Europe

Polling Matters: should Leave focus on immigration?

Posted in Europe, Politics, Polling Matters on June 5th, 2016 by Leo – 1 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.

 

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.

 

 

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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Polling Matters: South Carolina, the EU vote & Labour

Posted in Europe, Polling Matters, U.S. on February 18th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Polling Matters: South Carolina, the EU vote & Labour

I was back on Polling Matters this week, talking about the US primaries, the EU referendum and Labour’s terrible poll ratings.

Polling Matters: Iowa and the EU referendum

Posted in Europe, Politics, Polling Matters, U.S. on February 5th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Polling Matters: Iowa and the EU referendum

My first time back on Polling Matters for a while, in time for the pilot of a TV format. As Keiran says, faces for radio.

 

Apologies for the brain fade in my first answer.

Why I’m no longer so confident the UK will vote to stay in the EU

Posted in Europe on September 1st, 2015 by Leo – Comments Off on Why I’m no longer so confident the UK will vote to stay in the EU

While the Labour leadership contest – and its gruesome fallout – will still dominate politics for weeks to come, the EU referendum is on its way back into the news. Until recently, I was confident that, barring a shock political event ahead of the vote, In would win. Now I’m much less sure.

There are two reasons for my doubts about the likelihood of an In victory.

The first is the instability of the In/Out polls.

That may seem a strange description of them. YouGov’s tracking poll shows what looks like a secular trend towards In, rather than instability (see below, up to May; recent polls show similar results). Over four years, Out’s lead over In has collapsed, despite the Eurozone and refugee crises. My hunch has been that this is down to people being confronted with the reality of a possible UK exit, which has forced more to engage seriously with the question for the first time.

Remain In looks a little like a global temperatures chart of last few decades.  Hiatus, [look away for a bit], Hiatus, [look away for a bit]

So if there’s been a steady move towards In, why do I refer to instability? The reason is, we’ve still only had a few months of consistent leads for In. Go back just to December and the polls were tied. Go back a year further and Out had a comfortable lead in YouGov’s data. The longer-running Mori data shows Out has been ahead several times since the late ‘70s. Given these shifts, it seems to me too early to say we’ve seen an irreversible shift towards In (though it’s striking that support for In so far seems to have withstood the crises of the last few years).

It’s hard to dispute that views on the EU could well change at least as far as they have over the last eight months. Most people probably haven’t thought about the referendum much yet. As news and arguments develop, In’s lead may still prove to be assailable.

This brings me to my second reason why I’m not so confident of an In victory: opinion about the benefits and costs of EU membership look bad for the In camp. An Opinium poll this weekend showed that some of the underlying views of the EU point more towards Out than to In (I was involved in writing the poll, through my employers, DHA Communications).

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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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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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