Only health has more force

The batch of opinion polls in recent days confirms that voters are saying that education is second only to health in importance in deciding between the parties.

However, the extent to which Labour's education policies are favoured over the Conservatives' is unclear. The ICM poll for the Observer suggests the Conservatives have failed to convince the electorate that their reforms have led to higher standards in schools.

Fewer than a third of those polled agreed with the statement: "Conservative education reforms have helped improve standards in schools." Not even a majority of Conservative voters - 47 per cent - believed the reforms had led to higher standards.

This lack of enthusiasm for the Conservatives appears to be in line with a Gallup poll in the Daily Telegraph at the beginning of March. The poll attempted to assess what voters feared most from either a Labour or Conservative victory. High on the list of voters' fears (87 per cent) was that they might end up paying more towards such things as health care, pensions and education under a new Conservative administration.

On Labour, the poll suggests there are fears that the party might abolish grammars and grant-maintained schools, but such concerns are felt by a smaller proportion of voters - 53 per cent.

Such tests of opinion appear to favour Labour's education policies. The MORI poll for the Evening Standard indicates that in the capital, a key election battleground, education overtakes health as the most important issue.

In terms of which party has the best policies, however, Labour has a far bigger lead over the Conservatives on health - around 40 points. Labour has a 19-point lead over the Conservatives on the question of which party has the best policies on education, slightly out of line with the lead the party has overall.

At this stage in the last election campaign, Labour had a 16-point lead over the Conservatives on education, though the subject did not appear to hold the same influence on voters.

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