Pollwatch – State of the parties (summer 2010): Reasons to keep calm and carry on

There have been a rather astonishing 36 opinion polls in the six weeks since LDV’s last polls round-up at the beginning of July. Thirty of those 36 originate from just one polling company, YouGov.

So let’s bring you up-to-date with July and August’s polls in chronological order of publication:

    Con 40, Lab 36, Lib Dem 16 (YouGov, 4-5 Jul)
    Con 41, Lab 36, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 5-6 Jul)
    Con 40, Lab 36, Lib Dem 17 (YouGov, 6-7 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 35, Lib Dem 16 (YouGov, 7-8 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 34, Lib Dem 17 (YouGov, 8-9 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 35, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 11-12 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 35, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 12-13 Jul)
    Con 43, Lab 34, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 13-14 Jul)
    Con 43, Lab 34, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 14-15 Jul)
    Con 40, Lab 37, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 15-16 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 35, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 18-19 Jul)
    Con 43, Lab 35, Lib Dem 14 (YouGov, 19-20 Jul)
    Con 44, Lab 35, Lib Dem 13 (YouGov, 20-21 Jul)
    Con 43, Lab 35, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 21-22 Jul)
    Con 41, Lab 36, Lib Dem 14 (YouGov, 22-23 Jul)
    Con 38, Lab 34, Lib Dem 19 (ICM, 23-25 Jul)
    Con 40, Lab 38, Lib Dem 14 (MORI, 23-25 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 35, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 25-26 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 37, Lib Dem 14 (YouGov, 26-27 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 36, Lib Dem 14 (YouGov, 27-28 Jul)
    Con 42, Lab 38, Lib Dem 12 (YouGov, 29-30 Jul)
    July average: Con 42%, Lab 36%, Lib Dem 15%
    Con 42, Lab 38, Lib Dem 12 (YouGov, 1-2 Aug)
    Con 41, Lab 36, Lib Dem 13 (YouGov, 2-3 Aug)
    Con 42, Lab 36, Lib Dem 13 (YouGov, 3-4 Aug)
    Con 44, Lab 36, Lib Dem 13 (YouGov, 4-5 Aug)
    Con 42, Lab 36, Lib Dem 13 (YouGov, 5-6 Aug)
    Con 39, Lab 33, Lib Dem 16 (ComRes, 6-8 Aug)
    Con 40, Lab 36, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 8-9 Aug)
    Con 42, Lab 38, Lib Dem 14 (YouGov, 9-10 Aug)
    Con 41, Lab 37, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 10-11 Aug)
    Con 42, Lab 37, Lib Dem 14 (YouGov, 11-12 Aug)
    Con 38, Lab 36, Lib Dem 16 (Harris, 12-13 Aug)
    Con 42, Lab 37, Lib Dem 13 (YouGov, 12-13 Aug)
    Con 37, Lab 37, Lib Dem 18 (ICM, 13-15 Aug)
    Con 39, Lab 33, Lib Dem 15 (ComRes, 13-15 Aug)
    Con 41, Lab 37, Lib Dem 15 (YouGov, 15-16 Aug)
    August average (to date): Con 41%, Lab 36%, Lib Dem 14%

Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report blog’s current polling average shows the following scores on the doors:

    Lib Dems 15%, Lab 36%, Con 40%

As Mark Pack rightly noted recently here, “with the next general election years away, national voting intention questions don’t mean very much this far out.” But, regardless, the polls will be closely scrutinised by politicians, the media and supporters alike to try and discern how voters are reacting to the ‘new politics’. So let’s take a look at the figures from each of the main parties’ perspectives …

Conservatives:

the Tories will be reasonably cheered by their current polling, with the party enjoying a narrow but clear lead over Labour in most polls. Compare the current polls with 1979, the last time they came to power, when Labour had moved into a narrow lead by August.

However, it’s noticeable that in August only YouGov is showing the party polling above the psychologically important 40% mark, with ICM, ComRes and Harris all showing them below. Perhaps more crucially for the stability of the Coalition, no poll has yet shown the Tories in a commanding enough lead to win an outright majority.

Labour:

there’s no doubt Labour is buoyed by the opinion polls showing them within touching distance of the Tories, and level-pegging according to ICM’s August poll. Three factors suggest they should put the champagne on ice.

First, as I pointed out this past week, Labour is losing the economic argument, with the majority of the public signed-up to the Coalition’s austerity measures. Assuming the economy moves out of recession before the next election, therefore, Labour risks being blamed for the slump and receiving none of the credit for recovery. Given most elections are determined on the basis of the Government’s economic credibility, this should worry Labour: all their leadership contenders appear to be playing a very short-term game.

