Tag Archive | "opinion polls"

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LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012

Posted on 10 April 2012 by admin

The big contest, looming over the rest of the electoral landscape this May, is the election for Mayor of London. The Mayoralty is powerful, London is politically marginal territory, polls so far suggest that the race will be close and as in 2008 Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson are both strong personalities, so there is reason even apart from the media’s metropolitan bias to concentrate on this election. It is very difficult to call, and may come down to events during the London campaign. Johnson is a lot more viable as a candidate in London than a generic Conservative – if it were purely about national party support, Labour would walk the election because they have a 16-point lead over the Tories. Labour’s general strength in London may show through more in the Assembly elections, where Labour should become the largest party for the first time in the Assembly’s history. This has few consequences for policy, because the Mayor decides, but Labour would find it particularly satisfying to knock out Brian Coleman in Barnet & Camden. The BNP won an Assembly seat in 2008 but are unlikely to do so this year; the Greens and Lib Dems should get representation. (Update 4/2012: UKIP also stands a good chance of qualifying for a list seat).

The London contest might attract most of the attention a large proportion of the rest of the country will also have local elections. Every seat in Scotland and Wales (except for the Isle of Anglesey) is up for election, as are a third of the seats in each of the 36 metropolitan boroughs and some unitary and district councils, mostly in the larger urban areas. A few councils will have half or all of their members being elected this year – the English local election calendar is not straightforward.

When assessing gains and losses in local elections, it is important to look at the areas where the elections will happen, and the political climate last time the seats were contested. The seats this time are more urban than in 2011, when Labour did well in the cities but did not make much of an impact in suburban and rural areas. The political climate in 2008 was catastrophic for Labour and it was the peak Conservative performance in any recent set of local elections. Labour should be winning back fairly large numbers of seats.

Opinion poll ratings at the time of recent local elections

% 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Con 37 44 40 36 36 36 (33)
Lab 32 26 24 29 41 41 (42)
LD 18 17 18 23 10 12 (8)
Others 14 13 19 12 13 11 (17)

 (2012 column: first numbers March, second YouGov 5 April)

National equivalent vote share in local elections

% 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Con 40 43 35 37 38
Lab 26 24 22 30 37
LD 24 23 25 24 16
Others 19 10 18 10 9

 

Looking at the current opinion polls (March), if there is not a change in public opinion between now and early May, the results overall will be pretty similar to 2011. In councils where there are elections in both years, this will be a useful benchmark for the performance of the parties.  Even a repeat of 2011 means a swing of 9 per cent from Conservative to Labour and 10 per cent from Lib Dem to Labour, and yield a haul of seats and councils controlled. Labour lost 434 seats in 2008. Recovering these means getting back to where Labour was in 2004, which was itself a pretty poor year. Three hundred of them would fall if Labour repeated its 2011 performance in the metropolitan boroughs alone, so Labour sights should be set higher than that – perhaps a net gain of 700 would be ‘par’.

In some places Labour victory is almost inevitable. In Harlow, for instance, the Conservatives have a majority of 1, a legacy from their extraordinary performance in 2008 when they won every single seat in the town (4/2012 correction: while Labour won no seats in 2008, there were two Lib Dems as well as the Conservatives, although one has subsequently died and one has defected to Labour). Even a historically poor Labour showing in 2012, as long as it is even slightly better than 2008, will do to win control. The task is harder than this in several other councils, but Labour should be winning control in Thurrock, Plymouth, Southampton, Exeter, Reading and perhaps Norwich, creating some satisfying red splodges on the map of southern and eastern England. The Southampton election is particularly interesting because it is currently run by a particularly right wing pro-cuts Tory council. Labour gained a swathe of councils in the metropolitan areas of the midlands and north in 2010 and 2011, but a few more low-hanging fruit should fall from the tree in Birmingham, Bradford, Wirral and perhaps Walsall. The hard tests, that would indicate Labour advancing significantly since 2011, are Swindon, Dudley and Cardiff. Swindon and Dudley are two party straight fights with the Conservatives in areas with marginal and volatile parliamentary seats, where the Tory vote held up reasonably well in 2011. Cardiff is more of a contest with the Lib Dems, who should put up more resistance there than one can expect in the northern cities where they are likely to be massacred for a second year.

