A look back at the polls: May

by Stephen Tall on June 1, 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 30th April:

Tories 40%, Labour 29%, Lib Dems 19% – Populus/Times (7th May)
Tories 49%, Labour 23%, Lib Dems 17% – YouGov/The Sun (9th May)
Tories 43%, Labour 26%, Lib Dems 19% – ComRes/Independent (14th April)
Tories 45%, Labour 25%, Lib Dems 18% – YouGov/Sunday Times (15th May)
Tories 41%, Labour 27%, Lib Dems 22% – ICM/Guardian (16th May)
Tories 47%, Labour 23%, Lib Dems 18% – YouGov/Telegraph (27th May)

Which gives us an average rating for the parties in May as follows, compared with April’s average:
Tories 44% (+3%), Labour 26% (-4%), Lib Dems 19% (n/c)

Well, what a difference a month makes. Though the Tories had amassed large leads over Labour in April’s polls, they were largely a function of the Government’s weakness, rather than the Opposition’s strength. But the Tories’ strong performances in the local elections, the London mayoralty and the Crewe by-election have seen a significant spike in their ratings during May, with each of the six polls showing them breaking the 40% barrier – during April three of the nine polls conducted placed them below that psephelogical milestone.

It’s worth noting, though, that there is still a marked difference between the Tories’ ratings under YouGov’s methodology, and that of other pollsters. YouGov has the Tories in the range 45%-49%; the other three companies – Populus, ICM and ComRes – place them at 40%-43%. YouGov has long tended to produce the most favourable Tory results and the least good Lib Dem ones. In April, YouGov had the Lib Dems in the 17-18% range, while the other three polling companies placed the party between 19%-22%. Which company you prefer to believe will tend to be coloured by which party they tend to favour.

What is beyond doubt is that Labour’s vote has collapsed. The polls show this clearly enough: all six this month place the party below 30%; last month, five out of the nine showed Labour above 30%. Perhaps the Government could have brushed this to one side, but for the last month’s woeful election performances. If there is any hope for the party it is that Labour is not attempting to dismiss this as ‘mid-term difficulties’, as the Tories did from 1993-97: it does seem that Labour comprehends the scale of defeat it faces if things continue as they do.

Yet it’s harder to see quite why Labour’s ratings have imploded. For sure, there have been mistakes – of which the 10p tax-con was the most disastrous – but compared to John Major’s administration, there has been nothing like the accumulated incompetence, sleaze and disunity which resulted in the Tories’ 1997 landslide defeat.

Rather, it seems a large part of the electorate has finally recognised that Labour has run out of steam; that there are no new ideas; that they have no fresh ambitions. Perhaps it is that growing realisation – rather than anger at any one policy disaster – which is driving down Labour’s ratings to new lows.