Are radical policies the answer to Labour’s slump?

Posted in Labour, Politics, Polling Matters on April 24th, 2017 by Leo – Be the first to comment

This was originally published on Political Betting.

Despite using Easter to announce several policies, Labour is making little effort to pretend it knows what it would do with power. The party’s website still invites visitors to “help shape our next manifesto” and Corbyn semi-loyalist Dawn Butler suggested on Newsnight there might have to be a “rolling manifesto” while policies are developed.

This isn’t just a lack of detailed policies. It’s also about what Labour stands for and who it is trying to appeal to.

Corbyn ran for the leadership with the promise of a “radical economic strategy” yet the recent announcements have largely been repeats of earlier Labour policies. Free meals in primary schools was floated for the 2010 election. A plan to pressure big companies to pay suppliers on time was in the 2015 manifesto. The triple lock on pensions was another Miliband pledge.

You could argue that Labour’s recent policies go further than previous ones. But no-one can seriously claim they would revolutionise the economy. As such, they seem designed for the same voters – progressive but not radical – that the 2015 manifesto aimed to win over.

Yet Corbyn’s Labour has also made some radical pledges that wouldn’t have made it into recent manifestos. Among its current 10 pledges are rent controls and nationalisation of the railways.

This week’s Opinium poll for the PB/Polling Matters podcast tested public views of eight possible and actual Labour policies.

The policies that did best were a mix of the radical and the incremental. Two of the top-scoring were 2015-style measures: a £10 minimum wage in 2020 (more radical than Miliband, but hardly socialist) and requiring companies to pay suppliers on time.

Also among the top-scoring was “control rents so landlords cannot keep increasing the amount they charge”, which 47% of those considering Labour strongly supported. Surprisingly, that measure was most popular among the 55+ age group, and least popular among the ‘generation rent’ 18-34s.

Other radical policies were much less popular though. A citizens’ income of £6000 and railway nationalisation were strongly supported by only 29% and 32%, respectively, of people who would consider Labour.

So Labour might find support for a mix of tangible incremental policies, and radical policies aimed at tackling a well-known problem. With 49% saying they would at least consider Labour, these policies appear to win the strong support of around a quarter of the population – suggesting there is still a 25% strategy open to Labour.

But while this might suggest Labour could avoid slipping further, there are two problems with this approach.

First, such an incoherent mix of policies would leave voters struggling to know what Labour stands for. One set of policies suggests Labour would govern as social democrats. The second set suggests Labour wants to revolutionise major parts of the economy.

Without a unifying argument, Labour’s pledges would be easily forgotten. Ed Miliband didn’t lack popular policies but the failure to stake out a clear position, and stick to it, cost the party at the election.

Second, the poll also suggests even well-scoring policies may be less popular than they seem. Over Easter, Labour’s policy that got the most coverage was the pledge for free school meals. Yet this was the least popular of the policies tested.

It’s hard to be sure why it did so badly, but free food for children doesn’t seem an inherently unpopular measure. Its failure in the poll might be because it is now associated with Labour. If that’s the case, more policy announcements might do little to stop Labour’s vote sliding further, even if they were popular before they become linked with the party.

Listen to the latest episode of Polling Matters, where I talked about the state of the parties and the race ahead with Conor Pope of Progress and Laurence Janta-Lipinski, a political consultant:

The Lib Dem fightback – how high can their support go as the party of Remain? Latest Polling Matters

Posted in Liberal Democrats, Politics, Polling Matters on April 17th, 2017 by Leo – Be the first to comment

This article was originally published on Political Betting.

The SNP lost a referendum and won a landslide. Could the Lib Dems do something similar by becoming the party of Remain voters?

This week’s PB/Polling Matters Opinium poll suggests the party could do well with a relentless focus on stopping Brexit. But it also shows that a single-issue stop Brexit party would be unlikely to win more than a quarter of voters.

Only around 11% currently say they’d vote Lib Dem, but the Opinium poll found 41% of the public would definitely vote Lib Dem or would consider doing so, including 47% of current Labour voters. Winning over half of those considering the Lib Dems would put the party above even its record 2010 vote.

So should the party try to gain these voters with a promise that they would keep the UK in the EU?

In part the poll backs this up. Among those who voted Remain, 60% would at least consider the Lib Dems – around 29% of voters.

But this overstates the opportunities for the Lib Dems in focusing on stopping Brexit. Most Remainers don’t care enough about staying in the EU to put it above all other issues.

In another question the poll found that only 22% agree with the statement “My top priority when deciding who to vote for is supporting a party that will try to stop Brexit”. This 22% may be a more realistic limit for how far a stop Brexit party could go.

This still suggests the Lib Dems could double their vote share with an anti-Brexit focus. Even winning over just those who strongly agree with the statement, and aren’t already Lib Dem voters, would add 7pts to the Lib Dem vote.

