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.

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“there has been nothing like the accumulated incompetence, sleaze and disunity which resulted in the Tories’ 1997 landslide defeat.”

Oh come on Stephen! Can you really believe that? I remember what a dispiriting time that was for the Tories, but that was largely a reflection of internal disunity and the awareness of impending defeat.

Government incompetence is an order of magnitude greater under the current administration. Northern Rock and the 10p tax fiasco alone are sufficient to outweigh the errors the Major government (after all, ERM was the favoured policy of all three parties).

Sleaze is clearly far worse under Labour than it ever was under the Tories – it’s just that the media lumped any Tory sex story in as sleaze, whereas Labour’s willingness to change public policy to suits its donors is apparently less newsworthy.

Disunity in the Major administration was substantial. Even here, however, Major had one significant advantage over Brown – he was generally regarded as a fundamentally decent man, even by his many detractors. Brown, by contrast, spent a decade plotting against the elected leader of his party and crushing anyone that came into conflict with him.

by David Boycott on June 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm. Reply #

Who cares? The Lib Dems are still not penetrating enough of the market. That is the pressing issue.

by Mund on June 1, 2008 at 3:18 pm. Reply #

I wouldn’t worry about it, Mund. Just ask Orangepan for his persuasive arguments that Cameron is in a really deep hole and the that Lib Dem position is hunky-dory 🙂

by passing tory on June 1, 2008 at 3:31 pm. Reply #

To a certain extent I think the public is ahead of the chattering classes and pollsters – partly because commentators remain overwhelmingly London-centric and middler-class and partly because this skews published opinion against the demographic proportions of Labour’s vote.

As a result I think the established opinioneers in the MSM underestimate how much politics has been detribalised in recent years and how opinion has become more volatile through the proliferated mirror of new media and information sources – columnists can no longer be considered the originators of leading opinion, but orientation points to navigate through and between.

Consequently Cameron’s minions overstate the solidity of any voter loyalty to them and are underplaying the potential for his decontamination plan to fracture and count against his ability to reduce the influence of the hardliners.

Similarly for Labour, the 10p tax fiasco, the confusion which caused the Northern Rock panic and the anger at Post Office closures (so similar to privatisation) are also hugely symbolic defining issues for Brown which has turned unconditionally ‘Labour-til-I-die’ types into conditional supporters and absolute sceptics.

So what is interesting about recent polls is what and how much they don’t show – the size and localisation of swings, which then balance out at the national level.

For this reason anything other than an increased majority for the Conservatives in Henley – which is somewhere they assume is their backyard – is a leap backwards for Cameron’s chances at a General Election.

by Oranjepan on June 1, 2008 at 4:38 pm. Reply #

“To a certain extent I think the public is ahead of the chattering classes and pollsters”

What’s your evidence for this?

by Mund on June 1, 2008 at 5:28 pm. Reply #

What’s your evidence for the opposite?

My evidence is the existence of a proliferating media with the raft of private comment and popular blogging among other things.

The full range and depth of opinion is far beyond synthesis in any amount of polls. Talk to your neighbours and find out.

by Oranjepan on June 1, 2008 at 5:47 pm. Reply #

You assume i haven’t.

“To a certain extent I think the public is ahead of the chattering classes and pollsters”

Is like saying

“I believe in God”

Circular argument ensues.

by Mund on June 1, 2008 at 6:07 pm. Reply #

Don’t be silly Mund, you’re just twisting words for your own benefit – you’re not adding anything to the discussion.

If you’ve got any evidence to show pollsters and mainstream commentators accurately reflect the full depth, nuance and range of public opinion, why won’t you pony it up so we can evaluate it.

I don’t think it is possible to provide any because such evidence is by definition selective, so you’re reduced to just trying to score points.

How do you propose to account for recent and future by-election results without highlighting the weaknesses of national polls?

by Oranjepan on June 1, 2008 at 6:40 pm. Reply #

I am making no argument but merely showing the flaws in yours.

If you’re not using polls then your data is going to be very flawed. You can draw no conclusions and idle speculation is just that.

by Mund on June 1, 2008 at 7:07 pm. Reply #

Mund, I agree you are making no argument, but I disagree that you’ve shown any flaws in anyone else’s.

What you have done is to make a baseless comparison in an attempt to insinuate the existence of some flaws in the argument.

If you read more closely, you’d see I do point to by-election results as actual polls for use as more reliable evidence. I also suggest that the difference between balloted results in different areas is indicative of regional variations in opinion and support for each of the parties.

