This is the tenth 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.
A few weeks ago, we blogged that the main story of 2011’s polls was “nothing to see here”. Despite a year of dramatic events at home and abroad, British voters’ opinions seemed settled in a very stable holding pattern. It now seems that the Stats Santa had a little surprise in his stocking for poll-watchers, as in the three weeks since that post we have seen the first significant shift in voting intentions since last winter.
Our latest estimates put the Conservatives at 37.4%, up 2.5 points on the 1st December. Labour are unchanged at 38.6%, while the Lib Dems are up 0.3 points at 8.8%. The recent polls thus show a clear bump in support for the Conservatives, who are now statistically tied with Labour for the first time in a year.
The obvious explanation is David Cameron’s “veto” of proposed treaty changes at the EU summit on 9th December. Although this has apparently not done much to win over Labour or LibDem voters, the veto won widespread favourable coverage in the Eurosceptic press and from his own backbench MP’s. Perhaps the veto has won Cameron back some voters from the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP). Perhaps winning credibility as a tough on Europe and the causes of Europe has enabled Cameron to, in the words of one blogger, “shoot UKIP’s fox”?
Will the bounce last into the New Year? There are reasons to be sceptical. For one thing, the EU is seldom a salient issue in British politics for long. As another austerity winter wears on, the festive feast of Euro bashing is likely to fade from voters’ memories and their attention turn once again to domestic matters, in particular the economy. This is unlikely to be beneficial to the Conservatives, at present. For another, UKIP’s appeal is not built solely on Euroscepticism – as recent research has shown the party also attracts voters disaffected with the political mainstream and anxious about high immigration levels. Such worries are unlikely to go away in the near term, and so disaffected voters may soon drift back to UKIP as the main protest option.
The Conservatives therefore enter the holiday season in good cheer, but with the latest polls already showing the bounce in decline, Cameron’s Christmas bonus may not last much longer than December snow in Westminster.