Another poll, another set of numbers to strike fear into the heart of the Labour party. Today’s come from an ICM (online) poll for The Guardian, which is a follow-up to an initial poll the newspaper commissioned from ICM last December, shortly after Jim Murphy was elected as Labour’s Scottish leader. The poll puts the SNP on 43%, exactly the same as in December, while Labour are on 27%, up a statistically insignificant point on three months ago. Apart from a one point increase in the UKIP tally and a one point fall in Labour’s, today’s exercise leaves our poll of polls unchanged.
Projected uniformly across Scotland as a whole, the poll’s numbers suggest Labour would be left with just 12 seats north of the border, while the SNP would have 43. (The Tories would actually pick up a second seat – from the Liberal Democrats – while the Liberal Democrats themselves would be left with three MPs, two more than the figure to which many other recent polls have pointed.)
However, the numbers look even worse for Labour when the responses are broken down by the kind of constituency in which people live. As ICM’s previous poll last December also suggested, (as indeed has some of Ashcroft’s constituency polling), Labour’s vote appears to be falling more heavily in its heartlands than it is in places where it was less strong in 2010. When that pattern is taken into account, Labour’s projected seats tally falls to just two – no more than would be won by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats – while the SNP are projected to win no less than 53.
As well suggesting that Labour have so far failed to make any impression on the SNP lead, today’s poll also gives us some clues as why it finds itself in that position.
Top of the list is the evidence that many voters continue to reject Labour’s claim that the election of a large phalanx of SNP rather than Labour MPs would make it more likely that David Cameron remains Prime Minister. Only 29% accept the argument, while as many as 42% reject it – and as many as 29% simply say they are unsure about what is in truth a relatively complex argument. But crucially it is especially disbelieved by those at whom the argument is directed – only 14% of all SNP voters and just 11% of those who have switched to the nationalists from having voted Labour in 2010 (of whom there are 68 such voters in ICM’s sample) accept the argument.
Second, it looks as though Jim Murphy’s leadership has failed to persuade voters of his leadership qualities. Three months ago considerably more (32%) thought the then new Labour leader would make a good contribution to Scottish politics than took the opposite view (20%). Now the balance is slightly in the opposite direction – 27% reckon he will make a good contribution, 29% a bad one. Much of this turnaround has arisen because nationalist supporters have become inclined to set their hearts against the Labour leader. Three months ago the proportion of SNP voters who thought Mr Murphy would make a bad contribution stood at 45%; now it has risen to 58%. An increase in the proportion who hold that view (from 22% to 41%) is also to be found in particular amongst those who voted Labour in 2010 but Yes last September. Mr Murphy’s target audience seems to be giving him the cold shoulder.
In contrast, the SNP’s message – that they would hope to be able to provide the ballast for a minority Labour government – is apparently being accepted by those who have switched from Labour to the SNP. No less than 51% of this group say they would be ‘content’ if there were to be some kind of deal between the two parties that kept the Tories out of power, while has many as 36% said they would be positively ‘happy’ about such an outcome. Indeed this section of current SNP support is even keener on the idea than are nationalist supporters in general. It appears that the SNP’s stance on what it would do in the event of a hung parliament has proven to be perfectly judged so far as keeping its body of ex-Labour supporters on board is concerned.
As a result of that stance the Conservatives have tried to suggest to voters that a minority Labour government would be in Alex Salmond’s pocket. Indeed the party has been underlined by the most arresting visual image of the campaign so far. But north of the border at least it appears that most voters were either amused by the Tory poster (30%) or felt indifferent about it (23%). Only 6% of all Scots – and just 7% of those who have yet to make up their mind – said they felt ‘frightened’ by the prospect. But then perhaps it was designed to persuade voters in England rather than influence those in Scotland. After all, for them seeing Mr Salmond wield power and influence is hardly a novel experience.