Why hasn’t Milifandom led to a Labounce?

Posted in Politics on April 23rd, 2015 by Leo – Be the first to comment

Views of Miliband have improved sharply but Labour’s vote share hasn’t changed. Given Miliband was often supposed to be a drag on Labour’s vote, this seems surprising.

Since February, responses to questions on Miliband have shown a consistent increase in his ratings. This doesn’t just come from people already planning on voting Labour: for example the proportion of Lib Dem voters who say he’s doing well in YouGov’s polls increased from 17 to 34.

But in those polls, there’s been no corresponding increase in likelihood to vote Labour. Looking at February and April Ashcroft, Mori and YouGov polls, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between increase in rating of Miliband and likelihood to vote Labour:

The 2010 Lib Dems* are particularly important: for the Labour/Tory marginals like Ealing Central and Acton, the votes of 2010 Lib Dems will be crucial, and will determine which party gets the most seats.

Their lack of movement is interesting. The Tories planned to run a campaign focused on leadership – assuming that, when pushed to think about who they’d prefer to be Prime Minister, people with doubts about Miliband wouldn’t vote Labour.

There clearly was (and still is) a relationship between rating the leader highly and likelihood to vote for the party: in February, Labour voters were 2.5 times as likely as average to think Miliband was doing well; Tory voters were a little over twice as likely. But for Labour this relationship seems to have weakened.

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The constituencies where Green votes threaten Labour

Posted in Politics on April 15th, 2015 by Leo – 8 Comments

Since the Green vote share started picking up there’s been a series of articles on the constituencies where they apparently threaten Labour. I’ve looked at the numbers to see how likely the Greens really are to stop Labour gaining seats.

Across three articles I’ve seen 19 seats where the demographics are supposed to be favourable for the Greens. Ashcroft has polled 11 of them and we can make a pretty good guess about most of the rest.

In four of these seats, the Greens are indeed likely to threaten Labour*. In the other 15, the Green vote doesn’t look like it’ll affect the winner:

First there’s Brighton Pavilion, which looks like a safe Green hold. In December they were 10pts up.

The Ashcroft polls point to Labour gains in:

  • Cardiff Central (12pts up in September)
  • Cardiff North (11pts up in July)
  • Manchester Withington (34pts up in June)
  • Norwich South (15pts up in June)
  • Stroud (11pts up in August)

They suggest Labour currently has narrower leads in:

  • Brighton Kemptown (4pts up in October; Ukip on 13%, Greens on 10%)
  • Hove (6pts up in April; Ukip on 5%, Greens on 9%)
  • Norwich North (1pt up in Feb; Ukip on 15%, Greens on 20% – I’d expect the Green vote to fall and largely go to Labour here, but it’s still close)

The Lib Dems look safe in Cambridge (9pts up in March).

Ashcroft hasn’t polled the others where the Greens are expected to do well. Of these, four look like safe Labour holds:

  • Newcastle-upon-Tyne East (4.5k majority over Lib Dems)
  • Sheffield Central (165 majority over Lib Dems – newly elected Labour MP in 2010, so may benefit from incumbency)
  • Tooting (2.5k majority over Tories)
  • York Central (6.5k majority over Tories)

The Tories will probably hold Wimbledon (11.4k majority) and the Lib Dems will probably hold Leeds North West (9.1k majority).

That leaves three constituencies, out of the 19 where the demographics are supposed to be favourable to them, where the Greens might do well and could threaten Labour gains:

  1. Bristol North West, where the Tories have a 3.2k lead over the Lib Dems and a 6k lead over Labour. This could well be a Labour gain, though that could be prevented if enough 2010 Lib Dems go to the Greens.
  2. Bristol West, the main Green target for a gain. The Lib Dems are defending a 11.4k lead over Labour (26.6k to 15.2k); the Tories are third on 10.2k. Without constituency polling it’s hard to know who will win.
  3. Colne Valley, where the February Ashcroft poll put the parties on: Con 33; Lab 32; LD 12; Ukip 11; Green 10. The latest wave of constituency polling has showed both Greens and Ukip losing disproportionate support in marginals across the country, as the bigger local parties focus the message that only they can win there. That doesn’t clarify things much in Colne Valley though, where Ukip and the Greens are so close.

So of these 19 seats, the Greens will probably win one of them, and may threaten a Labour win in the other three.