The local elections in Scotland are different for three reasons. The simplest is that these seats were last contested in 2007, rather than 2008. The electoral system is also different – Scotland has the Single Transferable Vote (STV) proportional system for its local elections. The third reason is the political context, in which the SNP dominates Scottish politics and this set of results will be seen more of a test of the SNP’s aspirations for independence than Labour’s UK-wide performance. A repeat of the SNP landslide in the 2011 Holyrood elections would see the nationalists controlling most councils in Scotland even under PR. This is unlikely, but it seems likely that the SNP will gain ground, principally at the expense of the Lib Dems but also to some extent Labour and Independents. The big battleground is Glasgow, where the SNP will try to demolish the last bastion of the Scottish Labour establishment. Most people seem to think that Labour will lose outright control.

(From Progress magazine, April 2012)

 

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Pollwatch: Election forecasts hold up but questions remain for analysts (7 May 2010)

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Pollwatch: Election forecasts hold up but questions remain for analysts (7 May 2010)

Posted on 07 May 2010 by admin

Pollsters told us more or less what would happen but have not yet explained local differences or Clegg’s collapse

For the opinion pollsters the 2010 election was neither a humiliation like 1992 nor a routinely efficient performance like 2005, but wayward and difficult to capture accurately. It was at least good for business, in that there was an unprecedented volume of polling commissioned during the campaign. The average error on the eve of poll forecasts was bigger than last time, largely because the Liberal Democrat vote was falling faster than they could measure accurately in the final days. But the rough impression, if not the exact numbers, did convey what was going on.

The last round of opinion polls before election day showed the Conservatives on about 35-37%, Labour somewhere around 29%, and the Lib Dems a bit below that and on a downward trend. The exit poll, organised by broadcasting and polling consortiums, was met with raised eyebrows by the broadcasters and even the occasional journalist and commentator, because it was quite so bearish for the Lib Dems and showed the Tories well short of an overall majority. I recall saying something about eating my hat if the Lib Dems were as low as 59 MPs, but it was the pollsters who had the last laugh. The seats projection was as good as anyone could ask for, even though it was not the story we were expecting.

The pollsters told us more or less what would happen but have not yet really told us why. Labour over-performed in Scotland, picked up with admirable accuracy by the polls, and in inner London, but other than those areas there was no strong regional geography as there has been in most other recent elections.

Despite the debates giving a new shape to the national campaign it was not a case of national factors overcoming regional differences. The wildly varying swing in apparently similar constituencies – Leicestershire North West and Corby, for instance – and the low swing against incumbents despite an alleged anti-incumbent mood in the country indicate that there was something unusual about the way people approached this election. Their responses were very varied and localised.

The other big question for analysts of public opinion is quite what happened to Cleggmania. At one stage 2010 was shaping up to be a Liberal Democrat breakthrough of a kind that had not been seen since 1923: promotion to being taken seriously as one of the three main parties of state was implied in the debate format and seemed a possibility at Westminster, even under the distorting influence of first-past-the-post elections.

But it all collapsed like a cooling soufflé in the final week, leaving the party where it had stood in 2005 in terms of vote share and, to general surprise, exposing sitting Lib Dem MPs to electoral defeat by Tories and Labour alike. Although Clegg’s personality and political stances were going over well in national public opinion, something went very wrong indeed in translating this into votes for candidates who might win. Perhaps the nationalisation of the party’s appeal undercut the local power base of its MPs, who relied on personal support from people who did not particularly “agree with Nick”.

The flipside of the great Clegg deflation was Labour’s resilience. Many commentators expected Gordon Brown’s gaffe in describing a Rochdale voter as a “bigoted woman” to lead to meltdown in the Labour vote, and were surprised that the polls did not budge. Somehow, despite everything, Labour could call on deep reserves of solidarity on the part of a large proportion of voters. The victory of Brown’s candidate in Rochdale, over a sitting Lib Dem MP, was surely a delicious moment for the prime minister. Labour Britain was shaken to near destruction in 2008-09 but the election showed that a surprisingly sturdy fortress was still standing.

