A look back at the polls: October ’09

We tend not to be too poll-obsessed here at LDV – of course we look at them, as do all other politico-geeks, but viewed in isolation no one poll will tell you very much beyond what you want to read into it. Looked at over a reasonable time-span and, if there are enough polls, you can see some trends.

Here, in chronological order, are the results of the 19 polls published in October – the number is extra high again this month because of the daily YouGov tracker polls which ran during party conference season. (And many apologies for the delayed appearance of the round-up; it was my LDV colleague Iain’s post today which reminded me this needed publishing).

Tories 41.0, Labour 29.0, Lib Dems 17.0 (2 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 40.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 20.0 (5 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 41.0, Labour 28.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (6 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 43.0, Labour 29.0, Lib Dems 17.0 (7 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 40.0, Labour 31.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (8 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 45.0, Labour 26.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (11 Oct, ICM)
Tories 44.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 17.0 (9 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 42.0, Labour 28.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (10 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 40.0, Labour 30.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (13 Oct, Populus)
Tories 40.0, Labour 28.0, Lib Dems 19.0 (18 Oct, ComRes)
Tories 41.0, Labour 30.0, Lib Dems 17.0 (18 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 40.0, Labour 23.0, Lib Dems 20.0 (20 Oct, Angus RS)
Tories 43.0, Labour 26.0, Lib Dems 19.0 (20 Oct, MORI)
Tories 44.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (21 Oct, ICM)
Tories 40.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 19.0 (24 Oct, YouGov)
Tories 40.0, Labour 27.0, Lib Dems 18.0 (27 Oct, ComRes)
Tories 41.0, Labour 28.0, Lib Dems 16.0 (YouGov)
Tories 42.0, Labour 25.0, Lib Dems 21.0 (ICM)

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

Tories 42% (+3%), Labour 28% (+1%), Lib Dems 18% (-2%)

As I noted last month, there’s a general caveat to all polls published from mid-September to mid-October which applies equally to all parties: it’s party conference season, and all the parties tend to receive polling spikes which coincide with their respective conferences thanks to the media coverage generated. This month’s increase in Tory and Labour support, and decrease in Lib Dem support, returns us pretty much to the status quo ante of pre-conference – it will be interesting to see if November’s poll figures show Tory support down a notch.

With the caveats in place, let’s have a look at the figures from each of the main parties’ perspectives …

Tories: as I stated last month, ‘I’d imagine, bar disasters, they’ll be back above 40% when I do the poll round-up for October.’ And so it has proven. The party will be relieved that every single poll has placed them above the psychologically important 40% mark, and the spike during their conference week (up to 45%) was pretty impressive.

But the problem for the Tories is this: being around 40% leaves precious little room for error if they want to get a Parliamentary majority at the next election. And if David Cameron falls short of 326 seats – or only just gains a majority – he’s going to find the combination of dashed expectations and a deeply right-wing parliamentary party incredibly hard to manage.

Labour: well, for the second month running, Labour’s poll average is up – albeit from the dreadful lows of August’s 25% rating. Can they sustain it? The fact that they are finding it so hard to climb above 30% will worry the party, especially given the difficulty Labour has experienced in recent elections in turning out their vote. True, the Tories are below where Tony Blair was at this stage of the 1992-97 Parliament – but Labour is even further behind where John Major’s Tories were.

Lib Dems: after September’s heights of 20% – one of the party’s best September poll averages in its history – it’s back to reality this month, with the party slipping to 18%. It was almost certainly inevitable once the media focus moved away from the Lib Dem conference and over to the other parties, but still it’s a shame we couldn’t sustain it just a little longer.

That said, 18% is one of the party’s stronger October ratings – in October 1996, for example – prior to the ’97 election – the Lib Dems were at just 14%. In October 2000, we were at 17%. We were, of course, higher in October 2004, at 22% – but, then, that was the one occasion when we failed to poll higher at the following election.

The party leaders: YouGov asked its ‘Do you think (name) is doing well or badly as (position)?’ question a number of times in October. The questions asked by Mori (‘Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way X is doing his job as Y?’) and Angus RS (‘Do you approve or disapprove of X’s performance as Y?’) are subtle variations, but each produces slightly different outcomes. Below are the results for the party leaders.

Nick Clegg: YouGov (5 Oct) – Clegg 48-27 (+21%); YouGov (10 Oct) – 29-17 (+12%); YouGov (18 Oct) – 44-31 (+13%); Mori (20 Oct) – 44-27 (+17%); Angus RS (20 Oct) – 40-28 (+12%).

Gordon Brown: YouGov (5 Oct) – Brown 28-66 (-38%); YouGov (10 Oct) – 21-60 (-39%); YouGov (18 Oct) – 28-67 (-39%); Mori (20 Oct) – 32-62 (-30%); Angus RS (20 Oct) – 26-65 (-39%); YouGov (27 Oct) – 21-70 (-49%).

David Cameron: YouGov (5 Oct) – Cameron 54-34 (+20%); YouGov (10 Oct) – 52-18 (+34%); YouGov (18 Oct) – 58-31 (+27%); Mori (20 Oct) – 49-34 (+15%); Angus RS (20 Oct) – 53-28 (+25%); YouGov (27 Oct) – 53-28 (+25%).

Nick slipped a little from his immediate post-conference high, though is still producing pretty positive ratings according to all the polling companies. Indeed, according to Mori, Nick is once again the most popular of all three major party leaders. Gordon Brown surely cannot plumb lower depths than these? His best performance is a staggering -30% deficit. Meanwhile David Cameron’s personal ratings remain solidly positive, generally in the 20%s, with a slight spike immediately after his conference speech – though Mori continues to peg his popularity in the teens.

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