But these are just the seats where the Greens are expected to do well; they aren’t the only ones where the Greens could swing the result.

There are a far larger number of other marginal seats across the country, where Labour are in contention. For example, looking just at the 20 Labour-Tory battlegrounds that Ashcroft polled for April:

In about half, the Tories are on course to hold the seats with leads bigger than the Green vote, so I don’t think the Green vote will change much there.

However in others, the race is close enough for Green votes to make a difference. In Pudsey, the poll shows a Labour-Tory tie, with 6% planning on voting Green. The same applies in both Rossendale and Darwen and South Ribble (2% Green in both). In Cleethorps, the Tories are 2pts up (3% Green); in both Finchley and Golders Green and Milton Keynes South, Labour are 2pts up with the Greens on 4%.

And George Monbiot today listed 16 constituencies where he warned a Green vote could stop Labour beating the Tories or Lib Dems.

We’ve seen five of them already. Of the others, Ashcroft’s polls suggest Labour is comfortably ahead, by more than the Green vote, in two (City of Chester; Plymouth Sutton and Devonport). Labour also look to be far ahead in Hornsey and Wood Green, though Lib Dem polls that identify the candidates by name put it much closer, so the Green vote could still be important.

In three, Ashcroft’s polls point to a narrow Labour lead (Ealing Central and Acton; Southampton Itchen; Wirral West); and three are essentially tied (Halesowen and Rowley Regis; Sheffield Hallam; South Swindon).  The remaining two (Watford; Worcester) look like safe Tory holds.**

Upshot is, this quick search has found around 19 seats (depending on where you draw the line) where Green votes might stop Labour winning – only four of which are those that have been pointed out as demographically strong seats for the Greens. The threat to Labour isn’t just in the liberal and students seats.

As comments to this article have pointed out, there are plenty more than the seats I’ve mentioned here – essentially every seat that’s very close, where Labour’s in with a shot and the Green vote isn’t insignificant. But to give a flavour, Labour gains look to at risk from the Greens in:

  • Brighton Kemptown
  • Bristol North West
  • Bristol West
  • Cleethorps
  • Colne Valley
  • Ealing Central and Acton
  • Finchley and Golders Green
  • Halesowen and Rowley Regis
  • Hornsey and Wood Green
  • Hove
  • Milton Keynes South
  • Norwich North
  • Pudsey
  • Rossendale and Darwen
  • Sheffield Hallam
  • South Ribble
  • South Swindon
  • Southampton Itchen
  • Wirral West  (15 Apr: Peter Cranie has pointed out that the Greens have decided not to field a candidate here, along with in 4 other Labour targets)

Note: this article was updated on 16 April to emphasise (in response to comments) that most of the seats where the Greens threaten Labour are generally not those where the demographics favour the Greens, but rather, those that are marginal anyway – and that this isn’t an exhaustive list of those seats.


* This rests on the assumption that Green voters would generally prefer Labour in a choice between them and the Tories. It certainly isn’t the case for all of them. But, for example in the latest Colne Valley constituency poll 60% would prefer Labour in government (majority or coalition) vs 40% for the Lib Dems and 23% for the Tories. In the Norwich North poll, it was 73% Labour; 41% Lib Dems and 22% Tory. So in a Lab-Con marginal, roughly 40-50% of the Green vote could be considered net ‘lost’ Labour votes; while in a Lab-LD marginal, it would be about 20-30%.

** The Ukip vote in nearly all of these seats is larger than the Green vote (excluding those where the Greens are expected to do well). And in three of the marginals (Harrow East, Kingswood and Stockton South), the Ukip vote is greater than the Labour lead.  So for most of them, you could more easily make the case that Ukip voters are stopping the Tories winning than that Green voters are stopping Labour winning.

The Greens’ vote is declining, but were they underperforming anyway?

Posted in Climate Sock, Politics on April 10th, 2015 by Leo – Be the first to comment

While recent attention has been on the Labour and Tory numbers – with some discussion about whether Ukip’s support’s falling (it did a bit at the end of March but it’s back up now) – a slide in support for the Greens seems to have gone un-commented on.

The latest ten polls, as recorded by May2015, have given them an average of 4.1%: down nearly 40% from their support of 6.7% in mid-February.

The decline seems to have started around two weeks after Natalie Bennett’s calamitous LBC interview and has worsened since the TV debate.

