Today’s Populus poll for The Times seems to show a post-conference Labour bounce and a Lib Dem dip in the standard “how would you vote if there was a general election tomorrow” question, with Labour up three points to close the Tory lead down to one.
However, the “hypothetical” Cameron v Brown question gets virtually unchanged results – an 8-point Tory lead, with the parties on 42/34/15 – Labour up one point and the Lib Dems one down on the figures before conference season.
This has led some, even the usually excellent Anthony Wells, to put the current lead down to Tony Blair. That is a misunderstanding, however, as previously Populus have polled specifically posing a Blair v Cameron contest, and found that the Tory lead jumps up almost as as much as it does for Brown v Cameron.
Populus have also tested other possible leaders and Reid is even more disastrous on a 40/30/19 split. Reid seems to lose Labour voters to the Lib Dems (whereas Brown gains them) without gaining many back from the Tories, even though Tory voters like him more than Brown, who is more popular with (current) Lib Dem voters. A 30% Labour vote share is as disastrous result as predicted by any poll for some time. No wonder Reid is reported to be throwing in the towel.
Johnson meanwhile has such low recognition levels that polling on his attributes is fairly pointless, but his hypothetical results are very similar to Brown’s at 41/33/16 – also an 8-point lead.
Most worrying is that (contrary to the last ICM poll on this, which now looks like a Lib Dem conference blip) voting intention on “election tomorrow” party lines seems to be diverging from future voting intention when party leaders are mentioned, with voters answering these very similar questions rather differently.
Why? The obvious answer is not the change in Labour leader – the same effect is felt when Blair is mentioned; but that either people feel differently when they look forward to an election in a few years; or more likely, that the key factor is not the Labour leader but mention of David Cameron as Tory leader.
Mike Smithson argues that the other parties should stop mentioning David Cameron and just start referring to the Tories. This is a Lib Dem strategy that works when they ignore third parties except to hoover up tactical votes. But it would be a bit harder to pull off with the main opposition.
Alternative strategies would be to either start trying to separate Cameron from the Tories in the public mind, or to change voters’ perception of him.
We’re starting to get a bit of feedback from polls about his weak points, and we’ll be taking a look at what they are and how to use them in due course.