Are Labour really doing ‘badly’ in the polls?

One accusation often levelled at Ed Miliband and the Labour Party in general, is that they are not establishing a big enough opinion poll lead during mid-term. From a personal point of view, I believe that the circumstances of this election are completely different to any in my (short) lifetime, and Labour do not necessarily have to rack up big leads to win in two years time. However, I did think it would be interesting to look at how the Conservatives were doing in the run up to 2010 at the same point.

I have looked at the polls from the first six months of 2008 (two years before the last election) and the first six months of 2013 (two years before the next election). I have excluded this year’s Tuesday-Friday YouGov polls, as they weren’t running back in 2008, and it would give 2013 a much bigger sample size. Here are the graphs showing the respective leads in the polls:

Conservative leads in first 6 months of 2008:-Image

Labour leads in first six months of 2013:Image

A couple of things stick out from the data. Firstly, it’s obvious that the Conservatives were getting higher highs in their mid-term – going up to the high 20s at one point. Conversely, Labour have never really pushed beyond the 15 point mark in terms of their own lead.

One could argue that these leads did not win the Conservatives a majority anyway – true, but you have to remember that Labour can win a majority with a far smaller lead over the Tories than vice-versa – just look at 2005 when Labour won a 66 seat majority on a 3% lead. Miliband’s task is not as great as Cameron’s was in 2010.

What happens when we average out those numbers though?

The average Conservative lead over the first six months of 2008 was 9.93.

The average Labour lead over the first six months of 2013 is 9.82.

The difference is minimal. As the graphs show, the Conservative leads only started to really hit big numbers towards the middle of 2008 – or roughly where we are now. Who is to say that Labour won’t start gradually increasing their lead over the next month or so?

A key thing to remember is that in all likelihood, no party is going to win the next election by 10 points. Another thing that we should remember is that the leads that the Tories were getting in 2008 were after 11 years of a Labour government – we have only had 3 years of the Coalition, and huge leads for Labour so soon after being kicked out of office were always going to be unlikely.

I am fairly sure that no matter how well Labour were currently doing in the polls, some would find a reason for doom and gloom – the economy will recover, Cameron will dominate the leaders’ debate, etc etc. The fact is that these things could happen with Labour on a 20 point lead, and it would be equally soft. If Labour’s lead is still at the 9-10 point mark over the next year, they will most likely be satisfied. It is a good base to fight from a year before a general election.

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4 thoughts on “Are Labour really doing ‘badly’ in the polls?

  1. People also assimilate the economic crisis to the banks going down in November ’08. Danny Blanchflower pointed out that the labour market metrics went south in the autumn of 2007 and dropped steadily through 2008. Unemployment was going up, the employment/population ratio falling, average unemployment duration rising, and real wages falling.

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