The polls might still be overstating Labour

August 20th, 2016


Disillusionment and disengagement rather than defection is the danger

The Ipsos-Mori poll this week contained a paradox. On the one hand, Labour’s headline voting intention share was 34%, some way up on their General Election performance. On the other, Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings were awful. His overall score of -34 was bad enough but his net rating with Labour’s own voters, at -7%, was considerably lower than Theresa May’s approval rating of some +16% with those same voters. In fact his true overall rating may be even worse: 13% of Conservatives stated they were satisfied with how Corbyn was doing his job, which is not necessarily an endorsement of his effectiveness in leading Labour. What’s going on?

The simple answer to that is that Mori report Labour to be picking up support from the Lib Dems and UKIP faster than they’re shedding it. The increased Tory lead is the consequence of a better retention rate of 2015 voters (though both are high: Con leads with 94% to Labour’s 90% among the sample that generates the headline figure), and the Tories gaining former UKIP and Lib Dem voters even faster than Labour.

The Conservative figure I can understand. A new leader is in place and against the divisions or irrelevance of her opponents and the tarnished reputation of her predecessor, she is being bathed in a very favourable light. That won’t last but for now she can enjoy her honeymoon with the public.

The Labour score makes a lot less sense and we ought to interrogate it far more closely.

Mori do apply a turnout filter – only those who say they are 9/10 or 10/10 to vote are counted – but I’d question whether even that is tough enough. The public invariably overestimates their willingness to cast a vote. There are some technical reasons for why a 100% turnout is impossible such as double-registration of students studying away from home but these aren’t sufficient to account for the difference between the actual turnout and those the polls suggest would happen.

Mori report almost 70% as ‘certain’ to vote, 75% as 9+ out of 10 (the base they use for their headline figures), and 80% as 8+. By contrast, the last general election achieved only a 66% turnout and that was the best this century. It is true that the EURef generated a 72% turnout but it would be foolhardy to read that across to a general election, where different factors are in play and where the result that each vote contributes to is in many cases much less in doubt than the referendum was.

And Labour voters above all have a history of not turning out. The ten lowest turnouts in the 2015 election outside of N Ireland were all in seats won comfortably by Labour. If they were the only place that a discrepancy between anticipated and actual voting took place, it wouldn’t matter. They’re not.

For all the attempts to rework methodology over the years, polls seem to retain an enduringly stubborn bias to Labour when it matters. To answer why that is is to seek the holy grail of polling but one factor I suspect is at play is that those with a broad inclination to Labour are disproportionately more likely to say that they’ll vote and then not follow up on that claim than their Tory equivalents.

Were it only in safe seats that the phenomenon displayed itself then it wouldn’t matter for the outcome. A seat won on a 40% turnout is worth the same as one won on double that. However, that’s probably not the case. Seats are not homogenous throughout and the key marginals will contain strong Labour and strong Tory areas; areas which in local elections exhibit a similar trend of differential turnout are likely to carry their habits of voting or not voting into a General Election.

Similarly, we know that Labour’s support is skewed to the young and the Tories’ to the elderly, and we also know which group is far more likely to actually cast their ballot papers. The polls should be correcting for this but if the polls are wrong about intended turnout – and they invariably are – then they may not be correcting enough.

To some extent we shouldn’t make a general case out of the Mori poll. The 34% they reported was well above the level that other pollsters have found (generally, a couple of points either side of 30% for the last two months; ICM recorded a 28% Labour share this week), but the general question still applies: is it really credible that a party with a leader that is viewed so poorly across the board, and particularly by those who say they’d vote for it, would really poll at or above the level they achieved in the 2015 election?

The evidence from real elections is mixed. The results from both May and from local by-elections point to churn rather than any consistent movement to or from Labour – which might suggest that they should be at least at their 2015GE share. However, William Hague’s Conservatives also recorded good interim election results in 1998-2001 which flattered to deceive when it mattered (although Hague’s Tories were so far behind in the national polls that they weren’t so much out of sight as lapped).

