Polling Matters podcast: Rise of the Greens

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on November 24th, 2014 by Leo – Be the first to comment

In this week’s edition, Keiran Pedley and I discuss the Green Party, their supporters and their prospects for the next election.

5 years of this blog: my favourite 5 charts

Posted in Attitudes, Bad polling, Climate Sock, Energy sources on November 23rd, 2014 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I’ve been writing this blog for five years.  Most grateful to anyone who’s bothered to read it and to everyone who’s re-posted it or used my findings elsewhere.

In the spirit of these things, here are my five favourite charts that I’ve produced over the years:

5. Most people don’t understand the word ‘progressive’ 

Words are useful when they help people understand things. The word ‘progressive’ has become code among politics people for left-wing, or perhaps centre-left, or perhaps liberal in general.

It seems more common in the US and perhaps there people understand it as meaning ‘left-wing’. They don’t here though.

Here, for most people it has no political meaning at all: it just means “someone I like”:

Read the post


4. Wind farms are really popular, even when they’re built nearby

On one level I sort of understand the Tory Party’s opposition to wind farms. I’m sure there are some people that viscerally hate them, maybe even majorities in some communities, and perhaps Tory policy wonks think they’re a bad investment.

But the way some senior Tories talk, it’s as if wind farms are as popular neighbours as paedophile collectives – particularly compared with how they talk about fracking. They seem to assume that wind farms are hated, and everyone knows they’re hated.

Which is odd, because this is what people think about potential local power sources:

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3. People no longer think the monarchy make Britain better

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Polling Matters podcast: how do you poll UKIP?

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on November 21st, 2014 by Leo – Be the first to comment

The second edition of Polling Matters, in which Keiran Pedley and I discuss the challenges of polling support for UKIP. Plus a rant about the YouGov Profiler and misunderstanding trends in polls.

Polling Matters podcast: Ed Miliband

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on November 12th, 2014 by Leo – Be the first to comment

The first episode of a new podcast, Polling Matters, in which Keiran Pedley and I discuss politics and polling. This week we talk about Ed Miliband – looking at the recent Survation and YouGov polls about the Labour leaders and comparing him with other potential leaders.

New data show the media really are ignoring the Greens

Posted in Climate Sock, Media on October 25th, 2014 by Leo – 2 Comments

Green supporters often say their party is ignored by the media. The proposal to exclude Natalie Bennett from the leaders’ debates triggered the latest protests, but this is a long-running argument.

In particular, Greens point to the coverage that Ukip get, which they say is much more than the Greens get, and unfairly so.

I’ve never been quite convinced by this. Ukip have at least twice the popular support of the Greens, so it seems natural that they should get more coverage.

But now I’ve measured how much coverage each party gets, I’ve realised I was wrong. Even after factoring in their relative levels of popular support, Ukip get several times more coverage than the Greens.

More coverage than the Greens, and growing

I’ve searched for how many times Ukip and the Green Party were mentioned by UK national newspapers each month since January 2012* – and compared it with the voting intent for both parties in the Ipsos Mori monthly political monitor.

The dominance of Ukip coverage (purple bars), relative to the Greens (green bars) is striking:

What we really want to know, though, is how proportionate the coverage is to each party’s popular support.

Dividing the number of mentions by the parties’ poll ratings gives a sort of conversion score: how many articles they get for each percentage point of popular support they have.

Using this we see that Ukip get far more coverage relative to their support than the Greens do. This chart divides the number of media mentions by each party’s poll score at the time – so if their coverage was proportionate to their support, the lines would be the same height.

It’s interesting to look at this in three distinct phases.

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What do the public think about climate change?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on October 14th, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off

I was recently asked to give a summary presentation of public opinion about climate change and energy.

Most of it will be familiar to regular readers, though may still be of interest:




Seven months to go, historical polls still point to a narrow Tory election lead, with Labour the largest party

Posted in Historical polls, Politics on October 1st, 2014 by Leo – 1 Comment

Seven months until the General Election it’s time for an update of my chart of what historical polls and votes can tell us about the election ahead.

