Most recent polls show Labour with a slight lead or tied with the Conservatives, including a Lord Ashcroft survey also published on Monday that put both parties on 33%.
However, the ICM telephone poll conducted between Friday and Sunday reports that the Conservatives have gained three points while Labour is down by two points in the last month.
ICM’s figures say that support for the Liberal Democrats is unchanged, on 8%. Ukip drops back two points to 7%, which leaves them tied for fourth place with the Green party, who are also on 7%, recovering by three points after having fallen to just 4% in March.
Compared with previous ICM polls, this survey suggests the Tories are at their highest standing with ICM since March 2012, just before the “omnishambles” budget.
In contrast, the Ashcroft poll displayed a similar trend to last week’s surveys showing support for the Conservatives dropping: Panelbase gave Labour a six-point lead over the Conservatives; Survation for the Daily Mirror put Labour four ahead; and TNS had the party three ahead.
Ashcroft found both major parties were down since his last data two weeks ago – Labour by one point and the Tories by three. Ukip and the Lib Dems were each up three points at 13% and 9% respectively, with the Greens down one at 6% and the SNP unchanged at 4%.
YouGov for the Sunday Times had the parties neck and neck, while YouGov for the Sun gave Labour a three-point lead.
Taking in the ICM result, the Guardian’s updated average of recent polls puts the Tories on 33.7% and Labour on 33.6%. Support for the Lib Dems has edged up slightly, with Nick Clegg’s party on 8.2%. Ukip continues to gradually shed support and is now on 13.3% compared with 15% at the beginning of the year. The Greens are on 5.3%.
If the ICM polling proves accurate, it will mean Lynton Crosby’s strategy of focusing the Tory campaign narrowly on the twin themes of leadership and the economy is beginning to pay handsome dividends.
Discussing the result, Martin Boon, of ICM Unlimited, said: “There is inevitably random variation between different polls, which generally falls within a ‘margin of error’ of plus or minus three points. The movement we’ve recorded since the March survey is within that normal bound, albeit only just.”
Boon said the sample chosen looks “demographically sound”, but acknowledges there are signs in the raw data that this sample “could be a just touch too Tory”. In particular, there are more 2010 Conservative voters than ICM would ordinarily expect, and also more voters from the professional occupational grade.
The survey gives Cameron a remarkably strong net personal rating of +18, with 52% of voters rating him as doing a good job and only 34% suggesting he is doing badly. This is by some way the prime minister’s strongest showing with ICM since his honeymoon period in the months after the last election, since when he has mostly been scoring in modestly negative territory. For example, Cameron’s net score was -3 last November.
Cameron’s personal rating remains comfortably ahead of Ed Miliband’s. The Labour leader recovers a touch from a net -42 last November, but still languishes on -30. Cameron’s standing is also streets ahead of that of all the other political leaders: Clegg is on -20; Nigel Farage on –16; Natalie Bennett of the Greens on –6. Only Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National party (SNP) scores positively, with a net +12.
On the economy, too, if the survey is right, the Conservatives are walking away with the argument. Cameron and George Osborne, the chancellor, are the more “trusted team to run the economy properly” for 44% of voters, compared to just 17% who would rather trust Miliband and the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, and 39% who said they would trust neither team.
Turning to voters’ preferences about political deals in a potential hung parliament, the poll suggests a shift in sentiment in favour of a fresh Conservative/Lib Dem coalition – the preference of 21% of voters, an increase of eight points by comparison with January, when ICM last put this question.
It makes a continuation of the existing governing partnership the single most popular option if May’s vote proves indecisive. 19% would prefer a rainbow alliance of Labour, Greens and the SNP, and 15% a Tory/Ukip pact. A Labour/Lib Dem pact is preferred by just 11%, and a grand coalition of Labour and the Tories is preferred by 10%.
There is comfort for Labour in how people answered the question about the single issue that would concern them most when casting their vote. ICM reports that the issue in question is the NHS, one of Miliband’s favourite campaign themes – now twice as important to voters as anything else.
With both main parties trading NHS pledges on spending and midwifery, a total of 34% of respondents named the NHS as the biggest issue, compared with just 17% for both immigration and jobs, prices and wages.
Education is further behind, on 9%, the deficit is at 7%, while Europe (4%), pensions (3%) and crime (1%) all trail as distinctly minority priorities. In the recent past, the NHS has often been voters’ top priority, but mostly by much smaller margins.
There is a little solace for Miliband personally, too, when it comes to voters’ views on empathy and spin. By 49% to 42%, voters charge Cameron with being “more style than substance”, while only 35% make the charge against the Labour leader compared with 53% who dismiss it in his case.
Miliband’s 47%-43% failure to “understand people like me” is decidedly modest compared with Cameron’s, who falls short on this measure by 59% to 36%. But on the crucial who “could make a good prime minister” test, the 58%-38% positive balance for Cameron compares strongly with Miliband’s 60%-30% deficit.
• ICM Unlimited interviewed a random sample of 1042 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 10-12 April 2015. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
This article was written by Tom Clark and Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Monday 13th April 2015 17.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010