Polling Matters review of the week: Immigration, Blair and looking ahead to Copeland and Stoke

February 19th, 2017

Keiran Pedley reviews the events of last week and looks ahead to a big few days for Labour.

On this week’s podcast I was joined by Leo Barasi and Harry Carr of Sky Data. We looked at Trump’s approval ratings in their historic context, YouGov polling for Channel 4 on ‘fake news’ and our latest Polling Matters / Opinium survey. You can listen to the episode below or by clicking here.

Our Polling Matters survey this week was on immigration. Our aim with these surveys is to go beyond the soundbites and try to understand some of the issues that we know are important in more detail. With that in mind we put 9 statements related to immigration to a nationally representative sample and asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with them.

Perceived impact on public services drives public immigration concern

A summary of the results can be found in the table below. Some findings will not surprise. The public is divided over whether immigration is good for the UK overall and there is consensus that immigration is currently too high (65%). That said, the public do recognise some of the pragmatic arguments for immigration and 65% agree that they want people that come to the UK to feel welcome.

Note: Opinium surveyed a representative sample of 2011 UK adults online between 10 and 14 Feb

However, by far the most striking finding in my opinion is that 68% agree that ‘immigration places too much pressure on public services like housing and the NHS’. For me, this finding represents the untold story of the Brexit vote last June. It is my view that the perception, right or wrong, that immigration places an unreasonable burden on public services is what turns a relatively niche right-wing issue into something to cuts through with the majority of the public. How political leaders address this perception in the future, particularly on the left, is going to be very important in how this debate is resolved in the years to come (if indeed it is resolved).

Blair: right message / wrong messenger?

Tony Blair was in the news this week arguing that the British people should ‘rise up’ to stop Brexit. His plea is likely to be ignored. A Polling Matters / Opinium survey last week showed that 49% of UK adults think Blair did a bad job as PM. Part of Blair’s problem, as Leo Barasi wrote on this site last week, is that his brand is toxic not only among Conservatives but Labour voters too. YouGov data backs this up, showing that some 74%(!) are unfavourable towards Blair overall (including 68% of current Labour voters).

Blair’s supporters will argue that the former PM has every right to intervene and that no one else is championing the pro Remain cause within Labour. Both of these things are true. The problem is that the public are more likely to be turned off than persuaded by Blair’s intervention (see below).  With 82% of Leave voters unfavourable toward Blair it doesn’t look like he is the right person to persuade Leave voters that they made the wrong decision last June.

Looking ahead: Corbyn to limp on?

This week sees the people of Copeland and Stoke go to the polls (well some of them anyway) and the pressure is on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to deliver. Rumours are swirling that even his allies in the Labour Party are pondering life beyond Jez.  However, his opponents are still plagued by the twin problems of the lack of an obvious successor and the burden of low expectations. Labour should be walking both by-elections at this point in the electoral cycle but with expectations so low holding either will feel like a win for Corbyn and holding both will strengthen his leadership further.  At least it will among Labour members.

If Labour does hold both seats, don’t be surprised if the story this time next weekend is Paul Nuttall rather than Jeremy Corbyn. This week’s Polling Matters / Opinium survey will be worth a look. We ask if Corbyn and Nuttall are the right or wrong people to lead their parties into the next General Election. We will be looking at the numbers by all voters, those definitely voting Labour and UKIP and those that will consider voting for each party. The difference between committed voters for each party and those on the fence ought to be very interesting.  Results will be published with next week’s podcast.

You can listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast with Keiran, Leo Barasi and Head of Sky Data Harry Carr below:

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley


Betting on whether Diane Abbott will be Shadow Home Secretary at the end of 2017

February 19th, 2017

William Hill have a market up whether or not Diane Abbott will be Shadow Home Secretary at the end of 2017. It has been a difficult few weeks for her, particularly over the Article 50 votes, so I can understand why William Hill have put up this market. I’ve spent a few hours trying to work out what the best option is, and I still can’t decide. I think if I had to choose I’d take the 3/1 but it is no bet for me because of that.

The reason I thought of backing the 3/1 was that Brexit will dominate Parliament and politics for next few years at least, which lead to Mrs Abbott being forced to back Brexit, which could lead to further migraines problems for her and her boss, ultimately leading to her being sacked. But then Corbyn isn’t sacking his whips who rebelled against him, perhaps she might be safe after rebelling.

With the feeling of some, myself included, that we’re approaching the end of Corbyn’s tenure as leader, a new leader might not keep her as Shadow Home Secretary, but there’s probably better bets available if you think Corbyn is going this year.

Backing the 2/9 did have some virtues, she and Corbyn do have a long history, and she is one of  his most loyal and passionate supporters, and he’s not in position to lose people like that in his shadow cabinet. But the bet might not pay out if Diane Abbott is moved to another role such as Shadow Chancellor or Shadow Foreign Secretary, although such a move would be unfair on the incumbents who seem to be putting in relatively decent performances in their role, especially Emily Thornberry.

