A look back at the polls: November ‘09

by Stephen Tall on December 4, 2009

After two months of poll fluctuations triggered by the ups-and-downs of party conference-dominated media coverage, November gives us an opportunity to look at the parties’ popularity, as measured by the polls, for the first time since early September.

Here, in chronological order, are the results of the 10 polls published in November:

Tories 41.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 17.0 (6 Nov, YouGov)
Tories 38.0, Labour 24.0, Lib Dems 20.0 (6 Nov, Angus RS)
Tories 39.0, Labour 29.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (10 Nov, Populus)
Tories 39.0, Labour 25.0, Lib Dems 17.0 (15 Nov, ComRes)
Tories 41.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (15 Nov, YouGov)
Tories 42.0, Labour 29.0, Lib Dems 19.0 (17 Nov, ICM)
Tories 37.0, Labour 31.0, Lib Dems 17.0 (22 Nov, Mori)
Tories 39.0, Labour 22.0, Lib Dems 21.0 (23 Nov, Angus RS)
Tories 39.0, Labour 29.0, Lib Dems 19.0 (29 Nov, YouGov)
Tories 37.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 20.0 (1 Dec, ComRes)

Which gives us an average rating for the parties in November as follows (compared with October’s averages):

Tories 39% (-3%), Labour 27% (-1%), Lib Dems 19% (+1%)

Let’s have a look at the figures from each of the main parties’ perspectives …

Tories: I suggested in last month’s round-up that “it will be interesting to see if November’s poll figures show Tory support down a notch.” And so it has proved, with the Tories dropping 3%, to below the psychologically important 40% mark. Indeed, seven out of the 10 opinion polls recorded Tory support in the 37-39% range: that’s enough to call it a trend.

I’ve already advanced my pet theory here on LDV: that David Cameron has forgotten his strategy of detoxifying the Tory brand, and has reverted to right-wing Tory type. But it’s only fair to note UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells disagrees with that interpretation, instead suggesting that the slippage in the Tory lead is most likely the result of Labour having had a competent-rather-than-abysmal last few weeks, in contrast to the preceding disunity and chaos.

Labour: for all the talk in the last fortnight of a Labour recovery, in fact their November poll average shows the party slightly down, from 28% to 27%. It is a measure of how low Labour has sunk – both their morale and support – that support in the mid-to-high 20s is viewed with relative success.

Unless the party can begin polling reguarly above 30%, it’s in deep trouble, especially as the party very rarely out-performs its poll ratings in actual elections. And, as LDV has regularly pointed out, while the Tories are below where Tony Blair was at this stage of the 1992-97 Parliament, Labour is even further behind where John Major’s Tories were.

Lib Dems: November proved to be a quietly strong polling month for the Lib Dems, with an average rating creeping up to 19%, despite the party having not broken much into the headlines. What is interesting to observe now is that all opinion pollsters are placing the Lib Dems within a range, 17-21%, well within the margin of error. A couple of years ago, it wasn’t unusual to find YouGov showing us at 13% and ICM at 22% within a few days of each other: there is much greater consistency now.

To put it in perspective, 19% is one of the party’s stronger November ratings – in November 1996, for example – prior to the ‘97 election – the Lib Dems were at just 13%. In November 2000, we were at 15%. We were, of course, higher in November 2004, at 22% – but, then, that was the one occasion when we failed to poll higher at the following election. We’ve previously polled at or above 19% in only four years, other than the 2001-05 Parlament: 1986, 1993, 2005 and 2006.

The party leaders: YouGov asked its ‘Do you think (name) is doing well or badly as (position)?’ twice of all three party leaders in October, with one extra survey measuring only Messrs Brown and Cameron. The question asked by Mori (‘Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way X is doing his job as Y?’) is a subtle variation, but produces a slightly different outcome. Below are the results for the party leaders.

Nick Clegg: YouGov (15 Nov) – Clegg 42-30 (+12%); Mori (22 Nov) – 41-26 (+15%).

Gordon Brown: YouGov (15 Nov) – Brown 28-67 (-39%); Mori (22 Nov) – 34-59 (-25%); YouGov (29 Nov) – 22-67 (-45%).

David Cameron: YouGov (15 Nov) – Cameron 57-33 (+24%); Mori (22 Nov) – 48-35 (+13%); YouGov (29 Nov) – 48-31 (+17%).

Nick has slipped a little from his immediate post-conference high, though is still producing positive ratings according to all the polling companies. Nick regularly out-ranks David Cameron as the most popular of all three major party leaders according to Mori; however, David Cameron has the edge with YouGov, though only fractionally according to their latest survey. Gordon Brown’s ratings continue to stink, with deeply negative net popularity ratings.