23 May 2013

Opinion polls – a Thatcher effect?

While I don’t spend much time here on political opinion polling, I do follow the excellent UK Polling Report which, among other things, draws together all the intention to vote data. While no one poll can be taken too seriously, and also recognising the fact that different pollsters make different adjustments to their raw data, in aggregate it might be possible to make out some signal in the noise. (I will return to Nate Silver’s book in due course).

Looking at the chart on the right, the percentage levels of support for the two main parties and for the two lesser ones didn’t seem to change much up to the end of March from early February and actually from well back into 2012. Then on 8 April Margaret Thatcher died, and in the period up to her funeral on 17 April (black bar), her life and political philosophy received extensive media coverage, not all uncritical. Not surprisingly this period seems to indicate a slight increase in the Conservatives’ support and a decline in Labour’s.

Since the funeral, there seems to have been a decline in support for both of the main parties. This has been to the benefit of UKIP, but has left the Lib Dems’ position unchanged. UKIP did well in the local elections on 2 May 2013 (green dot) and has reached new highs in support since. Perhaps the intense Thatcher coverage in April stimulated nostalgia in some older voters, particularly Tory ones, for the “old time religion” of her period in office. UKIP’s Nigel Farage offers something closer to it than either David Cameron or Ed Miliband.  If so, will enthusiasm for UKIP wear off in time, or will it last?


  1. Was there a pro-SNP bounce in Scotland?

    1. Thank you for taking the trouble to comment - a good question too. My understanding is that UKIP has very little support in Scotland, so if there had been a post-Thatcher effect there, which party might be expected to benefit? The only polling I know of (and I'm not an expert)which seems relevant is that for the 2014 referendum on UK Polling Report (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/scottish-independence-referendum). Looking at this closely suggests that although the spread in the No lead (-ve Yes lead!) varies between pollsters, within each one it hasn't changed much over the year up to May.