1979 polling data is being made available online
Part of my standard patter whenever I give talks about the coming election is that we are moving into what is almost uncharted territory. Changes of opinion on the scale that the polls are currently showing happen very rarely and, of course, there has been only one change of government in the past thirty years.
One of the challenges for those who like betting on and predicting elections is that the only modern polling data that’s widely available online about such a change is from the period leading up to Tony Blair’s great victory in 1997.
So almost all of the comparisons that are made are with what happened twelve years when what might be more relevant is the movement in opinion before 1979 general election – the last occasion when the Tories came to power.
Some polling data from Gallup from the period is included in the “The Almanac of British Politics” but it’s nothing like as comprehensive as that which we get from Anthony Wells’s excellent UKPollingReport.
So it’s really good news that the head of political research at MORI, Julia Clark, tells me that the firm has a project going on to put their 1970s data onto their online archive. I don’t know yet when this will be available but I hope it won’t be too long.
An issue, of course, with historical comparisons is that polling has evolved so much that it’s usually misleading to take historical numbers and make too specific a prediction for today. It doesn’t stop people though.
Also we go into the next election with two firms – ComRes and MORI – having made major changes to their methodologies in the past eighteen months and a third, Angus Reid Strategies, which is totally new to the UK.
One thing that we do know about 2009 compared with 1979 is that David Cameron is enjoying much better approval ratings than Mrs Thatcher had.