A look back at the polls: April 2009

by Stephen Tall on May 3, 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 April:

Tories 41%, Labour 34%, Lib Dems 16% – YouGov/S. Times (5th April 2009)
Tories 43%, Labour 30%, Lib Dems 18% – Populus/Times (7th April)
Tories 43%, Labour 26%, Lib Dems 21% – MktingSciences/Telegraph (19th April)
Tories 42%, Labour 30%, Lib Dems 20% – ICM/Guardian (21st April)
Tories 41%, Labour 28%, Lib Dems 22% – Mori/unpublished (21st April)
Tories 45%, Labour 27%, Lib Dems 18% – YouGov/Telegraph (24th April)
Tories 45%, Labour 27%, Lib Dems 17% – YouGov/S. People (26th April)
Tories 45%, Labour 26%, Lib Dems 17% – ComRes/Independent (28th April)

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

Tories 43% (+1%), Labour 28% (-2%), Lib Dems 18% (n/c)

It’s rash to try and write history while you’re still living it, but when the account of how Gordon Brown lost the next election comes to be written it seems likely the events of the past month will figure prominently. When I wrote the last round-up I mused whether the aftermath of the G20 summit would reap polling dividends for Labour. And indeed the first poll of the month, YouGov’s for the Sunday Times, did suggest there might still be a spark among the dying embers, with Labour climbing to 34%.

But then came ‘Smeargate’. Then that dismal, credulity-stretching budget. Then Gordon’s botched response on MPs’ expenses. And we haven’t even seen a poll since he landed himself, again, on the wrong side of the dividing line over the Government’s treatment of the Gurkhas. Labour’s monthly average poll rating of 28% is their worst since last August – which, you may recall, saw the Prime Minister come close to being ousted, saved by the implosion of the world banking system.

Might we see Gordon rescued by yet another ‘dead cat bounce’? Or will he be taken to the vet’s after June’s local and Euro elections? My guess is neither. Labour is, at heart, an establishment party. Its leadership believes in hierarchy; its membership in deference – it’s a mutual arrangement which suits the delusions of each. As a result, Labour will likely be wounded still further by the coming results, but lack the will to do anything about it. Gordon will live to limp on another day.

In fact, it’s in his relationship with the party that the parallels – otherwise so persuasive – between Gordon Brown and John Major break down. Both of course took over the reins of government from three-times elected predecessors; after initial success, their popularity then ebbed away. Mr Major, who was not then Sir John, continually hoped the tide would turn. It didn’t and his party was washed away when he eventually called an election, and the Tories went on to lose a further three elections.

But Prime Minister Major was continually at war with his party, or at least the right-wing nut-job section of it. He even resorted to devoting a Prime Ministerial broadcast in his election campaign to pleading with his own party not to bind his hands when negotiating with Europe. Mr Brown’s party, though, is far more craven, seemingly content for him to march his troops over the top for a final push into no-man’s land and inevitable defeat: better death than the dishonour of standing up to a leader patently unfit for the job, it seems.

Who will benefit most from Labour’s collapse? The three immediate post-budget polls showed the Tories to be the marginal beneficiaries, their support edging up from low- to mid-40%s. Suddenly everyone agrees they are now the government-in-waiting, a position that cuts both ways – we might now reasonably expect increased media scrutiny of the Tories’ still-fuzzy programme for government. Greater pressure on the Tories to start saying how they would govern, what tough decisions they would actually take, will begin to open up splits in their ranks, as well as reminding voters of what they might be letting themselves in for.

The Lib Dems continue to hold resiliently to our high-teens popularity. Interestingly, April 2009 was the first month since April 2007 when the party achieved over 20% in three separate polls. In the month leading up to an election, the party’s ratings usually creep up thanks to increased local campaigning and greater national media coverage – we’ll see soon enough if this trend repeats itself in May 2009. And indeed whether Nick Clegg’s personal ratings, which have been trending upwards in recent months but are still only moderately positive, have been boosted by his successful campaigning role on behalf of the Gurkhas, his tough stance on MPs’ expenses, and the universally good media coverage he has gained.