Monday, 23 July 2012

Latest mega Tory poll: Cameron still their best asset

When Lord Ashcroft speaks, the political right listens. The last few years have seen the release of three meaty publications. In 2010 he gave us his Minority Verdict, a look into the reasons why the Conservatives had failed to secure an outright majority. In it, he gives his blessing to the coalition and argues that the party had put the country first in agreeing to govern with the Lib Dems. At the time, the country needed stability. He also asked Tories to consider the context:

“The elections of 2005, 2001 and 1997 produced, in descending order, the Conservative Party’s three worst ever results. The Conservatives had never before managed to return to government from a position as weak as the one they faced in 2010.”

The gist was that rather than just seeking to discredit Labour’s record, failing to make immigration and crime key electoral issues, the Tories lost (or failed to win outright) because the public never truly grasped what they were about. They wanted change, but were confused as to what type of change the Tories were offering.

In Project Blueprint: Winning a Conservative majority in 2015, out last May, he gave his now infamous warning that:

“...while the Conservatives struggle to piece together two fifths of the electorate, Labour’s core support plus left-leaning former Lib Dems could theoretically give Ed Miliband close to 40 per cent of the vote without needing to get out of bed.”
With Labour now regularly polling above 40% this is becoming more of a distinct possibility. The verdict of the 10,000 people he sought provided some worrying news for the Conservatives.  Whilst nine of ten of those who voted Tory in 2010 were largely satisfied with how things were going, believing the right decisions being made, recognising the need for compromise in a coalition, it was the first time Tory voters who were most likely to grumble. Almost half said their view of the party had changed for the worse, with a large number not too keen to see a Conservative majority at the next election, with only a small majority pledging the party their support in 2015.

Last week saw Project Blueprint Phase 3: The quest for a Conservative majority. As with his previous publications, its findings will provide food for thought for the strategists at Tory HQ. The size of the samples, 8,000 on this occasion, mean these reports need to be taken seriously.
Lord Ashcroft identifies those whom he calls the ‘Conservative Universe’ (terrifying thought, I know): the Loyalists (the over 65s disproportionately fall into this category), Joiners (most voted Lib Dems in 2010, but have been impressed by Cameron and Osborne’s handling of the economy, many would vote Tory at the next election), Defectors and Considerers (more likely to vote Lib Dem, favour a coalition over a Tory majority). Winning the support of all four groups may well win David Cameron his much prized overall majority. In theory at least.

It’s the ‘Defectors’ who should be giving the Tories most concern:
One third of those who voted Conservative in 2010 say they would not do so again tomorrow. Two fifths of these say they do not know how they would vote in an election tomorrow, and most of this group feel the Conservative Party is not on the side of people like them. Around three in ten say they would vote UKIP.

The one thing that unites all four groups is their view that Cameron/Obsorne are better trusted to run the economy than Miliband/Balls. Most support the austerity programme but are sceptical as to what it has achieved in practice.
The government’s propensity for u-turning has been greeted with some suspicion:

“For a government to change its mind was not a bad thing in principle, and could be a sign that it was listening. However, the number of reversals suggested to people that policies were not being thought through properly”
As he has been since he took over, David Cameron is still the reason Tories and Tory considerers have stuck by the party. Despite George Osborne’s reputation taking a nosedive in recent months, Cameron is the glue that binds the loyalists and waverers together.

When asked whom they thought would make the best Prime Minister, all four groups plumped for Cameron by some distance. It’s hardly surprising to read 97% of ‘Loyalists’ and 91% of ‘Joiners,’ saying this, but the 69% figure from both ‘Considerers’ and ‘Defectors’ should trouble Ed Miliband. Only 21% of ‘Defectors’ and 12% of ‘Considerers’ – the kind of people Labour should be targeting – opted for Ed.
If David Cameron is still seen as an asset to his party, according to Lord Ashcroft’s poll, the same can’t be said for Ed Miliband. When asked whether they were more favourable towards David Cameron or the Conservative Party, and to either Ed Miliband or the Labour Party, the results are quite stark. Amongst all responders (i.e. excluding the ‘Conservative Universe’), the results are close: 19% are more favourable towards the PM than his party, 21% the other way round. Damningly, only 9% are more favourable towards Ed than the Labour Party, but this rises to 41% when the question is reversed.

For ‘Considerers’ the figures read: 39% versus 23%, and 15% versus 47% for the ‘Defectors.’ When applied to Ed and Labour, only 5% of ‘Considerers’ prefer him to his party, with 47% the reverse. For ‘Defectors,’ 8% and 29%, respectively. As previous polls have shown, and continue to show, the Labour Party remains far more popular than its leader.
Even though this study aims to look at the viability of a Conservative majority in three years time, there is plenty for Labour to ponder. The knocks the Tories have taken in recent months haven’t done too much damage to David Cameron’s standing. Whilst he seems to be on the attack from the right on issues such as Europe and House of Lords reform, he can take comfort from the fact that on the Tory frontbench only William Hague, who maintains he wouldn’t want to be party leader again, comes close to matching his popularity. Overall, Boris Johnson remains, head and shoulders, the most popular Tory. For now, he is safely ensconced in London. For now.  

This article was first published by Speaker's Chair on Monday 23rd July 2012

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