Unfortunately the exit pollsters decided to cut back on a number of the questions about attitudes and beliefs that they have asked in previous years. Over the next few months the academic British Election Study will explore this territory. We will then discover more about quite what kept people with Labour, turned them on and then off to the merits of Nick Clegg, and caused enough of them to reject the Conservatives’ remodelled appeal to deprive them of a majority in a recession-year election. Perhaps ultimately, Britain turned out to be too much of a centre-left nation to trust the Tories with untrammelled power.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/07/pollwatch-election-projections

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A Familiar Pattern (6 May 2010)

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A Familiar Pattern (6 May 2010)

Posted on 06 May 2010 by admin

The polls have shifted no more than usual, but the result may yet be a surprise

One of the many strange things about this volatile campaign is how little it has actually changed most of the fundamentals that held when it started. A modest rise in the polls for the Lib Dems from start to finish is a usual feature of campaigns (up about 4 points) and in 2010 this is what has happened (albeit via a big surge in mid-campaign).

Even looking at the findings about what people think about the party leaders shows a fair amount of continuity despite the first Prime Ministerial debates in a British election. The main change is that more people have a high opinion of Nick Clegg than before, albeit mostly on the softer criteria of ‘charismatic’ (up from 12 per cent to 45 per cent over the campaign) and ‘in touch with ordinary people’ (up from 24 to 37 per cent). Neither Cameron’s nor Brown’s ratings (both pretty poor) moved much, with the biggest change being that more people now consider Brown good in a crisis (up from 18 per cent to 24 per cent). Compared to past movements during campaigns, in favour of Neil Kinnock and John Major, opinion about the Labour and Conservative leaders did not shift.

The post-debate polls, woefully misreported for the most part, confirmed merely that people thought the leader of the party they intended to vote for anyway ‘won’ (whatever ‘won’ means in a debate) but that most people were impressed by Clegg. The debates therefore amplified the usual process of the Lib Dems gaining from equal broadcast time, and compressed it into the few days after the first debate. Despite the media obsession with process, the debates did seem to pique the interest of voters and will have contributed to what seems likely to be a respectable turnout.

The debate polls were an example of how they can be misused, but on a more general level can one trust opinion polls? One of the more foolish objections to opinion polls is that each one only asks about a thousand people for their views. How can that possibly be representative of an electorate of 45 million? The science of statistics has a well established answer. You only need a sample to get the answer right, provided that the sample is representative of the whole. A common analogy is that you can tell how salty a huge vat of soup is by tasting a teaspoonful, provided that the vat has been stirred properly.

However, stirring the soup is an increasingly delicate art. It is remarkable to look back to how opinion polling worked back in the 1960s and 1970s. It was mostly done through face to face interviews, and got the results more or less dead on (with the notable exception of 1970). Despite its unsophisticated methodology, it worked until another surprise election result in 1992 when the polls showed the parties level pegging but the Conservatives were actually clearly ahead when the votes were counted (7.5 per cent). Since then, polling companies have tried ever more sophisticated mechanisms to get representative samples. The obstacles are formidable. Turnout used to be reliably somewhere around 75 per cent, and was also much the same regardless of class or region. Now it varies wildly – 72 per cent in 1997, around 60 per cent in the last couple of elections, and probably higher today. More people vote by post. More people are difficult to reach because they work long hours or live in gated communities. There are more parties in the game. The technology is constantly changing. Pollsters have to re-weight the raw figures to get a representative sample. It is a thing of wonder and beauty that they got it as right as they did in 2005, and that YouGov called the 2008 London election so accurately. But the electorate is a moving target, and at some point the weightings will go wrong. We shall know tomorrow whether the eve-of-election consensus of the polls is right or not.

http://critical-reaction.co.uk/2600/06-05-2010-a-familiar-pattern

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In poll position (3 April 2008)

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In poll position (3 April 2008)

Posted on 03 April 2008 by admin

London elections 08: So far, the opinion polls have varied widely on the winners’ margin. Why is that?

The ICM poll showing Boris Johnson narrowly ahead of Ken Livingstone in the contest to be mayor of London is welcome news for Labour, who had feared that the contest was slipping away after two YouGov polls had shown Johnson 12 and 10 points in the lead. Has there been a pro-Livingstone swing, or is one or other of the polls just wrong?

