1. What Britons have noticed most in the news this past week. @PopulusPolls #FF


  2. 3 things we learned from David Cameron’s Europe speech

    1. Some people won’t take “yes” for an answer. Despite its promise of an “in-out” referendum in the next Parliament, Wednesday morning’s speech did little to woo current UKIP voters or Conservative defectors - the two are not synonymous as some people claim. Populus’s poll for The Times showed the speech had made no difference to the likelihood of voting Conservative at the next Election for three quarters of current UKIP voters and the 70% of those who voted Tory in 2010 but say they wouldn’t do so now. Whatever else is driving disillusioned Tories and UKIP supporters it isn’t the lack of a promised referendum on Britain’s continued EU membership.

    2. It reminded Conservative voters why they liked David Cameron in the first place. In our focus group for The Times, 2010 Conservative voters who watched the speech live felt it played to David Cameron’s strengths, portraying him as in-charge and decisive while being reasonable and non-dogmatic. Our post-speech poll appears to bear this out. A third of current Conservative voters said the speech had made them more likely to vote Conservative at the next Election. Interestingly when asked which party leader would strike the best deal for Britain with rest of the EU, 54% of Labour voters chose their own leader Ed Miliband and 56% of UKIP voters chose theirs - Nigel Farage - but an overwhelming 86% of Conservative supporters chose David Cameron. Compare this with Lib Dem voters, only 37% of whom chose Nick Clegg.

    3. It’s all in the negotiation. The first polls published since the speech, by Populus and YouGov, show similar voting intentions in the event of an “in-out” referendum: 40% say they’d vote to leave in both polls; with 37% voting to stay in according to Populus and 38% doing so in the YouGov poll. Both represent a narrow lead for coming out of the EU (and in YouGov’s case a much diminished lead since they put the question last year).


    The Populus poll further asked whether people’s voting intention in a referendum would be influenced by the outcome of future negotiations or not. “In” voters split evenly on this point: 18% of all those who say they might vote in a referendum would vote to remain in the EU regardless of what David Cameron was able to negotiate; 19% say the results of these negotiations would influence their decision. On the “out” side 16% say they’d vote to leave under any circumstances but half as many again (24% of referendum voters in total) say they’d be influenced by the outcome of negotiations. So as things stand only a third of people who may vote seem definitely to have made up their minds, two-thirds either don’t know how they’d vote or while leaning one way or the other say that they’ll be influenced by the deal the UK is able to secure. This places a great deal of power in the hands of the Prime Minister and whether he pronounces the results of his future negotiations a success or not 


  3. Lessons from Obama’s re-election

    At first sight the 2012 US Elections appear to have changed nothing. We woke up this morning as we went to bed last night with Democrats in charge of the Senate, the Republicans having a majority in the House of Representatives and Barack Obama in the White House. Nor does the political map of America look very different today from the way it did when the race started. Before yesterday’s results were tallied only 9 out of the 50 states of the United States (the District of Columbia also votes), had changed hands in the first three Presidential elections of the new century. This morning that total remains in single digits.

    Of the four most populous American states only Florida has switched party allegiance in a Presidential election over the last 20 years. California hasn’t gone Republican since George H W Bush won the White House in 1988, New York last went Republican during Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide re-election & Texas hasn’t voted Democrat since Jimmy Carter’s victory in 1976.

    How then did Obama win and why did Romney lose? In terms of all the millions of dollars - nearly $2 billion - that both sides poured into TV advertising, field offices and early voting initiatives in the battleground states, Obama and Romney were broadly evenly matched. They were however far from equal in terms of the territory they had to cover. Romney needed to win back those Southern Obama states from 2008 - Virginia, North Carolina and Florida - and to make headway in the Midwest. In the end he managed to do neither.

    Mitt Romney did better than John McCain both in terms of the number of electoral votes by winning back North Carolina and Indiana and in the popular vote. He was though unable to secure enough of the growing number of Independent voters to win the Presidency. In 2008, Barack Obama won two-thirds of Independent voters when they accounted for one in five of all voters. When the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 2010, two-thirds of Independents, who this time made up two in five of all voters voted Republican. In 2012 Romney won the Independent vote by 4%, not a wide enough margin as they settled back to closer to one in three of all voters because both sides’ partisans turned out in greater numbers. For his part, while Obama failed to excite some of the voting groups to the same extent as four years ago he continued to do well enough among them to carry him over the finishing line.

    Gender appears to have played an important role in the Presidential race. In 2008 the national exit poll showed Obama carrying women by 14 points, but men by only 2%. In 2012 the exit poll had Romney winning among men by 7% (effectively a 4.5% Obama-Republican candidate swing) but losing among women by 12% (only a 1% swing from Obama to the Republican candidate).

    For all that Romney pursued what his handlers called an “etch-a-sketch” strategy - starting afresh in the general election campaign to present more moderate positions to the country than he had adopted to win his Party’s nomination - Romney’s original playing to the Republican base may have hurt him among female swing state voters particularly when reinforced by heavily negative Obama TV advertising.  A month before the election Gallup conducted a poll in 12 swing states asking men and women what were the most important issues for them. For men jobs (38%) and the economy (37%) came top; for women abortion (39%) beat jobs (19%) comfortably into second place.

