Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Greasy polls

Anthony Wells has cast his experienced eye over the recent spate of political polls - from ICM, MORI, YouGov and Populous and sees no real change in the parties' standings overall. The end of month polls all seem to show something like a 4/5% lead for the Tories over Labour. Given that we've had the scandals over party funding (see here for an interesting view on the whole 'cash for peerages' thing from Marcel Berlins) and everything else that has been thrown at the party over the past few weeks, for the apparently resurgent Tories to only be able to scrape together that kind of lead isn't outstanding. It isn't enough for an overall majority in a general election, although it would leave Labour as the largest party (so watch out for that Liberal Democrat/Tory coalition).

There's bad news for the LibDems too - despite John Hemming's belief that three of the four published polls are 'just plain wrong' while the one that conveniently gives the LDs a unusually large vote share must therefore be right. YouGov, ICM and Populous put the LDs on a spread of 17-19%, but MORI manages to give them 24%. Unless I see some other evidence, I'm going to put that MORI figure down as an error. Fieldwork for that poll was done at the same time as the ICM and YouGov ones, so such a variation seems a little peculiar, to say the least. Still, if John wants to believe his spin rather than the evidence, then that's up to him.

While we're on the subject of the Liberal Democrats - a quick glance at MORI's leadership approval ratings does not make good reading for followers of his evil empire. Ming is flatlining with just 22% support. Kennedy wasn't a lot better in the immediate post-Ashdown era - starting off with 21% support, but rapidly gaining and climbing towards and beyond 30% support - something that Ming hasn't managed to do in the past six months. What's worse is that Ming's net rating is negative - more people are dissatisfied with him than satisfied. Kennedy's low rating at the start of his leadership was more a factor of him being an unknown quantity than anything else - dissatisfaction rattled around between 11% and 19%, giving him a positive net rating of 11% or more. Ming on the other hand, has had a net rating of -9% to -6% since May - people don't like what they see. This may just be a blip, but no Liberal Democrat leader has been in that position since Ashdown in 1990. When YouGov ask who would make the best Prime Minister, Ming is well down the list - only gaining around 8% support, well below Kennedy's average performance over the past three years. It cannot be a good sign for Ming's future. At least Kennedy has denied that he intends to challenge Ming for the leadership - although he has refused to rule out running again if Ming were to fall under the proverbial bus. Remember the Newsnight/ICM poll? Over half of the respondents preferred Chatshow as Lib Dem leader and for all the claims that Ming is seen as a natural leader in the patrician model, only 24% see him as a potential Prime Minister.

As I have noted before, smaller parties rely on their leaders as their public face - the media doesn't give space to the rest of the front-bench team - and Ming will be a liability. The Liberal Democrat conference could be a trial in more ways than one - his policy proposals on things like taxation will have to be passed and he will have to make a barn-storming speech to fend off the assassin Kennedy.

Curiously, despite all the spin about the Cameron revolution, he's not got the electorate dancing in the aisles in support either - somewhere around 30% of those surveyed think he's doing a good job, with the nay-sayers not that far behind. In fact, it is fair to say that he's regarded as about as effective as Howard and Hague, but he's still well behind the upward curve of Tony Blair's popularity back in 1994 when he took over the leadership. Again, though, according to YouGov, upwards of a third of those polled are reserving judgement on Ravey Davey C. Intriguingly, looking at the YouGov figures, Cameron's leadership is remaining popular with 35%-39% of the eleectorate, but the 'don't knows' are increasingly breaking against him - January this year had 17% thinking he was doing a bad job and 44% 'don't know', but by July, that had shifted to 33% and 32%.

The Prime Minister has nothing to celebrate, though, although he appears to be slightly better off than John Major was at the same point, but he's still facing a yawning gap of around 30 points between those who are unhappy and those who are satisfied with his performance. But that's not a surprise, is it? In any case, the focus is increasingly shifting away from Blair to whoever will succeed him - we just want to know when so we can get on with winning that fourth term.

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