Archive for January, 2013

Is Euroscepticism collapsing, or is it just bad polling?

Posted in Bad polling, Europe on January 20th, 2013 by Leo – 7 Comments

Today’s YouGov poll shows a startling change in attitudes to the EU. The results suggest more people would now vote to stay in the EU than to leave it: 40% staying in against 34% wanting to leave.

That’s a big swing from two months ago, when 49% said they would vote to leave: 17pts ahead of those wanting to stay:

Shifts like these don’t just happen by themselves. But is it real, or is something going on with the polling?

Option 1: a change in opinion

There are grounds for thinking a real shift has happened. The last time ‘vote to stay in’ was this high was December 2011: just after Cameron’s walkout of the EU summit.

At that time, the suggestion that the UK would leave the EU moved from remote to seeming more possible. Perhaps people started responding to the polling question differently: saying “I’d vote to leave the EU” became less of an empty threat.

Maybe that’s what happened this time as well. Over the last couple of weeks, discussions about the UK’s future in the EU have dominated the news again. People have started thinking about their own view, and they’ve responded to YouGov with a more considered opinion, which has taken some people away from the ‘out’ camp.

So we have a plausible explanation – but it’s not the only possible answer.

Option 2: bad polling

Some polling is designed to find out what people would do if they’re exposed to certain information or arguments. If Tesco promised to make its beefburgers with only British ingredients, would you be more likely to shop there? If you’re told that 60% of people affected by the benefit cap are in work, would you be more likely to oppose it?

But other polling is supposed to be a pure measure of what people currently think. Questions like voting intent and the EU referendum should be in this category.

So for the EU referendum question to show accurately what people think, respondents shouldn’t be shown anything that might influence their response. In an ideal world, they’d only be asked about the EU, and then the poll would finish. But that would be expensive, so we have to accept that the EU question will go in a poll with other questions.

In that case, the other questions respondents see need to be consistent between polls. So if respondents are being influenced by the other questions, at least it’s happening in a comparable way.

But that’s not how YouGov have done it.

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The Observer is wrong: climate change denial is not becoming entrenched

Posted in Climate Sock on January 14th, 2013 by Leo – 6 Comments

I’ll begin with two questions:

What proportion of Americans say there is solid evidence that the earth is warming?

Is it: a) one quarter; b) one third; c) a half; or d) two thirds.

What has happened to that figure over the last four years?

Has it: a) fallen every year; b) stayed about the same; c) risen every year.

Judging by most conversations I have and the coverage of public views about climate change, most people would guess the answer is low and falling.

But here’s the answer, taken from the Pew Research Center’s annual polls: two thirds and rising.

Agreement in the US that the earth is warming is now higher than it’s been at any time since 2008. The research was conducted before Hurricane Sandy, so is probably higher now.

Sure, still only about half say it’s because of human activities – though that has also increased by a quarter over the last three years.

The debate about public views of climate change has changed in the US over the last few months. A number of polls in the autumn showed that the public is becoming more worried – and this was covered in the media.

But the UK lags behind. This week’s Observer included a powerful editorial, restating the evidence about current and future impacts of climate change. But it spoiled it with the line: “climate change denial is becoming entrenched in the UK, or … our media have become complacent about the issue, or both.”

Everyone I speak to about climate change seems to think this. But, purely in terms of public opinion about climate change, I can’t find any evidence to support it.

In fact, as I showed last year, concern about climate change in the UK is certainly not falling, and is probably increasing.

The polling is less extensive than it is in America, but I don’t know of a single poll that shows that the UK public are currently becoming more sceptical about climate change. The general pattern is instead that there was a one-off increase in doubts around late ’09 , which has been followed by a recovery over the years since then.

This set of YouGov polls is fairly typical:

Again, lots of people still express doubts about climate change*. But the trend is of scepticism falling, not of it increasing.

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What do old polls show about the next election?