Successful prediction is the art of sifting useful evidence away from that which misleads. Which of today’s evidence is misleading us? My guess is that it’s the Labour retention figures; that were they asked to, far fewer of those inclined to Labour but who aren’t satisfied with Corbyn would turn out than say they would at a time when the government of the country was at stake. And unless Labour can sort out its leadership problem or the pollsters can sort out their problems with their intention to vote figures, that structural error is likely to remain.

David Herdson


As LAB members prepare to vote a reminder of the demographic splits at GE2015

August 19th, 2016

GE2015 result MORI
Ipsos MORI

And the Sept 2015 LAB leadership result



Mrs. May’s new PM ratings honeymoon is bigger than Thatcher’s, Cameron’s or Brown’s, but smaller than Major or Blair

August 19th, 2016

Putting the current ratings numbers into a historical context

With a lot of the non-LAB leadership politics discussion being on May’s polling honeymoon I thought I’d look back at the old MORI ratings to see how other new PM’s were doing at this stage in their occupancy of Number 10.

To its great credit Ipsos MORI keeps excellent historical records and has a whole section devoted to old polling data. So compiling the above has been easy.

Interestingly Mrs. Thatcher was only scoring a net 2% positive satisfaction rating in August 1979 which is the first rating recorded after her success in the election three months earlier. Even in June 1982 when she was basking in her Falklands triumph she only had a net positive of 23%.

At the end of her era John Major recorded the second best new PM ratings on record – a net 46%. This dropped rapidly in the years ahead as he sought to keep the party together over Europe and fight off the accomplished Tony Blair. The new Labour leader’s opening ratings in June 1997 top just about everything a net 59%.

Brown was a net plus 20% two months in after taking over from Blair in June 2007. Cameron, as can be seen scored a net +23% a couple of months after becoming PM.

All saw declines as the years went by and no doubt May will experience the same.

Mike Smithson


Making sense of this week’s UK and US polling – the PB/Polling Matters TV Show

August 18th, 2016

Hardly a day’s gone by without some new UK poll much of it focused on the new PM and, of course, the Smth-Corbyn battle for the Labour leadership. On top of that WH2016 gets closer and the question is being asked of whether a Hillary Clinton is now inevitable.

Discussing this with Keiran Pedley is pollster Rob Vance and polling analyst Leo Barasi.

On this week’s podcast the team continue the new format of the show. Each guest picks a polling topic to talk about and the group discuss it. Topics covered include whether victories for Theresa May and Hilary Clinton are inevitable. Also discussed what the new PB/YouGov poll on the public’s favourability towards different parties and politicians tells us about UK politics. The PB/Polling Matters team also discusses a recent YouGov poll showing Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s most popular Prime Minister since she took office and what that tells us about the future of British politics.

You can follow Keiran @KeiranPedley, Leo at @leobarasi and Rob @RobVance.

The audio version is here available below



Tonight’s ten local by-elections with UKIP, CON, LAB and the LDs defending seats

August 18th, 2016

Pelham (Lab defence) on Gravesham
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 23, Labour 21 (Conservative majority of 2)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 1,792, 1,708, 1,625 (50%)
Conservatives 1,246, 1,131, 1,038 (35%)
Green Party 525 (15%)
Referendum Result: REMAIN 18,876 (35%) LEAVE 35,643 (65%) on a turnout of 75%
Candidates duly nominated: Conrad Broadley (Con), Emma Foreman (Eng Dem), Marna Gilligan (Green), Gary Harding (UKIP), Sharan Virk (Lib Dem), Jenny Wallace (Lab)

Gravesham East (Lab defence) on Kent
Result of council at last election (2013): Conservatives 45, United Kingdom Independence Party 17, Labour 13, Liberal Democrats 7, Green Party 1, Residents 1 (Conservative majority of 6)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 3,659, 3,581 (45%)
Conservatives 2,786, 2,250 (32%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 2,342 (15%)
English Democrats 663 (4%)
Liberal Democrats 380 (2%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 265 (2%)
Referendum Result (county result): REMAIN 396,590 (41%) LEAVE 576,597 (59%) on a turnout of 76%
Candidates duly nominated: Tina Brooker (UKIP), Diane Marsh (Con), Mark Marsh (Lib Dem), Lyn Milner (Lab), Martin Wilson (Green)