Opinion poll methodology is an abstruse field, and blundering into it unwarily is dangerous, but the striking difference between the two polls may be something to do with how the polls were taken. Getting London – a vast, diverse place where the voters move around more frequently then elsewhere – right in polling terms is a challenge. Both ICM and YouGov are respectable and professional firms that try to get the answer right – the fact that YouGov’s client is the vehemently anti-Livingstone Evening Standard does not affect the way the pollsters do their job.

Sampling for YouGov was taken over the Easter weekend, and holiday times sometimes produce funny numbers (although a YouGov poll taken the previous week also produced a similar topline result). But there are some other issues. ICM ensured that ethnic minority voters were represented in the poll in proportion to the population in London (29% is the official number), and this is important because black and minority ethnic voters are particularly pro-Livingstone.

Some of the differences in weighting are also interesting. YouGov did not adjust for likely turnout. Does anyone expect, as the first YouGov poll implies, that for every three votes cast by people aged 45-54 there will be five cast by people aged 18-24? London may have a young population, but no real election, with the possible exception of one or two of the Democratic primaries this year, shows that sort of turnout pattern. However, ICM’s sample showed Johnson further ahead (48-40) among people who claimed to be certain to vote, so Labour cannot assume that the army of young pro-Johnson voters found by YouGov is entirely illusory.

There are staggering differences in the detail of ICM and YouGov, with YouGov finding that women were more pro-Johnson than men (a 14-point lead, rather than six-point) and ICM the reverse – men giving Johnson an 11-point lead but women giving him an eight-point deficit. The last YouGov poll shows that more people who identify with the Liberal Democrats intend to vote for Johnson (40%) than their own party’s candidate Brian Paddick (31%) which although possible seems peculiar and implies a 7% swing of Lib Dems from Paddick to Johnson in a period of just over a week since their previous poll.

The past two mayoral elections have seen unusual constellations of voters. In 2004 Livingstone’s strength was in inner London, even in areas that are normally Conservative or Lib Dem. He won all but one ward in Camden, for instance, even leading in the upper middle class heights of Hampstead Town. Steve Norris polled best in the outer boroughs, many of which are ambivalent about their allegiance to “London”. Johnson seems, whichever poll one looks at, to have maintained the Conservative advantage in outer London and pulled away some non-Labour voters in inner London who supported Livingstone in 2004. Interestingly, YouGov finds Labour’s vote in the assembly election pretty much identical to Livingstone’s support, also suggesting that Livingstone’s vote this time will be a more conventional Labour party coalition of support.

The polls are also consistent in showing that Johnson is doing better in the contest for Lib Dem second preferences, in marked contrast to 2004, when Livingstone tended to benefit. This reflects Johnson’s greater crossover appeal, Livingstone’s accumulated discontents of eight years in office, and the closer relations between Lib Dems and Tories in London. The two parties run several boroughs in coalition and work together on the Greater London Assembly in opposition to an informal Labour-Green alliance.

Livingstone has had a rotten few weeks. Labour’s national popularity has sagged badly in several polls, with the Conservatives taking a strong national lead that is also reflected in Londoners’ voting intentions. Closer to home, there has been the resignation of two of his City Hall advisers, including Lee Jasper, under clouds of suspicion, something that has encouraged a “time for a change” feeling. Voters who dislike the apparent cronyism of Livingstone’s City Hall and distrust his honesty and currently intend to vote for Johnson may not feel the same after a look at Johnson’s own chequered record in precisely these matters. Livingstone also has formidable basic strength in public opinion, in that he is regarded even by people not currently intending to vote for him as having done a good job as mayor. His specific policies attract more support than Johnson’s on issues such as the congestion charge and public transport. Livingstone is also articulate and clear on detail, while Johnson is not. While Johnson has done enough to dispel the impression that the campaign is merely an exercise in vanity, he still looks flimsy on detail and competence and is being kept out of the way by his hard-right Australian campaign adviser Lynton Crosby.

