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:
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:
On Polling Matters this week I talked about what might happen to Labour’s support over the rest of the Parliament.
Regular readers of this site might remember that I’ve previously compared how oppositions have stood in the polls 18 months after elections with how they then did at the subsequent election (using Mark Pack’s brilliant collection of historical polling data).
For this week’s episode I updated this analysis with the 2015 election (which was an outlier, as Labour underperformed how they’d be expected to do – largely because of the polling miss). The analysis suggests that, between this point in a parliament and the subsequent election, polling leads typically roughly halve.
This happens regardless of whether it’s the government or the opposition that’s leading in the polls at this point.
I found this surprising and it seemed like it can’t be right. I had thought that this was typically a low point for governments, and that they usually recover support by the time an election comes. But the evidence doesn’t really seem to bear that out – and it appears the opposition did gain ground ahead of the 2001 and 2005 elections.
Obviously this is a crude model. It doesn’t take into account many things. But for what it’s worth it suggests that Labour – currently about 12pts down – is on course for a 6pt election defeat, which is less than I’d expected.
But here’s another view on the question of Labour’s polling floor.
If we look at other centre-left European parties that, like Labour, were scoring between 35-45% in the late ’90s and early ’00s, we don’t see much evidence that Labour is currently at the lowest point it can get. All of those parties have scored lower than Labour in national parliamentary elections. Most of the others have gone below 25%.
Clearly different electoral systems – and national politics – are an enormous factor. What happens in one country isn’t inevitably replicated in another. But this alone suggests that Labour has no assurance it can call on the support of 30% of the public at a general election. Other major centre-left parties have found that the ground can indeed fall away beneath them.
I talked about this, along with Ukip and Theresa May’s in-tray, with Keiran and Asa Bennett of the Telegraph.
On Polling Matters this week I argued that the Labour leadership challenge has made Corbyn far stronger than he was before:
His overall victory wasn’t much bigger than last time, 62% compared with just under 60%. But there was a significant increase in his win among the members, from about 50% to close to 60%. This was partly about people who voted for Burnham last year, but is mostly about a change in the membership. Smith won nearly two-thirds of people who had joined Labour before the last general election, while Corbyn is utterly dominant among more recent members. The party membership has changed and is much more pro-Corbyn – although this had little to do with the leadership challenge.
But the membership challenge itself will also make things even harder for those who want rid of Corbyn, for two reasons:
1. He won 70% of registered supporters, who paid £25 to vote. It has to be expected that Momentum will try to register those people as full party members, which will mean the membership will become even more sympathetic to Corbyn.
2. As I’ve argued before, around a quarter of people who voted Corbyn last year were shakeable in their faith. They would prefer a leader who could win an election to one who they agree with about everything. The size of his victory among members suggests to me that he’s won many if not most of those people (my view in May was, they needed Corbyn to be given longer before they were persuaded he had to go). Having made the decision to vote for Corbyn this time, they’re now pyschologically committed to him and it’s going to be harder to shake their support in future than it would have been if there hadn’t been a challenge.
This and discussion of how Labour can win the public, and the US election, on podcast and video:
On this week’s Polling Matters I argued that the shape of politics at the moment is a great opportunity for the Lib Dems. They’re the party that, by miles, is seen as politically closest to most voters:
- On a 7-point left-right scale, 70% of people who have an opinion put themselves in the middle 3 positions
- 78% put the Lib Dems in those positions
- The Tories are the next-most placed in those positions, and still only 40% put them there.
This may be beginning to show: the Lib Dems have been winning local council by-elections in the last few months, when every other major party has had a net loss.
But their voting intent score is still as bad as it was a year ago and only 22% say they’d even consider voting Lib Dem. The party has to resolve this contradiction, somehow persuading far more voters that they’re in the same place.
I see two huge barriers to resolving this:
1. Hardly anyone outside politics hears about the Lib Dems any more. It’s much easier to get people’s attention as a small party if you make radical protest noises: Iraq, tuition fees. It’s much harder to do that if the space you want to occupy is, essentially, Blairite. They’ve tried this with the EU, and Farron has made his appeal to ’97 Labour voters explicit, but this doesn’t seem to have made much difference yet. It’s much more difficult to come up with dramatic announcements that will allow people to understand what you stand for if you want to present yourself as responsible modernisers.
2. They may not have the members and MPs for this. I don’t claim to be an expert on the membership of the party, but after 13 years of positioning itself as a left-liberal alternative to New Labour, I’m not sure how much appetitie there is for a reversal. That said, 5 years in coalition may have shaken up the membership on that front. But even if Farron wanted to become the new Clegg (and his instincts are clearly to the left of Blair’s) I’m not sure how much people in the party yearn to be a boring party of the centre.
