Labour is the most unpopular it’s ever been after nine months of a new leader

Posted in Labour leadership, Politics on June 25th, 2016 by Leo – 1 Comment

26 June update: this has been changed to include today’s Survation poll (Lab:32%), which has slightly improved Labour’s score

Jeremy Corbyn has been leader for nine months so it’s time to update my tracker of his performance compared with that of his predecessors.

After a slight improvement around six months, the proportion supporting Labour has fallen to where it was before Corbyn was elected.

First 12 months - Jun '16 - UPDATE

This means Corbyn’s Labour is now, jointly, the most unpopular the party has ever been after nine months of any post-war new leader. It’s essentially tied with Brown’s Labour, after the financial crisis had hit and he’d bottled the election.

Every previous post-war Labour leader that took over the party in opposition with a voting intention below 45% increased its score by several points and retained most of those gains until at least the end of their first year.

Corbyn, who took over the party with it polling around 31%, its second-lowest for any new leader, has not sustained any improvement in the proportion that would vote Labour. In mid-March Labour had four consecutive polls between 34-36%, but that slight boost has since disappeared.

That is despite the government being split on Europe, u-turning on major decisions and having had a senior cabinet minister resign in protest against its policies.

In comparison with other Labour opposition leaders, Corbyn’s Labour is 7pts behind where the next lowest, Kinnock, was after nine months, when Labour was still 13 years away from winning a general election. It is 10pts behind where Miliband’s Labour was at the same point, when the party had just been kicked out after 13 years in power.

Compared with the election-winning leaders, Labour is now 18pts behind Wilson and 24pts behind Blair.

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Polling Matters: should Leave focus on immigration?

Posted in Europe, Politics, Polling Matters on June 5th, 2016 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I was on Polling Matters again this week, talking – as usual at the moment – about the referendum. Other than a discussion of whether the polls really have narrowed the main question was whether the Leave campaign should focus on immigration.


Corbyn’s chances of staying leader are better than ever – for now

Posted in Labour leadership, Politics on May 19th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Corbyn’s chances of staying leader are better than ever – for now

A few months ago I argued that Corbyn’s leadership wasn’t as secure as it seemed. Although he had won a comfortable majority and most Labour members said he was doing well, I thought that around a quarter of his voters might doubt his electability and be prepared to switch to a rival. That could be enough for him to be turfed out in a leadership content.

Now, a fresh YouGov/Times poll of Labour members has forced me to change my mind.

According to my theory, a chunk of Corbyn voters should have looked at his recent performance and started signalling their willingness to back an alternative.

This hasn’t happened.

If anything, we see the opposite. A larger proportion of Labour members now say they think Corbyn’s doing well than said the same in November (72% to 66%). Among those who voted for him last year, only 16% think he should be ousted before the next general election.

This has sunk my theory that Corbyn could be overthrown soon. Since the November poll, we’ve seen Corbyn’s weak response to the Budget, his Shadow Chancellor waving around the Little Red Book, the leaking of the naughty/nice list of MPs, revelations about members’ anti-Semitism, and his opposition losing seats in the local elections. Yet, Labour members have seen all this and become more confident in their leader.

If these mini-crises haven’t disillusioned Corbyn’s voters, it’s hard to imagine what, realistically, could do so in the next two years. Corbyn has just survived the biggest electoral test he will face until, arguably, the European elections in 2019 (if we have them).

But that still doesn’t mean he’s sure to be leader in the next election.

We fight em till we can't

Strong though this poll is for Corbyn, it also shows what could be his undoing. Only half of Labour members think the party is on course to win the next election. A quarter of Corbyn’s voters think it’s heading towards defeat. While there’s no sign they think the party would do better under an alternative, those are dangerous numbers for Corbyn.

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Polling Matters: EU referendum & Wales

Posted in Europe, Politics, Polling Matters on May 13th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Polling Matters: EU referendum & Wales

I was on Polling Matters again this week – podcast only – talking about the EU referendum. The online polls are neck-and-neck while the phone polls show Remain comfortably ahead. Which are right? Also a bit of discussion of the TV debates and the Welsh First Minister vote.



Why EU referendum turnout might actually favour Remain

Posted in Europe, Politics on April 22nd, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Why EU referendum turnout might actually favour Remain

When pollsters get together and talk about the EU referendum, it doesn’t take long before the conversation gets onto turnout.

The debate’s well explored – 1 in 4 sentences in this BuzzFeed article mentioned turnout – and has mostly concluded that the issue helps Leave. But I think the debate has underestimated something that helps Remain.

YouGov’s Freddie Sayers sets out well here the argument that turnout hurts Leave. As he says, Leave supporters are demographically more like people who vote, while Remain supporters – on average, younger people – look more like people who stay at home.

Polls already take this into account as far as possible. If someone says they’re not certain to vote, pollsters either discount them entirely or weight down their response.

The trouble is, polls before an election usually find that more people say they’re certain to vote than actually turn out. The ones who don’t live up to their word tend to be younger.

