What a difference a month makes. Five weeks ago I discussed Ed Miliband’s weak poll ratings. Now, following a run of effective performances at Prime Minister’s Question Time and his sure-footed handling of the hacking crisis, there are clear signs that his ratings have picked up.
However, this is not (so far) leading to a rise in Labour’s vote share.
Each week we ask whether each of the party leaders is doing well or badly. The latest figures allow us to judge the impact of the tsunami that has engulfed News International has affected their public reputation.
David Cameron might have been expected to see his score dip. In fact it has changed little. In our latest poll, conducted last Thursday and Friday, his net rating was minus 12 (well 41%, badly 53%). This is little changed from his score the week before, during the first week of the current crisis (minus 13) or the two previous weeks (minus 12 on both occasions). He has not (again, so far) been damaged by the allegations that he showed poor judgement in employing Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, as his Director of Communications.
In contrast, Ed Miliband’s ratings HAVE changed. Before the current crisis, his net ratings were minus 32 (June 23-24) and minus 34 (June 30-July 1). Then, at the end of the first week of the crisis, his rating improved to minus 28 (well 27%, badly 55%). Our latest poll shows a further improvement to minus 21 (well 32%, badly 53%). In the space of two weeks, the proportion thinking he is doing well has climbed by six points, while the number saying he is doing badly has fallen by seven points.
To complete the picture, there has also been a slight improvement in Nick Clegg’s rating, from minus 51 before the crisis to minus 44 in our latest poll.
In our latest poll, we also asked specifically about how well the party leaders, and various others, have handled the phone-hacking affair. Here, in rank order, are our findings:
|Well %||Badly %||Net %|
Other (i.e. non-NI) newspapers
Only Miliband emerges with credit – though all three party leaders score better, or less badly, than the press and the police. In Miliband’s case, he has won plaudits across the spectrum: 66% of Labour voters think he has handled the crisis well, but so have 55% of Liberal Democrats and 44% of Conservatives.
This cross-party approval is a mixed blessing for Miliband. The good news is that he seems to have achieved his aim of rising above partisan point-scoring and speaking in the national interest.
On the other hand, he has not translated his enhanced reputation into extra support for Labour. In every one of the fifty voting intention surveys that YouGov has conducted since early May, Labour has scored 42% +/- 2, the Conservatives 37%, +/- 2 and the Lib Dems 10% +/- 2. Given the inevitable sampling fluctuations, this means that the party battle resembles a First World War battlefield, with enormous efforts making no real difference.
Why has the marked improvement in Miliband’s rating not lifted Labour’s support? Partly because there has been no matching decline in Cameron’s rating. There is no sign of growing disenchantment among Tories with the Prime Minister.
There is, though, another point. Throughout May, Miliband’s net rating hovered around minus 20. In June it slid below minus 30 – but Labour’s support did NOT fall. Miliband’s rating is back to where it was two months ago and, again, Labour’s support remains fairly constant.
In other words, the link between Miliband’s and Labour’s ratings is not a simple one. At his worst, when only 26% thought he was doing badly, he lagged well behind the Labour Party, which held the support of a fairly constant 33% of the total electorate (that is, including the don’t know and won’t votes: its 42% vote share reflects its support just among those who name a party).
What has happened is that Miliband’s rating has recovered to the point where he is almost as popular as his party. However, before his supporters throw their hats in the air, here are the latest figures for all parties and their leaders – once again as a proportion of the total electorate:
|% support for party||% saying leader doing well|
In short, although all party leaders have negative ratings, and Clegg’s have suffered far more than anyone else since last year’s election, both Clegg and Cameron comfortably outscore their parties.
This does not mean that Labour, or Miliband, should panic. Nobody should expect a single drama, however compelling, to change our political landscape radically, especially as the hacking saga has little or no impact on voter’s daily lives. Applying the Romans’ bread-and-circus approach to politics, the latest crisis is plainly a circus event.
However, IF Miliband can sustain his confident, sure-footed leadership in the months ahead, and IF future news explosions, following Coulson’s arrest and during the coming public inquiry, erode Cameron’s reputation for judgement and competence, then the hacking crisis may yet come to be seen as the event that started to transform the prospects of our parties and their leaders.