Our monthly survey contains a “don’t know” box for many questions, for the simple reason that respondents may not always have answers.
“Don’t knows” usually come in at single digit figures. For example, only three per cent had no view when asked recently in a specia survey whether Conservative MPs should vote to remove the Prime Minister.
But mull over the percentages that “don’t know” chalked up in the leadership run-offs that we publish today.
The lowest is 13 per cent for Jeremy Hunt versus Ben Wallace. The Defence Secretary has a way of squeezing the don’t knows down as the most popular of the nine names I threw into the fray.
The highest is 37 per cent for Hunt versus Tom Tugendhat. This time round, the “don’t knows” are maximised – as right-of-party-centre panel respondents abstain when presented with what they see as two left-of-party-centre candidates.
Or at least that’s my reading of it.
At any rate, “don’t know” chalked up 20 per cent or above for most contests. Which means that in most pairings, the contenders would have a fifth of the vote to try to squeeze were the contest real.
And in a majority of them that proportion is less than the winning margin. Which further suggests that a future leadership contest is wide open – especially when one takes into account the likelihood of the actual votes for candidates rising and falling.
I apologise to those of you who wanted Lord Frost in the run-offs; or Sajid Javid; or John Redwood, or Michael Gove.
But there had to be a limit to this exercise somewhere, and my choices are as they are. I wanted to test the candidates most likely to stand against two or three eye-catching outsiders eligible to do so, and there it is.
At any rate, it seems to me that the sense of exhaustion that emanates from the Government is enveloping the names we test in these run-offs like a smog – boosting the “don’t knows” and conveying a sense of fin de siecle.
(Though that there is no consensus or enthusiasm for a new broom is good news for the old one: namely, the Prime Minister.)