With Labour now facilitating Brexit, the field is clear for the Lib Dems to be the party of Remain. The poll suggests this focus could serve the Lib Dems well, in comparison with their 2015 vote.

But a single-issue stop Brexit party is unlikely to win more than one in four voters. Unless the UK’s exit goes so badly that public opinion changes, this focus can take a party from fourth to third, but it can’t take them from third to second.

You can listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast here:

3 reasons there won’t be an early election

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on March 28th, 2017 by Leo – 5 Comments

The Tories’ vast poll lead is prompting speculation Theresa May will call an early election. Despite the government’s repeated denials, the rumours won’t stop.

But here are three reasons – which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere – why the government might not go ahead this year:

1. Boundary changes won’t go through until after the September 2018 review. They will make elections easier for the Tories. Calling an election on the old boundaries would both forego the benefit of the changes for a few more years and would mean having to find candidates for seats that won’t exist at the next election. Not impossible but an avoidable pain.

2. Theresa May might hope to be PM for 8-12 years. That’s how long the most successful seem to be able to last.

Let’s say she’s thinking about the lower end of this and expects to stand down around 2024. If that’s the case, a 2017 election would mean fighting another by 2022. The first election might shock Labour enough it gets rid of Corbyn, elects a new leader and becomes a plausible opposition by 2022. That second election could be quite tough.

On the other hand – if May thinks Labour is unlikely to improve much by 2020 – holding off another three years means she might only have to fight one election. She can leave by mid-2024, giving her successor time to get ready for the following year’s election.

This means, from the perspective of May’s entire Prime Ministership, the question isn’t just “will Labour improve by 2020?”, but is also “will Labour be better in 2020 than it would be in 2022 after having lost a 2017 election?”.

Of course if she wants to go beyond eight years she’ll have to fight at least two elections regardless. But then if she wanted to go past 11 years, an early election now would mean fighting three over her time in office.

3. The Lib Dems are mostly talked about as a threat to Labour, but they’re more likely to stop May calling an early election.

It’s certainly true that their pro-EU message appeals to some 2015 Labour voters and potential converts. But the Tories have 24 seats with a majority of less than 10,000 over the Lib Dems, compared with Labour’s 6 seats. Given the Lib Dems’ improvement since 2015, many of those seats are likely to fall.

In an early election May could be confident that her gains from Labour would outweigh these losses to the Lib Dems. But that won’t be much compensation to the 24 Tory MPs who might lose their seats and are, presumably, arguing against an early election.

 

I talked about these issues, along with Scotland and Northern Ireland, on this week’s Polling Matters podcast with Keiran and Rob:

Worries about climate change are at record levels. Is this a new chapter in public opinion?

Posted in Climate Sock, U.S. on March 16th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Worries about climate change are at record levels. Is this a new chapter in public opinion?

Public opinion is rarely tidy but sometimes there are clear trends in the popular mood. A new poll suggests there has been a shift in public opinion about climate change, with a surge in worries about the threat.

Since polls began asking about climate change, worries about the issue in rich English-speaking countries (the places where denial has been prominent) have gone through the following broad stages:

Up to 2007: public discovery of the problem and increasing worries (with a peak around 2000, a fall after 9/11 and a recovery until around 2007)

2008-2010: rapid decline in worries, accelerated by Copenhagen and the 2009 email hack

2011-2016: slow increase in worries, back to around 2009 levels

The new poll – of the US public, by Gallup – suggests we may be in a new stage. Concern about climate change appears to have past 2009 levels and to now exceed all previous peaks.

2017-onwards: concern increasing to record levels (?)

Is that a justifiable conclusion?

A problem is that this is just one poll. It’s the only one I’m aware of that shows concern to now be greater than it’s ever previously been. It might be a rogue result, outside the margin of error.

But… It’s 8-points up on the previous year’s poll, and 4 above any previous. This poll would have to have been a real statistical fluke for the true level of public concern not be the highest since at least 2009.

And a different poll, from the UK, suggests something similar.

Various people have asked the “is climate change real” question (FWIW, I don’t like the question – it’s confused by political identity and doesn’t reflect what people actually want done about emissions – but these results are so striking I can’t ignore it). Since 2009 responses to this question were uncannily static. But in February this year ECIU’s poll showed a sudden jump.

So that’s more evidence that we’ve started a new chapter.

Yet I’m still not sure it’s definitive that worries are at record levels. We can probably say concern about climate change is greater than it’s been any time since 2010 – in the US at least – but there’s not enough evidence to be sure it’s at the highest level ever.

One issue is Gallup’s chart shows only the percentage that worry a great deal about climate change. In the equivalent chart last year they combined it with those that worry a fair amount. If we do the same for this year’s data, we find worries this year are no higher than they were in 2008 and are still lower than they were in 1999-2000.

