Thursday, 4 March 2010

A look at the latest YouGov opinion poll in marginals

Yesterday I wrote a few thoughts on the way that the latest YouGov opinion poll had been written. as a member of the regular YouGov panel, I wasn't sure if this was just some continuous research, or a particular poll (the length of the survey suggested to me that it was the latter). What I hadn't realised was that I was one of a sample of 3431 respondents in marginal seats (of which I live in one) and this was a survey commissioned by Channel 4.

The full spreadsheet data tables are available online so I was able to get my nose into the results and see what conclusions could be drawn.

The sample was drawn from "Labour marginal seats" - defined as Labour-held seats, defending against the Tories with a majority of between 6 and 14 per cent. Labour-Lib Dem and Conservative-Lib Dem battlegrounds were not considered (more on that later). Anything with less than 6% majority for the Labour, we can assume that the Tories will win - at any rate, they'll have to if they are to win a majority in Parliament. They will also have to take the bulk of the 6-14%ers as well, presumably why YouGov chose these seats as their sample.

It has been suggested that the Conservatives have been effectively getting their message across in key marginals better than nationwide across the country and some Tory commentators have been optimistic about their prospects; the topline figures this time around won't make pleasing reading with just a 2% gap - comfortable for Labour. (The results: Con 39%/Lab 375/LD 15%/others 9%). Gordon Brown's approval rating is pretty low (49% describing him as fair, poor or dreadful) but this is almost unchanged from 12 months ago when the same survey was taken. Cameron's rating are marginally better - he will also be encouraged by his "DK" ratings falling; his presence is being felt, for better or for worse.

Given that these seats are all Labour-Conservative battlegrounds, the crucial fight will be for the squeeze on the Liberal Democrat vote, so an analysis of the opinions those claiming to be currently intending to vote Lib Dem on the Labour and Tory credentials respectively may give insight into how those Liberals who will decide to relinquish their true colours and vote tactically will go. Unsurprisingly, they can't get excited by either Brown or Cameron but Brown is the more popular. 39% of Lib Dems thought that the country would take a turn for the worse under a Conservative administration, with only 8% thinking life would get better - worrying for the Tories when it comes to the squeeze.

The headline for the Lib Dems is that their prize asset, Vince Cable, is considered the best potential Chancellor by quite some distance: 10 percentage points ahead of Alastair Darling. It's not a surprise but will make a good soundbite for Cowley Street. This question (and the subsequent one asking respondents to compare the economic credentials of Cameron-and-Osborne vs Brown-and-Darling) put in lights something that was becoming more and more obvious: George Osborne is the Tories' Achilles Heel. Given that the economy was by far the most imporant issue to the electorate, this should worry Conservative HQ. Health was another important issue, and with the Labour-led "Save the NHS" campaign bubbling along nicely, the Conservatives may look to the immigration issue to push in the marginal seats. Immigration was the second most commonly cited issue and with the Tories strongly out in front in their handling of it (although as I pointed out yesterday, I think the question was badly worded), it might be in their interests to let it rear its ugly head.

Asking whether David Cameron is "heavyweight" or "lightweight" is a cheap question but the results were pretty comprehensive: 62% describing him as lightweight. Even amongst Tory voters, only 44% thought he was a heavyweight. When the personalities of the leaders were analysed, Labour may worry that the trait that was most prominent about Brown was that he "can't work effectively with his colleagues"; having said that, you could flip that on its head by noting that only 30% thought that Cameron "can work effectively with his colleagues" (when I was responding I didn't spot the subtle difference in wording!). Also encouraging for Labour is that post-Bullygate, there is only a small difference in the numbers who think of him as a bully versus those who'd describe him as a strong leader. As for Cameron, the "too posh" jibe was also a bit cheap - although it's interesting to note that there was only a small difference in sentiment between ABC1s and C2DEs on this.

Nick Clegg's problem is one of visibility. His rating are consistently poor for individual issues, and comparitively lower than you might expect from his party's ratings. Voters are clearly not stupid - it must be a long time since a Liberal shadow chancellor was considered the economic heavyweight - but Clegg has an identity crisis. The upcoming TV debates, and other election materials where the three main parties will get equal billing, will come not a moment too soon and allow Clegg to show the electorate who he is and where he stands on the main issues. I would expect Clegg's ratings to rockets once the campaigns begin in earnest; it's a shame that the PM+Chancellor combo question didn't include Clegg + Cable as an option as I think that duo could be very popular indeed at this time.

As I surmised from the wording of the questions, incumbent Brown was considered less honest than Cameron on the state of the economy (hardly surprising - it's not new for a politician to downplay his own mess) whilst on the other hand Brown is significantly ahead when it comes to "understanding the problems ordinary people face in difficult economic times". A subtle question loaded with class warfare, but one that may inspire some Labour campaig literature.

One interesting question with an unbalanced response scale regarded the economy and the way forward. respondents were offered three options on how to get the country out of the mire: (1) cut the deficit, (2) not cut the deficit as it would risk recovery, (3) not cut the deficit but protect jobs and services (I paraphrase here!). The results here, I feel, are rather meaningless - with two "don't cut the deficit" options versus one "cut it", bias is introduced. 48% plumped for a "don't cut the deficit" option. Interestingly, there was a very low (13%) "Don't Know" response rate for such a technical question; this bodes well for any politician who actually wants to talk about policy, and may explain Vince Cable's high ratings as he has a knack for presenting technical arguements convincingly.

Of course, these results only refer to Labour-Conservative battles. The Tories will need to pinch some Liberal Democrat seats too - and that's without mentioning numerous Tory-held seats that the Lib Dems could quietly snaffle. YouGov's Peter Kellner, in his analysis, reckons that the Conservatives will struggle to make a net gain of more than ten seats from the Liberals, and that these figures applied to the marginal seats would not be enough to give Cameron's party a majority.

The fight is well and truly on.

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