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The pollster’s view of his poll

July 27th, 2004

big ben

    Andrew Cooper, head of Populus, posted this comment last night about his latest 30-28-28 poll. We thought it should be given a wider platform.

Don’t look at the micro-movements – concentrate on the big picture. The next election result is not going to be 30-28-28; if the election had happened over the weekend when we polled the result wouldn’t have been 30-28-28. People are by and large aware of the context in which they’re being asked.

The most telling number in the poll – as in all recent polls – was the sum of ‘others’. They were 6.7% in 2001. Lately they have been in the range of 12-16%. It is highly unlikely they will be anywhere near that when the issue is the immediate and real one of who people want to govern them (with however many caveats they may have about each of the main parties). The story of politics now is this measure (and that unknowable part of the swelling of the Lib Dem share which is a function of the same thing) of how many people BOTH want to vote against the government of the day AND refuse to let the main opposition party be the object of their protest.

It is true that the headline numbers of the polls are as bad or worse for Labour than for the Tories but historical context surely puts that in a different context: it has long been the pattern in British politics for governments to fall far behind in mid-term polls (and to reach a stage where they are incapable of defending any seat at all in a by-election) and then to win. The defining feature of our current politics is that the Tory Party isn’t seen even as something that people can back even in a mid-term poll – let alone a by-election!

The most telling Populus poll question (which I hadn’t expected to be remotely as revealing when drafting it) shows (from memory – forgive me if this isn’t quite right) that roughly three quarters of voters are ‘disappointed in the Labour government overrall’ but that roughly two-thirds nonetheless would rather keep this government than have a Tory one. S That political mood is not one in which the Tories are going to gain many (if any) seats. I bet you know loads of people who bitterly grumble about the government. But I also bet you don’t know anyone who has positively switched back to the Tories.

The story of the Parliament is big swing from Labour to Lib Dem and tiny swing from Labour to Tory. For as long as we need to add in a net swing from Tory to UKIP the bottom line effect is unavoidable. I don’t bet on seats but if I did I’d stay away from Lib Dems (just too unpredictable with multi-swing factors) and look at Labour & Tories. It is said that Philip Gould – who knows at least as much as anyone else about the way people in this country think about politics – has privately briefed the Cabinet that Labour are on course (other things being equal) for another majority of over 100. Everything I see says he’s probably right – which must make current odds very appetising for the brave.

Andrew’s point that ” it has long been the pattern in British politics for governments to fall far behind in mid-term polls (and to reach a stage where they are incapable of defending any seat at all in a by-election) and then to win. is certainly true for the Tories. But there’s no experience of this with Labour. They always fall back before elections.






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