The polls have swung in an unprecedented manner, but keep an eye on the leaders' personal ratings. They could determine the result on Thursdayby Peter Kellner / June 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
Suddenly, the media have woken up to the huge variation in the polls, with figures that point variously to a Tory landslide and a hung parliament. In fact, these differences have been there throughout the election campaign, with polls six weeks ago varying from an 11 point Conservative lead (Survation) to 25 points (ComRes). But when they agreed the lead was in double digits, these differences didn’t seem to matter so much.
Today, as we head towards Thursday, we cannot be certain what the LEVEL of the Conservative lead is, but we CAN be sure that we have seen the biggest change of any campaign in more than 70 years of election polls. The Tory lead has fallen by around 13 points.
If we dig below the surface of the voting intentions, a compelling story emerges.
First, according to YouGov, Theresa May entered the campaign with a huge personal lead over Jeremy Corbyn, when people were asked who would make the best prime minister. With 54 per cent naming her and just 19 per cent naming Corbyn, the gap was 35 points. By last week, that lead had fallen to just 13 points, with May’s figure down to 43 per cent and Corbyn’s up to 30 per cent.
Second, the credibility of Labour’s promises has risen, while the credibility of the Conservatives’ has fallen. Last week YouGov repeated a question it asked in early May: “Thinking about the general election campaigns and promises from the main parties, are they being generally honest or dishonest?” Five weeks ago, voters tend to be equally sceptical of both. Views of the Tories divided 26 per cent honest, 44 per cent dishonest; Labour’s figures were similar, 27-40 per cent. Now the Tories have a 27-point honesty deficit, with voters dividing 24 per cent honest, 51 per cent dishonest, while Labour has climbed to level-pegging, 35-35 per cent.
Third, the Conservatives have lost much of their advantage on handling the big issues facing Britain. YouGov tracks attitudes to ten issues and asks people which party would handle them best. In mid-April, the Tories enjoyed a clear lead on seven, the two parties were neck-and-neck on two, while Labour was clearly ahead on just one (the NHS). Now the Tories are clearly ahead on five, while two have shifted from Tory to neck-and-neck (taxation and unemployment), and Labour is now well ahead on housing end education, as well as the NHS.
And yet, and yet. There are two ways to view what has happened. One is that Corbyn and his party have fought a remarkable campaign, converting it from a Conservative coronation to a real contest.
The other is that Labour has managed to recover from a far more catastrophic condition than it should have had when May called the election. (Those are not completely exclusive views: it is possible to agree to some extent with both statements.)
Labour’s problem is that, even after gaining an unprecedented ten points—or around three million votes—in party support since late April, it still lags behind the Tories on the fundamentals. It remains the case that a party that is behind on leadership and economic competence is heading for defeat. And on both the Conservatives still enjoy clear, if reduced, leads—by 13 points as to who would make the best PM, and 8 points on managing the economy.
ComRes’s latest poll helps us to see what is going on. It asked people whether they had favourable or unfavourable views on the parties and their leaders. The figures for the two main parties are similar: Conservative—37 per cent favourable, 43 per cent unfavourable; Labour—37-42 per cent. But when it comes to the party leaders, May (39-42 per cent) does better than Corbyn (32-47 per cent). May seems to march in lock-step with her party, while Corbyn lags behind his.
What should we make of all this? Corbynistas can point to the unprecedented rise in Labour support through the campaign, and argue that, by the end of the next parliament, Corbyn’s radical stance and personable style will carry Labour to victory next time. In contrast, his critics can say that Corbyn’s still-weak personal ratings—despite their improvement in the past six weeks—have prevented Labour from winning this time; a new leader is essential if Labour is to win in 2022. How that argument plays out after 9th June will go far to determining the party’s trajectory over the next five years.