Secondly, as the 1979 polls show compared with the 1983 result, it’s quite possible for an opposition to be in the lead at this point in the election cycle and still crash to a heavy defeat at the ballot box next time round.

And thirdly, Labour has yet to elect its leader, and so is currently a safe repository for most anti-Coalition/Government dissatisfaction. Once a leader is chosen, they will be subject to scrutiny, the media will challenge them on their response to the economy, and they will start having to make choices, not all of which can be popular.

Lib Dems:

Clearly at the moment the Lib Dems have most reason to be troubled by the polls. Compared with our general election performance of 24%, we have shed a significant number of votes. That there has not been greater angst to date is a product of two factors.

First, the party knew full well what it was getting itself into when it signed up for the Coalition: a rocky ride, with ups and downs – and that applies to the polls as much as it does to policies.

And secondly, we are a long way out even from next May’s crucial polls in Scotland, Wales and English councils. As we all recall from the last parliament, the news media was at pains to write off the party every time a bad poll came out – and then came the general election campaign, and the party’s traditional polling resurrection as the news broadcasters were forced by law to do their jobs properly, and report politics fairly for a change.

ICM v YouGov: you pays your money…

There is a further factor. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, these peacetime polls are utterly dominated by YouGov. Only two other pollsters in the past six weeks have published more than one poll to enable us to show how different methodologies can produce significantly varying averages in the Lib Dem share of the vote:

    ICM = 18.5%
    ComRes = 15.5%
    YouGov = 14.5%

The difference between YouGov and ICM (which most poll-watchers regard as the industry’s gold standard given their consistent accuracy in predicting vote shares over successive general elections) is more than should be expected.

But it’s not hard to see why if you look at the weightings used by each pollster in order to achieve a balanced sample of responses. As Mike Smithson’s PoliticalBetting.com recently pointed out, YouGov is alone among the main pollsters in using a party ID weighting system which pegs the Lib Dems at 12%, with Labour and the Tories on 32.5% and 28.5% respectively. This is a stark contrast with ICM which uses past vote recall to peg the Lib Dems at 16%, with Labour and the Tories on 21% and 25% respectively.

Of course, such subtleties are not reflected in the news media reporting of opinion polls which simply pounces on the ups/downs* (however marginal) and produces an automated headline with the words boost/slump* (*delete as appropriate).

So let LDV offer readers something that the news media usually forgets when it comes to polls: context. Let’s look at ICM – the mainstream pollster which produced the most accurate general election prediction – and its Lib Dem polling figures in August over the years:

    ICM’s Lib Dem scores:
    Aug 10 – 18%
    Aug 09 – 19%
    Aug 08 – 19%
    Aug 07 – 18%
    Aug 06 – 22%
    Aug 05 – 22%
    Aug 01 – 17%
    Aug 97 – 12%
    Aug 92 – 14%

Notice anything there? Well, what sticks out to me is the consistency of recent years’ Lib Dem poll ratings according to the most reliable opinion polling company in the UK.

So there you go… you have your choice. If you’re a glass half-empty Lib Dem or a Coalition-sceptic/hater then read the YouGov runes and enjoy. If you’re a glass half-full Lib Dem and a Coalition well-wisher, take heart from the fact that ICM suggests Lib Dem support holding steady.

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18 Comments

  • Excellent Post. Well researched and reasonable.
    [I am a member of the Labour party]

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Aug '10 - 7:10pm

    And I’ll repeat what I’ve said in other places: yougov’s method appears to be statistically bogus. They’re asking people “what party do you identify yourself as?” and weighting the answers based on that – but self-identification is so strongly tied to current voting intention that their weighting probably dominates the results. It seems unlikely that the yougov polls can have any meaningful accuracy here – and if it’s not accurate to within 5%, all the variation we’re seeing has been swallowed.

    What can we tell from the yougov polls? Well, it’s basically ignoring everybody who votes for the party they identify as; those people are replaced with the weighting figures. So it’s just considering people whose vote differs from their self-identification. There will be only a handful of people who identify with one party and intend to vote for another (probably tactical transfers), so the bulk of the results will be people who have “no party identification” – floating voters.