I don’t have evidence the decline’s connected to her media performances, though I’d be surprised if it’s not. While part of the decline might be the squeeze from Labour and the Lib Dems as voters start wanting to make their vote count* – but Ukip face the same threat and their vote hasn’t fallen (at least not by 40%). So we need another explanation, and the leadership looks a likely one.

But, even before recent decline (which is only in a few polls and they might recover from), I’d been starting to wonder, are the Greens underperforming?

It might seem strange to even wonder this. They’ll get their best ever result in May and their membership has overtaken the Lib Dems’.

But, as their supporters like pointing out, their policies are apparently the most popular of all the parties’; they have more people say they’d vote for them if they could win than either the Lib Dems or Ukip; there’s an unusually large number of left-wing protest voters up for grabs; and their leader has been on TV and radio far more than ever before, including being treated as an equal with the Prime Minister.

Yet, they don’t seem to be fulfilling this potential. They’re doing much worse than Ukip, a party who they’re more popular than in terms of both policies and brand.

As I showed before, their media coverage is consistently lower than their support should justify: that’s probably part of the reason for the support gap between the Greens and Ukip. But the campaign has certainly given them far more exposure than they had before, and their support doesn’t seem to have responded.

So rather noting how well the Greens are doing, should we be wondering whether they should be doing better?


* Their new boyband video, weirdly, emphasises several times that [for reasons] a vote for the Greens isn’t a wasted vote. Given how popular George Lakoff is among environmentalists at the moment, I’m amazed no-one spotted that, by repeating their opponents’ accusation, they’re activating the frame of “wasted vote”.

11 climate change election non-issues

Posted in Climate Sock on April 4th, 2015 by Leo – 2 Comments

Inspired by an excellent Stumbling and Mumbling post of economic questions that aren’t big election issues but should be, here are some difficult climate change questions that aren’t featuring in the election but perhaps should be:


1. Are we prepared for everyone to pay more for less obtrusive sources of renewable energy like offshore wind farms, so that a relatively small number of people don’t have to look at electricity plants they don’t like, particularly onshore wind farms?  If so, how much more should everyone pay?


2. How can we continue to expand airports while meeting our emissions targets? If we do continue with expansion where would we make up for the increased emissions? If we don’t, what does that mean for jobs and investment in the UK?


3. Do we need to reduce the amount we travel, internationally and within the UK? If so, how can we do that in a way that doesn’t disproportionately restrict poorer people who’ve benefited from budget airlines?


4. Do we need to discourage growth in particular sectors to achieve our climate targets? If so, which sectors and what will we do to create alternatives for the people affected? And would doing so actually reduce global emissions or just move them to other countries?


5. Are we prepared to make some inconvenient changes to everyday life to reduce emissions, like keeping our homes at lower temperatures, switching to electric central heating and having cars that’re less powerful and with shorter ranges? If so, how can we make sure the burden doesn’t fall most heavily on poorer people and particularly people who would be most affected by lower room temperatures?


6. When we build new homes, should we avoid areas that are more likely to flood when the climate changes? If so, what level of overall global warming should we plan for when we do this? And how can we overcome the increased difficulty this would put on building enough new homes? If not, who will cover the cost when we build in areas that become frequently flooded as the climate changes?


7. What shall we do with existing communities, agricultural land and infrastructure that are flooded more often as climate change increases?  Can we afford to always improve defences and clean up after floods, or will we need to abandon some areas? Who decides?


8. Who is responsible for preparing for the effects of increased heatwaves on the elderly and vulnerable? Do we need to take measures to reduce overheating in housing? Should we be preparing community shelters? Who pays?


9. Where should the UK be in terms of its emissions reductions? Should we be at the front to encourage other countries to make bigger cuts, or should we be somewhere in the middle of the high-emitting countries even if that means global cuts are slower?


10. If the UK’s emissions appear to be falling because we make less and import more, are our emissions cuts meaningful? Should we be accountable for the emissions from the production and transport of what we import?


11. Are we – and other countries that have emitted the most greenhouse gases – responsible for the damage caused by the climate change we’re already committed to? If so, do we need to make amends, eg by paying compensation, paying for non-emitting countries to adapt to climate change, taking in refugees where adaptation is impossible?


I’m sure there are plenty more. What have I missed?

