Issues & Ideas | 28th October 2014

Being "prepared to support" Ukip doesn't mean much

We live in interesting polling times. The surge in the number of polls being […]

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We live in interesting polling times. The surge in the number of polls being commissioned alongside the rise of UKIP means barely a week goes by without a new dramatic headline of the latest benchmark that has been hit.

The makers of graphs, charts, and infographics are all having to use their purple crayons far more than anyone expected.

This UKIP success has held steady for long enough that we’re starting to take it for granted, with focus now shifting back towards the Labour and Conservative battle for first place (a battle now taking place down in the low thirties).

One UKIP poll rating that did catch everyone’s attention was when Opinium splashed their poll asking how people would vote if they thought UKIP could win in their constituency.

Nigel Farage’s ubiquitous grin went on parade once more.

Headlines were written and tweets filled with exclamation points were posted, Nigel Farage’s ubiquitous grin  went on parade once more. And for all the excitement I don’t think it told us that much we didn’t already know.

It’s not the first time such a question has been asked. In February 2001 MORI performed some private polling for the Liberal Democrats, as detailed in Chris Rennard’s chapter of Political Communications.

When voters were asked MORI’s standard question – “How would you vote in a general election tomorrow?” – they came up with the then-typical 13 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.

“MORI then asked ‘If you thought the Liberal Democrats could win in your constituency, [but] not nationally, how would you vote?’ The results of that poll suggested that the Liberal Democrats would receive 36 per cent, Labour 36 per cent and the Conservatives 23 per cent”.

In fact this question is less favourable than the Opinium/UKIP version since it specifies the situation as one where the party couldn’t win nationally. But the temptation is to see both of these hypothetical polls as an indication of the Lib Dems’ (and now UKIP’s) potential success if they could only harness it; the reality is that it’s a question that produces dramatic results.

The importance of minor parties convincing voters that they have a genuine chance of winning is well established in politics. It is the reasoning behind the thousands of Lib Dem garden signs and window posters that loudly proclaim they are “Winning Here”.

Beyond the need to avoid the appearance of being a wasted vote and picking up tactical ones, it’s a simple fact that people like voting for winners. Ask voters only about one party, plant a possible victory in the mind and watch a party’s rating soar (contrast that with how much care standard voting intention questions are worded).

UKIP’s standard voting intention ratings are dramatic enough without these abstract numbers.