Ormesby (Lib Dem defence) on Redcar and Cleveland
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 29, Liberal Democrats 11, Conservatives 10, Independents 8, United Kingdom Independence Party 1 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 1)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Liberal Democrats 1,358, 1,298, 1,083 (42%)
Labour 681, 616, 590 (21%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 621 (19%)
Conservative 413 (13%)
Independents 180, 163, 151 (6%)
Referendum Result: REMAIN 24,586 (34%) LEAVE 48,128 (66%) on a turnout of 70%
Candidates duly nominated: Cameron Brown (Con), Philip Lockey (The North East Party), Carole Morgan (Lib Dem), Ian Neil (UKIP), Alison Suthers (Lab)

Catterick (Ind defence) on Richmondshire
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 21, Independents 11, Liberal Democrats 2 (Conservative majority of 8)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Independent 570 (44%)
Conservatives 528, 392 (40%)
Green Party 208 (16%)
Referendum Result: REMAIN 11,945 (43%) LEAVE 15,691 (57%) on a turnout of 75%
Candidates duly nominated: David Coates (Lib Dem), Robbie Kelly (Green), Jill McMullon (Ind), Stephen Wyrill (Con)

Northwood (2 x UKIP defence) on Thanet
Result of council at last election (2015): United Kingdom Independence Party 33, Conservatives 18, Labour 4, Independent 1 (United Kingdom Independence Party majority of 10)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
United Kingdom Independence Party 1,351, 1,344, 1,214 (47%)
Labour 830, 800, 784 (29%)
Conservatives 726, 645, 622 (25%)
Referendum Result: REMAIN 26,065 (36%) LEAVE 46,037 (64%) on a turnout of 73%
Candidates duly nominated by party
Conservatives: Charlie Leys, Marc Rattigan
Labour: Helen Crittenden, Kaz Peet
Liberal Democrats: John Finnegan, Jordan Williams
United Kingdom Independence Party: Lynda Piper, George Rusiecki
Independent: Colin Grostate
Party for a United Thanet: Grahame Birchall

Tooting (Lab defence) on Wandsworth
Result of council at last election (2014): Conservatives 41, Labour 19 (Conservative majority of 22)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 2,499, 2,495, 2,371 (45%)
Conservatives 1,583, 1,525, 1,427 (28%)
Green Party 622 (11%)
Liberal Democrats 361, 327, 286 (7%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 292 (5%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 115 (2%)
Communist 112 (2%)
Referendum Result: REMAIN 118,463 (75%) LEAVE 39,421 (25%) on a turnout of 72%
Candidates duly nominated: Eileen Arms (Lib Dem), Alexander Balkan (Soc Dem), Thom Norman (Con), Roy Vickery (Green), Paul White (Lab)

Farnham South (Con defence) on Surrey
Result of council at last election (2013): Conservatives 58, Liberal Democrats 9, Residents 7, United Kingdom Independence Party 3, Independents 2, Green Party 1, Labour 1 (Conservative majority of 35)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Conservative 1,677 (50%), Independent 542 (16%), United Kingdom Independence Party 542 (16%), Non Party Independent 344 (10%), Labour 233 (7%)
Referendum Result (county result): REMAIN 350,831 (52%) LEAVE 321,836 (48%) on a turnout of 79%
Candidates duly nominated: Joanne Aylwin (Lib Dem), Paul Chapman (UKIP), Jerry Hyman (Farnham Residents), Robert Ramsdale (Con), Mark Westcott (Ind), Fabian Wood (Lab)

Farnham, Shortheath and Boundstone (Con defence) on Waverley
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 53, Independents 4 (Conservative majority of 49)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,064, 806 (45%)
Farnham Residents 958, 781 (41%)
Labour 337 (14%)
Referendum Result: REMAIN 44,341 (58%) LEAVE 31,601 (42%) on a turnout of 82%)
Candidates duly nominated: Jim Burroughs (UKIP), Sylvia Jacobs (Lib Dem), Andrew Jones (Ind), Donal O’Neill (Con), John Ward (Farnham Residents)

