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Is nice but dim such a bad thing for Labour?

10 May 2013

Labour’s lead in the polls has been pretty steady at around 10 points for a little over a year now. So why does today’s Guardian carry an article with the headline ‘Outright election victory in 2015 looks a distant prospect, pollster tells Labour’? It’s based on two YouGov polls — commissioned by Progress and actually conducted two months ago, but released today.

The first asked voters to put each of the parties into one of four categories: ‘nice andGraphic smart’, ‘nice but dim’, ‘mean but smart’ and ‘mean and dim’. Labour seems to come out best, in that it has the highest proportion choosing ‘nice and smart’ and the lowest choosing ‘mean and dim’. But only 24 per cent say the party is ‘smart’, compared to 33 per cent for the Tories. (Troublingly, all three parties are seen as ‘dim’ by the majority of voters).

The Conservative Party’s problem is neither new nor surprising: it’s seen as the nasty party, with 57 per cent calling it ‘mean’ to only 29 per cent for ‘nice’. The Lib Dems — like Labour — are largely seen as nice but dim.

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YouGov’s second poll asked people what they expect of majority Conservative and Labour governments should each party win the next election. None of the questions elicited an overwhelming vote of confidence in either party, but four did expose differences between them. People are more likely to see Labour as being ‘on their side’, to govern in the interests of the whole country and not just their friends, and to ensure that public services provide good value for money. But the bad news for Labour is that only 32 per cent believe they ‘have the courage to take tough and unpopular decisions’, compared to 54 per cent who think the Tories do. ‘For a party whose greatest campaigning challenge is to appear reassuring’, says YouGov president Peter Kellner, ‘this should be profoundly troubling’.


But how useful is it, really, to focus on these sorts of poll questions rather than the ones that simply ask people how they’d vote? By asking questions about how people see the parties and then making assumptions about how this translates into who they’d vote for, we end up with a much rougher and less accurate picture than if we just ask people who they’d vote for. Their views of a party — whether its smart or dumb, nasty or nice, capable of taking tough decisions or not — are baked into the voting intention figures, along with a whole host of other factors that we can’t account for.

Of course, while the voting intention figures give us a pretty good idea of how an imaginary election would go today, they can’t tell us much about the real election which is still two years away. So do today’s numbers give us a clue about the polls’ direction of travel over the next two years? They do suggest that attacks against Labour premised on the idea that they aren’t ‘smart’ enough to govern, or that they wouldn’t take the tough decisions necessary, might find a receptive audience. But then again, people already think that of Labour and yet the party has an eight-point lead.

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Show comments
  • global city

    Ed Milliband is representing Belgium in this weekend’s Eurovision song contest (No anti EU pun meant, check out their singer! )

  • derekemery

    Only the Conservative party are tough enough to make hard decisions and this is nothing new. The left are eternal spendthrifts and always want to spend their way out of problems.
    The UK’s debt problems are huge and rising and coping with them will become increasingly more difficult due to ageing demographics combined with trade with a low growth and economically declining EU which has its own ageing demographics.

    The UK has an Enron type balance sheet where many future costs were kept off balance sheet (such as future pensions) to hide the fact there will be no way to pay them in future decades without Asian size growth rates.

    There is no way that Labour or a Labour – Lib Dem coaliton will be tough enough to face up to the ongoing hard decisions from now on as our Enron balance sheet is increasingly exposed. Belief in political parties in the UK has been in constant decline since the 1950s making it virtually impossible for any single party to have a working majority. Coalitions are weak decision makers but that is our future.

    • andagain

      This is something of a probelm, though. I have not noticed much Conservative enthusiasm for cutting spending on eg pensions. It might be more accurate to say that only the Conservatives are prepared to make the tough decision to cut spending on people younger and poorer than themselves. When you put it that way, it sounds less like a moral virtue.

  • Terry Field

    Milliband and Balls are far from Dum.
    To misrepresent the truth with consistency and skill – to the point where many of the truly dumb believe you, takes two attributes:
    1 Intelligence
    2 Moral corruption

    • Shazza

      And no. 3 Narcissism. Sociopathic traits.

  • Terry Field

    By statistical definition, at least half the population is dim.
    A dim party, a lying party, has a natural connection with the majority.
    Which is why Aristotle correctly identified mass universal suffrage democracy as the worst possible form of ‘democratic’ government.

  • andagain

    People are more likely to see Labour as being ‘on their side’, to govern
    in the interests of the whole country and not just their friends, and
    to ensure that public services provide good value for money.

    The last one of those surprises me, and strikes me as being quite worrying, from a Conservative point of view.

    • Shazza

      Totally agree. The Conservatives need to get the message across to the electorate that the Labour Party is the Party of Mass Destruction. We need to keep using this title to remind them of the devastation Labour wrought on the economy, pensions,freedom of speech, immigration – leading to mass housing shortages, school places, strain on roads, public services, etc. not to mentions social cohesion. The list of destruction is endless and people need constant reminding – memories are short.

