Is it all about leader ratings and the economic lead?

Is it all about leader ratings and the economic lead?

Atul Hatwal at Labour-Uncut posted a piece yesterday about Labour’s polling, he had one observation, which stood out, and I decided to investigate if it were true, his observation was this,

The fundamentals of politics do not change. Voters generally make their electoral choice on the basis of who they feel is best suited to be prime minister and which party they feel is the most economically competent. No opposition has ever won an election while being behind on both economic competence and leadership. 

What I’ve done is take leader approval ratings from Ipsos-Mori and their Best Party On Key Issues: Managing the Economy polling going back to 1990 (I’ve used their all respondents figures, rather than just the ones that mentioned the economy as important.)

A couple of caveats, Ipsos-Mori don’t ask the economic questions every month, but periodically, so I’ve had to go with the one closet to the seventeen months away from a General Election (so if it is a minus, the Opposition is trailing the government, if it is a plus, they lead the government)

Opposition Leader/Year Opposition Economic Lead Leader of the Opposition Leader net rating lead over PM (17/18 months from an election)
Kinnock October 1990 Minus 4 Plus 47
Blair March 1996 Plus 9 Plus 61
Hague January 2000 Minus 18 Minus 52
IDS September 2003 Minus 11 Plus 2
Cameron Dec 2008 Plus 1 Plus 21
Miliband September 2013 Minus 18 Minus 2

As we can see, it is fair to say Atul Hatwal’s observation is accurate. Only the Leaders of the Opposition with both leads on Leader ratings and the economy at this point of the electoral cycle go on to win the election and become Prime Minister.

For completeness, the Conservatives under Michael Howard never led Labour on the economic question.

I thought it might be useful to see what the polling shows close to election day.

Opposition Leader/Year Opposition Economic Lead Leader of the Opposition Leader net rating lead over PM
Kinnock March 1992 Minus 5 Minus 11
Blair April 1997 Minus 7 Plus 49
Hague Feb 2001 Minus 26 Minus 29
Howard April 2005 Minus 26 Plus 15
Cameron March 2010 Plus 3 Plus 27

For the Tories, findings like this will be encouraging, for Labour it may lead to more speculation about Ed Balls position as Shadow Chancellor, particularly, as the economy remains the most important issue for the voters.

Tony Blair showed in 1997, on the eve of the election, you can still trail on the economic question, but you can still win the General Election if you have a substantial lead on the leader ratings, the other caveat I’d add is this is a small sample size, but the findings are interesting.

As Atul notes

Labour must refocus its efforts and return to tackling the core problems that existed before the price freeze temporarily upended politics. Unless headway can be made on the economy and leadership, history suggests Her Majesty’s Opposition in 2013 faces a similar fate to its predecessor in 2000.

Though, I would say the political landscape (particularly the electoral system) is more favourable to Ed Miliband and Labour now than it ever was for the Tories and William Hague in 2000.

Hopefully today, we should be getting the Ipsos-Mori Political Monitor for December.

Hat-tip to Scrapheap for posting the link to the Labour uncut article yesterday.


Overnight there was some polling for the Times by YouGov on Scottish Independence, and there was the usual YouGov poll for The Sun.


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