    The battle of interpretation has already started over whether the GOP candidate lost again by being forced to be too conservative in the primary campaign, so putting off independent voters; or by not being conservative enough during the general election to enthuse conservatives. As Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SD) put it:

    “If we lose this election there is only one explanation — demographics. … If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

    As for British politics, superficially there’s something for everyone in this result. For David Cameron it shows that an incumbent can win by promising to finish the job of cleaning up the other party’s mess. For its part Labour will point to the result as a rejection of Romney’s austerity message and a vindication of Obama’s more “Plan B”-based approach. Look deeper, though, and the conduct of the campaign in the US throws up questions for both sides over here.

    Can Labour rely on a poorly performing economy to deliver them victory? For a long time the Romney campaign clung to high levels of unemployment and a general sense that America had lost its way but as polling day grew nearer the jobs situation improved and over the course of the last 12 months the gap between those who thought the US was on the wrong track and those who believed it to be on the right one fell from more than 50% to only 5% by polling day. The UK and the UK economy may look and feel very different in May 2015 to the way it does today in 2012.

    Then there is whether the Conservatives are putting too much emphasis on the “Miliband factor”. The Democrats made much of Romney being wooden and criticised him for adopting extreme positions but didn’t seem to know what to do when he failed to follow the script. Obama’s most uncomfortable moment of the campaign - the first debate - came when he appeared unable to respond to the freshly-minted, more moderate Romney whose performance easily exceeded the low expectations that Democrats had helped to set for him. Only in the final phase of the campaign did Obama - assisted by a sure-footed response to Superstorm Sandy - appear to rediscover his poise and sense of purpose rather than simply coming over as aloof and disengaged.

    But the biggest lesson of all lies perhaps in the differences between Obama and Cameron’s respective positions as incumbents. Barack Obama could broadly hold on to what he had and secure his re-election, David Cameron simply does not have that luxury. He has to advance to secure a majority at the next Election winning seats he failed to gain in 2010. It is a difficult task but it becomes an impossible one if like Obama he spends nearly all of his time and money attacking his opponent rather than articulating a purpose of his own.

    Obama simply needed to persuade enough people who voted for him in 2008 that he was still better than the Republican alternative in 2012 how ever much he had disappointed them. That he did. Cameron’s task is more challenging: to persuade people who didn’t vote for him in 2010 that the Conservatives are better in 2015 than they were then. In the end David Cameron is no Barack Obama; he has to be better than that.

  4. Political Dashboard October 2012. Click here for full data tables.


  5. Red States from 2000 hold key to 2012

    It was during the 2000 US Presidential Election that journalists starting routinely distinguishing between Red States and Blue States in American politics. The controversial manner of George W Bush’s ultimate election only reinforced the sense of a country divided. Eight years later and for all the talk of Barack Obama transforming the political landscape his electoral success was in truth based on a highly-targeted campaign that wrested a relatively small number of states from the Republicans. 

    Compare the electoral maps of 2000 and 2008 and you can see that only a handful of states changed hands in Presidential terms during the first decade of the century. Obama won 8 states carried by Bush in 2000: Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire which had gone with John Kerry the Senator from next door Massachusetts rather than Bush in 2004. (New Mexico carried by Gore in 2000, but Bush in 2004 also went with Obama in 2008.) 

    Amid the endless permutations of Electoral College arithmetic that will be rolled out between now and the small hours of Wednesday 7th November, it is in the fate of these eight Bush 2000 Red States turned Blue by Obama four years ago that the result of 2012 Presidential Election probably lies. 

    These eight states essentially break down three groups.  The first contains Ohio and Florida. It’s almost impossible for Romney to secure the 270 electoral votes a successful candidate needs without carrying both of these states. So if Obama wins just one of these two he secures re-election. 

    Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina lie in the second group. If Obama wins two of these states he’ll probably win the election regardless of whatever happens elsewhere. For Romney to prevail overall he can afford to lose only one of these states. 

    The final group contains New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada. If Romney has carried Florida and Ohio but has lost one of Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina he must win all three states in this third group to win overall. However if Romney has won all of the states in the first two groups it is Obama who probably has to win all of these three to deny Romney victory. 

    So the night could be over soon after the polls close in Ohio at 00:30 GMT, or it could go on until the networks declare Nevada well after 03:00 GMT. One rule of thumb though, the longer the evening the better Romney’s chances become. 


  6. Why the “vision thing” matters

    George Bush Snr never really got to grips with what he called the “vision thing”. He couldn’t match the eloquence of his predecessor Ronald Reagan who once described America as standing like “a shining city on a hill”. 

    To date David Cameron hasn’t really placed a high priority on articulating a vision for this country either. The Prime Minister has always seemed more comfortable talking in prose than waxing poetic about the contours of some promised land but he has always managed to convey a broader sense of purpose even though most have been unable to divine - and therefore disagree - with what that purpose is. Matthew Parris has described this as political nirvana but there are signs this  may no longer be working for David Cameron as well as it once did.