The earlier posts are available here, including discussions of the methodology. As ever, I’m using Mark Pack’s brilliant spreadsheet of historical polls.

The new analysis suggests that:

Opposition lead at the election =

(0.6 x Opposition lead seven months before the election) – 4.3pts

According to UK Polling Report, Labour’s current lead is 4pts. This means the analysis suggests a Tory lead after the election of just under 2pts: probably not enough for a majority, and with Labour the largest party.

This is almost exactly the same prediction as from polls a year before elections. It is also similar to – though marginally better for the Tories than – the prediction from polls two years before elections.

But now focus on the elections in the area in the red box below: where the polls were narrow at this stage. In these cases there is a huge amount of variation in the results: from a healthy Opposition victory (’79) to a comfortable Government majority (’87).

So from where we are now, previous elections suggest either main party could build a majority-sized lead.

That said, the fact the polls have followed the historical trend for at least the last 17 months provides some evidence to support the model’s prediction of a very small Tory lead.

Health warnings

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Tory MPs vs public opinion on energy and climate change

Posted in Climate Sock on September 29th, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off

This was originally posted on Carbon Brief, on 11 September.

A new poll of MPs has found widespread doubts about climate science, particularly among Tory MPs.

The poll, conducted for PR Week by Populus and reported in the Guardian, found that 51% of MPs think that man-made climate change is “an established scientific fact”. Two in five think it is a theory that “has not yet been conclusively proved”, while nearly one in ten say man-made climate change is “environmentalist propaganda”.

The findings suggest that MPs have similar views on climate science to those of the general public. A poll in August 2013 by Opinium for Carbon Brief, with similar questions, found that 56% believe that climate change is happening and is caused by humans.

In fairness, the concept of "scientific fact" is a little shonk.

Polling 2b

But the new poll shows dramatic contrasts in attitudes of MPs of different parties. While 73% of Labour MPs think man-made climate change is a scientific fact, only three in ten Tory MPs say the same. Nearly one in five Tory MPs say they think it is purely propaganda.

Although Brass Eye did establish that some scientific facts do exist.The sample of Liberal Democrats is too small for meaningful analysis. While the sample of the other main parties is larger, it still gives a margin of error of around +/- 12pts for Tory MPs and +/- 13pts for Labour MPs. Nevertheless, the gap in the results is large enough to suggest that Tory MPs have views about climate science that are, on average, very different from those of the general public.

Mounting evidence

Such a level of doubt about climate science among Tories might appear surprising. When the Climate Change Act was passed in October 2008, only three Tory MPs voted against it.

But this is not the first polling evidence of such views among Tory MPs about energy and climate change. A separate poll of MPs, conducted in July 2014 by ComRes, found similar differences in opinions about renewable energy.

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This fracking poll finding is one of the least convincing I’ve ever seen

Posted in Bad polling, Energy sources on August 11th, 2014 by Leo – 5 Comments

A new poll has found over 3 times as many people support fracking as oppose it. That’s a reversal of previous polls, in which most people generally opposed fracking. So has there been a change in the public mood?


Instead, Populus and UK Onshore Oil and Gas have published one of the most misleading poll findings I’ve ever seen.

Short of faking results or fiddling the weights or sample (which this poll doesn’t), there are two ways to get a poll to give the answers you want. You can ask a series of leading questions that get respondents thinking the way you want them to, then ask the question you’re really interested in. Or you can word the questions so respondents only see half the argument.

This poll does both.

The opening three questions are statements that form the basis of the argument for fracking. They’re phrased without any costs (free ponies for all), counter-arguments or alternatives:

  • The UK needs to invest more in a whole range of new infrastructure, including housing, roads and railways, airport capacity and new energy sources
  • The UK needs to use a range of energy sources to meet the country’s energy needs
  • Britain needs to be able to produce its own energy so it isn’t reliant on gas from other countries

Then comes the clincher. A question on fracking that’s 146 words long, describes the process with reassuring terms like “tiny fractures” and “approved non-hazardous chemicals”, and tells us that it could meet the UK’s natural gas demand for 50 years. No challenge to the data, no costs or consequences, no alternative energy sources.

