What does “winning” even mean?

11:00 am - May 1st 2010

by Lee Griffin    

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It seems to be that the story of last night will be that Cameron won the debate. I don’t agree with this, and though I move in obviously partisan circles I found it hard to find any significant number of people that would agree either. But then one thing is for certain, these polls are…whether we like it or not…the best thing we’ve got for gauging opinion. And they’re actually quite good at it.

So perhaps the bigger question here is “What do you mean by ‘won’?”.

Five polls were out last night, and you can see all their details here (all top line results are put handily in one post over at PoliticalBetting.com): Angus Reid, Populus, ICM, YouGov, and ComRes.

When looking into the polls these pollsters (except ComRes) didn’t just ask who won, they also asked questions like who performed best (a slightly different question from who won), who was strongest on certain subject, etc, etc. How did they turn out?

Angus Reid

Despite putting Cameron as winner, the other results in this poll suggest that the public thought rather much more highly of Clegg in the debate. When asked who performed well Nick Clegg scored 81%, while Cameron only 71%, Brown on 58%. While Cameron can marginally claim to be most improved, he can also claim to have appeared to have worsened more than those thought Clegg had.

The most interesting part of the AR poll, however, is undecideds. Not only did they overwhelmingly say they’re more or just as likely to vote Lib Dems with 69% compared to the Tory 52% and Labour 46%, but the undecided voters are actually a whole 46% less likely to vote Tories after last night, compared to 37% for Labour and only 20% for Liberal Democrats.

Result: A Cameron win, most improved even, though he was out performed by Clegg and turned off more undecided voters than any other party.


This poll had Cameron neck and neck with Clegg, though only by virtue of Cameron’s stronger support in the 55+ age bracket. Clegg is clearly ahead in the youth vote. In the question of being more or less likely to vote 41% are more likely to vote Conservative, but 39% less. For Labour it’s 31% and 49%, and Lib Dems 50% and 24% respectively.

Statistically it is also close on who people want to see as Prime Minister, 38% of people would prefer Clegg as PM compared to 37% for Cameron, and 2% for Brown. This is up an impressive 15% since before the debates, while Cameron’s stock has actually gone down 10%, and Brown’s 5%.

Result: Cameron and Clegg head to head winners, but Clegg is liked more, has improved more, and is thought to have won in a key Tory/Lib Dem marginal area.


Again, Cameron win. But how much confidence does each leader have to make the right decisions for Britain? Brown 44%, Cameron 52%, Clegg 56%. There’s not much other data here, but YouGov does look at evasiveness, and I think it’s telling… Clegg 19%, Brown 29%, Cameron 49%.

Result: What exactly does a win mean if at the same time you’re seen as being extremely evasive, and can’t beat the relatively unknown Nick Clegg on Prime Ministerial trust?


ICM was the only of the pollsters to keep a consistent position on Cameron, though largely this is because 77% of the people polled had already decided on their voting outcome.

Result: Cameron won, but in voters that were watching who changed their minds, 15% of people, they were very much going for the Lib Dems (38%) rather than the Tories (15%)…especially among the 35-64 age bracket.


We can look at the final debate and say Cameron “won”. But the overall story is the significant win for Clegg, and a loss for Cameron and the Tories. Clegg has soared in popularity, ability and strength in people’s minds; even on issues like ability to be Prime Minister Gordon Brown has roughly stayed the same compared to pre-debate opinion, while Cameron is the only one to *drop* in the public’s estimation of his abilities.

To spin this campaign as a win for Cameron is just that, disingenuous spin. Down in popularity from three weeks ago, down in people’s opinion of how he’ll perform, this whole election campaign has been an eye-opening month for the public and the truth is they don’t like what they’ve seen in Cameron.

Cameron may well end up performing better than Howard in 2005, but his star is most certainly fading.

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About the author
Lee is a 20 something web developer from Cornwall now residing in Bristol since completing his degree at the lesser university. He has strange dreams, a big appetite, a small flat, and when not forcing his views on the world he is probably eating a cookie. Lee blogs independently from party colours at Program your own mind.
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Reader comments

“Cameron may well end up performing better than Howard in 2005, but his star is most certainly fading.”

Ha, only by about a point as current projections have it.

Let’s get some popcorn and kick-back to watch the Tory Civil War.

I only say “may” in the sense polls seem to suggest they may gain a point or two…like you say, it’s hardly an improvement!

Do these polls make likely voter adjustments?

Yes. Go check them for yourself

5. Mike Killingworth

A couple of Tories in my local shopping centre to-day. One thought they should go into co-alition with the Lib Dems, the other thought they shouldn’t. Neither were jumping with joy.

I love the smell of Tory fear in the shopping centre.

Anyone care to start a book on how long Cameron lasts when they don’t win a majority next Thursday?

7. Mike Killingworth

Alas, the polls are now suggesting that he will get a majority after all. The press will no doubt bang away at the need for one to avoid a run on the £.

I think this is very interesting. Despite actual on-paper wins for Clegg, Cameron is deemed to have “won” anyway. It’s a narrative reasserting itself, on no real basis. In that sense, it is all fairly predictable. “Tories winning in 2010” has been a narrative for at least three years. What caused it to wobble was the sudden emergence of a strong anti-duopoly narrative, with the added drama of being near the finish line, and the wobble may, or may not, have ended. Almost regardless of the actual outcome, the question for Lib Dems and their supporters on Friday will be where does the anti-duopoly narrative go next?

Mike: None of the polls currently suggest a Tory majority, don’t listen to a biased newspaper doing a bullshit extrapolation of a marginals poll across the whole of UK including Scotland.

10. Mike Killingworth

[10] Of course I don’t. I do keep my eye on Smithson’s site, though.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Carl Baker

    RT @libcon: What does "winning" even mean? http://bit.ly/dnnJgN

  2. Lee Griffin

    RT @libcon What does "winning" even mean? http://bit.ly/dnnJgN <– post about Cameron's debate win, a deeper look at the polls #ukelection

  3. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: What does “winning” even mean?: It seems to be that the story of last night will be that Cameron won the … http://bit.ly/aBmPTO

  4. Liberal Conspiracy

    What does "winning" even mean? http://bit.ly/dnnJgN

  5. Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » What does “winning” even mean? -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal Conspiracy, Carl Baker and Lee Griffin, Naadir Jeewa. Naadir Jeewa said: Reading: What does “winning” even mean?: It seems to be that the story of last night will be that Cameron won the … http://bit.ly/aBmPTO […]

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