Opinion polls

The real story of the polls is that there’s no new story – and so it doesn’t get reported

Poll trends are more useful than poll snapshots. I’ve said that many times on this blog, but it’s worth repeating. It’s particularly worth repeating this month, where individual polls have been making headlines almost every day.

I’ve never said poll snapshots aren’t important. They patently are, because they shape political narratives and create stories and sometimes even lead to policy changes. But they aren’t as useful as poll trends. And this month, with individual polls showing support jumping all over the place, they are less useful than ever.

Here are the polling trends for the last six months, as reflected in the monthly averages for the four biggest parties:

Poll trendsThe latest averages for October are Labour 34.4%; Conservatives 31.6%; Ukip 15.9%; Liberal Democrats 8.1%.

The rough three-point gap separating Labour from the Tories is consistent with what the polling trends have shown for the past half year.

Contrast this with a graph showing every single poll published so far in October:

October pollsHow do you make sense of that? You can’t. All you can state are the facts:

  • The Tories have been as low as 28% and as high as 36%.
  • Labour has been as low as 31% and as high as 38%.
  • The Lib Dems have sunk as low as 6% but risen as high as 11%.
  • Ukip has been down as far as 13% and as high as 25%.

Make of that what you will.

I find the trends behind the snapshots more useful, though I concede they are not nearly as important when it comes to understanding the story of today’s politics. They should be more important, but try selling the story “no change in poll trends for six months” to a newspaper editor.


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