Labour's narrowing lead

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
September 01, 2011, 7:48 PM GMT+0

Yesterday's YouGov/Sun poll has topline figures of CON 37%, LAB 42%, LDEM 10%. The Labour lead is obvously bigger than the 1 point lead yesterday, but it remains much lower than we have been showing for most of August and July.

Throughout most of the last two months (in fact, pretty much since the phone hacking scandal broke) YouGov’s daily polling has been showing a steady Labour lead of around about 7-9 points. We’ve now had four polls in a row showing a Labour lead below that, between 1-5 points. This suggests there has been a genuine shift, beyond the normal random variation we see from day to day, and that the underlying lead has narrowed to something closer to 3-5 points.

The natural reaction when there is a shift in the polls is to ask why, and many have speculated about whether this could be a Libya boost for David Cameron, or perhaps a law-and-order effect after the riots. Neither explanation fits perfectly: the narrowing in the polls seems too delayed to be a riot effect, and foreign affairs stories don't always have a big effect upon domestic policies. While more people think Cameron’s handled Libya well than badly, his general approval ratings and perceptions of his qualities haven’t particularly changed.

However, something appears to have led to the narrowing of the polls. It could be a combined effect, perhaps the Government’s handling of the riots and Libya have just given a generally more competent image, or perhaps it’s merely an absence of conspicous bad news for a few weeks.