I've put my psephological hat back on again to take a quick trawl through the polls as the phoney election campaign drags on. A campaign that isn't exciting the voters, by the way. Although half of the electorate listen to the campaigns, two-thirds can't see a difference between the parties and 80% reckon that the parties have spent their time on attack politics, rather than trying to explain policy.
It has actually been quite quiet on the polling front for the past few weeks, although polls on the 20 February for the Guardian by ICM and MORI for the FT on the 21 February slashed the Labour lead down to 2 or 3 points - VERY close in polling terms and similar to the YouGov results at the beginning of the month.
Although this closes the gap, it isn't sufficient to offer the Tories a hope of forming a government - Labour would still have a majority of 96, according to MORI, although I suspect that is a generous assessment. The MORI model suggests that to win a majority, the Conservatives need 45% and to hold Labour to 33% and the Liberal Democrats on 18% - hardly a realistic prospect unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks.
The ICM poll also asked whether key figures within each party were assets or liabilities to their party. Opinion on the Prime Minister is pretty polarised, with 45% of those polled regarding him as an asset and 43% a liability. Gordon Brown came out significantly better, with a 63%/22% asset/liability rating. The other good news for the Tories is that Michael Howard is now regarded as an asset (45%/35%) - his strong performances and high profile in recent weeks are paying off, although one in five voters still weren't sure. He is also the only Tory with a sufficiently high profile - the shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin doesn't register on the political radar of almost half of those polled.
Two more recent polls, for the Telegraph by YouGov and Communicate Research for the Independent were conducted towards the end of February and see the 6-7 point Labour lead restored. They have been further supported by the Populous/Times poll completed on the 6 March, which still holds a 7 pt Labour lead.
The Polling Report's Anthony Wells has picked up on an interesting fact about polling on individual policies and it isn't good news for the Tories. Peter Riddell echoes it for The Times - in blind policy testing, most people like the Conservative immigration policy, but show them the Tory branding and support falls away.
After the long Thursday in Parliament this week, it is sobering for those of us opposed to the Control Orders legislation to look at the public view of the plans. YouGov asked these questions towards the end of February, and found a majority of the public in favour of restricting the freedoms of those suspected of terrorist involvement - 58%. There is a substantial minority who have problems with the bill, but the majority seem to back it. A massive 75% of the sample backed taking action against those yet to commit an offence, but are implicated by intelligence information. So, backing the bill isn't really a votewinner - but I put it in the same class as capital punishment, in that I'm opposed to it on principle and I'll stand my ground against public opinion.
Half of those questioned didn't regard the bill as an example of an authoritarian government and 53%/29% considered that the Tories were playing politics with their opposition to the bill. This really continues the argument in the last paragraph - the voters just don't like or trust the Conservatives and that is a massive problem for them. They may win tactical victories along the way, but the war is a long way from being won - only 32% of the electorate believe that they offer a better option, unchanged since the start of the year and down 4% on this time last year.
Further proof came with the recent Populous poll. The Tories seemed to have scored a hit on Labour with the War of Dixon's Shoulder, but the polls hold no comfort for them. Aside from holding the 7% margin, the poll also showed that the Tories had failed to convince voters that this case exemplified the overall condition of the NHS, with 44% opposing and the same number supporting that view.
It doesn't seem to have dented Labour's traditional dominance of this policy area, as only 22% of the people believe that Conservative policies would solve the problems. 72% of the sample also regard these individual examples as the politicians using people's problems for political advantage - which is a salutary lesson for the Tories and anyone else thinking about trying the same trick. Sadly for Mrs Dixon, over half the survey seemed to think that her operation wasn't serious and she should be sidelined to allow other cases to jump ahead. The worst of it is that the undecided swing voters hold the same views and these hold the key to a putative Tory win.
There is some good news for the Labour party, in that the poll claims that 72% of Labour voters are still happy to vote Labour. The approval indexes for the NHS and education remain high - although there is still a 10% gap between what people think of the service overall and their personal experience, indicating that some of the negative media messages are getting through, but that people don't see those problems in their schools or hospitals.
The poor old Liberal Democrats will have to rely on local swings - there just isn't a national shift towards them, with their support trending a little upwards, but only nudging the 20% mark, which is hardly the breakthrough they need.
Veritas also has some supporters. 3 to be precise. No, I've not missed off the percentage sign - there are just 3 people prepared to admit to backing Robert Kilroy-Silk. They're all women, but none of them live in the Midlands, where he is standing, so his bandwagon isn't exactly rolling yet.
Ahead, we can hope for some more polling taking the week's events into account and I'll be intrigued to see how Gordon Brown's expected electoral broadside goes down with the voters this week.