Polls, whatever technical issues may arise and however they are reported, are more reliable than the only alternatives – self-interested claims by the parties, and the water-divining approach to public opinion by which a journalist sniffs the air and gets a “feel” for how it is going. If ICM had shown a Johnson lead even half as large as YouGov’s, it would be tempting to claim that the race was already over. Defeatism was starting to pervade Labour’s approach to the campaign. The new poll should dispel that, and if the party knows what it is doing, prompt a vigorous fightback that has every chance of success. Livingstone’s choice is to give up wearily but gracefully – which has looked a possibility – or hammer Johnson on policies and personal competence. Labour needs to energise its difficult to reach electorate, and the closer and more publicised the election, the better for them. Johnson, Crosby and the Evening Standard – salivating at the chance to inflict a fatal blow in its long vendetta against Livingstone – are not going to play nice either. With so much at stake, and (according to ICM at least) still all to fight for, it will be a brutal April in London politics.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/03/inpollposition

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A mountain to climb (29 September 2007)

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A mountain to climb (29 September 2007)

Posted on 29 September 2007 by admin

Conservatives 07: If they are to stand any chance of success, the Tories must recapture the Cameron Highlands.

Labour has had a “Brown bounce”, but another feature of the electoral scene this summer has been the descent from what might be called the Cameron Highlands (after a resort area in Malaysia – a place with considerably more to commend it to the visitor than Blackpool).

As a feature of the political landscape, the Cameron Highlands were the period between December 2005 and June 2007 when David Cameron was leader of the opposition to Tony Blair.

During this period, the Conservatives were scoring consistently around 38%-39% in voting intention in opinion polls and, equally steadily, leading Labour in voting intention and the head-to-head contrast of party leaders.

Although this sort of poll rating was less than ecstatic approval from the public, and not enough to win outright, it was a marked contrast with recent Conservative history.

Other than in some particularly bleak periods of John Major’s last government and the Blair honeymoon, in which the party’s ratings fell into the twenties, the Conservatives have flatlined in the polls since 1993, never escaping the prison of 31%-34% support except during the briefest of blips.

However, since Gordon Brown became prime minister, the Conservative rating has fallen back once more to the 33%-34% range. The variations in Labour’s lead recorded in recent opinion polls are mostly to do with how the non-Conservative two-thirds of the country is saying it will divide its favours, with the highest Labour leads being generated by unrealistically low levels of Lib Dem support.

The Conservatives’ ejection from the Highlands was in part a result of a strategic error, namely underestimating Gordon Brown. The Conservatives started to believe their own propaganda about Brown and extrapolate their poor personal relationships with him to imagine that the electorate would feel the same way on exposure to him.

Some of them started to expect a boring, aggressive, mechanical, far-left Brown who would be a gift to the opposition. They were not ready for the reality.

Brown’s poor showing against Cameron in hypothetical match-up polls before June was also given too much importance, because the change of prime minister – entirely predictably – was not the same as the anticipation, and the change itself caused the electorate to re-evaluate Brown in a new context.

This was the worst strategic error. But there has also been muddle about squaring the circle between being the modernising “heir to Blair” and aiming to capitalise on public disregard for Blair’s style of leadership.

Worryingly, some pre-Highlands polling phenomena have re-emerged, including the perception that the Conservatives are divided, not under Cameron’s control and too far to the right compared with the public.

The issue of Cameron not being seen as being “in charge of his party” is serious because public opinion places the Labour party much closer to the centre than the Conservatives. And while there is a belief that Cameron is moderate, he needs to be seen as fully in charge before this leads people to vote for his party.

Cameron’s personal ratings have also sagged alarmingly since June. The public perception of the Tories as a divided rabble, current since 1992, faded during Michael Howard’s leadership during 2004 and seemingly shaken off in 2006, is back.

Strategically, the Conservatives need to recapture the Cameron Highlands if they are to stand a chance of beating Brown. They can hope that conference publicity will help – they clawed back a little ground in August but disappeared from view as Brown and Labour have dominated the media in September.

To an extent, all publicity is good publicity, but there are serious dangers at Blackpool. Stories of splits and indiscipline will feed the reviving perception of the party as being incompetent. The Highlands were captured in the first place by Cameron’s fresh, progressive approach, but the party seems to be distancing itself from some of the environmental ideas it has been considering and going for the more traditional Tory fare at Blackpool of immigration and crime. Labour will no doubt point to a “lurch to the right”.

