A look back at the polls: March 2009

by Stephen Tall on April 5, 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 March:

Tories 42%, Labour 30%, Lib Dems 19% – Populus/Times (9th March 2009)
Tories 41%, Labour 31%, Lib Dems 17% – YouGov/S. Times (15th March)
Tories 42%, Labour 32%, Lib Dems 14% – Mori/unpublished (17th March)
Tories 42%, Labour 30%, Lib Dems 20% – ICM/Guardian (18th March)
Tories 41%, Labour 30%, Lib Dems 17% – ComRes/Independent on S. (22nd March)
Tories 41%, Labour 31%, Lib Dems 17% – YouGov/Telegraph (27th March)
Tories 44%, Labour 31%, Lib Dems 18% – ICM/S. Telegraph (29th March)
Tories 40%, Labour 28%, Lib Dems 18% – ComRes/Independent (31st March)

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

Tories 42% (-1%), Labour 30% (+1%), Lib Dems 18% (n/c)

March was a much more steady month for polling – in February, you may recall, polling was all over the place, with the Tories were scoring anywhere between 40-48%, Labour 25-31%, and the Lib Dems 14-22%. Currently we see a more steady situation, with the Tories polling in the 40-44% range, Labour 28-31% and the Lib Dems – still the outliers – 14-20%.

April may prove to be more ineresting and fluid, as we see if the aftermath of the G20 summit reaps polling dividends for Labour, and as the parties begin active campaigning for June’s European and local elections.

The biggest polling moves was in the assessment of the party leaders, with David Cameron receiving a significant boost, most likely associated with the understandable public sympathy following the death of his son, Ivan. In February, Mori’s satisfaction rating for Mr Cameron was +9%; YouGov’s was +12%. By March, this had more than doubled to +22% and +29% respectively.

Gordon Brown’s personal ratings have jumped about at least as much. In February, his satisfaction rating was well in the negatives at -34% (YouGov) and -38% (Mori); by March these had climbed from these depths to -25% for both YouGov and Mori. (Though a second YouGov survey, asking just about Brown and Cameron, showed his personal rating at -42%, the worst since the pre-Lehmen’s collapse leadership crisis of August/September).

Nick Clegg’s ratings have remained steady and moderately positive, with YouGov once again giving him a +4% rating, and Mori showing him at +12% (against +9% in February). The challenge for Nick remains moving the one-third of voters who currently have no opinion at all about him currently into the positive camp.

With the general election now almost certain – save exceptional circumstances – to be held in May/June 2010, it’s worth reminding ourselves how current Lib Dem ratings compare with other Parliamentary cycles 15 months from the national poll:

March 2009 LD average: 18%
February 2004: 23%
March 2000: 13%
February 1996: 16%
January 1991: 9%

In this historical context, then, Lib Dem ratings are holding up very well. Of course, the unknown factor – as those who are ‘bearish’ when it comes to Lib Dem poll ratings will note – is that the Tories’ ratings are considerably higher than has been the case at any other time post-’97, and most Lib Dem seats have a Conservative challenger.

Against this, a more ‘bearish’ viewpoint, is the known incumbency boost from which Lib Dem MPs disproportionately benefit, and which has been reflected in recent years’ local elections – how many people actually think, for example, that Chris Huhne in Eastleigh or Norman Baker in Lewes will be defeated, whatever the national polls might say?

Truthfully, and tritefully (I admit), I don’t think we have an earthly hope of knowing the answer to who is right, the ‘bears’ or the ‘bulls’ – or indeed whether Tory losses in the south will more or less be offset by gains from Labour in the north and elsewhere – until the results are actually in. Which is, of course, why poll analysis is such speculative fun.