Ipsos Political Monitor February 2010

Among those who are "absolutely certain to vote", 37% say they would vote Conservative, 32% Labour and 19% Liberal Democrat, our February Political Monitor shows.

CON 37(-3); LAB 32 (0); LIB DEM 19 (+3) The Conservatives remain ahead of Labour in voting intention support, Ipsos's February Political Monitor survey finds. Among those who are "absolutely certain to vote", 37% say they would vote Conservative, 32% Labour and 19% Liberal Democrat, our February Political Monitor shows. Assuming a national uniform swing, these shares of the votes would make Labour the largest party in a hung Parliament (with about 294 seats to the Tories' 275). Of course, in practice there may not be a uniform swing and the actual number of seats will be influenced greatly by performance in marginal constituencies, and other recent polling has shown the Conservatives doing better in these. Also, the numbers of seats are very sensitive to tiny changes in votes. If the Conservative share were one point higher and Labour one point lower (well within the margin of error of a single poll), the Conservatives would be the largest party by 30 seats. Nevertheless, the recent trend of a shrinking Conservative share of the vote and lead over the other parties continues (the average lead across 2009 was 16 percentage points, now down to 5 points in this latest poll). Looking ahead to the TV election debates between the leaders, these could have a significant effect on the outcome of the general election, since three in five British adults (60%) say the debates will be very or fairly important in helping them decide who to vote for. David Cameron is the overwhelming favourite among the public to perform best in the debates: 53% say they think Mr Cameron will gain most public support as a result of the debates, compared to 20% for Gordon Brown and 12% for Nick Clegg. Even Labour voters are just as likely to say Mr Cameron will gain most as Mr Brown, 42% for Cameron, 41% for Brown. Three quarters (74%) of Tory voters and half (51%) of Liberal Democrats also opt for Cameron.

The British public rate the party leaders as being as important as policies in attracting them to the party they currently intend to vote for. Voters were asked to assess the relative importance of leaders, of policies and of their identification with the party as a whole to their choice: on average, they gave 3.8 points out of 10 to each of leaders and policies, and 2.2 points to the party as a whole.[1]

This marks the first occasion since MORI began asking this "political triangle" question in 1987 on which the public have not given most importance to policies, usually by a wide margin. However, since the last General Election in 2005, there has been a shift towards people feeling that it is the leaders that are most attracting them to their party. This is a clear sign that the `Presidentialisation' of British politics, much talked about in the past but rarely admitted by the voting public, may now be taking a hold. In fact, past evidence has suggested that voters tend to underestimate the importance of party and leader to their voting choice and to overestimate the importance of policy, perhaps because choosing on the issues rather than on "image" is seen as more respectable and responsible. If this is still true, then the real impact of leaders on the forthcoming election may be even more marked than these figures suggest.

The importance of leaders is particularly marked among those who read tabloid newspapers (4.15 points on average in 2010) and those aged over 55 (4.35 points); broadsheet readers and those aged 18-34 give greater credence to policies in choosing who to vote for. But there is little to choose between Labour and the Conservatives in what their supporters find appealing: those who would vote Labour give 4.0 to leaders, 3.6 to policies and 2.2 to the party as a whole, while Tories give 3.9 to leaders, 3.7 to policies and 2.2 to the party. Liberal Democrats, however, give slightly less priority to leaders (3.6) and more to policies (4.0).

It is clear why the outcome of the election currently seems so finely balanced when we see that neither of the major parties has succeeded in establishing a clear lead on any of the three elements that make up the Political Triangle. The Conservatives lead Labour by five points, 34% to 29%, as the party with the best team of leaders - the same lead as they have in voting intentions. Judged on having "the best policies for the country as a whole", the Tory lead is only two points, 29% to 27%. Meanwhile Labour leads by exactly the same margin as being the party that "most stands for the things you believe in".

Although only two percentage points split the Conservative Party and Labour in terms of having the best policies for the country as a whole in the minds of the public, this is the first time since March 1991 that more of the public have thought that the Tories have better policies than Labour, even by so slim a margin.

Despite so many of the Opposition front bench being relatively unfamiliar to the public, having never served in government, there is little if any difference between the appeal of the Conservative leadership with and without David Cameron. When the public was asked which Party has the best senior team, "leaving aside the leader", 31% chose the Conservative Party, compared to 34% in the other half of the sample who were asked to consider the party's "team of leaders" - not a statistically significant difference. (But asked to judge the leaders alone, picking the "most capable Prime Minister", Cameron scores slightly better, beating Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg by 38% to 29% and 12% respectively.)

[1] NOTE: Figures add to slightly less than 10.0 because of "don't knows".


Technical details Ipsos interviewed a representative sample of 1,533 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 19-22 February 2010. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. Where percentages do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, the exclusion of "don't know" categories, or multiple answers. An asterisk (*) denotes any value of less than half a per cent. Voting intention figures exclude those who say they would not vote, are undecided or refuse to name a party and in the headline figures, those who are not absolutely certain to vote.

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