The last month of the year: a time for taking stock, and anticpating the challenges of the 12 months to come. So what could be more fitting than for LDV – no slavish followers of the polls, we – to reflect on 2009′s polls? Let’s start, though, with the latest polling data. Here, in chronological order, are the results of the nine polls published in December:
Tories 40, Labour 29, Lib Dems 19 (6 Dec, ICM)
Tories 40, Labour 27, Lib Dems 18 (6 Dec, YouGov)
Tories 38, Labour 30, Lib Dems 20 (8 Dec, Populus)
Tories 40, Labour 23, Lib Dems 19 (10 Dec, Angus RS)
Tories 41, Labour 24, Lib Dems 21 (13 Dec, ComRes)
Tories 40, Labour 31, Lib Dems 16 (13 Dec, YouGov)
Tories 40, Labour 31, Lib Dems 18 (15 Dec, ICM)
Tories 43, Labour 26, Lib Dems 20 (20 Dec, Mori)
Tories 40, Labour 24, Lib Dems 20 (18 Dec, Angus RS)
Tories 40, Labour 28, Lib Dems 18 (20 Dec, YouGov)
Tories 38, Labour 29, Lib Dems 19 (22 Dec, ComRes)
Which gives us an average rating for the parties in December as follows (compared with November’s averages):
Tories 40% (+1%), Labour 28% (+1%), Lib Dems 19% (n/c)
Let’s have a look at the figures from each of the main parties’ perspectives …
Tories: the Tories will breath a small sigh of relief. In November, most polls showed them below 40%; in December, the trend is reversed, with nine of the 11 polls showing the party above that psychologically significant threshold. Their poll average has, though, only edged up, and there are still more than a few jitters on display that David Cameron and his party have been, as yet, unable to ‘seal the deal’ despite the deep unpopularity of the Labour Government. Speaking of which …
Labour: Labour has also moved up, very slightly, and now stands at 28% in the polls. We’ve sort of got used to the party’s ratings being so abysmal during 2009, but it cannot be over-stated how poorly Labour is doing: a year ago, the party’s ratings stood at 35%, two years ago at 33%. As I commented in last month’s round-up: ‘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.’
Lib Dems: the party will be quietly pleased that it has sustained poll ratings approaching our psychologically significant 20% mark. To put December’s 19% in some context, it is the highest Lib Dem December rating since Charles Kennedy’s final month as leader, in 2005 (when we were at 19%). Under Ming, in 2006, we were at 16%; under Vince/Nick, in 2007, we were at 17%; and last year, December 2008, we were stuck at 15%.
To put it in perspective, 19% is one of the party’s strongest December ratings. In December 1996, for example – prior to the ’97 election – the Lib Dems were at just 14%. In December 2000 – prior to the ’01 election – we were at 15%. Even during the 2001-05 Parliament – the Lib Dems’ most consistently high polling period since the days of the Alliance – our December ratings did not exceed 21% (which is what we were at in both 2003 and 2004). Other than that, you have to go back to 1993 to find a previous December when the party has performed so well in the polls.
The party leaders: YouGov asked its ‘Do you think (name) is doing well or badly as (position)?’ twice of all three party leaders in December. PoliticalBetting.com’s pollster, Angus RS, asked its ‘Do you approve or disapprove of (name)’s performance as (position)?’ question once; as did Mori with its (‘Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way (name) is doing his job as (position)?’ The subtle variations in wording produce slightly different findings – below are the results for the party leaders.
Nick Clegg: YouGov (6 Dec) – 44-29 (+15%); Angus RS (10 Dec) – 38-29 (+9%); YouGov (13 Dec) – 45-30 (+15%); Mori (20 Dec) – 40-27 (+13%).
Gordon Brown: YouGov (6 Dec) – 28-66 (-38%); Angus RS (10 Dec) – 28-63 (-35%); YouGov (13 Dec) – 26-68 (-42%); Mori (20 Dec) – 28-63 (-35%).
David Cameron: YouGov (6 Dec) – 52-37 (+15%); Angus RS (10 Dec) – 43-42 (+1%); YouGov (13 Dec) – 52-38 (+14%); Mori (20 Dec) – 44-38 (+6%).
December 2009 was, I think, the first month when Nick Clegg beat David Cameron’s popularity ratings as leader when measured by all the pollsters: YouGov, Mori and Angus RS. True, the margin is slight. And it’s even truer that the reason Nick now has a lead is not so much that his ratings have soared (though they’ve certainly improved significantly during the course of the year), but that Mr Cameron’s have shrunk. The collapse of the Tory leader’s popularity is one of the less-reported features of the past month’s polls: his ratings have halved. Of course, that Mr Cameron still records net positive popularity is something that Gordon Brown can still only dream of: his ratings remain nailed to the floor, with no sign of improvement.