As regulars readers will know I always caution against putting too much store by any single poll. What matters is the long term trend. It is also important to ensure any comparisons are done so as to ensure apples are being compared to apples and not pears!
So, what do we know from the recent polls? Clearly it seems the Conservatives appear to be a few points ahead. The increase in their rating has come from UKIP who have slipped back since the referendum. Equally, Labour seem to have slipped back a little since the referendum and the Liberal Democrats have been the main beneficiaries. Of course, on reality the churn will be far more complex, some Conservative supporters will have switched to Liberal Democrat, some Liberal Democrats to Labour and so on but overall that seems to be the position. As ever remember all polls are a snapshot of opinion not a prediction!
Well, the answer is that in the week that David Bowie died only 11% of the people interviewed named that story. The next most named story was the downturn in global stock markets on 7% with the weather, Islamic State and job losses at Tata steel all on 4%.
Nearly one quarter of people (24%) could not name any news story at all. So a sobering picture for those who worry about the impact of news coverage!
Every week one of the major pollsters sends me details of what the public told them when they asked them to name a news story/ event from the past week. The results are always interesting and sometimes rather surprising.
I think politicians and their advisers can all too easily become obsessed with the news headlines and what is in the news and how it is reported. Of course polls are under scrutiny at the moment after their all round failure to suggest a Conservative victory in the general election and as I reported earlier this week their inquest has now concluded they interviewed too few Conservatives. Their sample was not representative. With this sort of news poll the results are less likely to be affected by a slightly skewed sample. It is the overall picture that matters. People are invited to name a story and they are not prompted.
In the latest poll 2,015 adults in Great Britain aged over 18 were interviewed online between 20th and 21st January. I can tell you the most noticed story in the past week was the death of the pop artist David Bowie. Not surprising his death led the news bulletins and was covered across the print media. So what percentage of people do you think mentioned this story? Answer tomorrow!
Yesterday the Labour Party released details of its own investigation in to why they did not do as well as they expected in the general election and the pollsters also released the results of their inquiry why the polls they carried out did not show the Conservatives in the lead.
Even the final exit poll was not completely accurate as it only suggested the Conservatives would be the largest party rather than have an outright majority. Few will be surprised by the finding that they polled too few Conservatives and too many Labour supporters. Getting the sample right is something which is much easier said than done. Modern society is so complex that identifying a representative sample with around a thousand people is incredibly difficult.
I tend to look just at the general trend of polls. If there are several polls all using different methods which point the same way then that suggests to me that finding could be right. In the end in elections there is only one poll that really matters and that is the one on polling day itself!
I do not often comment on the opinion polls although unlike politicians who claim they never look at the polls I do consider the polls as they come in. I take the view that what matters is the general trend in the polls and you really need to look at several polls over a few weeks to get a flavour of how things stand. It is also always worth remembering that one poll can be wrong and indeed several polls may all be wrong it is for that reason that I never get too worried if the Conservatives are behind in the polls nor too excited if they are ahead.
I notice that the last group of opinion polls have been giving the Conservatives about a ten point lead over Labour. Just as I do not get depressed when the Conservatives are behind in the polls I do not get excited about the Conservatives being in the lead. Public opinion can change and change very quickly it is only a few weeks ago that Labour were ten points ahead. What matters is the general trend and even more importantly what happens when it comes to real votes in real elections.
I managed to get down to watch Bury on Saturday in their FA Cup encounter with Exeter. It was a tough game and Exeter battled hard but Bury scored in the last few minutes and I left hoping Bury would be drawn against one of the Premiership’s big clubs and I have to admit slightly disappointed with Bury being being drawn away at Norwich in the third round. Still after the disaster of being thrown out ( very unfairly in my view ) of the Competition last year things look much rosier as Christmas and the New Year period approaches.