Conference season shifts polls?

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
October 07, 2012, 8:00 AM GMT+0

Conference season is often something of a polling rollercoaster - each party gets a publicity boost in the polls as their conference passes, only to decline again as the next party conference begins and another party enjoys the spotlight for a week.

The Labour conference has pushed the party's voting intention lead up to 14 points compared to the average of 10 points or so that we have been showing in recent months, but it is likely that (assuming the Conservative conference is not a disaster) it will be reversed next week as the Tory party get their own week of publicity.

Perhaps more interesting are the large increases in people's perceptions of Ed Miliband. His net approval rating has increased from minus 29 a week ago to minus 9 now. The percentage of people thinking he has made it clear what he stands for is up 12 points to 36%, the percentage thinking he would be up to the job of Prime Minister is up 6 points to 31%, the percentage thinking he is a strong leader is up 3 points to 19%. In many cases he is coming from a low base, and he continues to trail behind David Cameron on many measures, such as who would make the best Prime Minister and who is the stronger or more decisive leader, however he is moving in the right direction.

Miliband hasn't necessarily won over supporters of other parties, but reassured the doubters amongst his own. In our poll for the Sunday Times this week 30% of people said that the Labour conference had made them more positive about Ed Miliband... but the vast majority of these were Labour supporters anyway. Normally this would not necessarily be a good sign, a leader needs to reach out to new supporters, not preach to the choir.

In the context of Ed Miliband however this is just what he needs. Labour have enjoyed a steady lead of nine to ten points in our polls since May, but Miliband himself has continued to trail behind David Cameron. This is mostly because while Conservative supporters rate David Cameron very highly, many Labour supporters seem unsure about Ed Miliband - typically, for example, well over 90% of Conservative supporters think David Cameron would be the best Prime Minister, but only around two-thirds of Labour supporters think the same about Ed Miliband.

How much this matters is a source of debate - if people are saying they will vote Labour anyway, even though they don't rate Ed Miliband, perhaps it isn't that important. Alternatively, perhaps it indicates that Labour support is soft and would fade when we approached a real election and people were faced with an actual choice of Prime Ministers. Either way, Labour currently seem to have a solid lead in the polls despite Ed Miliband, rather than because of him, and it would look far safer if Miliband was as popular as the party he leads.

Even despite the past week's progress that still looks some way off, but Miliband has made progress in the right direction. What remains to be seen is whether the boost in Miliband's perception remains once the coverage of the Labour conference has faded from view, or whether this is but a short term boost from a few good days of positive coverage.

See the full survey results here

See the full YouGov/The Sun survey results on Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour party conference here