Commentators and politicians alike are always keen to cite daily new polls of voter opinion. But how much do these daily polls actually tell us – and do monthly snapshots provide a more accurate picture of the electorate’s true intentions?
Every week we are treated to a barrage of new polls on voting intentions for the 2015 General Election. This leads to feverish discussions both in Westminster and the media as commentators debate the significance of short term poll bounces and drops for each party and what this will mean for 2015.
With the 2015 General Election still nine months away, the significance of these individual weekly polls is often overstated. This is understandable and perhaps inevitable as the Westminster media and political machines clamour for regular polling updates to provide both column inches and political attack lines. But this can also lead to too much focus on the significance of the short-term polling fluctuations. These polls are often driven by short term factors, such as policy announcements or headline events, and do not present an accurate picture of the long-term voting intention of the electorate.
To get a more accurate long-term picture of the UK’s political landscape, and how it has shifted over the past two years, it is more useful to look at the monthly polling trends published by pollsters such as YouGov and Ipsos MORI. This far out from the election we should be wary of placing too much significance on specific poll numbers, as voting intentions will always shift and the numbers tighten as an election gets closer. However, analysis of the overall trends is a useful exercise as they provide a valuable picture of the trajectory of each party’s poll numbers in the run up to the election, and thus how effective their messaging has been in getting through to the electorate.
With Westminster now moving into full-time campaign mode, all of the parties will be examining these trends and analysing their significance ahead of 2015. Both YouGov and Ipsos MORI recently published polling figures on a longer-term monthly basis. An examination of these figures, for a fixed period from January 2013 to the present time, provide us with a picture of these long-term trends.
Firstly, let us look at the Conservatives’ numbers. The YouGov monthly averages show the Conservatives on 33% in January 2013 and 33% in June 2014. Ipsos MORI has them on 30% in January 2013 and 32% in June 2014. This would suggest a broadly static long-term trend for the Conservatives over the past 18 months, with the party still struggling to break through the crucial 35% barrier that is the minimum they need to challenge Labour in 2015. Despite the improving economy and positive recent Budgets and reshuffles, the average number for the Conservatives just isn’t shifting. While many Conservatives will state that they are more concerned with the poll numbers across key marginal seats, this national trend will still be of major concern to the leadership.
The picture is not much better for Labour either. YouGov has Ed Miliband’s party at a high of 42% in January 2013, declining to 37% in June 2014, with Ipsos MORI charting an even bigger decline, from 43% to 35%. While the electoral maths means that Ed Miliband only needs 35% in 2015, this consistent downward trend will still be a major worry, especially with so much time for further decline ahead of the election. At this stage in the electoral cycle, Labour would expect to have a far higher base number, and would hope to be either holding steady or improving, not declining.
Unsurprisingly the picture for the Liberal Democrats is no better. YouGov shows a steady decline from 11% in January 2013 to 8% in June 2014, with Ipsos MORI showing a static 8% for both. The party will not be surprised at such low national numbers, but will note that they can only improve from this position, especially in regions of the country where they have a strong party base.
So with all three main parties performing disappointingly over the past 18 months, who is taking advantage of this malaise? As many would expect it is UKIP that has benefitted, with YouGov showing a rise from 9% in January 2013 to 14% in June 2014 and Ipsos MORI a rise from 9% to 12%. The main question commentators in Westminster will be asking though is how sustainable those numbers are. The bottom line of the electoral maths is that if UKIP poll at 10% or above in 2015 then Ed Miliband will be entering Downing Street.