Election '97: More women, honesty and a new set of faces, please

Stephen Fay finds some unexpected findings in the Independent on Sunday/MORI poll
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Indy Politics
John Major would have to look hard to find the one encouraging item in this week's Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror MORI poll. But among the small print is the fact that more professional and managerial voters - the ABs - say they believe he would make a more capable prime minister than Tony Blair (by 40 per cent to 31). Although no other group preferred Major, he did, however, manage to reduce Blair's lead in the capability stakes from 46-22 last week to 39-27; and this is the best explanation for the marginal, two-point improvement, in the Conservative Party's standing in last week's two MORI polls.

But, for Major, the good news ends there. The evidence of the IoS/Sunday Mirror poll suggests that we may be about to witness the most dramatic shift in seats from one party to another ever since 1945 when Labour swept to power. Not only do four out of five electors want to see new faces in power, 53 per cent of Conservative voters want a new team at the top.

And sleaze will not go away. The message to Neil Hamilton and the Conservatives of Tatton is mercilessly clear: 89 per cent believe that MPs should be forced to resign if accusations of financial misconduct against them are true, and there is little difference in attitude between supporters of both parties; 87 per cent of Tory voters would have miscreants out. People are more tolerant of sexual misconduct, although 56 per cent would drum out of the Commons MPs who get exposed, especially DE - unskilled - voters, 71 per cent of whom would show no tolerance, compared to 49 per cent of the ABs who would.

But the worst news of all for the Prime Minister is that the issues on which he would choose to fight the campaign have lit no fires among the voters. As our table shows, the reform of the constitution and the threat of trade unions under Labour come right at the bottom of the list of 15 issues that will affect the outcome of the election. The Prime Minister may be encouraged to see that Europe languishes in the bottom half of the list, but taxation is considered less important than pensions, and only slightly more important than the economy. Moreover, the Conservatives get less praise than they believe they ought for recent improvements in the economy; 42 per cent say they do deserve credit, 42 per cent disagree, and a majority (42 to 35) believes that Labour would do a better job of running the economy.

Despite the promise of Blair and Gordon Brown, a majority of voters still believes that most people will pay more taxes if Labour wins the election, although the numbers have fallen sharply in the last five years (from a 69 to 22 per cent margin of people believing taxes would go up in 1992 to 47 to 33 now). Labour's concentration on health and education reflects the priorities of the electors.

One issue on which supporters of all three parties agree - by 64 per cent to 23 - is that Britain would be better governed if there were more women in Parliament. Contrary to received prejudice, more Conservatives (56 per cent) hold this view than Liberal Democrats (53 per cent); and while 63 per cent of women believe a better representation of their sex would improve things, women under 25 are notably more enthusiastic than the over 55s (by 71 per cent to 61)..

The proportion of women with no opinion about which party has the best policies for women themselves has risen by one-third, from 30 per cent to 40 per cent, in the last four months. Among women who hold a view, Labour leads the Conservatives by 26 per cent to 16 per cent.

Other items in the poll tell us about:

Swing: Some 35 per cent of the voters are undecided or may change their minds about whom they'll vote for.

Turnout: We may see the lowest turnout since 1945. The proportion of electors who say they are certain to vote is 5 per cent lower than at this stage of any of the last four elections.

Manifestos: These are taken more seriously than many experts think - 53 per cent say that they are either very or fairly likely to read or look at the manifestos.

Single issues: These appear to lack potency once the campaign begins. Only 3 per cent say they would be certain to switch from a party that favoured banning hand guns; 6 per cent would switch from an anti-abortion party; and 9 per cent would transfer allegiance from a party that promised to restore the death penalty.

The age gap: Although the swing to Labour is higher among under 25s (16.5 per cent) than over 55s (11.5 per cent), senior citizens are nearly twice as likely to vote.

The survey was conducted by MORI exclusively for the 'Independent on Sunday'/'Sunday Mirror' among a representative quota sample of 1,069 electors at 78 enumeration district sampling points. All interviews were conducted face-to-face on 2-3 April 1997. Data were weighted to match the profile of the population. The voting intention figures exclude those who say they would not vote (4 per cent), are undecided (9 per cent) or refuse to name a party (2 per cent). Details of MORI's general election poll results are on the website: www.mori.com. MORI/IoS/Sunday Mirror

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