Farnham Castle (Con defence) R on Waverley
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Farnham Residents 1,043 (35%)
Conservatives 797, 641 (26%)
Liberal Democrat 736 (24%)
Labour 438 (15%)
Candidates duly nominated: Stewart Edge (Lib Dem), George Hesse (UKIP), Jerry Hyman (Farnham Residents), Nicholas Le Gal (Con)

Compiled by Harry Hayfield


Cyclefree on the perils of hubris

August 18th, 2016

Dave Quit

“It’s the economy, stupid” has been the default position for electoral campaigns for seemingly forever. It was fundamentally the basis on which Remain campaigned. It appears to be the reason why the Tories are confident that a Corbyn-led Labour party cannot win, not just because of Corbyn himself but because it will be easy to point at how Labour will ruin the economy. But is this truism always true? During our post-referendum summer languor, it may be worth looking at what the Remain campaign did or did not do to see if there are some lessons for future electoral campaigns.

My list of five things which went wrong with the Remain case.

1. Show. Don’t Tell.

That the EU and Britain’s membership of it was a good thing was taken as a given. But if you want to win an argument you can’t simply assert what you need to prove. In its understandable desire to set out the possible/likely negative consequences of departure, the Remain side never really appeared to argue confidently for a pro-EU case. It moved between saying that the EU wasn’t working and needed reform (the Bloomberg speech) to saying that all depended on the renegotiation (but not involving anyone outside a very small group into what such a renegotiation should seek to achieve) to overselling the result to ignoring it completely to arguing that the EU as is was better than the alternative but only by focusing on the ghastliness of the alternatives. This incoherence fatally undermined the Remain case. No wonder London was the only part of England and Wales to vote convincingly for Remain. It already knew the case. It was the rest of the country which needed convincing. But you can’t convince if you don’t really know or believe your own case.

2. Know your weaknesses. Address them.

It was obvious that immigration was going to be a concern for a significant group of voters. Remain should have thought long and hard long before the campaign started about how they were going to answer their critics and make a positive case for free movement (and there is one – beyond saying that it is necessary for membership of the single market). They didn’t. And when they did accept that free movement was necessary, it was presented as a bitter pill which had to be swallowed. Not an obviously winning argument. Describing free movement as “a price to be paid” without considering who paid the price, who got the benefits and whether both costs and benefits were fairly distributed is an odd position for politicians, particularly Labour politicians, to be in. If the fairness of a policy’s outcome is not Labour’s raison d’être then, what, really is Labour for? Remain were blind-sided by immigration. They should not have been.

3. Treat your voters as intelligent adults.

Basic stuff really in a democracy. But too often forgotten. People may be ignorant, stupid, perverse, chippy, bitter, deluded, selfish, self-interested, smug, silly or as wise as Solomon. But they can tell when they’re being patronised or ignored. Too many on the Remain side said that each vote – and, therefore, each voter – counted and then proceeded to treat too many of them as morons. The gap between the two was where the Leave vote came from.

4. Tone is everything.

How you say something matters as much as what you say. You can make people listen to and even accept a difficult decision or an unpleasant truth if you do so honestly and intelligently, if you treat your audience as adults. The tone of the Remain campaign seemed to show a tin ear for Britain. Hectoring voters rarely works.

5. The “pull” factor needs to be more attractive than the “push” one.

The result was a vote against the EU, against the elite which it seemed to represent, against the apparent consequences of globalisation, against an internationalism which, despite its good intentions, seemed to ignore the ordinary person (and much else besides). The fact that the alternative may be unclear – what does Brexit mean? – or incoherent or that it may/will make things worse for voters, including the most ardent Leavers, is not necessarily enough. Anger and resentment can be powerful drivers for action, more powerful even than fear.

Does any of this matter? After all, Remain lost. Yes, it does.

