This is the eighth of a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.
October saw a return to politics as usual after the party conferences had disbanded, and it has been an eventful month. The Coalition government was rocked by allegations concerning the Defence Secretary Liam Fox, which led to his departure from the Front Bench. David Cameron faced an historically unprecedented backbench rebellion over a referendum on EU membership, one of the largest rebellions ever endured by a Conservative Prime Minister. But the news has been dominated by a different European issue, the continuing crisis over the Euro, which threatened to drag the world into a new recession.
Our polling estimates suggest voters may be reacting to continued economic crisis, and growing troubles in the Coalition, by losing faith in all three of the main parties. Our estimate of Conservatives support is 34.6%, down a percentage point on last month; the Lib Dems decline 0.8 points to 7.8 and Labour fall 0.9 points to 39.1%.
This simultaneous reduction in in the popularity of the two governing parties and the Labour opposition suggests frustrated voters may be turning to the political fringe. Anthony Wells finds evidence for this in recent YouGov data, with a sharp rise in support for UKIP in particular, perhaps a consequence of the relentless negative news about the Eurozone. It is not clear whether this trend towards UKIP will be sustained, but if it is, it poses problems for both David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Cameron will be concerned about the defection of Eurosceptic voters to UKIP, which may encourage further rebellion among those Conservative backbenchers with similar views. Miliband will be concerned that Labour is not seeing any benefit in the polls from the government’s current internal difficulties and continued economic problems, which may suggest voters have not yet forgiven his party for what they left behind in May 2010 nor see him as best the person to lead the country.