Archive for January, 2012

Is the Left really losing elections across the world?

Posted in Politics on January 29th, 2012 by Leo – 5 Comments

The Left is retreating around the world. The Great Recession has produced a landscape so favourable for right-wing parties, their opponents can only feel sorry for themselves as they watch support drain away from them.

At least, so goes the popular narrative. At the last Labour Conference, Douglas Alexander said: “for a decade around 1997, the centre left was defeating the right. Now the centre right is beating the left”. Fraser Nelson agreed, with the assertion “across Europe centre-Left parties are in electoral retreat”.

But an analysis of elections over the last 12 months doesn’t bear out the argument that the Left is on a losing streak.

What we see instead is that while the main centre-left parties have indeed lost some ground to the main centre-right parties, left and centre-left parties have generally done slightly better than parties of the right and centre-right.

The results come from all country-wide parliamentary general elections held in Europe, North America and Australasia in the last 12 months, totalling eight elections. See here for the full methodology.

If we look just at the performance of the main centre-left party in each country, and compare it with the result for the main party of the centre-right, we do indeed see a drop for the centre-left.

In six of the eight elections, the main centre-left party lost support; only in Ireland did it gain, and that was at the expense of the centre rather than of the right. The average swing is about 2pts to the main centre-right party.

But that’s only part of the picture. If we count all parties of the left and centre-left, and compare them with all parties of the right and centre-right, the result is reversed.

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Boris vs Ken just got a lot more interesting

Posted in London, Politics on January 19th, 2012 by Leo – 3 Comments

YouGov today have a poll that has radically changed expectations for this May’s London mayoral election.  Previous polls had suggested that Boris Johnson was on course for a comfortable re-election, but today’s poll has put Ken Livingstone narrowly ahead, give or take a margin of error.

Since polls on the vote have been relatively sparse, we can’t easily tell whether this is an outlier. But when looking at where Ken has got his boost, the results make intuitive sense.

Quite simply, Labour voters have shifted strongly into the Ken camp, as the charts below show.

The first shows how Tory supporters would vote in the London election, comparing last June with today’s poll.  There has been very little change, with Boris taking pretty much all their votes.

But when we do the same for Labour supporters, we see a large movement of Boris voters into Ken’s pile:

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Opponents of Scottish independence shouldn’t be complacent about winning

Posted in Politics, Social on January 14th, 2012 by Leo – 2 Comments

Recent polls aren’t encouraging for those hoping for Scottish independence. Only around a third say they would vote to break away, while over half say they would vote against.

But older polls suggest opponents of independence shouldn’t be complacent. There has been a great deal of volatility in opinion, which could spell trouble if the campaign goes against them.

Three polls since October last year put current support for independence in Scotland in the region of 29%-34%, with up to 54% opposed. From these, there’s little to suggest any recent trend in either direction:

Data and question wording: YouGov Jan 2012; Ipsos MORI Nov-Dec 2011

But while these numbers look very reassuring for those opposing divorce, older polls suggest a much less settled view.

UK Polling Report have gathered the results from 34 polls, conducted between 1999 and 2009, with questions on Scotland’s independence. Inevitably the question wording varies widely, so it’s difficult to use the full set to show how opinion has changed.

But five of these polls with simple questions on support for independence show clearly that there is potential for much higher support than more recent polls have found:

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Past elections suggest Labour’s prospects are better than most commentators think

Posted in Historical polls, Politics on January 9th, 2012 by Leo – 7 Comments

Commentary on the difficulties facing the Labour Party – leading in nearly every poll for over a year – sometimes puts me in mind of Bill Shankly, the Liverpool manager of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Responding to a journalist’s question about a supposed crisis at the club, the great man said, “Ay, here we are with problems at the top of the league”.

Likewise, despite Labour’s consistent polling lead, the impression from the comment pieces, blogs and tweets is of a party struggling to find supporters. The logic is that, firstly, Labour’s lead is smaller than might be expected against a government undertaking such spending cuts, and, secondly, that the government is likely to recover and overhaul that lead between now and the next election.

The first of those points may be subjective, but the second can be tested against what’s happened in the past. Mark Pack has compiled the voting intent results from all opinion polls published since 1945, which allows us to do just that.

November 2011 marked 18 months since the last general election. At that point, Labour were on average 4.6pts ahead of the Tories, a score that has since slightly reduced due to Cameron’s veto bounce.

Comparing this score with opposition parties’ poll scores relative to governments’ 18 months after past general elections allows us to benchmark how Labour are currently doing. It also allows us to estimate Labour’s result in the next general election.

A regression analysis of historical polls 18 months after an election, relative to scores in the next general election can provide a model to analyse where we are now (see below for the detailed methodology). The analysis suggests that performance at this point is in fact a pretty good prediction of performance at the next election: it predicts nearly 60% of the result of the next election, with a very high level of confidence (p=0.002).

If a party is leading at this point, it tends to be leading at the election. However, the gap between the government and the main opposition partly typically halves over the remainder of the parliament.

Therefore, given the current position, the historical data suggest Labour should expect to win the next election by a small margin, of a little over two percent.

However, these polls weren’t conducted equally far before the forthcoming election. The Feb ’74 election, for example, was 44 months after the previous election, while the 2010 election was 60 months after the previous one.

So, as well as comparing election results with polls 18 months after the previous election, we can compare the results with polls exactly two years before that election date.

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Five trends to watch in 2012

Posted in Politics on January 1st, 2012 by Leo – 8 Comments

In the party horserace, 2011 was the year of not much happening. In fact, it was a year of exceptional boringness on that front, punctuated only by a small and quite possibly transient boost for the Tories after the EU veto in December.

But behind that headline of ‘no change’, there were interesting shifts on other fronts.

I’ve pulled out five questions where there was movement in 2011, and which will be worth watching in 2012:

1) More attention to growth

We’ve seen before that there was a significant shift in 2011 towards people thinking that the government should change its deficit reduction strategy to concentrate on growth.

Most of this movement happened between July and September. If that shift repeats, it could have important consequences for politics:


2) Speed of the cuts

While the first question suggests there is a growing view that more should be done to promote growth, there seems to be less agreement that spending is being cut too quickly.

Unless this trend is halted, Labour may find it more difficult to make the case that the cuts are hurting:


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