I talked about this and the US election with Keiran and Matt Shaddick from Ladbrokes. Podcast and video below.
Hinkley Point and grammar schools show May’s electoral priorities – and why she could have a problem with airport expansionPosted in Climate Sock, Politics, Transport on September 18th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Hinkley Point and grammar schools show May’s electoral priorities – and why she could have a problem with airport expansion
Approval of Hinkley Point and plans for more secondary moderns might seem unrelated – but they have a shared politics and point towards a decision in favour of expanding either Heathrow or Gatwick.
Hinkley and selective education are both unpopular with the left and with most experts. Increasing the number of secondary moderns is so evidently bad for most children that even Corbyn could take May apart on it. And although the debate about Hinkley Point’s merits is more disputed, in both cases the government will face a long battle to achieve what it’s promised.
But the political appeal for Theresa May is clear.
Her message is that this is a government that will act decisively to promote jobs and skills. Grammar schools and Hinkley convey this effectively to one of May’s key target audiences.
In YouGov’s poll from before the secondary moderns announcement, the only groups of which a majority supported new grammars were 2015 Tory voters and Ukip voters, and the over 65s. The polls on Hinkley are less useful but this recent Opinium poll found that the same three groups are the strongest supporters of new nuclear power stations.
This seems a clear sign that May’s top target in any early election wouldn’t be people who voted for Miliband last year and are now put off by Corbyn. She’d go for those who voted for Farage.
This makes electoral sense. There are 67 Labour-held seats where the combined 2015 Tory and Ukip vote was more than the Labour share. Flipping those to Tory would give a Blair-style landslide. (This is pre-boundary changes)
When it comes to airport expansion, public opinion is divided, but support seems to be strongest among the same groups who support Hinkley and grammar schools. This 2015 Populus poll found the over 65s to be the only age group in which a majority supports expansion.
If the government is prepared to force more schools to become secondary moderns – in the face of all evidence about their benefit – the fact that London airport expansion is supported by the same people makes it seem likely that the government will go ahead.
But there’s one problem that could transform the calculation.
Support for grammar schools is evenly spread across the country. Support for London airport expansion isn’t. While 52% of Londoners supported expansion in that Populus poll, among people in many other parts of the country, support is only 35-39%.
This won’t be a problem for the government so long as the decision is seen to only affect London and the South East. Many people outside those areas are indifferent – they see it as a question for London that doesn’t affect them.
But, as I found in my paper for the Campaign for Better Transport last month, building a new runway in London means airports in the rest of the country will be restricted in size. Ticket prices would go up for all flights across the country.
This is hardly mentioned in the debate. As long as it isn’t, London airport expansion will seem to most people to be a London issue – and it will make political sense for May’s government to use it to appeal to the same people who like grammar schools and nuclear power.
But of those 67 target seats, only nine are in London and the South East. If it were widely realised that London airport expansion would restrict growth in the rest of the country, the plans may be a lot less politically appealing than they seem.
The day Corbyn took over as Labour leader I posted a chart of how his predecessors had done in their first 12 months, so we could compare polling of Labour during Corbyn’s first year. Every three months I’ve checked in on progress (here, here and here).
Corbyn has been in charge of the party for a year and here is the last update in the series (methodological note below).
It shows that Labour is not the most unpopular it’s ever been at the end of a leader’s first year. Fewer people said they’d vote Labour in 2008 than say the same now. Labour has no less support now than it did after Michael Foot’s first year.
You could argue either way about how badly the precedent suggests Corbyn’s doing. On the one hand, every other Labour leader who took over in opposition when it was polling below 40% (Kinnock, Smith, Miliband), finished their first year with it above 40%. Corbyn finishes his first year at around 30%.
On the other hand, Callaghan, Foot and Brown all lost much more support in their first year than Corbyn did. So it’s hard to argue, using just this data, that he’s the most unsuccessful post-war leader.
The comparison also suggests that the leadership challenge (which came between the 9- and 12-month points in this chart) has had little effect on voting intention. Polling of Corbyn’s Labour has followed a common historical pattern: gaining support in its first six months, then losing it in the second six (as did Gaitskell, Wilson, Kinnock, Smith and Blair).
Given where Labour is now, how can it expect to do at the next election?
A rule that has never been broken is that Labour oppositions always lose support between the end of their leader’s first year, and the general election.
I was on Polling Matters this week. The topics were:
I was on Polling Matters again this week with Keiran and Rob, talking Theresa May, past Prime Ministers and the US election.
I was back on Polling Matters with Keiran and Julia Rampen from the New Statesman. This week we talked about the future for Scottish independence, the current state of the Labour Party, and public attitudes to brexit.