Subscribe to Pollwatch, weekly commentary and analysis from ComRes here
This weekend’s ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday carried the surprise finding that UKIP is now the nation’s favourite political party. According to Twitter, this caused reactions ranging from celebration to exasperation to astonishment. But how UKIP gained this position is an interesting story in itself and one which may have serious implications for the other parties.
The graph below shows the favouriblity ratings of each of the main parties broken down by voting intention. The coloured bars represent the voters of each of the main parties and the size of bar represents how favourable and unfavourable each set of voters are to each party.
Party favourability ratings
But crucially, UKIP also receives higher favourability ratings than the Conservatives or Labour among other parties’ voters. For example, nearly a quarter of Conservative voters (23%) say that they are favourable towards UKIP, compared to only 15% of UKIP voters who are favourable towards the Tories. Far from seeing UKIP voters return to the Tory fold as the election approaches, this suggests that there is greater scope for the Tories to lose yet more votes to UKIP than to win lost votes back.
Neither is this going to be helped by the Conservatives’ current strategy of turning the election into a head-to-head between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Among UKIP voters, the Conservatives have a very healthy lead over Labour in terms of net favourability (29 points). However, despite just 3% of UKIP voters being favourable towards Mr Miliband and the Labour leader’s dire ratings generally, there is no advantage in framing it as a leadership battle: a Miliband/Cameron head-to-head has a net benefit to the Conservatives of +1. In other words, relative to his party, the Prime Minister performs pretty much just as poorly among UKIP voters as much-maligned “Red Ed”.
Generally, although Mr Cameron is the only leader to outscore his party among British people as a whole, this is far from being the case among UKIP voters. In a measure of just how tough it will be for him to persuade UKIP voters to back the Conservatives in 2015, only 17% of UKIP voters have a favourable view of Mr Cameron, compared with fully 78% of Conservative voters. It seems implausible to imagine that UKIP voters will return to the Conservative fold in any number while David Cameron remains Party leader.
But the maths are against the Conservatives anyway. The poll shows that even in the highly unlikely event that every single current UKIP voter who is favourable towards Mr Cameron ended up voting for the Conservatives at the next election, it still would not be enough to overtake Labour’s current vote share, let alone to give the party an overall majority.
“Ahh,” some readers may be thinking, “but Labour’s vote share is not going to stay at its current level. It is likely to decline when some of its current supporters return to the Lib Dems before the election.” Well maybe, but as the graph above shows, current Labour voters are less favourable towards the Lib Dems (11%) than Conservative voters (17%) are.
There is actually a broader link between the two Coalition parties: Mr Cameron’s clear advantage as the nation’s most favourable leader is almost exclusively due to the opinions of Liberal Democrat voters. Whereas Mr Cameron does not score significantly better than his party among Labour, UKIP or Conservative voters, Liberal Democrat voters are twice as likely to view him favourably (23%) than they are the Conservative Party generally (11%).
This causes a significant problem for the Prime Minister in his attempts to stem the UKIP threat. As the graph above shows, the party towards which UKIP voters are most unfavourable is the Europhile, socially liberal Liberal Democrats, while the party to which Lib Dem voters are most unfavourable is the Eurosceptic, socially conservative UKIP. Therefore as Mr Cameron increasingly targets UKIP voters, he is spending more and more energy focussing on voters that are at best naturally sceptical towards him, at worst apoplectic, all the while alienating potential voters from the Liberal Democrats that are inclined towards him.