This isn’t an attempt to find out what the public think about fracking. It’s message testing.

That’s what political candidates or businesses do before launching a campaign. They fire a load of messages at respondents to see how much support they could gain in a theoretical world where only their view is heard, and which arguments are most effective.

It’s a useful technique for finding out how people might respond to your arguments. But it’s not supposed to represent what people actually think now.

Except not only was this poll press released as if it shows what people currently think, it was reported as such by the BBC, Press Association and the Telegraph.

This is the kind of thing that destroys trust in polling. I can see why UKOOG wanted it, and I get that the journalists wanted a counter-intuitive story (though it’s a shame they didn’t question what they were given). But I’m surprised that a reputable pollster went for it.


What do the Local Election results mean for national politics?

Posted in Politics on May 23rd, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off

After another good night for UKIP, with mixed fortunes for the three main parties, this guest post by election expert Keiran Pedley of the polling firm GfK looks at what today’s Local Election results mean for politics over the next year.

With Westminster keenly anticipating the European election results on Sunday and a flurry of sometimes seemingly contradictory local election results today we can be forgiven for asking ‘how much can we really tell from last night’s results?’ In many respects we won’t know for certain for a few days, once the results are fully digested and the media narrative settles down, but there are a few key themes emerging we can explore already.

UKIP breakthrough (again)

However you look at these results they are great news for UKIP. What makes them arguably more important than last year’s local election results (other than being closer to the next General Election), which though impressive were largely confined to Conservative Shire counties, is that UKIP can now genuinely say that they can take votes from each of the main political parties. Last night’s surge in support for UKIP, at the time of writing leaving them with approaching 90 new councillors, has seen them deny the Conservatives control of councils in Essex whilst making quite astonishing gains in Labour heartlands such as Rotherham.

Although this doesn’t alter the fact that they still take more votes off the Conservatives than Labour, it does provide them with continued momentum as they seek the holy grail of a Westminster seat (or two) at the General Election and gives Labour something to think about. Put simply, they are not going away any time soon.

Labour success in London

Equally as interesting as UKIP’s successes nationally has been Labour’s success in London. Labour were looking to make progress in outer London boroughs, areas key to Boris Johnson’s successive elections as Mayor and they have managed to do so.

Taking councils where there was no overall control such as Merton might have been expected but Labour’s win in Hammersmith and Fulham will provide a real shot in the arm as this was a flagship Conservative council where key national policies were often piloted. Losing here is a major blow to the Conservatives. Labour will also be looking to make progress in places like Croydon and Harrow, which contain marginal Westminster constituencies they need to win in 2015 to form a Government.

Prime Minister Miliband?

So with UKIP doing well and Labour making gains can Ed Miliband start measuring the curtains at Number 10? Sky News used last night’s results to project Labour as the largest party at next year’s General Election but just short of an overall majority. However, such comparisons are tricky because turnout is far higher at General Elections and voters will likely consider far more carefully the implication of their vote when it impacts who controls the economy and ultimately who is the next Prime Minister.

The reality is that for all of Labour’s success in London last night, the picture elsewhere is less conclusive. Ed Miliband does not yet feel like a man on course to be the next Prime Minister and his personal poll ratings support that. That said, the idea of a Labour / Liberal Democrat coalition in 2015 is very plausible, just perhaps not certain.

Looking forward

As the local election results are fully assessed, eyes will quickly turn to the announcement of the European election results on Sunday. Recent polls have suggested it is neck and neck between Labour and UKIP for first place. It will certainly be interesting to see if UKIP can win a national election; we shouldn’t forget that Labour has the resources and experience of fighting such elections which could be crucial in such a tight race.

If UKIP do win, the argument against having Nigel Farage in the leader debates at the General Election becomes quite unsustainable. We should expect politics to settle down as the summer draws near and focus shifts to Scotland and party conference season but what appears clear is that the era of four-party politics – for now at least – is well and truly upon us.