This is the seventeenth in 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 random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which 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.
After a turbulent spring, a torpid summer. For the third successive month we find little change in the standing of the main parties. The Conservatives remain unchanged on 31.7%, down 0.1 points on last month. Labour are similarly stable, at 41.6% down 0.1 points on last month. The Lib Dems slip 0.1 points to 8.2%. Support for all three parties has changed by less than half a percentage point since the end of May.
For Cameron and Clegg, the July polling may be particularly disappointing as there is no evidence they are benefitting from Britain’s extraordinary success in the London Olympics, nor from the generally positive views about how London 2012 has been executed. This is doubtless disappointing for the PM and his deputy, but not particularly surprising: there is little evidence that successful mega-events yield any political payoff to those in charge when they are run, as one of us (Will Jennings) has discussed at length in a recent book.
Although they are not (yet) getting a boost, it is possible that the Olympics are providing the Coalition with some much needed respite after a difficult first half of the year. Grinning athletes and gold medals have replaced dismal economic data and negative political stories on the front pages, and may have halted the slide in public support even if they have not reversed it.
But the respite is unlikely to last long: the Eurozone crisis continues to smoulder, the economy continues to sputter, and three by-elections loom in November. One of these is the first attempt by the Conservatives to defend a marginal seat in this Parliament, following Louise Mensch’s departure from her seat in Corby. History suggests Ms Mensch’s decision will provide another headache for David Cameron, as unpopular governments tend to fare poorly when defending seats in by-elections, and past governments have lost much safer seats than Corby. The Conservatives’ past track record is ominous: in the 1992-7 Parliament their record was zero successful defences from eight attempts. Perhaps Cameron can ask his Foreign Secretary for advice on electoral strategy: the last time an incumbent Conservative government successfully defended a seat at by-election was William Hague’s election to Parliament in 1989, just 23 years ago.
Robert Ford, Will Jennings and Mark Pickup