Perhaps PBers can come up with a compelling reason(s) for which side of this bet I should be backing.



Main polling headlines from the US and in the UK

February 18th, 2017

Trump slumps to historic approval rating low less than a month after becoming President

CON lead over LAB up 6% with Opinium


The latest PB cartoon on Tony Blair’s Brexit intervention

February 18th, 2017

Cartoon by Helen Cochrane and Nicholas Leonard.


YouGov’s BREXIT tracker is back to exactly where it was just after Theresa May became PM

February 18th, 2017

For all the machinations opinion simply hasn’t changed

Above is YouGov’s BREXIT tracker in which it has been regularly asking the same question “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union?” over many months.”

As can be seen the most striking feature is the almost total lack of movement. In fact the numbers in the latest poll are exactly the same as they were at the start of August 2016 shortly after TMay became PM.

Both leavers and remainers have hardly changed their opinions.

What I like about trackers is that the same question is put every time in exactly the same manner. If there had been a movement then we would see it.

These are the party splits in the latest polling.

What will change things is when we start to get a sense of what BREXIT is actually going to look like and we won’t know that until after Article 50 is invoked.

Mike Smithson


Losses for the LDs and Tories in latest local elections plus preview of one more contest tonight

February 17th, 2017

Bollington on Cheshire East (Con defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result: Bollington First 939 (51% +14%), Conservative 319 (17% -14%), Labour 239 (13% -8%), Liberal Democrat 198 (11% unchanged), Green 162 (9%, no candidate at last election)
Bollington First GAIN from Conservative with a majority of 620 (33%) on a swing of 14% from Conservative to Bolington First

St. Thomas on Dudley (Lab defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result: Labour 1,466 (61% +4%), United Kingdom Independence Party 653 (27% +5%), Conservative 249 (10% -6%), Green Party 52 (2% -2%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 813 (34%) on a swing of 0.5% from Labour to United Kingdom Independence Party

Burton on East Staffordshire (Lib Dem defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result: Liberal Democrat 271 (53% +6%), Labour 127 (25% -5%), United Kingdom Independence Party 60 (12%, no candidate at last election), Conservative 56 (11% -12%)
Liberal Democrat HOLD with a majority of 144 (28%) on a swong of 5.5% from Labour to Liberal Democrat

Lydbrook and Ruardean on Forest of Dean (Ind defence, elected as United Kingdom Independence Party)
Result: Green Party 360 (35% +19%), Conservative 248 (24% +7%), Labour 231 (23% +1%), United Kingdom Independence Party 113 (11% -10%), Liberal Democrat 67 (7%, no candidate at last election)
Green Party GAIN from Independent with a majority of 112 (11%) on a swing of 6% from Conservative to Green

Failsworth East on Oldham (Lab defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result: Labour 829 (58% +4%), Conservative 360 (25% +8%), United Kingdom Independence Party 166 (12% -12%), Green Party 49 (4% +1%), Liberal Democrat 16 (1% -1%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 469 (33%) on a swing of 2% from Labour to Conservative

Elsenham and Henham on Uttlesford (Two Lib Dem defences, resignations of sitting members)
Result: Emboldened denotes elected
Residents for Uttlesford 834 E, 716 E (59%, no candidates at last election)
Liberal Democrats 316, 259 (23% -24%)
Conservatives 141, 120 (10% -11%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 68, 64 (5%, no candidates at last election)
Labour 39, 28 (3% -2%)
Green Party 8, 6 (1%, no candidates at last election)
Two Residents for Uttlesford GAINS from Liberal Democrats

Emmbrook on Wokingham (Con defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result of council at last election (2016): Conservatives 48, Liberal Democrats 5, Labour 1 (Conservative majority of 42)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Conservative 1,085 (38%), Liberal Democrat 1,074 (37%), United Kingdom Independence Party 447 (16%), Labour 287 (10%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 55,272 (57%) LEAVE 42,229 (43%) on a turnout of 79%
Candidates duly nominated: Christopher Everett (Lab), Kevin Morgan (Con), Phil Ray (UKIP), Imogen Shepherd-Dubey (Lib Dem)
Weather at the close of polls: Cloudy but dry, 6°C
Estimate: Too close to call between Conservative and Liberal Democrat


Six times as many LD supporters say they’re concerned about BREXIT than UKIP voters

February 17th, 2017

This dynamic could have an impact next Thursday

The above chart is based on data from the latest Ipsos MORI issues index and shows the party splits of those, unprompted, naming BREXIT as the main, or one of the the main, issues facing Britain at the moment.

As can be seen there is a huge gap between the LDs, with 79% raising it, to UKIP voters where the figure is 15%. The Tory figure is highish well ahead of LAB.