Going back to basics – if this phrase has yet been rehabilitated in Conservative discourse – may shore up the 33%-34% vote but leaves a lot of political territory in Labour’s hands, as in 2001 when the Tories aimed the campaign at their core vote and lost badly.

There is no alternative – to quote another resonant phrase – to Cameron and modernisation if they are serious about recovering from their last three dismal election performances.

To win support, the newer messages need to be presented in a balanced way with traditional Conservative thinking, in a way that tells a story about what a Conservative government would be like. The danger is that the mixture looks like an incoherent and opportunistic response to short-term pressures.

Tactically, the Conservatives have some advantages. The party’s organisation is in better condition than it has been for years, and although it has failed to attract large numbers of new members, it has once again managed to receive significant donations.

The Conservatives are now probably better than Labour at advanced electioneering, such as compiling information about the electors and funding activity in the marginal seats.

But the Conservatives cannot win an election with this alone. They need a good conference to remind the electorate why they greeted Cameron so warmly in 2005. And – if they can – they need to find a clear, resonant way of telling people why they should vote for his party. At the very least, they need to do well enough to deter Gordon Brown from calling an election.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/sep/29/amountaintoclimb

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A reversal of midterm fortunes (20 July 2007)

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A reversal of midterm fortunes (20 July 2007)

Posted on 20 July 2007 by admin

The byelection results are great for Labour, but David Cameron can expect renewed grumbling in his ranks, while the Lib Dems were caught napping.

Last night’s byelections were unambiguous good news for Gordon Brown and proof that the “Brown bounce” in Labour’s fortunes picked up in opinion polls is based on reality. Not only did Labour hold both seats with comfortable majorities, but the detail of the results is also encouraging for the new prime minister.

It is normal for a government party to shed some votes in seats it has to defend in byelections, but the recent record of the Labour party has been woeful. In three byelections in the 2001-05 parliament the party’s vote share fell by more than 25 percentage points, and the result in Dunfermline in 2006 (down 17.4%) was almost as bad. In Sedgefield Phil Wilson’s vote share dropped by 14.1% compared with Tony Blair‘s impressive result in 2005, which while a considerable drop was easily absorbed in such a safe seat. But the real triumph was Ealing Southall, where Virendra Sharma‘s vote share was only 7.3% down on what Labour won in 2005. This was the smallest drop in any seat Labour has defended in a byelection since Tony Blair came to power in 1997.

Another aspect of the results that will please Gordon Brown is the lack of anti-Labour tactical momentum in the byelections. Voters did not line up behind the candidate best placed to defeat Labour and although the Liberal Democrats came second and increased their vote in both seats, they did not succeed in squeezing the Tory vote even in Sedgefield.

Part of the reason for the mediocre Lib Dem results in both seats was the speed with which the byelections were called. Labour’s calculation, which was vindicated, was that the longer the seat remained vacant the more chance the famous Lib Dem byelection machine would have to swamp the constituency with leaflets and establish a clear Lib Dem v Labour dynamic. By calling them quickly, Labour prevented the Lib Dems from building up momentum. In Sedgefield, a predictable byelection given that Tony Blair’s career plans after Downing Street could have been anticipated, the Lib Dems were caught napping by failing to stand a full slate of candidates to work the seat in the local government elections in May. Some of the disaffected protest vote ended up with the BNP, whose candidate Andrew Spence had led the direct action campaign against fuel taxation in 2000 and found a natural home in the party.

The Southall result in particular was a blow to David Cameron, who had staked a lot on the result. He was prominent in the campaign, even appearing on the ballot paper (Tony Lit was the candidate of “David Cameron’s Conservatives”). Southall was an experiment in the Conservatives’ strategy of trying to appeal to previously barren areas in multicultural urban England, with a candidate who made up for in style what he lacked in experience. Cameron hoped to demonstrate that his inclusive, moderate and glitzy approach was paying off. In all this, the Conservatives failed and Cameron can expect a renewed round of grumbling in his ranks. Brown, meanwhile, can start the summer with the satisfaction of having reversed what looked like a serious tailspin in Labour’s midterm election fortunes.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/jul/20/areversalofmidtermfortunes

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