories 40%, Labour 34%, Lib Dems 16% – YouGov/Economist (21st Feb)
Tories 37%, Labour 34%, Lib Dems 21% – ICM/Guardian (17th Feb)
Tories 41%, Labour 32%, Lib Dems 16% – YouGov/Sunday Times (15th Feb)
Tories 40%, Labour 31%, Lib Dems 17% – Populus/Times (3rd Feb)
Tories 37%, Labour 32%, Lib Dems 21% – ICM/Sunday Telegraph (31st Jan)
Tories 38%, Labour 30%, Lib Dems 17% – ComRes/Independent (27th Jan)
Tories 41%, Labour 33%, Lib Dems 16% – YouGov/Telegraph (23rd Jan)
Tories 37%, Labour 38%, Lib Dems 16% – Ipsos-MORI (23rd Jan)
Tories 37%, Labour 35%, Lib Dems 20% – ICM/Guardian (20th Jan)

Which gives us an average rating for the parties in February (ish) as follows, compared with January’s average:
Tories 39% (-1%), Labour 33% (n/c), Lib Dems 18% (+2%)

What’s remarkable about the polls is not the fluctuations they show during the month, but quite how static the polls are – at least when you look at them according to the polling company responsible:

ComRes (2 polls):
Tories 41% / 38%, Labour 30% / 30%, Lib Dems 17% / 17%
YouGov (3 polls):
Tories 40% / 41% / 41%, Labour 34% / 32% / 33%, Lib Dems 16% / 16% / 16%
ICM (3 polls):
Tories 37% / 37% / 37%, Labour 34% / 32% / 35%, Lib Dems 21%, 21%, 20%

So – even though the polls are taken over a 4-week period, during which all sorts of minutiae gets the political blogosphere’s knickers in a knot – the three polling companies which published more than one poll have produced results in which the parties each achieve broadly the same level of support using that company’s methodology.

Ultimately party hacks will choose to believe the polling company which produces the results they want to hear; or at least ignore those they don’t want to hear.

Tories will laud YouGov, Lib Dems are highly sceptical. Why? Because YouGov tends to produce the most favourable Tory levels of support, and tends to produce the worse Lib Dem ratings. But, of course, we Lib Dems love ICM – which consistently shows the party nudging or above 20% – while Tories are distinctly lukewarm about always being in the mid-to-high 30s%.

The one thing of which we can be certain is this: with very few exceptions the polls will be given a prominence and interpretation by the newspaper which commissioned them way in excess of their actual significance. Polling is an art, not a science.