So if we’re still, if not on the fence, at least within touching distance of it, what more evidence might persuade us that worries really are smashing records?

In the UK, the government’s quarterly climate and energy poll asks a question once a year on concern about climate change. The question uses the same wording that MORI has run since 2005, giving a nice comparison that will allow us to test the theory. The next wave, due to be published in late April, should ask that question, so we’ll have more evidence soon about whether concern is rising.

And in Australia, the Lowy Institute has run the same climate question since 2006 in its annual poll. The next wave should be out in June.

In both that and the UK poll, concern in 2016 was still some way below the pre-2010 peak, although the highest for a few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s data shows worries are up but not yet at record levels.

Putting it together, the evidence is clear that worries about climate change have been rising for several years. Last year concern was around where it was in the late 2000s. This year, either worries have stopped increasing or they’re moving towards record levels. It may be too early to say for sure but the initial evidence suggests concern is still rising.

Why fake news might not be such a problem for UK liberals: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 16th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Why fake news might not be such a problem for UK liberals: Polling Matters

On this week’s Polling Matters, Keiran and I were joined by Harry Carr, who run’s Sky’s polling. We talked about an interesting YouGov poll on ‘fake news’, which suggested that people in the UK are relatively unlikely to believe made-up stories about immigrants and benefit scroungers. We also discussed the new Polling Matters/Opinium poll on immigration, which found public opinion to be more nuanced than it might seem.

 

Tory governments age well in the memory. Labour governments turn sour.

Posted in Politics on February 12th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Tory governments age well in the memory. Labour governments turn sour.

This article originally appeared on Political Betting

No recent Prime Minister was popular as they approached the end of their time in power. Each of the last five had net satisfaction scores – the proportion satisfied minus the proportion dissatisfied – of well below minus 20 points during their final month, according to MORI’s satisfaction data.

Thatcher was the most unpopular, with 71% dissatisfied with the job she was doing. The least unpopular was Gordon Brown, who still had the support of 35% before the 2010 election.

If it seems surprising that the Scotsman was less reviled than the others, that’s because of what’s happened after his defeat.

In the time since each Prime Minister left office, the collective memory of their effectiveness has been transformed. This week’s Opinium poll for the PB / Polling Matters podcast found that Thatcher has gone from being the least popular recent Prime Minister, when she left office, to the most popular now.

Over the same time, Blair and Brown have gone from the Prime Ministers with the joint-highest satisfaction scores (along with Major) as they were leaving Downing Street, to being seen as the ones that did the worst job.

With Cameron moving up the ranking, the picture is clear – Tory governments are remembered increasingly well over time, while Labour governments become less popular.

The reason for this is Labour voters. While current Tory voters have views that you’d expect – overwhelmingly believing Tory Prime Ministers did a good job and thinking the opposite of Labour ones – Labour voters are more reluctant to support their party’s leaders.

Only one in three thinks Blair did a good job (he’s more popular among Lib Dems) while even fewer think the same of Gordon Brown.

This ambivalence does Labour no good. Tory voters can draw on several examples of what they consider successful Prime Ministers from their side. If even the currently diminished ranks of Labour voters don’t believe that past Labour governments were worthwhile, it’s hard to see who will resist the accusation that Labour administrations spend too much for too little benefit.

There are many reasons that Labour supporters might come up with to justify their doubts about Blair and Brown’s governments. But Tory voters have forgotten their previous reservations about the woman who left office as the least popular Prime Minister in recent history. If Labour is to become an election-winning machine again, it will need to do the same for its own past leaders.

How past Prime Ministers are seen: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 8th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on How past Prime Ministers are seen: Polling Matters

This week’s episode discussed the latest Opinium/Polling Matters data, which looked at how past Prime Ministers are seen. We also talked about the chances of a possible Labour leadership challenge and whether there’ll be a vote of no confidence in the speaker.

The first part of the show covered German politics, where the SPD’s new leader has given the party a rapid boost in the polls.

Corbyn and May’s relative strengths: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 1st, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Corbyn and May’s relative strengths: Polling Matters

Polling Matters is running weekly polls with Opinium. This week we talked about new data showing that Corbyn trails May on a series of characteristics that people might want in a leader – strength, caring about people like me, and capable as/of being Prime Minister. The Opinium data is here.

The first half of the show discusses Northern Ireland in the context of its forthcoming election and the complications of Brexit.

 

Winners and losers from 2016: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on December 17th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Winners and losers from 2016: Polling Matters

In the last episode of the year, Keiran, Rob and I talked about a listeners’ poll of 2016’s winners and losers, and the defining moments of the year:

US election polls: what went wrong?

Posted in Bad polling, Politics, Polling Matters, U.S. on November 9th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on US election polls: what went wrong?

Keiran and I recorded a Polling Matters podcast at 5am on election morning, responding to the results and debating what went wrong with the polls.

You can listen here: