Politics

Why Corbyn was crucial for Labour’s election result

Posted in Labour, Politics on June 25th, 2017 by Leo – 3 Comments

I’ve been on paternity leave since the election so haven’t written much about it. But there are a few things I keep coming back to that I find interesting.

First, why was I surprised? Had I predicted the result on the day of the election, I would have said the Tories would have a majority of 60 seats. My mistake was to think opinion wouldn’t shift much during the campaign. That meant I looked for reasons not to believe polls that showed the gap had narrowed. So I wasn’t open to the possibility that Corbyn really could turn out so many young people or that the Tories could alienate so many older people.

Looking at the results I think those two things happened for a few reasons:

1. The Tories made some crucial (and terrible) decisions. The social care policy was predictably suicidal. The fox-hunting pledge was bizarre. But those seem to me to be the consequence of a small group of advisors being allowed to get individual policies into the manifesto.

The thing that I’m most interested by is the strategic decision not to attack Labour on the economy. In 2015 Labour couldn’t get a hearing because most voters still thought the party had wrecked the economy in 2008. When Ed Miliband said he didn’t think Labour had spent too much he was laughed at. When he forgot to talk about the economy in his leader’s speech he was mocked. I don’t believe that, had they been tried in 2015, Labour’s 2017 spending plans would have overcome this problem. What I think changed is that the Tories stopped putting much effort into claiming to be the only fiscally responsible party. In the past, the Tories have won when they’ve been disliked but considered reliable.

I don’t know why the Tories made this decision. It surely wasn’t an oversight. One possibility is they tested out different attacks in polls and focus groups and found that the public no longer believed the Tories’ economic message (even though they did so in 2015). Or perhaps the Tories genuinely thought they no longer needed to bind themselves to pointless deficit-reduction targets and could win without saying much about Labour’s spending plans. Whatever the rationale, I think this decision was crucial.

2. Despite everything, May – as an individual – attracted a lot more voters than Corbyn did… It runs totally counter to how the two leaders are now seen, but Tory voters were much more likely to say they choose the party because of Theresa May than Labour voters were to say they did so because of Jeremy Corbyn. Only 1 in 3 Labour voters said they choose Labour because they thought Corbyn would be the best Prime Minister, compared with nearly 3 in 4 Tory voters for May.

Even now, after more terrible headlines for May and good coverage for Corbyn, the two are tied (within the margin of error) in polls of who would be the best Prime Minister. There’s a danger of reading passionate support for Corbyn among a relatively small proportion of voters as widespread support for him as an individual.

3. … but Corbyn was essential for Labour’s balancing act (part 1, the EU). Corbyn pushed the government to accelerate its Article 50 timetable and the manifesto embraced Brexit yet Labour did particularly well among Remainers who still want to stop Brexit. Corbyn said immigration should fall yet won the support of young socially liberal voters who like immigration. How?

Partly, this must have been about the Tories’ relentless alienation of anyone who embraces internationalism and diversity – with May’s mantra of brexitmeansbrexit and disdain for citizens of nowhere.

But it must also have been down to Corbyn. Any Labour leader could have adopted the pro-Brexit, anti-free movement policies that Corbyn choose. They had the political advantage of stopping the Tories/Ukip attacking Labour from the right. But if a Liz Kendall or an Yvette Cooper had triangulated in this way, they would have alienated pro-Remain socially liberal voters. It needed Corbyn, who could signal internationalist values in other ways, while adopting EU and immigration policies that did the opposite. This took genuine political skill and was crucial for Labour’s result – I don’t believe another leader could have built the same electoral coalition (although other coalitions are available).

4. … Corbyn and Labour’s balancing act (part 2, the economy). I can see how scrapping tuition fees (which benefits graduates, who tend to be richer) and protecting benefits for all pensioners (many of whom are relatively well off) could be left-wing. Universal public services is clearly a left-wing thing. But I don’t think it’s so clear cut that Labour’s 2017 economic policy overall was all that left-wing – the effect of its tax and benefits policy on poorer people was almost exactly as regressive as the Tories’ plan. Under Labour’s plans, you would benefit more (actually, lose less) the richer you are, up to people who earn more than 90% of the rest of the country. Only the top 10% would lose more than people poorer than them. In this context, Labour’s help to graduates and richer pensioners has to be seen as a choice – the party promised to protect them before it offered to protect much poorer people.

This may have been politically smart. Having made these pledges, it was much harder for the Tories to attack Labour from the right. And who was there to attack them from the left? Since Corbyn was Labour leader: no-one.

