In the aftermath of Nick Griffin's Question Time appearance the BNP have soared ahead in the opinion polls. Or have they?
A poll done yesterday found they have 3% support, up a grand total of 1%. But 3% is what they got at the end of September. (UK Polling Report: YouGov verdict on BNP's Question Time) And 2-3% is how they've been generally doing in polls anyway. So despite all the outrage about the polls (see BBC News: BNP support in poll sparks anger) have we got nothing more than a standard statistical fluctuation?
Small parties are rarely the focus of opinion polls so there isn't a great deal of data to compare this one to. And the way a poll is asked can have a greater effect on a small party's result than on the larger ones - people are more likely to say they're voting BNP, UKIP or Green if the party is named in the initial list available than a generic "others" that leads to a further list. A specific poll focusing on a small party will bring similar name recognition.
The other results in the YouGov poll include a headline "22% of people questioned would "seriously consider" voting BNP". Actually it's 7% "definitely or probably" and 15% who said it's "possible". And the latter probably includes some "never say never" respondents. There is a poll from 2006 that lacked the "possible" option and found 20% would consider voting for the BNP.
There was also a question about positive/negative attitudes to the BNP, which can be compared to one taken after the Euro elections. Then it was 11% with a positive attitude compared to 72% negative. Now those figures are 9% and 71% - another statistical fluctuation.
Is there a "shy BNP factor" that makes people reluctant to admit to voting for the party? Probably - but one would expect it to be present in previous polls. And YouGov's online polling has frequently managed to penetrate the wall of embarrassment on other questions in ways that face-to-face and phone polling hasn't.
So what does any of this show? Well the overnight reaction is that despite a few headline claims there hasn't been any significant effect either way from Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time. So far it doesn't appear to have been a major boost for the party, but neither has it delivered a knock-out blow.
But this is only so far. For a long time the BNP have benefited from the way opposition to them has been divided on several points, mainly over whether to challenge them directly or pretend that No Platform policies work in this day and age. (And although more minor, the way that some on the mainstream right seem to spend more time demanding the BNP be described as a left-wing party than anything else is really not doing any good at all.) Even now people are still arguing over whether it was right to have the BNP on Question Time and I fear the confront or marginalise debate will continue, to the BNP's advantage.