Has the “Tory leader in steep decline” claim got any foundation?
In a feature on David Cameron and Tories in the Observer Andrew Rawnsley made this assertion – the peg for most of the article:- “To the concern of his circle, there are already signs that his novelty is wearing thin. His personal approval ratings are in steep decline.”
This has sparked off much discussion on the site and in a number of Lib Dem blogs particularly those that backed Ming Campbell for leader. So what’s the truth about Rawnsley’s “steep decline” claim. Can it be substantiated?
Where it is easy to go wrong is when a result from one pollster is compared with numbers from another pollster using a different methodology and often asking a different question. The only valid polling comparisons are when you compare like with like from the same pollster.
What’s clear is that the proportion of those giving Cameron a positive rating has remained very stable – what has changed is that more of the Labour and Lib Dem supporters who said they didn’t know six months ago have now gone into the “anti-Cameron” camp.
Mori have asked the question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way Mr Cameron is doing his job as leader of the Conservative Party?” five times since Cameron became leader. In January and February the rating was 31%; in March it was 32%; the figure dropped to 29% at the start of May but then rose to 33% in last week’s poll.
YouGov for the Sunday Times asked “Do you think David Cameron will do/ is doing well or badly as leader of the Conservative Party?” in December and got a 52% positive response. In March the figure rose to 55% while at the end of April the pollster recorded 51%.
YouGov for the Telegraph asked a slightly different question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with David Cameron as Leader of the Conservative Party?” This produced a 39% positive response in January, 46% in February and 38% in March.
Looking at what detailed polling data is available the worrying thing for Labour and the Lib Dems must be the high proportion of their supporters still being prepared to give Cameron the benefit of the doubt.
Thus in December YouGov had Labour voters saying by 41-27 that Cameron was doing well. the Lib Dem split was 45-26. At the end of April this had changed to Labour voters splitting 41-41 with Lib Dems at 43-39.
There is little doubt that Cameron’s ratings have stood still and that the margins he enjoyed have declined as December’s “don’t knows” have made up their minds. If Rawnsley had used the term “net approval ratings” his statement would have been more accurate – though perhaps not strong enough to back up the rest of the article. But he didn’t and the “steep decline” claim cannot be substantiated.