So, if this is replicated in the EU referendum, Remain may find that many of their younger supporters don’t actually vote, despite saying they would definitely do so, and so Remain might underperform their polls. Given that online (but not phone) polls currently find the race to be neck-and-neck, that could be crucial.

I don’t dispute this. But there’s another aspect that could be at least as important.

Currently, with two months until the election, around 6370% say they’re certain to vote.

Two months before the Scottish referendum, 7881% said they were certain to vote. In the last polls before the vote, 9495% said they were certain to do so.

Turnout in Scotland was 85%, so slightly more than 10% of those who said they would definitely vote in fact didn’t do so. But more people voted on 18 September 2014 than, two months before, had said they were certain to do so.

If something similar happens with the EU referendum polls, in mid-June we would see something like 75-82% saying they’re going to vote (and turnout would be around 70%).

One reason that could change the balance of the race is that stated turnout of Remain supporters has more scope to increase from where it is now than turnout of Leave supporters does. In ICM and Mori’s latest polls, 67-70% of Remain backers said they were certain to vote, while 74-80% of Leave supporters said the same.

So there are more people who support Remain but don’t currently think they’ll vote than there are who support Leave and don’t plan to vote. If turnout expectation increases, Remain’s support has more room to grow, without having to win over any undecideds or Leave supporters.

What I think this means in real terms is that Leave supporters tend to be more enthusiastic and already say they’re going to vote. Remain supporters are more grudging and haven’t yet decided to vote – but over the next two months a growing proportion of them might think it’s worth the effort.

When people start paying attention

But perhaps the Scottish referendum was so different from this one that we can’t learn much. Is it really likely that turnout expectation will increase for the EU referendum like it did in Scotland? There’s no way to be sure, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption (though I’m not claiming turnout will be quite as high).

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Polling Matters: EU referendum turnout, Trump & spread betting

Posted in Europe, Polling Matters, U.S. on April 13th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Polling Matters: EU referendum turnout, Trump & spread betting

I was on Polling Matters again this week, talking about the significance of turnout in the EU referendum, the state of the US races, and political spread betting. Mike Smithson was in the chair while Keiran’s on holiday.



Polling Matters: Trump vs Hillary, Osborne & Labour

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters, U.S. on March 24th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Polling Matters: Trump vs Hillary, Osborne & Labour

I was on Polling Matters this week, talking about how Trump compares with Hillary in national polls; the impact of the Budget on Osborne’s chances of becoming Prime Minister; and the significance of polls that are putting Labour level with the Tories.



Labour polls six months after Corbyn became leader

Posted in Labour leadership, Politics on March 11th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Labour polls six months after Corbyn became leader

I’ve been tracking Labour’s poll rating under Corbyn and comparing it with how the party did in the first few months of previous leaders.

In the first entry I said that every leader who started below 40% immediately increased Labour’s vote share by at least 5pts.

At three months I found that Labour’s score then was the lowest after three months of any modern leader.

Today’s the end of his first six months and here’s the next update. Labour’s poll score hasn’t fallen any further but is still the lowest at this point under any modern leader:

First 12 months - March '16

Note on methodology: As I said last time, the three-month numbers now include the two weeks after 12 December as well as the two weeks before then (to be consistent with the comparisons), so it has increased by 0.8 from the previous version. The six-month number might similarly change when I do the nine-month update. All data is from Mark Pack’s spreadsheet or UK Polling Report.

Why neither side in the EU referendum will ever have momentum

Posted in Europe, Politics on March 3rd, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Why neither side in the EU referendum will ever have momentum

One of the most popular concepts in politics is a figment of the imagination.

Momentum is mentioned so often that saying it doesn’t exist seems like claiming gravity doesn’t make things fall. Everyone wants their campaign to have the big mo – and to be seen to have it.

I’m not the first to make this point about momentum. Nate Silver and Mark Pack have shown that it doesn’t exist in US Senate polls and UK Westminster polls, respectively.

The former sums up his findings as: “the direction in which polls have moved is not predictive of the direction in which they will move”. Pretty definitive.

Yet, otherwise-sensible political commentators keep referring to momentum as if it’s a thing.

It certainly feels intuitively right that momentum exists. When a side is on a roll and picking up in the polls, it seems obvious that they should be more likely than not to carry on gaining.

And yet those studies found it’s not real.

But neither looked at referendums. Since they’re a binary choice, referendums seem like the most hospitable environment for momentum – and there have been plenty of references to momentum in the EU campaign so far.

With data from the AV and Scottish votes, I’ve tested whether there’s any evidence that momentum does exist in referendums (using only YouGov data, to avoid any noise from different methodologies).

How would we know momentum if we saw it? Roughly it seems like the idea that, once polls have moved in a particular direction, they should continue to do so (ie they won’t just stay at the same level and certainly they won’t reverse).

But what exactly that means in practice isn’t obvious and I’ll try a few options to see if I can find any evidence for it.