    Where last year the Conservatives led Labour comfortably on possessing a good team of leaders, exhibiting competence and capabiliity and having clear ideas to deal with Britain’s problems, today they are level or even behind Labour on these measures. At the same time, as our focus group for the BBC’s Sunday Politics this weekend showed, swing voters continue to believe that David Cameron looks the part of Prime Minister but there are now questions about whether Cameron’s ambition is limited to occupying the office he holds rather than extending it to get things done. This charge is dangerous whether it is fair or not. If Labour can portray David Cameron as having “poise without purpose” that would go a long way to neutralising his leadership advantage over David Miliband in the run-up to the next Election.

    Bringing the debt and deficit under control remains the primary objective of David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg and a substantial minority of public (not all of it Conservative and Lib Dem voters) continues to support them in this. However no one can say with any confidence when the job will be finished. All the more important then to be able to articulate what the country will look like and who will be the beneficiaries when that work is completed.

    Comparing the nation to “a shining city on a hill” is perhaps a step too far, even after the Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Summer, but to take another cue from the Great Communicator a firmer idea of what Morning Again in Britain might look like would serve David Cameron well when he speaks on Wednesday. 


  7. A Question of Leadership?

    Going into the Labour Conference a great deal has been made of Ed Miliband’s leadership credentials or the perceived lack of them among much of the wider public. Though his average ratings have improved among Labour supporters this year and his average rating among all voters is at the highest point of his leadership, it remains the case that nearly 3 in 5 voters find it difficult to imagine Ed Miliband as Prime Minister of the country, including more than 2 in 5 of those who say they’d vote Labour in a General Election tomorrow.

    This is brought home more strongly when Labour’s leader is pitched head-to-head with David Cameron. Fewer than a quarter of the public say they are satisfied with the job Cameron is doing as Prime Minister and yet a further 37% say they’d prefer him in the job to Ed Miliband despite being dissatisfied with the PM’s performance. Labour people are quick to claim this is evidence of a bias towards incumbency rather than against their leader. Even if that is the case it is a threshold that David Cameron and the Conservatives were never able fully to cross in the run-up to the 2010 General Election. Then more than 7 in 10 people said they were dissatisfied with the Labour Government but only 2 in 5 said they preferred a Conservative Government and less than that ended up voting for one. Now nearly 7 in 10 are dissatisfied with David Cameron as Prime Minister but less than 1 in 3 would prefer to see Ed Miliband in that role.

    Worryingly for Labour fully a third of their present voters say they prefer David Cameron to Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. Coincidentally this is almost exactly equivalent to the 15 point lead the latest Times/Populus poll shows the party holding over the Conservatives. Some of these people are unlikely to follow through on their current inclination to vote Labour, some in time will come to like Ed Miliband more so that their party and prime ministerial preferences are aligned and still others may end up voting Labour in spite of who leads it. It is how voters split between these three options that will help determine the outcome of the next Election.


  8. Spiral of Silence reawakens

    The “spiral of silence” came from an observation made twenty years’ ago that the more people became shy about saying they were going to vote for party x, the worse that party did in the polls and the less inclined people became in turn to say they supported it. The phenomenon was discovered by Nick Sparrow of ICM as he sought to explain the polling industry’s generally dismal performance at the 1992 General Election when the voters gave the Conservatives a narrow majority after nearly all pollsters (except ICM) had predicted a Labour victory. Since that time many polling companies, Populus included, perform some kind of adjustment to address this spiral of silence where a proportion of those who say how they voted in the previous General Election and say they’ll vote in the next one but who also refuse to or can’t say who that vote will be for are added back into the voting totals of the major parties they supported last time. While down the years there have always been “shy Tories” or “bashful Brownites/Blarities” and even a few “contrite Cleggies”, it is their relative size that affects the poll ratings. The graph below shows the Labour lead over the Conservatives in Times/Populus polls since the turn of the year and also the Conservative lead over Labour in the “spiral of silence” (the difference in the % of people refusing to say or saying they don’t know how they’ll vote at the next General Election who voted Conservative last time and similar people who voted Labour last time).

    At times of deep unpopularity, for instance in the run-up to the 1992 General Election, in the aftermath of the Iraq War or now during times of economic austerity, incumbent parties’ former supporters are noticeably more reticent about saying they’ll stick with that party next time. In the first two instances enough of them emerged from the shadows to ensure the re-election of John Major and Tony Blair. David Cameron will be hoping for something similar. In the meantime it goes some way to explaining why the top line voting intention figures for the Conservatives in our latest poll look worse than some of the underlying figures might otherwise merit.

    UPDATE. To underline the point, the latest Times/Populus Poll published this morning shows that 
     “Shy Tories” have fallen from 22% to 17% of the 2010 Conservative voting total over the last month and the number by which this type of voter exceeds 2010 Labour voters falling into the same category has also fallen from 10% to 4%.  This goes some way to explaining the reduction in Labour’s overall poll lead to 5%.