Again, I don’t believe another Labour leader could have pulled this off. It had to be Corbyn. Despite these regressive tax and benefit policies, Corbyn was widely perceived to be offering a left-wing manifesto and so locked up the support of kind of people who were furious when Labour, under Harriet Harman, abstained on the Welfare Bill.

Right now the public mood is behind Labour. It’s like the reverse of 2008-10, when everything Brown did was seen in the worst possible light and everything Cameron did was treated generously. If there was an election in the autumn I’m pretty sure Labour would win it. Assuming the next election is actually a few years away, I still think Labour are likely to win (now the mud has stuck to the Tories it will be hard to clean off) but there are a few reasons it could go wrong:

1. The Tories can’t run a worse campaign next time. If it hadn’t been for their huge mistakes this time (point 1 above), the Tories were on course for a comfortable majority. Assuming the Tories have a new leader and better campaign managers, Labour will face a much tougher opponent next time.

2. An effect of that could be increased turnout about older people. While more young people voted this year than 2015, fewer older people voted. Either of these might revert to the mean. An increase in turnout among older people (many of whom were presumably put off voting by the Tories’ policies on social care) would probably help the Tories.

3. The tensions between Labour’s policies and many of its voters’ core beliefs (in points 3 & 4 above) could start to undo the coalition. No-one really attacked Labour from the left during the election and this could be a risk to Labour in the future if the tension isn’t resolved (cf the way Trump used unbranded Facebook ads to suppress turnout for Clinton among young voters).

Corbyn did a remarkable job. The more I think about it, the more impressive his achievement seems. The challenge for Labour now is to win an election – and it’s likely they will have to do so against a tougher opponent, who will – unlike May – take Labour seriously and will put more effort into understanding and attacking the party’s weaknesses.

How did that happen? Why the election shows Tony Blair was right (about one thing) and other thoughts

Posted in Politics on June 12th, 2017 by Leo – 1 Comment

This is series of observations about the election result, which I found interesting and seems to conflict with some solidifying interpretations of why Labour did better than expected. It’s largely drawn from other people’s analysis, and I’ve attributed it wherever appropriate.

The Tory and Labour manifestos were pivotal

1. The YouGov MRP model, which predicted the results very well, found the Tory lead fell from 9pts to 3pts in the week after their manifesto launch. It then stayed at that level for the rest of the campaign (h/t Sam Freedman)

2. Ashcroft’s post-election poll shows 65% of Labour voters said the party’s promises were one of the top reasons for their vote. Only 20% of Tory voters said the same.

But the swing in response to the manifestos wasn’t always in the obvious directions

1. The Tories got a kicking for their social care plan, while Labour promised to keep the triple lock. But the Tories retained 90%+ of their 2015 voters aged over 70 (analysis by Benjamin Lauderdale)

2. Labour promised to increase taxes on the rich but lost support with working class voters while gaining them among those with degrees – suggesting many people weren’t switching on the basis of their own economic interest (analysis by Paula Surridge). That said, Labour’s tax and benefit policies were barely any more progressive than the Tories’, according to (h/t Duncan Weldon) the IFS, so this may not have been so surprising.

3. Labour’s Brexit policy felt like it was governed by an Uncertainty Principle: if you knew what it was one day you couldn’t know what it would be the next. There are plenty of articles trying to understand it but beyond a headline of “accept the vote but seek a softer Brexit than the Tories” it’s not clear what the party’s specific positions are. This sounds rather like the kind of “Tory lite” position that many – including Corbyn – mocked Labour in 2015 for taking (the logic of that “Tory lite” attack suggests Remainers would shun Labour for the Lib Dems while Leavers would vote Tory/Ukip). Yet, it seems to have worked – something like 57% of those who want to overturn the referendum voted Labour, as did 42% of Remainers who now accept the result.

It was people aged 30-44, rather than under-30s, that most helped Labour

The Tories particularly lost vote share in seats with a high proportion of 30-44 year olds – more so than those with a high proportion of under-30s. So despite the talk of a surge in turnout of students and other young people, it was those over 30 who seem to have made the most difference to the result (analysis by Paula Surridge).

The choice between May and Corbyn helped the Tories

Corbyn’s personal rating certainly improved during the campaign, but we shouldn’t overstate how popular he became and how unpopular May became. 72% of Tory voters said they voted for the party because the leader would make a better Prime Minister. Only 35% of Labour voters said the same. It may be that Corbyn improved enough (and May did badly enough) to stop Labour-inclined people defecting because of him – but by the time of the election he still wasn’t much of a draw.

