The Guardian declared last Friday was ‘the day the polls turned’ — but they have turned again, it seems. ICM has released a new poll today, which puts the Conservatives six points ahead. This pushes the Tories way past the margin of error to 39 per cent, while are Labour on 33 and the Liberal Democrats jump back into third place at eight per cent. Ukip and the Greens are both tied on seven per cent. It’s an extraordinary number that, if it was repeated across the country — particularly given the rise of the SNP in Scotland — it would put the Conservatives into majority territory for the first time.
This result chimes with the latest Opinium survey for The Observer, which also puts the Tories ahead — albeit by two points ahead on 36 per cent. But YouGov’s most recent poll for the Sun has Labour on a three-point lead. Why such a difference? The simple answer is that you get rogue polls now and again, and ICM seem to have produced one. Methodology also helps explain it, as the YouGov poll was conducted online compared to the ICM phone interview. Alberto Nardelli explains some of the differences between phone and online polls — namely, the former tends to benefit Ukip supporters, who are generally more likely to vote for a Conservative government.
The Guardian has been thorough in questioning where the result might have come from, quoting ICM’s Martin Boon who says the sample ‘could be a just touch too Tory’. Since the last poll in March, Boon points out ‘there is inevitably random variation between different polls, which generally falls within a ‘margin of error’ of plus or minus three points. The movement we’ve recorded since the March survey is within that normal bound, albeit only just.’
With this Tory lead coming outside the margin of error, the question now is whether this is an outlier, a blip or the beginning of a trend. If any proof was needed how unstable these polls remain, Panelbase said last week that Labour had a six-point lead. We’ll see whether Lord Ashcroft’s national poll at 4pm agrees with ICM. Regardless of who is ahead, these polls matter in terms of momentum. If Ashcroft shows a similar result, that will make three polls putting the Conservatives ahead — a buoyant message ahead of their manifesto launch tomorrow.
UPDATE: Lord Ashcroft has no lead for either of the main parties. His latest national poll has Labour (down one point) and the Tories on 33 per cent (down three points), while Ukip is on 13, the Lib Dems are on nine and the Greens on six. So there’s still no consistent picture about what’s going on, although our poll of polls has Labour still just ahead. Ashcroft notes that all the leaders have enjoyed a bump in their personal ratings but David Cameron is the only one to receive an overall positive score.
Ashcroft also asked his focus groups what would happen if each of the party leaders visited for dinner. Nigel Farage would make an amusing dinner guest, with conversation ‘a bit close to the bone’ over a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Nick Clegg would bring a bottle of Chablis — not Babycham this time — while eating ‘pink and flaky’ salmon. Ed Miliband would bring two advisers along for dinner, who would have ‘very intense’ conversations interspersed with ‘knock-knock jokes.’ David Cameron on the other hand would arrive ‘holding hands tightly’ with his wife Samantha. The Prime Minister would enjoy a steak cooked on a BBQ, served with some ‘good red wine’. But the focus groups gave a mixed answer on his chat. ‘You wouldn’t get an answer on anything serious but you could talk to him. He’s not a textbook Tory, not a pompous git,’ said one participant.