Long live coalition. That’s coalition government as a consequence of a hung Parliament.
The last few opinion polls have prompted a round of reflection and comment mainly as the back end of the ‘Ed Miliband’s new year’ story. Earlier this week YouGov gave the Conservatives a three point lead, the biggest since December 2010. Today, YouGov has a Labour comeback to a one point lead, but that has been ignored because Guardian/ICM has the Conservatives with a five point lead, playing into the ‘Ed Miliband’s new year’ narrative.
On LabourList today, it’s summed up by the headline ‘Its been a rubbish couple of months for Labour’ and Luke Akehurst has some interesting facts to highlight. But even he is looking only at what has happen since the last election and is pre-occupied by the votes Labour has lost.
I’ve been discussing long-term polling trends with award winning Sky News political correspondent Sophy Ridge. Her thoughts on the latest are here but she too is missing some key long-term trends. Look at the graph here and you see how stable the polls have been since the last election. Although it doesn’t fit with the ‘Can he? Can’t he?' Ed Miliband narrative, I see the main political story of all these polls as the death of the double digit poll lead.
When I joined Douglas Alexander as his special adviser in 2009, a year after ‘the election that never was’, we endured week after week of double-digit poll leads for the opposition. The idea that Labour would end up just seven points behind the Conservatives (the final result) seemed like blind optimism, or what journalists referred to as a bunker mentality.
You have to go back to April last year to find a double-digit lead with Angus Reid and March with YouGov. I think it is possible that no opposition will get one again. Why? Because today’s polls show that ‘others’ are taking 12 points collectively. Neither vote shares of either main party rarely breaks 40: what Alastair Campbell used to tell the campaign team was the magic number for winning an election. Doesn’t matter if six out of ten voters hate you, as long as one in four vote for you.
But at the last election, no party managed to persuade four out of ten voters, and they may never do so again. IPPR’s research shows that the long-term rise of smaller parties and the decline of class loyalty to the two main parties mean that hung Parliaments are here to stay.
The other thing about today’s polls is that YouGov have the Lib Dems on eight while ICM have them on 16. What’s all that about!?!
There will be thousands more polls before polling day. The ones in the last few weeks before polling day are the ones that matter. Remember Clegg-mania after the first televised leaders’ debate? I still remember Peter Mandelson doing a scrum on Coronation Street at Granada Studios just 48 hours before the polls opened. He pointed journalists to a YouGov tracker that had just hit the wires. “But I thought you politicians never comment on polls?” said a stringer. “Ah, but this is a very special poll,” said Peter.
Polls need to be seen over the long-term. Daily trackers polls are helpful, but daily reporting of polling rarely is.
Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR and was special adviser to Labour’s election co-ordinator in the 2010 general election and to Labour’s education secretary in the 2005 general election – follow him on twitter @RDarlo