I’d say firstly that that is bleedingly obvious, secondly, that to say so isn’t to draw any conclusions and, thirdly, that elections are the basis for real decisions whereas polls are in fact the product of idle speculation which you suggest we pay more attention to.

by Oranjepan on June 1, 2008 at 7:45 pm. Reply #

Mund, Orangepan is basing his views mainly on the last set of local government elections (as well, IMHO, with a good dose of wishful thinking). Seems as though he is including conversations with his neighbours too, which I imagine rounds out the sample nicely.

by passing tory on June 1, 2008 at 8:38 pm. Reply #

“For this reason anything other than an increased majority for the Conservatives in Henley – which is somewhere they assume is their backyard – is a leap backwards for Cameron’s chances at a General Election.”

This seems enough evidence for you. Sorry scientific enough for me, would never pass peer review. We have not been good enough at attracting the uneducated masses. Our language is elitist by nature and we don’t penetrate anything but the most supple of minds.

Your nature is too optimistic.

by Mund on June 1, 2008 at 10:25 pm. Reply #

I apologise, that was to read “not scientific…”.

by Mund on June 1, 2008 at 10:26 pm. Reply #

Um, Mund, Henley hasn’t voted yet, so there’s still all to play for.

I think my point stands that Cameron needs to see an equally strong performance in traditional heartlands like Henley to be able to say with any confidence that the Conservatives have got electoral traction.

For their majority and proportion to stay where it was when the constituency elected Boris Johnson as MP would raise questions about any swing towards them, while any reduction (or heaven forfend, to lose the seat) would be a massive step backwards for the Conservatives, because if they can’t gain support in their backyard then we can start to make conclusions about the ceiling of their vote.

I won’t comment of the likelihood of any of those outcomes, so I can’t be accused of being unrealistic, but I do think we have every reason to be optimistic in the circumstances.

by Oranjepan on June 1, 2008 at 11:41 pm. Reply #

‘For their majority and proportion to stay where it was when the constituency elected Boris Johnson as MP would raise questions about any swing towards them, while any reduction … would be a massive step backwards for the Conservatives’

1st, I’m sure Boris has a significant personal vote, as the 2005 result implies.

2nd, when you talk about reduced majorities I presume you mean in percentage terms, because there will probably be a fall in turnout, meaning a smaller numerical majority.

by John D on June 2, 2008 at 8:37 am. Reply #

If you take Stephens averages then the really striking thing and cause of urgent debate is the changes on the 2005 GE score.

Con 44 +11 Lab 26 – 10 LD 19 -4

While of course headline figures can mask a more complex churn the picture seems very stark to me.

If you take the failure of the Tories to experience third party squeeze in Sedgefield/Southhall, London, the Locals, Crewe and now the opinion polls the last year has told a fairly consistant tale of a hardening and now expanding Conservative vote.

I can’t help but feel that much of the salavating over Henley is a desire to find a reason to make this all go away.

by David Morton on June 2, 2008 at 8:47 am. Reply #

David, LDs historically put on about 3-5 points on their rating when the election period begins and they get coverage from the press.

by John on June 2, 2008 at 9:51 am. Reply #

The May polls were all taken just after Aprils month of RoPA mandated “equal air time”. Its certainly true that we get a GE campaign boost (though not always)

Even if we concede your point and we added 3% to 5% to mays average it would still leave us where we were in 2005 and the conservatives as the sole beneficary (in vote share) of Labours implosion.

Anyway with perhaps 2 years to an election the polls are for the birds.

by David Morton on June 2, 2008 at 9:59 am. Reply #

Polls are by no means the be all and end all, but it still doesn’t look great. Maybe we’ll win in 20 years time when our generation of supposedly educated, university generation comes to power.

by Mund on June 2, 2008 at 10:13 am. Reply #

None of this is any reason to panic – we’ve come through tougher times than now before this.

We’ve just got to keep on keeping on.

by Oranjepan on June 2, 2008 at 8:03 pm. Reply #

“If you take Stephens averages then the really striking thing and cause of urgent debate is the changes on the 2005 GE score.

Con 44 +11 Lab 26 – 10 LD 19 -4”

And on the ComRes poll just released, we have:

Con 44 +11 Lab 30 -6 LD 16 -7

That’s a nine-month low for the Lib Dems according to this polling organisation.

by Anonymous on June 3, 2008 at 12:52 am. Reply #

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