A look back at the polls: December '08

by Stephen Tall on January 2, 2009

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 eight polls published in December:

Tories 39%, Labour 35%, Lib Dems 17% – Populus/Times (8 Dec)
Tories 37%, Labour 36%, Lib Dems 14% – ComRes/Independent (14 Dec)
Tories 41%, Labour 35%, Lib Dems 15% – YouGov/Sunday Times (14 Dec)
Tories 41%, Labour 36%, Lib Dems 11% – MORI/Mirror (15 Dec)
Tories 38%, Labour 33%, Lib Dems 19% – ICM/Guardian (17 Dec)
Tories 39%, Labour 35%, Lib Dems 15% – MORI (unpublished) (17 Dec)
Tories 42%, Labour 35%, Lib Dems 14% – YouGov/Telegraph (20 Dec)
Tories 39%, Labour 34%, Lib Dems 16% – ComRes/Independent (23 Dec)

Which gives us an average rating for the parties in December as follows, compared with November ’s averages:

Tories 40% (-2%), Labour 35% (+2%), Lib Dems 15% (n/c)

So the final month of the year witnessed Labour ticking up in the polls once again, though at least this time the advance came at the expense of the Tories, rather than the Lib Dems. I covered the party’s polling performance at some length in my end-of-year round-up for LDV here (Q.8); as I noted, one of the polling stories of the year was the disparity of the Lib Dems’ ratings between the different polling companies.

In general, ICM produces the highest ratings for the party; YouGov the lowest. This doesn’t just matter for the Lib Dems, of course, as the Tory lead over Labour is very often dependent on how high/low the Lib Dem rating is judged to be by the polling company. Frustratingly, we’re unlikely to find out whether YouGov or ICM is to be trusted most between elections, as Lib Dem ratings usually begin to converge, at least to within the statistical margin of error of +/-3%, during election campaigns themselves, regardless of the pollster.

It’s not just the party’s headline ratings which are affected by polling companies’ different methodologies: the satisfaction ratings of voters with the way Nick Clegg is doing his job as party leader is also affected. Mori and YouGov are the two companies which regularly pose the question. Here’s their last three findings:

Mori: “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way X is doing his job as Y?”

Nick Clegg: 35/28 (+7), Oct; 34/25 (+9), Nov; 35/28 (+7), Dec
Gordon Brown: 35/59 (-24), Oct; 41/50 (-9), Nov; 38/54 (-16), Dec
David Cameron: 49/34 (+15), Oct; 45/36 (+9), Nov; 43/38 (+5), Dec

YouGov: “Do you think (name) is or is not proving a good leader of X / Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with Z as PM?”

Nick Clegg: 32/34 (-2), Oct; 31/32 (-1), Nov; 28/34 (-6), Dec
Gordon Brown: 31/65 (-34), Oct; 41/54 (-14), Nov; 38/55 (-17), Dec
David Cameron: 58/32 (+26), Oct; 54/34 (+20), Nov; 46/39 (+7), Dec

Two things to note here. First, both YouGov and Mori agree that David Cameron’s popularity has decreased, while Gordon Brown’s unpopularity has lessened, in the last three months. Indeed, by December, both companies were in virtual agreement in their assessments of the Tory and Labour leaders’ personal ratings.

And yet, secondly, the same does not apply to Nick Clegg’s ratings. As measured by Mori, they appear pretty stable, and mildly positive. Indeed, by December, Nick had the highest satisfaction rating (+7%) of any of the three party leaders. Yet, as measured by YouGov, Nick’s ratings are always negative, with a small-but-sharp downturn in December to -7%.

This divergence is yet another indication of the caution which has to be applied when examining Lib Dem poll ratings. Trouble is, news editors are not keen on caution and caveat, so, if I have just one prediction for 2009, it is this: that the media will continue to report polls in an ignorant and sensationalising fashion. For the best-informed and most coolly-analytical updates on the lastest polling, follow Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report blog. And ignore the MSM.