The division is increasingly cultural

Much of this is the manifestation of the growing division of the UK on cultural lines – open vs closed in Blair’s nomenclature. Despite Labour’s pro-Brexit position the party had most success in pro-Remain areas and in seats with the most middle-class professionals and rich people (analysis by Rob Ford). I suspect May’s “citizens of nowhere” line was a factor here.

Only a small swing would now give Labour a majority – or, in the other direction, would strengthen/stabilise the Tories. It’s not hard to see where this might come from. The Tories have enormous scope to detoxify their policy offer. Equally, continued improvement in ratings for Corbyn should help Labour – although that could be negated by a better Tory leader.

But much of the change between 2015 and 2017 seems to have been driven by how the parties now increasingly tap into the open vs closed division. This realignment might still be reversed – or it could continue to sharpen, in which case values, rather than policy details, might be the most important factor at the next election.

Is the Labour surge real?

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on May 27th, 2017 by Leo – 1 Comment

The Tories’ lead over Labour has been slashed, from around 18pts to less than 10. The last two polls have put it at 5 and 8 points. Surely the election wouldn’t now have been called if Theresa May had foreseen this.

But is the tightening a true reflection of public opinion, or are the polls wrong?

Let’s start with the argument that the polls are misleading. My last two posts have pointed towards that – showing that leadership rating is usually a better guide than voting intent to the gap between Labour and the Tories at the election. My analysis was drawn from Matt Singh’s work and he’s now published a more comprehensive study which came to pretty much the same conclusion I did (not surprisingly since mine was based on one aspect of his), that the Tory margin of victory looks likely to be around 15pts.

The polls could be wrong because they’re no longer being conducted among a representative sample. The Labour manifesto launch might have motivated the more enthusiastic Corbyn supporters to take part in polls, skewing the sample of those who voted Labour in 2015 towards people who’ll vote Labour again now.

Matt’s written a further piece that adds weight to this, suggesting that Labour’s surge in the polls is dependent on people who didn’t vote in 2015 and on younger people. Both are relatively unlikely to vote. This might suggest that the polls are indeed a bad guide to the election result.

This isn’t just a matter of sifting through the polls. One part of Matt’s analysis was from local election results, so was independent of opinion polls.

And there’s another independent set of evidence to support this: reports of focus groups and doorstep conversations. If Labour really had surged, by around 8pts, and the Tories had dropped off by a couple of points, I would expect people who voted Labour in 2010/2015 – but were recently wavering – to be saying more positive things about Labour and Corbyn than they had been over the last month. But I haven’t seen any sign of this, for example in the Edelman HuffPost focus groups and Lord Ashcroft’s groups.

All of this feels like an application of one of the lessons from 2015: don’t just read the horserace numbers from the polls. Pay attention to the other numbers and other evidence.

But there was another lesson from 2015 (and the EU referendum) – don’t go with groupthink. So, while many poll analysts are sceptical about the size of the surge and think the true gap must be wider than the latest polls suggest, perhaps the lead really is now just single digits.

It feels unlikely to me that public opinion would shift so much on the basis of two manifesto launches – it sounds like it’s relying on a much closer interest in politics among the public than is normally the case. That said, Stephen Bush – who’s usually right – thinks that opinion really has shifted this much as a result of the campaign.

But perhaps public opinion hasn’t really changed so much and yet the polls are right. Maybe the gap between the parties was always much closer than it seemed. An analogy is with opinion of Bill Clinton immediately after the Lewinsky scandal broke. Unexpectedly, Clinton’s approval rating increased – a change explained by this paper by John Zaller as the result of the public paying more attention to politics when the scandal broke, and remembering that they actually like Clinton:

“there is some “natural” level of support for candidates that is determined by political fundamentals  such as the strength of the economy, the candidates’ position on issues and other matters… In non-election periods, the public tunes out from politics… But, when, as in the early days of the Lewinsky matter, Clinton’s capacity to remain in office came into question, the public took stock and reached a conclusion that led to higher levels of support for the threatened leader.”

It’s possible to imagine the same thing happening now in UK politics. For nearly two years most people haven’t been paying attention and polls have been picking up ill-considered responses. But now, many people are thinking seriously about who they would vote for, and, with Ukip largely off the scene and the Lib Dems floundering, many are remembering that they like Labour. This would mean the current polls really could be right.

For what it’s worth I don’t really buy this. It’s not clear to me why this would happen now when it hasn’t in previous elections (the change in the polls now is unusually large). While it’s possible that the shortness of the parliament, the relative newness of both party leaders and Theresa May’s poor performance in the campaign might mean that opinion is particularly volatile, I still find it more plausible that the polls are quite far off and the true gap is currently in the region of 12-14pts. But I’m far from certain.

