A look back at the polls: March

by Stephen Tall on March 28, 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 six polls since our last round-up on 29th February:

Tories 40%, Labour 33%, Lib Dems 16% – YouGov/Telegraph (1st Mar)
Tories 37%, Labour 34%, Lib Dems 19% – Populus/Times (11th Mar)
Tories 40%, Labour 31%, Lib Dems 20% – ICM/News of the World (16th Mar)
Tories 43%, Labour 27%, Lib Dems 16% – YouGov/Sunday Times (16th Mar)
Tories 42%, Labour 29%, Lib Dems 21% – ICM/Guardian (18th Mar)
Tories 43%, Labour 29%, Lib Dems 17% – YouGov/Telegraph (28th Mar)

Which gives us an average rating for the parties in March as follows, compared with February’s average:
Tories 41% (+2%), Labour 31% (-2%), Lib Dems 18% (n/c)

Generally I’m sceptical that opinion polls tell you over much about the fluctuations in the daily churn of political life; most movements, up and down, are within the margin of error. However, it does seem to be the case that Alastair Darling’s budget has proven something of a watershed for the Labour Government: three of the four post-budget polls have shown them below 30%.

There’s been much speculation why this might be, given that none of the budget measures in themselves seem to have been especially unpopular. Perhaps it was just the general drab disappointment of this budget, another confirmation that Gordon Brown’s premiership promises precious little ambition. Of course, half the polls published in March were from YouGov, which has tended to be the most pro-Tory pollster (though usually at the expense of the Lib Dems, rather than Labour).

It will be interesting to see the next Ipsos-Mori poll. So far, they have been the only pollster all year to discern a Labour lead (of 1%, back in January). If they too show Labour’s support dipping to c.30%, then alarm bells will really start to ring at Labour HQ.

For the Lib Dems, March showed another incremental increase in poll support, not displayed in our average owing to rounding down to 18% this month (but up to 18% last month). This in spite of the difficulties the party experienced around the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Clearly there’s some truth in the adage that if there’s one thing worse than being talked about, it’s not being talked about.

Nick Clegg’s first 100 days might not yet have shown meteoric progress in the polls; but there has been solid progress, and the leadership will be quietly pleased to see our average ratings in the high teens, and consistently at or around 20% with ICM.