Labour’s lead has risen to eight points in this week’s Ashcroft National Poll, conducted over the past weekend. The widening margin, following a similar shift in the Populus poll published this morning, stems mainly from a five-point fall in the Conservative share to 27%. Other movements are within the margin of error: Labour are down one point to 35%, the Lib Dems unchanged at 7%, UKIP up three to 17%, and the Greens up one point to 7%.
As ever, the poll should be seen as a snapshot in the context of longer term trends. It is notable that as in most previous editions of the ANP, the combined Conservative and Labour share remains lower than in most online polls. We will see whether this discrepancy narrows over the coming weeks and months.
The reshuffle has evidently not produced any kind of bounce for the Conservatives. This is not surprising – it is the sort of political event that monopolises the attention of everyone in Westminster but goes largely unnoticed everywhere else. As I found last year during the course of my research on Boris, most people do not recognise even middle-ranking Cabinet ministers, let alone have a view on their relative merits.
Not surprisingly, then, I found no significant change in perceptions of the Conservatives over the last few weeks. The proportion saying they were “competent and capable” was up one point since June to 43% (while Labour were up two points at 39%), less than one third (32%) thought the party was “on the side of people like me” (up one point, and 11 points behind Labour), while the proportion saying the Tories have “clear ideas to deal with Britain’s problems” was down two points at 39% (while Labour were up 4 points on this measure to 38%).
As for my own thoughts on the reshuffle, I rather doubt the explanation that Mr Gove was shifted because he went down badly in focus groups, even though this was apparently briefed by insiders. I am sceptical because it would have been such a daft reason to move a reforming Cabinet minister. His name has certainly been brought up in my own focus groups, but nearly always by teachers complaining about his reforms; I can’t believe the new measure of a Minister’s performance is how he goes down with the unions. And if transient popularity is the yardstick, how did the Chancellor survive long enough to see his policies start to bear fruit?
But back to this week’s poll. David Cameron enjoyed a ten-point lead over Ed Miliband as best Prime Minister (34% to 24%), with Nick Clegg on 9%. Among swing voters, who say they don’t know how they will vote or that they may change their mind before the election, Cameron led by 18 points (38% to 20%). UKIP voters chose Cameron over Miliband by 27% to 15%, and only 59% of Labour voters named their own leader.
As is usually the case, people were more likely to say they were moving away from each of the parties than that they were moving towards it. The gap was least stark for Labour (towards 26%, away 46%) and UKIP (towards 25%, away 46%). Only 17% said they were moving towards the Conservatives, with 54% saying the opposite. And if you thought things could not get any worse for the Lib Dems, only 7% were moving in their direction, with 62% moving the other way – a “momentum gap” of fifty-five points.