Sunday, 19 September 2010

Confusing Polling

Lots of interesting stuff in the recent IPSOS poll. Many of the big topline results have been well publicised. Voting intention was the big result as Labour levelled with the Conservatives at 37%. It was hardly a surprise, although it does mean that Labour activists need to be commended for taking the fight to the new government immediately. Harriet Harman deserves credit for that too. Along with Ed Balls and Andy Burnham who, when back in their Shadow Cabinet roles, have destroyed the Tories. Balls in particular has dissected the body of economic policies and fed George Osbourne his deep blue heart.

But, as an ardent believer in the Sanders' voting behaviour theory, I found some of the other figures particularly interesting.

For those who don't have the time to explore such literature, the theory, very basically, goes that if people's economic expectations (personal and national) are positive, they will vote for the Government. If not, they seek change. He used the Thatcher post-Falklands victory to prove the theory.

However, my firm belief in this relatively simple theory is being challenged by recent events. Has Sanders expired?

I ask because in this month's poll, 48% of the people asked thought the general economic condition will get worse over the next 12 months whereas only 28% said they think it will improve.

Now, normally that would be a disastrous figure for a government to have to deal with. Sure, we are not (yet) close to an election, but that is still a high percentage of people with negative expectations. But, coupled with some of the other findings it may not be as much of a problem for the government as one may think. Because 57% still think the government's policies will benefit the country in the long-term and 57% say the spending cuts are necessary. Despite the fact that 75% said the cuts should be slower, the fact that people buy into the cuts and have negative economic expectations confuses matters. For me anyway.

There's more confusion to be found in the surveys leading up to the last General Election. In December 2009, 32% of people asked said they thought the economic situation would improve and 36% said it would get worse. Come January 2010, the positive respondents had gone up to 44% whilst the percentage saying they thought things would get worse had gone down to 24%.

February: 37% said it would improve, 31% said it would get worse.

So the declining numbers who were optimistic coupled with increased numbers who were pessimistic would lead to a weaker government party performance at the May election. But then April threw up a stonking 41% saying the economic situation would improve with only 26% saying it would get worse and 30% saying it would stay the same! Huh?! And optimism was as high as 47% in a separate Scottish survey.

I vividly remember the night these polls came in and gloating on Twitter that we had convinced people. We had economic expectations up, pessimism down and thus would win the election. I knew, Sanders knew. Hell, Gordon knew and, after we won, he would be hailed as a genius.

Au contraire.

We lost votes, seats, credibility and one of the greatest thinkers in politics as our leader.

So has the picture been changed because of the Tory ability to credibly push the T.I.N.A. message? Or is it because Labour isn't offering an alternative to challenge T.I.N.A.? Or have the people changed? Is Sanders still relevant? Are economic expectations still the best indicator?

So many questions.


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