The public are wrong about wind power. Why it matters (and why it doesn’t)

Posted in Energy sources on March 2nd, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off

There’s a current fashion in polling to ask questions designed to show that the public are wrong about particular issues. MORI got lots of coverage for a poll in 2013 revealing how badly people misperceive facts about UK life; they did a similar poll last year, replicating the results internationally.

A poll for RenewableUK has today done the same thing for wind power. It showed people overestimate 14-fold the amount consumers are charged through their electricity bills to subsidise wind energy. It also found a large majority under-estimate the popularity of wind power among the public overall.

Neither of these is particularly surprising. Wind farms have a reputation for facing local opposition, while some newspapers spend much of their time emphasising subsidies for green energy.

But in terms of their significance, I think the two questions are very different.

Finger in the wind

The apparent overestimate of the subsidies given to wind farms doesn’t feel that important. I’m sceptical that the average response of £259 subsidy in a £1300 bill is a meaningful answer, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, there may have been an anchoring effect in the poll. The question referred to a figure (£1300) as the average bill. Plenty of studies have shown that doing this skews responses towards that figure. I suspect the answer would have been much lower if the figure hadn’t been quoted in the question.

Secondly, people don’t seem that influenced in their views of wind power by the perceived level of government subsidies. We know from many polls that wind is among the most popular sources of power, even when built locally. We also know that people are far more likely to blame rising bills on energy company profiteering than on green levies.

So I suspect the finding on subsidies isn’t that significant. It’s artificial in that people largely haven’t thought about a figure before; when prompted they pluck a figure from the air (possibly anchored upwards); but their dominant view is that rising prices have been the fault of energy companies, and they still like wind power.

Spiral of silence

But the meta-question – what do you think people think about wind – is much more interesting and worrying to me.

This is partly because it provides a possible basis for what some have described as the Climate Silence: the way most people are worried about climate change, yet largely seem reluctant to talk about it because they think it’s an unpopular issue. Thinking that most people don’t like renewable energy might feed this silence; it might also feed a view that personal efforts to reduce emissions are wasted when others aren’t interested in doing so.

And specifically on wind power, the result fits neatly with what other polling has shown about some MPs’ views of wind power. Despite the popularity of wind power, just 16% of Tory MPs support onshore wind. Perhaps part of the reason may be that they, like most of the public, think wind power is much less popular than it really is*.

This seems important to me because decisions about whether or not more wind power plants are to be built may be shaped by this continued misunderstanding of the popularity of wind turbines.


*I suppose another option is they also think it’s much more subsidised from energy bills than it really is.

Today’s poll on climate change and flooding: a few comments

Posted in Climate Sock on January 29th, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off

A climate change and flooding poll by the Understanding Risk Group at Cardiff Uni has had quite a bit of coverage today, with pieces in Carbon Brief, the Guardian, IndependentTelegraph and BBC.

Those articles all picked up on the large increase in numbers who say they think the world’s climate is changing, and I won’t go over the ground covered by those pieces. But there are a couple of other points about the poll and the coverage that I found interesting:

Firstly, I’m uneasy about polls on belief in climate change. As I’ve written a few times, people’s response to questions about whether or not climate change is real is a bad measure of whether they want action to reduce emissions. Not only are the results misleading, these questions keep the debate about climate change in a place that’s far less useful than it would be if we were instead talking about what we’re going to do about climate change. Even when the results suggest people increasingly think climate change is real, the time spent talking about this could be spent talking about, for example, what kind of deal the UK should push for at the Paris climate conference this year – and it legitimises discussions of some future poll that apparently shows a fall in ‘belief’.

Secondly, I continue to be mystified by the answer choices in the question about the causes of climate change:

  1. It is entirely caused by natural processes
  2. It is mainly caused by natural processes
  3. It is partly caused by natural processes and partly caused by human activity
  4. It is mainly caused by human activity
  5. It is entirely caused by human activity
  6. There is no such thing as climate change
  7. Don’t know

It’s the same scale used in the DECC tracking poll, and as I said about that poll, I find it hard to interpret the results. If I think that climate change is mostly human but a bit natural, should I pick choice 3 or 4?  Both apply. If choice 3 is supposed to mean “equally” human and natural, it should say so, not “partly”.

It’s also not great to have one answer choice that is much longer than the others (pick a card, any card, particularly the one I’ve made stick out a bit) as well as one that combines the others and so looks like the middle-ground option (even though it means the same as 2 and 4). Unsurprisingly, choice 3 always gets by far the most respondents.

