Some bloggers made a lot of an ICM survey yesterday that showed much greater public sympathy for David Davis’ position on 42 days than we had seen in previous polls. But as Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report has noted, the ICM poll asked a very different style of question to earlier YouGov polls and the ICM poll could be criticised for leading the respondents. A much better way of judging whether public opinion has shifted during the course of Mr Davis’ by-election campaign is to compare like-for-like polls. PoliticsHome.com has done that with its PHI5000 poll and found no shift in public opinion:
"PoliticsHome has twice asked the PHI 5000: "do you support or oppose extending the period that terrorist suspects can be held without charge from 28 days to 42?" On the 20th June, 65% supported the extension and 31% opposed. On the 7th July, 66% supported 42 days and 30% opposed it."
The voters of Haltemprice & Howden go to the polls today – at least Mr Davis hopes they will. There are fears, according to The Telegraph, that turnout may be "humiliatingly" low. Tory MPs who have been to the seat – and many have – return with stories of a divided Conservative Association – unhappy at the estimated £200,000 cost of the by-election campaign and disappointed that their MP is no longer set to be Home Secretary.
As we reported last week, most Conservative Party members across the country also regret David Davis’ decision to quit the frontbench although most also believe he will influence public opinion on civil liberties. That is David Davis’ best long-term bet. Like IDS’ commitment to turn the Conservative Party into a party of social justice – what we call ‘realignment’ – Mr Davis will only succeed by keeping at this task for many years. One of the real things that the ICM poll did show is that the public are more open to the civil libertarian argument when it is framed in certain ways. The concern for the civil libertarians is that the public mood is likely to change markedly against them if, God forbid, there are a number of terrorist incidents.