Pollwatch – State of the Parties: Lib Dems 11%, Labour 40%, Tories 36% (April 2011)

by Stephen Tall on April 4, 2011

Well, it’s been a while since last the Voice rounded-up the polls — but with Scottish/Welsh/local elections just weeks away, it’s time to dust down our spreadsheets and take a look at the current states of the parties.

A total of 35 polls were published during March. 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 period of time that you can detect whether there has really been any significant movements between the parties. With those caveats in place, let’s succomb to the inevitable and start poll-obsessing…

Here are the March averages for the parties across the seven polling companies which conducted surveys:

  • Con 33%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 10% (Angus Reid)
  • Con 36%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 12% (ComRes)
  • Con 37%, Lab 36%, Lib Dem 16% (ICM)
  • Con 37%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 10% (Ipsos-MORI/Reuters)
  • Con 35%, Lab 37%, Lib Dem 11% (Opinium)
  • Con 35%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 11% (Populus)
  • Con 36%, Lab 43%, Lib Dem 10% (YouGov)

All of which produces an average rating for the parties in March as follows:

    Conservatives 36%, Labour 40%, Lib Dems 11%

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

Conservatives… I’d say the Tories have probably greatest reason to be satisfied by current polls. True, they are trailing Labour (except according to ICM), but the margins are modest considering the stark nature of the arguments about public spending cuts. David Cameron is the best rated of the party leaders, and Cameron and George Osborne are more trusted than Eds Miliband and Balls to run the economy. As UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells notes:

… if we look back at 2006-2007 when the opposition Conservatives had a comparable single-digit lead over the Labour government, David Cameron was pretty much neck and neck with Tony Blair as best PM, the Conservatives and Labour were pretty much neck and neck on who would run the economy well and Cameron had a positive approval rating.

Labour… If Labour look only at the headline figures, they may well feel content: in the lead in almost every poll, they have bounced back from their electoral drubbing of less than a year ago with no sign (yet, at any rate) of the civil war that bedevilled Labour in the early 1980s. And yet… True, they lead the Tories, but they trail the combined vote shares of the two Coalition parties.

Moreover, they are losing the economic argument on two fronts: first, the public backs the cuts (or even thinks they should go further) by 57% to 35%; and, secondly, the public pins the blame for the economic crisis on the previous (Labour) government rather than the current (Coalition) government by 49% to 26%. If the Coalition holds til 2015, and if the economy is still recovering steadily, Labour could face a potent double whammy — blamed both for the mess, and for opposing the measures needed to sort out their mess.

Liberal Democrats… Well, what can I say? The polling figures speak for themselves, the one bright(ish) ray of sunshine being ICM’s consistently higher rating for the party: 18% in February, 16% in March. Traditionally, ICM have always been a little more generous to the party than other pollsters; and generally speaking this has been justified by the eventual results. Some wise words from Anthony Wells, who examines this discrepancy here:

… in terms of saying whether ICM are right on the Liberal Democrats … or whether the other companies are, there is no easy answer since we don’t know what is causing it. I expect, in practice, most people will tend to believe the results they want to.

On a national level, and assuming the next general election is still more than four years away, current polling figures are of little significance: the party will be hoping/expecting to be in a much stronger position in 2015, having helped deliver a strong, moderate, reforming government. But of course there are national elections in Scotland and Wales, and local elections in most of England, before then.

In these elections the party’s current standing will matter, and it looks like the Lib Dems will be in for a tough night. In Scotland, latest polls suggest the party winning just 5 seats (down from 16); in Wales, a survey suggests we could win 5 (down from 6); and in English local elections a YouGov poll reckoned the Lib Dems could lose 700 of our 1,850 defending councillors and 11 of our 25 majority control councils.

The Lib Dems are in an unusual position. For years we’ve been largely ignored by the public and media for being on the margins of power; now we are in power and having to take responsibility for government we’re having to toughen up, fast, and get used to the fact that the public/media now has strong views about us. And we’re also having to get used to the fact that government unpopularity — from which we’ve grown used to benefiting — is now impacting on us.