We've had a handful of polls in the last week or so, with varying results. A Communicate Research poll for the Independent on Sunday and a Populous poll for The Times gave Labour a healthy 40%+ share of the vote with an 8/9 point lead over the Tories on 32% in each and with the Liberal Democrats bringing up the rear on 20/18%.
They weren't the only pollsters out and about over the past few days, as YouGov (the internet polling company) ran a couple of polls for the Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, both of which would give Michael Howard some heart as they cut the Labour lead to a maximum of 2%. The Tories collected 33% of the vote - in line with the other two polls above - while the LibDems did better, collecting 23% of the vote, a clear indication of the risks of a tactical vote against Labour. This would slash the Labour majority down to 54, largely to the benefit of the Tories, who would end up with 206 seats, but the LibDems would only take their tally to 59.
Remember that 2001 saw the Conservatives pick up 33% of the vote, but even now, they struggle to get much above that in the polls. In the run up to the local and European elections in June last year, they scratched their way to 40% a couple of times and gave some Labour Party pollsters a few shocks, but they've not had a lead over Labour at all since a single poll in September and haven't got past 34% since May. The magic figure for the Tories seems to be around the 37% mark - if they can achieve that, they are in with a chance of forming the next government in their own right, assuming sufficient voters desert Labour.
From the polling figures, it certainly seems that the only way the Tories can achieve this is if the Liberal Democrats leach the votes from Labour. With a handful of exceptions, the polls which show a narrowing Labour lead also show a significant increase in the Liberal Democrat vote. People don't want the Tories, but it certainly seems to be true that the surest way to get them in power is to vote Liberal Democrat. Even that disastrous poll for Labour in October (a News of the World/Populous poll) which saw the Labour Party dropping to third place would still leave Labour as the largest party but almost 50 seats short of a majority, giving the Liberal Democrats massive influence with their 80 seats. Even then, the Tories hadn't done enough to take a majority.
According to the YouGov poll, two thirds of the British people feel that this government has been untrustworthy, but before the Tories leap in joy, almost as many feel the same about a putative Tory administration. Tony remains the choice as the best PM, holding on to a 30-33% approval rating since October 2003. Sadly for Mr Howard, his ratings peaked in June 2004, when he matched the current incumbent and he's been on the wane since then, now only preferred by 21% of the sample, just 7% clear of Charles Kennedy.
The other YouGov poll, for the Mail, also attempts to quantify the relative importance of key issues to the sample. Given that the poll came after the Tories launched their asylum policy, it isn't surprising that immigration tops the list, with 49% of the sample picking it as a key issue. For YouGov, this holds true across the spectrum of age, sex and social grade, although it is less important to Labour or Liberal voters and figures less on the radar of the Scots than it does in England and Wales. Immigration also figured in the Communicate Research poll for the Indie, which gave Labour a whopping 8 point lead, but while most voters (71%) did not believe that the government had it under control, 56% said that it would not affect how they would vote. Populous saw it as important also, but it was significantly more important to Tory voters than to either LibDems or Labour voters. Bearing in mind that this came before the launch of the Labour immigration policy and the traditional Tory lead in this area, it isn't a surprise that the Tories remain identified as the best party to deal with it, with Labour trailing with 28% to their 34%.
Law and order also figured highly, not surprisingly as the survey came hard on the heels on the launch of the new guidance about tackling burglars, handily summarised by most papers as 'You CAN kill burglars.' Like health, this had impact across the spectrum of the sample. Populous gave Labour a narrow lead as the best party to deal with crime, but the big Labour issues of health, education and pensions continue to loom large in people's minds and the poll gave Labour healthy leads on these core issues. It should be noted that these are also important issues to the swing voters, the ones that the Tories need to target most.
Tax doesn't seem to be a huge issue for anyone. It was only seventh on the list of national issues for YouGov, but did scrape up to third place when brought to the personal level. It would suggest that it is an important issue to around a quarter of the electorate, but these are predominantly Tory voters anyway, so perhaps the constant refrain of '66 tax rises since 1997' is just preaching to the choir.
Finally, in a week when Veritas launched and picked up the biggest amount of publicity it can hope to get, Populous saw it collect a massive 0.35% support. Yes, that decimal point IS in the right place. YouGov gave it 2% and Communicate Research did their fieldwork in advance of the launch, but things look bleak for Bobbie K.
Thanks to the good work from UK Polling Report summarising the data.