Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Ed Miliband and the perils of spinning polls

Here is one of my golden rules of politics:

Never brief or make a public comment on public opinion polls because anything you say will come back and bite you on the bum.

To expand: no matter how clever your analysis, it will be proven wrong by other figures or, quite simply, be overtaken by events.

The rule seems to have vindicated again today.

Check out this tweet by The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland:

Ed M's team chuffed by Comres poll http://bit.ly/eoYtxJ, briefing that the 36% approval for Ed is ahead of Cam's 32% rating at equiv stage.

A few moments later, Freedland retweeted this:

RT @CitrusSpring: He shouldn't be that chuffed - 42% disapproval not so great.With Govt cuts, he's practically got an open goal>>also true

Other recent findings show the hazards of spinning poor polls. At the end of last month, Ipsos MORI published an assessment of Ed Miliband’s first 100 days as Labour leader. It showed that opinion on Ed Miliband is now split. But after quite a promising start, his net “satisfaction” rating has dropped from +19% to +1%. Of past Labour and Tory party leaders for whom data is available, only Michael Foot had a higher negative rating after three months in the job. Ed Miliband is also the least recognised of the party leaders.

In December, YouGov showed his approval rating at minus 14%.

Still, I hope that my Liberal Democrat colleagues don’t become too complacent about the trap Ed Miliband’s team are falling into. Some reactions to last week’s Independent poll of polls relied on similar logic. The Independent claimed that the Lib Dems’ current weighted average rating of 11% was the party’s lowest on record. No, it was even lower after the merger fiasco of 1988, some Lib Dems (and at least one commentator) said. They were correct. But the point is, surely, that if the party’s total vote fell that far, more than half the Liberal Democrats in the Commons would be swept away.

Footnote: The rule above also applies to bad by-election results. (Click here).

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