Polling Observatory #26: Politics becalmed as summer approaches

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Cross-posted at NottsPolitics.org

This is part of a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

As the political hurricane of the May local elections has quickly become a distant memory, with hostilities easing as parliament heads towards its summer recess, support for the parties has seen a slight unwinding of some recent developments. In the last month the media, and the public, appear to have lost interest in Nigel Farage and his party, with support for UKIP having fallen to 12.8% (down almost two percentage points on our estimate last month). This is the first time UKIP support has seen a monthly drop for several months – suggesting its challenge to the main parties has eased temporarily at least. The Conservatives, in contrast, have seen their political fortunes improve slightly, with their support rebounding to 30.0%, up almost two percentage points on last month. This figure still puts them far down on their standing in the polls at the start of 2012, and there is clearly a long way to go before they have any chance of forming the next government. Their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have edged up slightly in the polls to 8.3%, though their support has seen little meaningful movement since the end of 2010, which does not portend well for their hopes at the next general election.

Despite persistent talk of Labour’s struggle to gain traction in making the political weather and convincing the public that it offers a credible alternative to the current government, it retains a healthy lead over the Conservatives of almost eight percentage points, with its support standing at 37.6%.

This currently becalmed state of British politics arguably reflects the high degree of uncertainty about the country’s future, combined with wider public disillusionment about politics. Talk of economic ‘green shoots’ is clearly premature, although there are some signs that the worst may be over and voters may be starting to get the feel-good factor back. There is much potential for the political weather to change again, with the upcoming Scottish Referendum and continued debate over an EU referendum leaving much uncertainty over where the UK will stand in May 2015, when the parties are next due to face the electorate. Just to what extent austerity will change the British economy and politics is unclear. What is unquestionable, however, is that citizens have become deeply disenchanted with politics and mainstream parties. In a recent YouGov poll for the Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance at the University of Southamptona remarkable 80% of the public agreed with the statement that “politicians are too focused on short-term chasing of headlines”, while 72% agreed with the suggestion that politics “is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society”. Interestingly, older voters were even more negative about the capabilities and intentions of politicians. It is no wonder, then, that all the parties are struggling to convince anything close to a majority of the public that they have the capability and strength of character to make a difference.

Robert FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup

The US Presidential Election: What does it mean? Have your say at the Debating Society’s Open Discussion Forum tonight

By Steven Anderson, Vice President of Debating Society. Third Year student in Politics & International Relations.

The Debating Society is holding an open discussion forum tonight on the US presidential election and its global impact. There will be an introductory talk by Dr Russell Bentley and Dr Will Jennings and then discussion will be opened to the floor.

As the once every four years US presidential election circus comes to a close, I detect a sense of anticlimax.The election of the leader of the free world is something in which we have a great vested interest but no actual say. It costs billions of dollars, provokes heated exchanges and gives newspaper columnists and politics students another chance to explain the intricacies of the US electoral system. It seems almost redundant to ask: what does this mean to us? Interestingly, a recent poll of 32 countries suggests that 42% of the world’s population believe they should have the chance to vote in the US Presidential election.

My experience is that most students in Southampton support Obama but have some dissatisfaction with his actual record. Certainly for the majority of people in Britain, it’s an easy choice between the two candidates in terms of social issues. However, there’s always some qualification or hesitation; whether it’s the economy, Obama’s use of drones or sheer dissatisfaction with the available options.

I should make a confession here: I was a speaker in last week’s debate on ‘This House Believes Romney is better than Obama’. As part of the opposition, my role was to tear into Mitt Romney’s record as a politician and as a businessman, as well as the idea that he could ever be leader of the free world. When I talk to people about debating in general, I sometimes detect a sense of frustration that the topic wasn’t fully explored. This is particularly the case for the US election because of the partisan nature of the discourse.

Thursday’s discussion forum is a great opportunity for you to have your say and find out what others think. The debate will be chaired and there will be some structure to the discussion. However, the emphasis is on what you want to discuss and the direction you want to take it. My view is that the best type of debate is when there is real engagement on the topic; when people are genuinely trying to respond to other speakers and their arguments. Personally, there’s a lot of things I can’t make my mind up about and I look forward to hearing what people have to say.

To me, something that encapsulates the wide ranging effects of the presidential election is the ‘Global Gag Rule’ or the ‘Mexico City Policy’. Since 1973, the election of a Republican president means that the US withdraws funding for any International Health Organisation that provides abortions or even discusses them as an option for family planning. This is just one issue, albeit one I consider to be incredibly important. It provides a reminder that the US is still the major power in the world today.

I hope you will participate in Thursday’s discussion forum. I am also looking forward to introduction with Dr Russell Bentley and Dr Will Jennings. There is a reception in Nuffield Bar at from 7pm and the discussion will start around 8pm. All the details are here.

I also want to take this opportunity to plug the Debating Society. We have weekly debates on a wide range of issues from current affairs and politics to science and debates about the University. Debates are held in Nuffield Lecture Theatre A on Thursdays. Additionally, coaching is at 6pm; we run different groups for all levels of confidence/experience. If you’re interesting in coming along or getting involved; all society events are posted on Facebook. If you would like to find out more, here is the URL.