Pollwatch – State of the Parties: Lib Dems 19%, Labour 31%, Tories 39% (Feb. 2010)

by Stephen Tall on March 6, 2010

A total of 19 (count ‘em!) polls were published during February. Now, as our readers know, LDV doesn’t cover them with the same breathless excitements as other parts of the media. Most poll movements are within the margin of error, so it is only looked at over a reasonable period of time that you can detect whether there has really been any significant movements between the parties. Well, the past few weeks has certainly shown some movement, so let’s get down to business …

Here are February’s polls in chronological order of publication:

    * Con 39, Lab 30, Lib Dem 20 (7th Feb, ICM)
    * Con 40, Lab 30, Lib Dem 20 (9th Feb, Populus)
    * Con 38, Lab 25, Lib Dem 20 (11th Feb, Angus RS)
    * Con 40, Lab 29, Lib Dem 21 (14th Feb, ComRes)
    * Con 39, Lab 30, Lib Dem 18 (18th Feb, YouGov)
    * Con 40, Lab 26, Lib Dem 18 (18th Feb, Angus RS)
    * Con 39, Lab 30, Lib Dem 22 (Harris)
    * Con 39, Lab 32, Lib Dem 18 (19th Feb, YouGov)
    * Con 38, Lab 30, Lib Dem 20 (21st Feb, ComRes)
    * Con 39, Lab 33, Lib Dem 17 (21st Feb, YouGov)
    * Con 37, Lab 30, Lib Dem 20 (23rd Feb, ICM)
    * Con 37, Lab 32, Lib Dem 19 (26th Feb, Mori)
    * Con 38, Lab 32, Lib Dem 17 (24th Feb, YouGov)
    * Con 38, Lab 26, Lib Dem 19 (24th Feb, Angus RS)
    * Con 38, Lab 32, Lib Dem 19 (25th Feb, YouGov)
    * Con 39, Lab 33, Lib Dem 16 (26th Feb, YouGov)
    * Con 37, Lab 35, Lib Dem 17 (28th Feb, YouGov)
    * Con 37, Lab 32, Lib Dem 19 (Feb, ComRes)
    * Con 39, Lab 32, Lib Dem 17 (Feb, YouGov)

All of which produces an average rating for the parties in February as follows (compared with January’s averages):

    Tories 39% (-1%), Labour 31% (+2%), Lib Dems 19% (+1%)

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

The Tories … Is it a case of “Panic stations!” at Tory HQ? It’s not an unfair question. True, the party’s poll rating is scarcely in freefall – their average rating in February of 39% would probably be enough to assure David Cameron of the keys to Number 10. But, and it really is a big but, this is much, much tighter than the Tories imagined it would be at this stage of the electoral cycle. The Tories didn’t have to stress too much about their own poll rating – the fact that it’s refused to budge from c.40% since last April – for as long as Labour’s popularity stayed below 30%. But that’s no longer the case: the gap between Labour and the Tories is shrinking, and you can sense the disbelief of party supporters who for so long have assumed the election must be in the bag. As I commented in last month’s LDV Pollwatch, “if they’re going to try and win with such anaemic caution – failing to give anyone a reason to vote positively for the party – the polls could tighten still further.” That remains true, I believe.

Labour … Well, who’d have thought it? I mean, really, who would have thought that Labour could possibly be in contention at this stage? February’s 31% is Labour’s highest poll average in over a year, and the Tories’ lead over Labour the lowest in over a year. Statistically we are in hung parliament territory – even if, in reality, the Tories would be more likely to squeak a working majority with these figures as they’re doing slightly better in the marginals that matter the most. Just as importantly, Labour seem to have some vim and vigour about them for the first time since the-election-that-never-was; while for the first time since David Cameron became leader, there is a sense that the Tories are vulnerable and disorientated.

Lib Dems … It’s been a pretty good month for the Lib Dems. There’s always the risk in the ‘phoney war’ months leading up to the campaign proper that the Lib Dems will get squeezed out of the media coverage, and our ratings will drop as a result. Yet February saw the party’s average ratings up a notch to 19%. And when we compare this score with the equivalent points in the electoral cycle in the last four parliaments, we can see the party is doing at least a well as it’s ever done:

    Feb 1992: 17%
    Feb 1997: 13%
    Feb 2001: 14%
    Feb 2005: 19%

Especially interesting to note that we’re currently polling at an equivalent level to where we were in 2005, notwithstanding the lesser salience of the Iraq war effect.

It’s also worth noting that the Lib Dem average score partly depends on the pollster. YouGov produced eight of this past month’s 19 polls, and gave the Lib Dems an average rating of 17%. The other 11 polls from six other polling firms produced an average Lib Dem rating of 20%. It’s been a little while since the pollsters’ different methodologies resulted in a sharper distinction for the party. My guess is that the closer we get to polling day, the more likely it is the polls will converge. And if so, let’s hope it’s YouGov which moves upwards towards the trend produced by other firms!

Coming tomorrow in Pollwatch – The State of the Leaders.