The only basis I can see for using these answer choices is to compare with previous polls that used it. But since the choices are so muddled it would still be better if it were dropped.

Finally, I was amused to see the Guardian refer to “only” 14% of people saying they would write to or phone their MP about climate change. If one in seven people really did this, each MP would get about 10,000 letters, emails or phone calls about climate change!

Will the election be the end of the Green Surge?

Posted in Politics on January 29th, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off

The Greens will almost certainly have their best ever Westminster election this year. Even if their support halves during the campaign, a vote of 3-4% will easily beat their 2005 previous best of 1%.

But the most likely result of the Green Surge – whether it results in a tripling or an octupling of their vote – is that their number of MPs stays the same: 1. There’s an outside chance that they could win another in the four-way contest in Norwich South, but that’s as far as it goes.

So after a best-ever result that may produce no increase in representatives, where do the Greens go next?

They will have a record number of members – potential door-knockers and leaflet-deliverers – who might help them increase their vote in future elections. After May, they will target the 2016 local government elections (so obscure they don’t yet have a Wikipedia page) and the 2019 European elections.

But progress at Westminster will still be the biggest prize and a Syriza-style storming of Parliament is much more difficult under our electoral system. When Syriza won 5% in 2009, and 17% then 27% in 2012, they got a proportionate number of seats each time – making them look like a potential largest party. That route isn’t open to the Greens, just as it hasn’t been to Ukip.

Given that, Westminster electoral reform may be the Greens’ chief goal ­– but none of the major parties will be interested. The Tories and Labour still benefit from first-past-the-post, and the Lib Dems may lose interest now they get only slightly fewer MPs than their vote demands. Reform would benefit Ukip but their priorities will be Europe and immigration, not changing voting systems. With one or two MPs, the Greens will have little chance of getting it into a coalition agreement. Their best hope for electoral reform might be the Lords or local government elections.

But there is one scenario where things at Westminster might work out for the Greens.

Suppose Labour becomes the largest party in May, and forms either a minority government or a weak coalition. It initially follows Tory spending plans before introducing its own austerity. Without a clear mission, or having convinced its supporters of the need for austerity, and with a divided parliamentary party, a large swathe of 2015 Labour voters – particularly those who’d voted Lib Dem in 2010 and other anti-austeritarians – can see no reason to stick with Labour. Its support drops to the low 20s, while the Greens’ hits the high teens with some polls putting the parties level*.

But even in this scenario there’s a further problem for the Greens. In 1992, a vote of 18% got the Lib Dems just 20 MPs. Something similar for the Greens in 2020 might seem like a springboard for the subsequent election, but come the election after 2020 austerity might be at an end, and with it, the centre of the Greens’ electoral appeal**. What they may need is for the election following 2015 to be early: coming far enough after May 2015 for Labour to have lost much of its support (in this contrived scenario) but not so far away that austerity is near an end.

And if all this goes right for the Greens – and wrong for the others on the left and centre-left – they might have a chance of avoiding Thursday May 7th 2015 going down as their high water mark.


* Ironic, this. Just at the time anti-austerity campaigners are calling for Labour voters to defect to the Greens, a Labour government pledged to austerity might be the thing that gives the Greens the best chance of being able to differentiate themselves.

** There’s a debate to be had about whether this will necessarily remain the Greens’ main appeal and whether it’s enough to win a large number of votes – I could see their emphasis changing, but if it does I’m not sure why they would appeal to any more people than they did in the New Labour era – but for now I’m taking the party as they currently are.

An update

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28th, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off

I’m out of the country for a bit, so my rate of blogging will be slower for a while and I’ve hung up my Polling Matters headphones for now.

In the meantime I’m working on a climate and public opinion project, which – if it sees the light of day – I’ll give more details about here.


Polling Matters podcast: internal political polls

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on January 8th, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off

In this week’s Polling Matters, Keiran Pedley and I are joined by Matt Carter, former General Secretary of the Labour Party and head of Message House, to discuss how parties use private opinion polls to hone policies and target key groups:

Polling Matters podcast: trust and responding to the Greens & Ukip

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on December 14th, 2014 by Leo – Comments Off

In this week’s Polling Matters, Hopi Sen, Keiran Pedley and I discuss trust in politics and how the main parties can respond to the rise of the Greens and Ukip. Should they try to match their promises, or is it better to play a different game altogether?