    I’d suggest that this might be reflected in the turnouts in the two Westminster by-elections next Thursday. The main challenge for UKIP is to convert perceived anger about BREXIT into votes actually cast.

How strong is that feeling for UKIP backers to go to the polls to give LAB a good kicking? We’ll know next Friday morning. There’s also the question of whether LD voters are more motivated.

Each month for 40 years Ipsos MORI has been operating a totally unique poll – its Issues Index. On this those sampled are simply asked face to face “What do you see as the main/other important issues facing Britain today?”. They are given the time to respond and can name any number of things that come into heads.

Because of the unprompted nature of the approach this has been regarded over the decades as one of the best tests of the salience of issues without the question wording itself having an impact on the responses. This has stood the test of time.

Mike Smithson


The return of Butskellism

February 17th, 2017

On seeing Sarah Bernhardt play Cleopatra a Victorian matron exclaimed: “How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear Queen!”  Leave supporters might voice similar sentiments about the very different ways in which Theresa May and Donald Trump have chosen to capitalise on their respective ascents to power.

President Trump has chosen to lead the nation as he campaigned – divisively, aggressively and with scant regard for longstanding conventions.  His spokesman has pronounced that the president’s national security actions will not be questioned, including by the judiciary, and he warned about judicial intervention, “we will make sure that we take action to keep from happening in the future what’s happened in the past.”  President Trump has become deeply embroiled in a scandal over the extent of Russian links and influence over his administration.  Meanwhile he has found time to quarrel over the size of his inauguration crowd and go into bat on his daughter’s behalf with a department store that had dropped her range of clothes.  He seems intent on dismantling longstanding conventions and consensuses and rewriting ethical rules in order to ram through whatever he wants to achieve.

Mrs May has gone in a very different direction.  In order to understand this, we first need to see how policy stood when she took over.  David Cameron and George Osborne had run an administration that was in the main socially fairly liberal but economically dry as dust.  The 2015 election was fought on the basis of the Conservatives offering eye-watering financial discipline for the current Parliament in order to generate a budgetary surplus and then branding Labour as profligate for failing to match this.  The Conservatives’ election victory was fought and won on austerity.  Ever since 1979, the Conservatives had stood on a platform of economic rigour.  David Cameron’s leadership was unusually liberal but otherwise entirely in keeping with his predecessors from Mrs Thatcher onwards.

Theresa May’s administration has upended this completely.  With Philip Hammond, she has quietly junked the economic machismo.  The projected fiscal tightening has been completely abandoned. 

Instead, Theresa May has focused on meeting the concerns of the “just about managing” – echoing Ed Miliband’s focus on the “squeezed middle”.  She has taken the opportunity given by Labour’s disarray to steal some of Labour’s policy proposals from the last election.  Ed Miliband himself has wryly noted that his idea of seizing land that was not developed quickly enough had gone “From Mugabe to May in a few short years”.  The government is also looking at developing longer tenancies for renters – another Miliband policy that was fiercely attacked by the Conservatives when it came out.

In short, Theresa May has moved the economic consensus sharply left, spotting vacant territory.  Having won the last election on traditional Conservative terrain, the Conservatives have found themselves abandoning it without even noticing.

Instead, the Conservatives are differentiating themselves by moving to the right on social concerns.  This is embodied by the way that Theresa May has interpreted the Brexit vote.  She is prioritising controls on freedom of movement and aggressively seeking to reduce immigration, even to the point of reneging on previous commitments to take in child refugees.  We have learned that she doesn’t approve of self-described citizens of the world and she gracelessly poked at Emily Thornberry for not taking her husband’s name.

So Theresa May has completely reversed the political dividing lines.  Instead of seeking to differentiate the Conservatives from Labour on economics, she is seeking to do so through social conservatism. In contemporary terms, she appears to be seeking to make the Conservative party into a Christian Democrat party – more like Angela Merkel than Margaret Thatcher or Queen Elizabeth I.  The irony in that, given that Brexit looms over everything else at present, is obvious.

In British historical terms, what Theresa May seems to be setting up post-Brexit is a return to the post-war consensus commonly nicknamed Butskellism (a hybrid of RAB Butler’s and Hugh Gaitskell’s names), where the two parties basically agreed on leftish economics and slugged it out over social matters.  It would leave UKIP purposeless and the left divided for the foreseeable future.  So it’s easy to see why it would appeal to a Conservative Prime Minister in the current political landscape.

Also ironically, many of the most enthusiastic Leavers, including the erstwhile head of Vote Leave Michael Gove, are fervent economic Thatcherites and socially fairly liberal.  How much they welcome political developments since the vote must be open to doubt.

Of course, Butskellism is now widely regarded to have been a generational failure, leaving Britain as the sick man of Europe lagging far behind the more dynamic nations on the continent.  Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Alastair Meeks