The opinion poll ratings of the main political parties are always a snapshot, but there are occasions when they are more of a snapshot than others – in other words, when they tell you even less about the outcome of the next election than at other times. This is a cautionary way of introducing two surveys from yesterday, both of which could be read to suggest a Conservative recovery among voters. ComRes’s monthly poll in the Independent has the following finding: Tories 32 per cent (no change), Labour 33 per cent (- 4), Liberal Democrats nine per cent (no change), UKIP 14 per cent (+ 4). As Anthony Wells writes, “the one point Labour lead is the lowest ComRes have shown in their phone polls since January 2012, and it’s the lowest level of Labour support they’ve shown since the government’s honeymoon in the summer of 2010”. The daily YouGov poll for the Sun also shows the lowest lead in that survey since December – Conservatives 35 per cent, Labour 37 per cent, Liberal Democrats nine per cent, UKIP 13 per cent.
Are these findings connected to Labour’s 50p tax rate announcement? Wells doubts it: “Populus’s Monday poll was also conducted after the 50p pledge, at roughly the same time as ComRes, and they show Labour’s lead still at seven points,” he writes. “Sure, it could be the sign of a narrowing of Labour’s lead, but just as likely it could the random variation that affects all polls.”
There is a bigger reason for taking headline poll findings with a pinch of salt at the moment – as a guide to the next election result, at any rate. UKIP will stay in the news during the run-up to the European elections – which it may well top – and afterwards for quite a bit, too. (Nigel Farage is interviewed in the Times (£) this morning.) That will keep its ratings buoyant. We will have a better idea of how the prospects for the next election look after the party conference season has ended. If UKIP is polling then at around ten per cent, and is still damaging the Conservatives more than any other Party (see Lord Ashcroft: here and here), and Ed Miliband retains a grip on left-wing defectors from the Liberal Democrats, the prospect of a Tory majority six months later will look remote. That’s a lot of “ifs”, but the combination is not unlikely. On a more cheerful note, Wells noted in his summary of 2103’s polling that the Labour lead narrowed last year. There is every chance that it will have disappeared by the end of 2014. And finally, don’t forget: the most compelling polls for 2015 will be those of marginal seats.