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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Walking in the footsteps of Hague, IDS and Howard

I don't usually comment on polls. The problem is that within a week or two whatever I have said becomes out of date with the publication of a new survey. Indeed, because polls use different samples and methods they truly are snapshots that could well change within a week or two.

What is normally reliable however are those trends that can be ascertained consistently from polling data. Thus, the Conservatives this morning may well be taking comfort from a poll that shows David Cameron ahead of Gordon Brown but all the detail worth taking notice of is in the Observer.

The problem with the Conservative's reliance on selective data from the Gfk NOP poll is that it deals with a hypothetical situation. Voters may well be wary of Gordon Brown and prefer the known quantity that is David Cameron, but until the Chancellor of the Exchequer is ensconsed in number 10 Downing Street, it is impossible to establish the impact he will have.

The Observer on the other hand has identified a trend that must be sending shivers down the backs of bosses in Conservative Central Office. Their polling data reveals that David Cameron's satisfaction ratings amongst British voters have plummeted lower than Tony Blair's, a sure-sign indication that people can see through the Tory re-branding exercise and are not convinced:

'...attempts to woo women and young people with initiatives such as promising tax relief on childcare, recruiting more female MPs or sympathising with hoodies appear to have failed, with the two per cent rise in Tory support since the general election - when Michael Howard was in charge - coming mostly from men and the middle-aged.

The revelation that only 25 per cent of the electorate consider themselves 'satisfied' with Cameron's performance as leader of the opposition - rising only to 45 per cent among Tory voters, down from 60 per cent in February - will be a blow to his inner circle, given that it suggests a similar trajectory to his failed predecessors Howard, Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague.

The most common reason for dissatisfaction was lack of clarity about his policies.
Damagingly, voters who previously approved of Cameron are now starting to turn against him, according to Mori founder Sir Robert Worcester. 'David Cameron's sliding satisfaction levels are comparable to his predecessors,' he said. 'Since his election as Tory leader, nearly all the "don't knows" who have made up their minds have decided they are dissatisfied with his performance. This month there has been a shift, and he is beginning to turn off those who had thought they were satisfied with the job he's been doing.

The findings are particularly bad given that the most important issues now listed by the public - defence and terrorism, immigration and crime - have traditionally been Labour's weak points.'

The paper reports that backbench Tory MPs are becoming increasingly nervous over the impact of their leader's repositioning on issues such as defence and terrorism, immigration and crime, including his speech on understanding the needs of young offenders, mocked by Labour as exhorting people to 'hug a hoodie'. The article believes that the finding that Cameron has failed to convince women will be of particular concern, since the father of three was expected to appeal to female voters.

This poll underlines a general feeling about Cameron that he has no substance. His attempt to mimic Tony Blair's image and approach at a time when the Prime Minister is distrusted by a large part of the population could well be a strategic miscalculation that will backfire onto the Tories. Celebrations at Conservative Home are exceedingly premature.
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