Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Conference Context

Interviewed this morning on BBC Radio about this week's Labour Party conference, and specifically whether this could be used by Gordon Brown to regain the political initiative.

It's not looking good, as the Prescott headline in The Indpenendent will likely convince more voters that Labour is disunited. One of the golden rules of British electoral politics is that disunited parties don't win elections. The latest Times/Populus survey carried out this month reveals just 22% of the public thinks that Labour is united - compared with 55% saying this of the Conservatives.

It is unlikely that even a good conference will dramatically shift Labour's fortunes - rarely do they change the political weather. Although there's a convincing argument that in 2007 the Conservative conference did.

One of the problems for Labour is that its poll ratings have stayed pretty stable over the past few months, similar to the level the party was recoding in June when the Prime Minister nearly lost his job. And the latest polling further shows the problems facing the government. In the Populus survey, on every single measure Cameron is better regarded - often considerably better regarded - than Brown. These include which party leader is seen as strong and decisive: two attributes many people in the Labour Party think ought to "belong" to the Prime Minister.

Elections are won and lost not only on how the public rate the party leaders, but also on their appraisal of the parties' policies on the issues people care most about. Again the Populus survey is bad news for Labour, with the Tories leading on every single measure, including the NHS (albeit only by three points).

Labour will try to use the next few days to set out its plan for the country; to demonstrate to the public that it has the desire and ideas to govern for another five years. We'll know how successful this has been in a few days... ...before the Tories get their chance to respond

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Internal Comms may never be the same again...

We like to talk about the latest thinking in employee engagement, but this offering from Fenland District Council left us speechless.

Now we're off to East Anglia to find out more...

More on Cuts

I was on the Stephen Nolan show on Five Live about the battle over cuts. As well as sticking loyally to Mark's line, it was a chance to explore the potential impact on the Party's activists from Labour being forced into discussing cuts. Labour's core will be much less likely that the rest of the public to believe that you can have significant cuts in public spending without damaging public services. Gordon Brown's speech to the TUC went down badly enough there: how will it have played in constituency Labour parties?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Labour Cuts vs. Tory Cuts

Gordon Brown’s admission that a future government will need to cut public spending marks a significant shift in Labour’s election strategy. The change in strategy not only reflects the economic necessity, but also political realities and the public will.

A recent Populus poll for The Times showed that 81% of the public believes "it is now inevitable that there will be significant cuts in public spending after the next election regardless of the outcome of the election". A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times found that by a ratio of 3 to 1, the public believes "Britain’s deficit should be cut through cuts in public spending (60%) rather than tax increases (21%)".

Labour’s new strategy of recognising cuts are necessary brings them back into the election game. The key issue now for Labour is their credibility as a potential ‘cutting government’. The public will be asking whether a Labour Government could really make the necessary public sector savings, particularly one that has been in power for more than a decade. When it comes to cutting waste, incumbency is a disadvantage. It is also worth remembering that credibility will not just be gained on what the politicians promise. New Labour believed that its success was built on promising not to be a tax raising government. Yet as MORI’s polling showed in 1997, 2001 and 2005 most people did not believe them.

The Conservatives will be pleased that they have won this key battle between ‘Labour investments vs. Tory cuts’, but now the war moves on to somewhat different territory. The Populus/Times poll showed that the Tories had a ten point lead over Labour (38% vs. 28%) on who could be trusted to cut spending in ways ways "that don't harm important public services and that minimise the negative impact on ordinary people". A few years ago the Conservatives would have been delighted by such a polling result. However this lead is smaller than their current voting intentions lead over Labour . This suggests there still remains public uneasiness about the potential Conservative approach to public spending cuts. The battle lines in the next election will focus less on how much is being cut but where the axe will fall.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

End of the Obama Honeymoon?

The Times yesterday reported that President Obama's poll ratings have slumped forcing him into a rethink of his key healthcare reforms. The claim of an Obama poll slump is significant and deserves a more detailed analysis, as this could be the first sign of the end of the Obama honeymoon.

First it is worth looking at how the American public is reacting to the healthcare debate. The Times is right to point our that only a fifth of Americans believe they will be better off from what they understand about the new proposed reforms, according to the latest CNN/ORC polling. The same survey, conducted between 28th and 31st August, also shows that America is divided in its opinion of Obama's healthcare plans with 48% stating they are in favour compared with 51% against. Tellingly, the differences are not just on partisan lines with younger Americans (aged between 18 and 34 years) broadly in favour (60%) while older Americans (aged over 55 years) broadly opposed (60%).

Healthcare is clearly an issue where the President is losing public support. His approval ratings for handling health care policy has gone from 57% in mid March this year to 44% by the end of August. Yet Obama's wider approval ratings, though down over the summer, remain resilient. We've been monitoring the President's approval rating on a daily basis for the past few weeks, in particular focusing on the daily rolling surveys published by Gallup. Towards the end of last month his overall job approval ratings fell to exactly 50% in the surveys conducted between 24th and 29th August . However, since then, Gallup has seen his ratings rise slightly to 55% in the first week of September. The latest published survey, with fieldwork conducted 3rd to 5th September, has 52% of American's approving of Obama's performance.

When, and surely this is just a matter of time, Obama's approval ratings fall below 50% there will be many commentators arguing this demonstrates the end of the Obama honeymoon. While it is true that this will be a symbolic milestone it is worth remembering that statistically an approval of 49% is no different from 52% or 47% from 50%, as most surveys are conducted to be accurate within a margin of error of plus or mins three percentage points. And even when his ratings fall below 50% he will most likely have more in favour of his performance than against as it is usual to have five to ten percent of people not giving an opinion. When the President finds himself with more Americans disapproving of his performance than approving, the honeymoon will for sure be over.

Obama has indeed enjoyed a strong honeymoon - not so much for its duration, but its height. Between January and June this year in virtually every survey by Gallup (in 146 out of 156 polls) between 60% and 70% of the American public approved of Obama's performance - a consistently high rating, particularly given the economic crisis facing the country. July saw his approval ratings slip with his job average ratings for all the Gallup polls published in that month being 57% and slipping to 53% on average in August.

Part of the appeal of Obama has been the contrast he makes with his immediate predocessor, George W. Bush. While the former President governed for most of his second term with a majority of the public critical of his performance, the beginning of his first term was much different. Although he never began with the highs of Obama at no stage in his first year did Bush's approval rating, according to Gallup, slip below 50%. His lowest was recorded in a survey conducted 7-10th September 2001 when 51% of Americans expressed approval. The events of the following day transformed all of this. By the 15th September 86% of Americans approved of George W. Bush as President and by the 22nd this peaked at 90%.

For those of you who are wondering how this compares to our own Prime Minister's ratings, Ipsos MORI's latest survey, conducted in August, showed just 28% satisfied with Gordon Brown's performance - in fact the highest he's ever been rated was 44% in September 2007.

If you are interested in understanding the reasons for Obama's falling ratings this website is an excellent resource on American public opinion.