Is Brown’s plight much worse than John Major’s?

Is Brown’s plight much worse than John Major’s?


    Do these 95-97 ICM polls undermine the swing-back theorists?

Anybody trying to predict whether Brown’s Labour has any chance at all of turning things round should look at the above table very carefully. For it shows all the Guardian’s ICM surveys for the period from 21 months before the May 1 1997 general election which, of course, brought Blair’s Labour to power in a landslide.

Just compare the polling figures from the August of 1995 with what happened at the election itself – CON 31.4%: LAB 44.4%: LD 17.2%. The Tory 31% share is what they were polling at this precise point in the electoral cycle and what they averaged from the firm in all the Guardian’s surveys in the period until polling day.

    The latest YouGov, ComRes and ICM polls are all showing a Labour deficit of 20% or more which, as can be seen, is worse than Major’s Tory party was experiencing at the same point in the electoral cycle

Major, unlike Gordon, was a proven election fighter after his successful battle for the party leadership after Maggie Thatcher resigned in 1990 and his victory against all the odds in April 1992. He also, at this stage in 1995, had better personal ratings than Brown is seeing.

I reproduce the chart to refute the much repeated claims of the swing-back theorists – that polling history shows that a government’s position gets better the closer we get to an election

    Ah – I can hear many saying – wasn’t Major polling much worse than this? Well he was but only in polls that used methodologies that have long since been discredited and are no longer used

With the exception of ICM the pollsters from the period have been ditched by the papers that commissioned them or in the case of MORI, made radical changes in the way they collect, compute and present their findings.

The only pollster that you can make any historical comparison with is ICM – the firm that pioneered the changes in polling methodology that were required to deal with the systemic problem from the period magnified in the polling debacle of the 1992 general election.

This all, of course, affects the climate in which betting takes place. Almost all the current polls suggest that David Cameron is heading for a three figure majority – yet the balance of money being invested on the spread markets on the number of commons seats is pointing to one of thirty to forty. That’s why I’m now a buyer of Tory seats and feel quite at ease about the risk I am taking.

Mike Smithson


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