ICM poll: Tories edge ahead of Labour, while Ukip collapse to 4th behind Lib Dems

by Stephen Tall on July 17, 2014

Amidst all the reshuffle excitement, I didn’t get chance to report the latest ICM poll – regarded by pundits as the ‘gold standard’ – for The Guardian, published on Tuesday. It shows the Tories a nose ahead of Labour, 34% to 33%, with Ukip slumping to fourth place (9%) behind the Lib Dems on 12%.

icm poll - july 2014

The collapse of the Ukip vote is the most dramatic story in the poll – Nigel Farage’s party topped the nationwide Euro-elections just a few weeks ago. However, the pattern is a familiar one: a spike in their support ahead of what’s seen as a low-stakes protest election, then a swift decline when voters think about the high-stakes general election to follow.

Three other points worth noting. First, the Tories and Labour between them attract just 67% of the vote. It’s hard to see a result other than a hung parliament unless and until one of them is able to hit the high-30s and/or pull ahead by at least 3% (Labour) or 5% (Tories).

Secondly, the Lib Dems’ 12% under ICM is at odds with the 6% YouGov reported the other day. If you’re wondering why, here’s the most likely explanation:

ICM, which has the best record in recent general elections, differs from many others in continuing to conduct its surveys of voting intention over the telephone as opposed to online. It also makes a distinctive adjustment to deal with voters who are happy to report how they voted last time, but are less forthcoming about what they will do in the future. It assumes that many such voters “return home” in future elections, which in the past has been a useful way to identify “shy Tories” at times when the Conservatives have been unfashionable.

In Monday’s data, however, ICM’s adjustments do not much change the relative standing of the main two parties – Labour and the Conservatives would both be on 35% without the adjustment, although the Liberal Democrats would fare worse – they stand at just 9% before the assumption about some current deserters returning to the fold is applied.

In effect, then, ICM is a combination of a snapshot poll and also a forecast. What has happened in previous elections is that pollsters begin to converge the closer it gets to polling day. Lib Dem voters who are least likely to say they are certain to vote for the party make up their minds later; and we are more likely to benefit from tactical votes in key seats. Of course, no-one knows if what’s held true in previous elections will also hold true in 2015. But for the moment at least I’d be more inclined to bet that ICM and YouGov won’t be far apart come May 2015 and that will be because YouGov has moved towards ICM rather than the reverse.

Thirdly, though politicos get excited about each and every poll movement, the polling reality is a whole lot less exciting.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.