    • DWWolds

      It is beyond belief that anyone could think that Labour are likely to ensure the public services provide good value for money. The Conservatives really do need to get the knives out on that one.

  • jesseventura2

    The smell of Kinnock and like the unprincipled opportunist never had a job?
    Kinnock was against the EU and wanted the house of lords abolished until John Major felt sorry for the low life dog and gave him a job in the EU as the joke transport minister, and of course Kinnock got the whole family on the payroll including granny Kinnock cleaning the Brussels parliament?
    Enough of the champagne labour dogs? Vote UKIP
    Let us remember Kinnock was ahead in the polls like Mr Bean until the public realised the danger of the unprincipled opportunist?

  • Dogsnob

    Which bit of flooding the country with immigrants, is ‘nice’?

  • Abhay

    What a load of simplistic nonsense!

  • Boo80

    Wow 73% consider the Lib dems dim, if the Tories are the Nasty party does that make the Lib Dems the Dumbass party?

    • Abhay

      Yes, dumbass grade 1.
      You don’t need some pollster to tell you that.

  • McRobbie

    How can nice be used as a description of the war over lies party, the pensions destructors, the pay doctors and teachers more for less party , the spend out money on their mates party.. how can that be considered nice?

  • George_Arseborne

    This is an absolute rubbish spearheaded by disgruntle Blairites especially Dan Hodge. The truth is in 2015 ballot. I bet anyone especially crying Dan Hodge that Ed Milliband will be next PM in 2015

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      It is Dan Hodges actually and I would not take your bet as it is an act of cruelty to part a fool from his money.

      • George_Arseborne

        Oh dear, poor Nick. You must be a fool reacting to a fool’s comment. Keep your pennies buddy.

        • Wessex Man

          Well thats being a bit of a Chicken isn’t it? and a shocking excuse.

  • Russell

    Miliband & Balls are not ‘Nice & Dim’, more like ‘Dumb & Dumber’ as are those who vote for political scum such as labour.

  • Curnonsky

    Pretty meaningless without taking account of Ukip.

    • Andy Walsh

      That’s what PM stands for, “pretty meaningless”. George is betting that Miliband will be pretty meaningless in 2015. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree.

    • Abhay

      best comment!

  • Nicholas chuzzlewit

    Labour has two major problems which will become more pronounced as public scrutiny increases. First, Ed Milliband has the ‘smell’ of Neil Kinnock on him. The public has taken a look at him and like Kinnock, just cannot imagine him as a Prime Minister. Second, it simply does not have a credible economic strategy for stimulating sustainable growth and reducing the structural deficit. Indeed, it has only one policy which is to oppose everything the Coalition proposes while offering no credible alternatives. It’s poll lead, such as it is, is a protest against the Coalition not an endorsement of a government in waiting. Labour’s poor showing last week is, I believe, testimony to these contentions.

    • Shazza

      Unfortunately the Conservatives have two major problems; firstly, thanks to Clegg’s perfidy, the boundaries and secondly. postal vote fraud. The latter should be tackled asap and I cannot understand the Conservatives’ relaxed attitude towards this.

      • Hookeslaw

        Tory backbench stupidity is the cause of the boundary proposals problem.
        It never ceases to amaze me that the Speccy puts so much store in the activities of Tory backbenchers when they are so patently thick.

        • Wessex Man

          Where is your logic on that one? it was the Lib?Dems in a tantrum who refused to honour their pledges Hooky.

      • Terry Field

        The Tories are slower off the mark than Labour in maximising their advantage. Lazy public-school boys who cant scrap properly perhaps?

        • Shazza

          Maybe their attitude is ‘It’s not cricket’ – they need to learn to street fight – adopt Ed Balls type attack.

          • Terry Field

            Hard to match Balls – the street is the place where it is happening in politics.
            Squalid, third rate; Just like the condition of the country.
            And to think what an amazing place it once was.
            Glad I left; too depressing to remain.

    • GUBU

      The ‘smell’ of Neil Kinnock on him? I take it you wouldn’t be wanting to dab a couple of drops of that fragrance behind your ears before you left the house for an evening on the town.

    • Hookeslaw

      When Miliband was elected Kinnock cheered that he had ‘got his party back’, words which ought to feature heavily ion the 2015 tory election campaign.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    It’s based on two YouGov polls — commissioned by Progress and actually conducted two months ago, but released today.


    Why are you wasting time on issues-based mood polling done 2 months ago? That type of polling is transient at best, and today’s user cannot directly connect dated polling numbers to today’s events, and certainly cannot connect them to electoral events of the past week or so.

    If you want to be relevant, you have to be relevant, and not dead-tree irrelevant.

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