Test 1

Does a movement in a single poll predict what will happen in the next poll?

This is the question Mark Pack answered in the negative. In fact, he found it’s twice as likely that the subsequent poll will be in the opposite direction of the first poll.

My results show the same. Of the 46 pairs of polls in which there was swing in both polls, only 15 swung in the same direction; 31 went in opposite directions.

So: when a referendum poll moves in one direction, there’s a two-to-one chance that the next poll will move in the opposite direction.

Test 2

To be fair, few people would claim to spot momentum on the basis of one poll. So what about those 15 pairs of polls that were in the same direction?

If we look at what happens next, we get the same negative result.  Of the 15 pairs that swung in the same direction, 9 were followed by a poll that swung in the opposite direction compared with 6 in the same direction.

So: after two consecutive referendum polls swing in the same direction, there’s a three-to-two chance that the next poll will move in the opposite direction.

Test 3

But perhaps that was too strict. If there was a general trend in one direction, one measly poll in the opposite direction might not disprove momentum.

Let’s take the pairs of polls that have moved in the same direction – the soonest that someone might reasonably claim to see momentum – and see what happens over the subsequent 3 polls.

This seems a pretty good test of whether momentum exists: it’s what I think people have in mind when they refer to it. Once a side has seen an increase over two polls (and if it had momentum) that side’s position should continue to improve over the next few polls.

We have 14 groups of polls we can test this with (not exactly a great sample size, but the best I have from this set).

Applying the new test to the average of three polls that come after two have moved in the same direction:

7 times, the polls reversed direction (5 within margin of error, 2 outside)

6 times, the polls continued to move in the same direction (all within margin of error)

1 time, there was no change.

Now we’re about evenly split between polls reversing direction and those continuing in the same direction, albeit with a slight lean towards reversing direction.

With this generous, but intuitive, definition of momentum we can say: after two consecutive referendum polls move in the same direction, it’s as likely that the following three polls will reverse that direction as it is that they will continue in the same direction.

This is the best evidence I’ve seen that momentum might exist – and it’s pretty tenuous.

Essentially, if two consecutive referendum polls swing in the same direction, and you use that as evidence that the beneficiary has momentum, you’re as likely to be wrong as you are to be right.

You might be wondering whether three consecutive polls in the same direction are a better predictor. The answer is no. Of the 51 times that could have happened in the YouGov polls, it only showed up three times; after each, the next poll showed a swing in the opposite direction.

What does this mean?

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The rebranding of George Osborne didn’t make him more popular

Posted in Politics on February 19th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on The rebranding of George Osborne didn’t make him more popular

Few politicians – if they aren’t party leader – face as much discussion of their popularity as George Osborne does.

He’s dominant enough in his party to be favourite as next Prime Minister, but too soft, constrained or cautious to do a Gordon Brown and crush his rivals. So the leadership contest will be competitive and Osborne’s public unpopularity is seen as his weakness.

The Chancellor is clearly aware of this and hasn’t disguised his efforts to become liked, with his haircut, weight loss and hard-hat regimes.

This explains the relentless discussion among political commentators of Osborne’s popularity, which has re-emerged this week.

The usual description is that Osborne was initially hated as a slashing Chancellor; this is supposed to have reached a nadir with the Omnishambles budget and his being booed at the Paralympics. Then, he had a makeover which caused everyone to start liking him. The tax credits debacle has now been added to this, with recent claims that his popularity is tumbling.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while as it has all the elements for me to do one of my favourite kind of articles: one where I muster my powers of pedantry to declare a widely accepted ‘fact’ to be nonsense. There’s a conventional wisdom, that’s seemingly not backed up with numbers and resting on an assumption that most members of the public closely follow political happenings.

So is it nonsense?

In fact, there’s a data series that seems to back up the conventional wisdom quite well. Ipsos Mori regularly test satisfaction with the Chancellor of the day, and the results show pretty much what’s described. Osborne was seen to be doing a good job at first, then his numbers tanked, then – after the Paralympics – they picked up again. Recently they’ve fallen a little.

Osborne approval as Chancellor

But I don’t think this measures what we actually want to know. The question of whether Osborne is seen to be doing a good job as Chancellor might not say much about whether people would be happy to see him as Prime Minister (which is ultimately what we’re interested in).

In fact, to a fair extent, it measures how well people think the economy is doing. Comparing the data to Mori’s question on public confidence in the economy shows that the two have generally moved in tandem (the correlation is about 0.5).

Osborne approval vs economic confidence

So if we have another recession, we should expect Osborne’s job approval ratings to fall. If not, they might recover (though the relationship didn’t particularly seem to hold under Darling or Brown; it could be that the correlation is a coincidence or, for some reason, people are now less willing to accept downturns as being beyond the Chancellor’s control than they were under Labour).

But this still doesn’t really tell us whether the public actually like Osborne, and whether their view has been influenced by his rebranding.

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