Lab, LD and Green all up; Con and UKIP down
Christmas shopping, parties and other seasonal distractions may be nothing but credit card bills now but in and amongst all that fun â€“ forced or genuine â€“ a rather interesting swing was taking place in the polls.
Before getting on to that, letâ€™s deal with a potential objection. December, like August, is a non-political month and as such the argument goes that the public isnâ€™t paying much attention to politics therefore analysts shouldnâ€™t pay much attention to them. I disagree: there is always value to be had in well-conducted research. In this case, if it is true that engagement was relatively low, it may be that it tells us something about votersâ€™ current sense of identification with the various parties. That is, if theyâ€™re not being actively persuaded to (or dissuaded from) supporting one party or another, then the responses must come from a deeper level.
And those responses are fascinating for the right/left split. The December numbers are:
Lab 33.2 (+1.3), Con 30.0 (-0.9), UKIP 15.3 (-0.9), LD 9.0 (+0.4), Grn 6.1 (+0.4), Oth 6.4 (-0.3)
Put another way, there was a swing on the month from the Right to the Left of nearly 2%. Of the three left-of-centre parties, Labour has least to cheer. Their share, though up, was still their second-worst since 2010 and while their collapse in Scotland combined with their overall figures implies a modest lead in England, in marked contrast to the last election, it looks fragile. Whether Milibandâ€™s absence from the TV screens had anything to do with the rebound is open to question but it may not be an entire coincidence that Labourâ€™s share jumped in August and December and plunged in May.
By contrast, Nick Cleggâ€™s team may finally have some figures to take some confidence from, if not quite shout about yet. Their 9% was their best score since May and represented their third consecutive monthly increase. That said, the effect came mostly from one very good ICM poll; the average YouGov number actually went back on the month while the Populus average remains in the 8.5 to 9 per cent range for the eighth consecutive month.
For the monthâ€™s big winners, itâ€™s to the bottom of the table we need to look, with the Greens breaking through the 6% barrier for the first time: double what they were on at the start of the year. Again, that figure was helped by a single poll (their 9% with Mori) but they scored record monthly averages with Opinium and YouGov too: very good figures for a party with virtually no media profile at a time when the main parties are ramping up campaigning (even if it slackened a bit for Christmas). How much the Greens can take credit is open to question but the more relevant point is what effect the increased support will have on the Greensâ€™ election plans: you would expect that if more deposits are anticipated being saved, more candidates will be run.
As for the right-of-centre parties, the Conservatives had a particularly poor month, dropping to their lowest share since June 2013 at a time when theyâ€™d want to be experiencing a pre-election swing back. There is still time for that and Labour remains only about 3% ahead â€“ way down on its peak â€“ but Cameron cannot rely on Labour declining to keep his office in Downing Street. UKIP too dropped nearly a percentage point but in their case it was from a near-record high. Indeed, the Oct-Dec period represents the first time that the Purples have scored a 15%+ average in three consecutive months. Farage wonâ€™t be losing too much sleep just yet.
So a month to ignore or a month to take seriously? That depends on what youâ€™re looking for from the runes. My own take would be that the most significant stat is that of the Greens, which represents yet another rejection of the mainstream rather than any positive move. Although the Greens are probably too far back to make any direct impact on Westminster, if they do continue to poll above 5% and consequently run, say, 200 more candidates than in 2010, that could have a significant indirect effect on the LD and Labour scores particularly.
p.s. Mentioning the number of Green candidates, I wouldnâ€™t be at all surprised if this was a major factor in OfComâ€™s thinking in not granting the Greens â€˜major partyâ€™ status. To be considered a major party, you first need to act like one. In 2010, the Greens only contested half the seats up for election â€“ and that was their most ever. Since then, theyâ€™ve continued to opt in and out of the process. While the Big Four have all contested every one of the 19 GB Westminster by-elections since the General, the Greens only stood in twelve (losing their deposit each time). You simply cannot be a part-time party for four years and then expect to be in with the big boys at the sharp end of the parliament.