All of the above criticisms can be made in reverse and, in some cases, with even more force, of the Leave side. And since the government is now in favour of Brexit, it will need to think intelligently about and explain to us:
(1) what Britain’s future strategy for the EU and the rest of the world is to be – something which has not really been done in the last few decades;
(2) how we get from here to there;
(3) how the government is going to address the gap between the overall desire of the majority and the needs and desires of the Remain minority, who – though this should not need saying – are a key part of the country and its future;
(4) how to present all of this and the trade-offs which will be needed (not least between being open for business and people and having a sensible immigration policy) honestly and intelligently to the voters; and,
(5) finally and most importantly, that they will do so in a tone and style which shows a Britain outside the EU at its best, both to all of those in Britain, whether citizens or not, and to the world. This is something which has not – shamefully – always been done on the Leave side. Dishonest scapegoating of the other needs to stop. The manner of one’s departure – and how one behaves after it – matter just as much as the fact of it, something which has too often been forgotten by some.

More importantly, the Tories should not assume that the next election is in the bag, whatever the polls may now say.

If voters feel that the status quo in 2020 (whatever that status turns out to be) is still working against them or not for them, if voters see a Tory party which is not presenting a positive case for election, if voters see a party which is not addressing its concerns, if they do not see a party explaining honestly why the voters cannot have their cake and eat it, then the anger and resentment (whether at the terms of Brexit or at how the ordinary people are still ignored) may be enough to propel voters to vote against the Tories, no matter how competent they may be on the economy and no matter how useless Corbyn/Labour may be.

All the aspects of Corbyn which repel some may be irrelevant to voters if they hear someone talking about a country where the ordinary person is ignored or patronised by Westminster, ripped off by privatised railway companies putting up fares and providing no trains, or by banks still gouging customers, by those at the top claiming to be worth sums beyond the dreams of avarice, by property prices in the stratosphere, by long waits for operations etc.

Maybe the most important lesson of the referendum is this: if enough people are annoyed with the status quo, they will vote against it even if that means voting for something pretty rubbish. The “push” factor can overwhelm any consideration of the “pull” factor. Having done it once in the referendum, it would be wise to assume that voters might get a taste for it. Just because the official Opposition appears to be missing in action doesn’t mean that voters won’t make their own minds up. If Project Fear did not work in the referendum, why assume that it will work in an election campaign against Labour? Something for the Tories to ponder as they look at the polls.



The reason Theresa May is rating so well, even amongst LAB voters, is that she exudes competence

August 18th, 2016


Her current LAB alternative does not

Yesterday’s shock leader satisfaction ratings from Ipsos MORI that had May with net a positive from LAB voters while Corbyn was given a net negative by the same segment was totally unprecedented. Generally people respond to leader ratings on party basis.

The numbers come on top of a series of leader ratings which have been very good for the new PM and very bad for Corbyn who is battling to hang on to his job.

What they all underline is a truth about voting behaviour that a critical thing we look for in our political leaders is competence. We might not like some of the policies they espouse and implement but at least the impression is that policy is developed and decisions appear to be being made in a proper and fair manner taking into account all the relevant factors.

This is why Labour struggled so much at GE2015 because at the time the person who appeared the most competent was the then PM not the Labour alternative.

It is also I’d suggest what is behind the current Tory surge under the new Prime Minister and why things look glum for Labour incumbent as he struggles to maintain his job. Whether or not you agree with his policy positions he doesn’t exude an aura of competence and the ability to run and lead the country.

If he can’t maintain the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues he’s hardly going to appear a credible alternative PM. That PLP vote was devastating for Corbyn and makes his situation almost untenable even if he hangs on in the current leadership election.

Things have been exacerbated to an enormous extent by the uncertainty created by the referendum outcome. May gives the impression of being able to navigate through the story waters ahead and so gets good polling support.

Of course there is plenty of time for Theresa May to screw things up and I very much doubt whether the August 2016 leader ratings are going to continue but for the moment things are on her side.

Mike Smithson


The WH2016 TV ad war: How Clinton is outspending Trump in the key swing states

August 17th, 2016


NBC News data