Posted in Historical polls, Politics on January 12th, 2013 by Leo – 1 Comment

I wrote a post last year about old opinion polls and how well they predict future elections. It compared election results with polls taken 18 months after the previous election, and also compared polls taken two years before an election to the result of that election.

It’s now coming up to two years before the next election and the second part of my post has got a bit of attention.

John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday argued that this kind of analysis is all well and good but we shouldn’t pay too much attention to where the polls are at the moment – there are too many unpredictable events that will change things over the next two years, and what matters is how the parties respond to them.

On Labour Uncut, Rob Marchant focused on the implications of the “two years before the next election” chart (below) and concluded that Labour is on the border between being on course to win in 2015 or not.

The “two years out” data do suggest, as Marchant says, that Labour’s current 11pt lead is about on the cusp of where an opposition needs to be if it’s to have most votes at the election. Only once – ’64 – has an opposition won when it’s been ahead by less than 10pts at this time.

But Rentoul is right that current polls can only take us so far: indeed the regression showed a 40% correlation, not a perfect prediction.  Events, and the parties’ reactions to them – politics – will do most of the shaping of what happens, and whether Labour’s lead goes up or down.

This is probably about as far as we can get looking just at overall national voting intent and past elections. But we can learn more by digging a bit deeper into where Labour’s lead came from.

About 15% of Labour’s current support is from people who voted Lib Dem in 2010*. It was their move to Labour in late 2010 that gave Labour a polling lead which it has kept pretty much consistently (except a brief period in early 2012). The fact these voters have largely stayed with Labour for two years suggests their support is fairly stable. But who knows what they will do when the Lib Dems start stepping up an election campaign, or if Clegg is dropped and the Lib Dems start trying to present a clean slate.

And it’s important to think about how this Lib Dem defection will work at the constituency level. Several people have written about this, but for me this piece by Mark Gettleson nails it. There are 33 seats where the Tory majority over Labour is less than the proportion of the vote that moved from Labour to the Lib Dems between ’97 and ’10. If these move back (though in 18 years there’s a lot of churn in a constituency), Labour would gain those seats directly from the Tories. (There are of course also seats, balancing this, that the Tories will be trying to take off the Lib Dems – 20 of their 40 targets)

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What happened in 2012?

Posted in Europe, Politics on January 8th, 2013 by Leo – 1 Comment

Through 2012, I kept track of five questions on the issues shaping UK politics. For a final time, I’m revisiting them to see how they’ve changed and where we are now:

1) More attention to growth

Until the omnishambles Budget, the country was pretty evenly split on whether the government should slow deficit reduction to concentrate on growth.

After the Budget, ‘concentrate on growth’ opened a lead that stayed above 6pts, and reached 17pts after dire economic figures in the summer.  But in the poll conducted immediately after the Autumn Statement, views were back to being evenly split.

Not only is this important for debates about the future of the economy, but it also says something interesting about the public’s relationship with political news. I’m often quite an exponent of the view “the politerati are talking to themselves, the rest of the country couldn’t give a stuff”. But the shifts in attitudes after the Budget and the Autumn Statement are a reminder that some political news does get widespread attention and change attitudes.

 More on this question here

2) Speed of cuts 

After holding steady for most of the year, the proportion saying the cuts are being made too quickly has now fallen a bit further, to 44%.

Clearly this isn’t good for the credibility of Labour’s line “too far, too fast”. This will be an interesting one to keep watching when more cuts start to bite. For example will personal experience of cuts to child benefits and the 1% cap start affecting views of cuts in general?


3) Blame for the cuts 

This is another one that hasn’t moved far in Labour’s direction. Over 2012, the proportion blaming Labour for the cuts fell from 39% to 36%: hardly a radical shift.

At the same time though, the coalition have started picking up a bit more of the blame: up from 22% in January to 27% at the end of the year.

But this still means that two and half years into the government, more people blame Labour for the cuts than the current government.

More on this question here

4) Old and tired 

But underneath the economic questions, there’s a host of measures about how the parties are viewed. One of the important ones is about whether they’re seen as old and tired.

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