    That suggests the Tories are currently dominating opinion of the floaters (being around 12%-14% above their weighting), Labour have some moderate support (around 7%-8% above their weighting), and the Lib Dems have a little bit (around 2%-3%). That translates to around half the unaffiliated population supporting the Tories, about a third supporting Labour, and about a tenth supporting the Lib Dems. Accuracy of extrapolating this way is appalling, so make of that what you will. The Tories are definitely the favourite right now, though.

  • Andrew Boff 21st Aug '10 - 7:40pm

    You really don’t need polls to tell you whether or not you’re doing the right thing.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Aug '10 - 8:07pm

    “And I’ll repeat what I’ve said in other places: yougov’s method appears to be statistically bogus. They’re asking people “what party do you identify yourself as?” and weighting the answers based on that – but self-identification is so strongly tied to current voting intention that their weighting probably dominates the results.”

    Surely if that were the case it would tend to suppress, not magnify, changes in party popularity.

    You might try posting your comments on Anthony Wells’s blog and asking him what he thinks.

  • Really interesting post. Agree its far too early for thoughts of suicide from Lib Dem supporters. However, polls do tells us how we are perceived now, and we should be mindful of this to say the least.

    Agree that the real measure of the Lib Dems position with the electorate will be the local elections next year. So until then, its wait and see.

  • Rob Sheffield 21st Aug '10 - 8:37pm

    @Suffield

    And I’ll repeat what I’ve said in other places: yougov’s method appears to be statistically bogus.

    I suggest you read UKPR- all your bogus qualms are dealt with in full!

  • Great post.

    But how much sense does it make to do such an August-on-August comparison? I am not sure what it can tell us (good or bad). The LibDems are now in such a different position! For once, the LibDems – especially several leading politicians and LibDem policies – have a very high profile in political reporting at the moment. How much coverage was there last summer and in those years before? Clearly, this has been very mixed coverage, hence no gain in the polls from it.

    Yet, it’s unlikely that the similar numbers should be read as a sign that there hasn’t been a lot of change behind the scenes. It’s difficult to say, but the similar level of support may hide significant voter movement, with some traditional supporters currently contemplating to move elsewhere, while new support has also been gained. We have yet to see how stable both the defections and the gains will be.

    I think that now more than ever, there is little to go on at the moment in order to work out how these figures will relate to votes next May, let alone in 2015! I would guess, however, that a higher profile should be a good thing in the long run….

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Aug '10 - 10:54pm

    I suggest you read UKPR- all your bogus qualms are dealt with in full!

    No, they aren’t. What UKPR actually says is that political weighting is controversial and nothing more than guesswork on the part of the pollsters.

  • Assuming the economy moves out of recession before the next election,……..

    Would someone like to inform Stephen that we are not in a recession at the present moment. Probably a Freudian slip, in anticipation of the results of the coalition’s policies. He is right, in one sense. In the words of Bill Clinton,

    It’s the economy, stupid.

    No matter what the LibDems may think that they achieve from this coalition, the fact that they fully signed up to the the Tory economic position, will always outweigh whatever good they think that is.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Aug '10 - 12:39am

    “What UKPR actually says is that political weighting is controversial and nothing more than guesswork on the part of the pollsters.”

    That’s pretty ludicrous, even by your standards. I mean, you do realise that Anthony Wells works for YouGov, don’t you? But I suppose anything’s possible.

  • But hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of your mindless bile.

    Spoken like a true Cleggeron. Or should that be Cleggeroon?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Aug '10 - 8:51am

    “Anthony, we do know that Wells works for YouGov …”

    My point is that Andrew Suffield _doesn’t_ appear to realise that, as he would have us believe that Wells himself has described YouGov’s methodology as “nothing more than guesswork”!

  • Grammar Police 22nd Aug '10 - 9:38am

    @ Andrea – “How much coverage was there last summer and in those years before? Clearly, this has been very mixed coverage, hence no gain in the polls from it. ”

    I think one thing that people forget is that a lot of coverage from Lib Dems comes from the work that local parties do. During an election, that massively increases, and is part of what raises our profile (as well as the media) during elections. So although we now have ministers, local parties will not be sustaining the same level of activity as during the election, just the same as every August . . . .

  • Really useful analysis. Thank you. But it seems to betray an interesting National Liberal mindset – look guys, following an election where in many ways we were the big story and now with Libs in government for the first time in more than two generations, we have great news – we are no weaker in the polls at this time of year than we have been since 2006! Come on, joining with the Tories was a dreadful and unnecessary mistake; we all know it was a mistake. I regret that I expect LibDem poll figures to decline further since we no longer have any convincing answer to the question – “So, remind me, just what are the LibDems for? Why would I want one?”

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