With just 12 months to go until the next general election, two polls this week (Survation/Mirror and YouGov/Sun) put Labour on just a one point lead over the Conservatives, continuing to show that there is still all to play for in the last year of campaigning. If this level of support were to hold steady for the next year, it would just be enough to deliver Labour the barest of majorities in the next Parliament. More immediately, with only two weeks until the European Parliament elections, polls are increasingly starting to show UKIP ahead of Labour, with the Conservatives in a clear third place.
Troublingly for the Conservatives, this week also saw the publication of the first report from the British Election Study of 20,000 voters, which showed that people planning to vote UKIP in the European elections are now more than twice as likely to say they will stick with UKIP come the general election in 2015, compared to after the last European elections five years ago.
The Conservatives did at least have the comfort of having the leader “best suited to the job of Prime Minister” (YouGov/Sun on Sunday), with more than twice as many people picking Cameron (34%) as Miliband (15%). Still, only 31% of people think Cameron is a “good Prime Minister” compared with 48% who think he is not (Survation/Mirror). With a similar 51% of people thinking Ed Miliband would “not make a good Prime Minister”, it seems there is really not much enthusiasm for either of them.
In terms of issues, though, it was the economy that most people (78%) said would affect their vote (Survation/Mirror), though who this would benefit is mixed. In terms of the wider economic picture, most of the British public believe the economy is recovering (54%), but only 17% of the public say things are getting better financially for them and their family, compared with 53% who say no change and, worryingly, 30% who still say things are getting worse (Survation/Mirror). This tallies with the YouGov poll this week which had a similar question, showing 38% of people feel worse off than a year ago, compared with only 14% who feel better off.
These figures suggest that concern of the cost of living and household finances still offer Ed Miliband an electoral opportunity despite the headline GDP figures. Whilst YouGov found that more people trusted the Conservatives (39%) than Labour (21%) to “Keep Britain’s economy growing”, Labour had a large lead over the Conservatives (36% to 16%) on “Ensure ordinary people’s wages keep up with prices”.
In particular, when Survation looked at Miliband’s announced policies on capping rent increases and banning agency fees for tenants, there was widespread public support from all quarters. 65% of all voters supported the specific policy of capping above market trend rent increases and limiting rises to one per year – including 61% of current Conservative voters and 62% of current UKIP voters, only slightly below the 78% of current Labour voters who were supportive. These support figures for the specific policies announced are even higher than when YouGov asked about the general principles of “rent controls” which had 56% public support. Conservative voters, who were on balance opposed to “rent controls” in principle in YouGov’s poll, were nonetheless supportive of the specific policy Miliband announced when it was put to them in the Survation poll. Miliband has therefore seemingly succeeded in capturing the public mood over this issue, despite Conservative Party attempts to portray him as out of touch with economic reality. If Miliband can continue to set out popular policy proposals such as this over the next year, he might well be able to defy his critics and his struggling personal ratings to achieve victory in 2015.
Damian Lyons Lowe is Chief Executive of Survation, the market research agency