We will have a better idea from watching polls over the next week – when enthusiasm from the Labour manifesto launch, leading to more poll-taking, could wear off (Ian Warren has some pointers about what to look for) – and focus group transcripts, perhaps showing a change in mood.

I discussed all this on this week’s Polling Matters with Keiran and Matt Singh. It’s one of our most interesting episodes to date and I think well worth a listen.

Projection of Tory victory narrows to 13-16pts as Corbyn’s ratings improve

Posted in Historical polls, Politics on May 18th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Projection of Tory victory narrows to 13-16pts as Corbyn’s ratings improve

I recently published analysis that showed leadership ratings are an excellent predictor of election results and used Ipsos MORI’s April poll to project a Tory win of 15-18pts. Their May poll has now been published and, with Corbyn’s ratings having improved and May’s remaining unchanged, that projection has narrowed to 13-16pts.

My analysis is based on a relationship that Matt Singh spotted in his celebrated 2015 pre-election article. As with my last article, this post doesn’t go into as much depth as Matt did – if he repeats the analysis he did last time, as he’s suggested he will, his projection will be more thorough than mine.

Nevertheless, the comparative leadership ratings in MORI’s last polls have a very strong relationship with the final gap between the parties at the election, so this is a useful guide.

With the new data, I’m looking – as before – at both the difference in satisfaction with May and Corbyn, and the difference in net satisfaction, ie also taking into account those who are dissatisfied.

Graphs are below, but the headline is: on the gap in satisfaction the Tories are projected to win by 13pts, and on the gap in net satisfaction they’re projected to win by 15pts.

With a linear regression (rather than polynomial) this increases to 14pts and 16pts, so the range is 13-16pts (this is Great Britain only, though that doesn’t make much difference to the gap).

This means the Tories are on course for a win that’s about as large as the one in 1983 – less than it seemed a few weeks ago, but still historically large.

It seems surprising that the projected gap has narrowed by two points when the correlation was very good both for the previous analysis and for this one. I initially thought it might be that views of Corbyn were relatively unsettled compared to past elections as he’d been leader for a fairly short time when the election was called – so the swing towards him might have been unusually large. But actually the change in his satisfaction over this period is only around median – he’s gained less in terms of relative satisfaction, since the last poll, than the swing towards Howard in 2005, Blair in 1997 and Kinnock in 1992. The answer may just be that the ‘model’ is quite sensitive and is moved by a change of a few points in satisfaction, but still leaves an overlap around 15-16pts.

So, regardless of the reason – and despite Corbyn’s slightly improved satisfaction score – the projection still points to the largest win by any party for at least 34 years.

Leadership satisfaction polls suggest the Tories will win by 15-18pts

Posted in Historical polls, Politics on May 9th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Leadership satisfaction polls suggest the Tories will win by 15-18pts

Quite long and data-y. Key points:

  • Historical polls show the gap between satisfaction with Labour and Tory leaders, in polls close to elections, is an extremely good predictor of the gap between the parties at the election.
  • It is actually a better predictor of the gap between the parties than voting intention data.
  • The measure suggests the Tories are on course for a 15-18pt win.
  • This means current polls may be overstating the Tories’ lead.

Two years ago this week, Matt Singh correctly argued, against the consensus, that the Tories were on course for a clear win.

This post recreates one of the analyses Matt used to come to his conclusion. Using it, I suggest the Tories are on course for a 15-18pt victory.

I’m using Mori’s long-running data on satisfaction with the party leaders. This was one of several that Matt used and is being widely talked about as an apparent sign that the Tories will win (note, Matt used several other measures as well – my analysis is less thorough than his and I’m not suggesting this is such a serious study as his was).

Some high-profile commentators treat this satisfaction data as if it’s a direct substitute for voting intent. So when, for example, 23% say they are satisfied with the job Corbyn was doing, some people have interpreted that as meaning Labour would get 23% of the vote. That is not borne out by the data.

The following charts compare satisfaction with the leaders, from Mori’s polls taken six weeks before the election (chosen so we can compare with the latest Mori poll, from April 2017).

The first shows the percentage satisfied with the Prime Minister minus the percentage satisfied with the Leader of the Opposition, compared with the governing party’s lead at the election.

The second is essentially the same, but shows the difference in net satisfaction between the leaders, so also takes into account how many are dissatisfied.

For each I’ve used a polynomial regression, as Matt did. This points towards a Tory victory of 15pts if we compare only those who are satisfied. If we compare net satisfaction the Tory victory is 17pts. Both have nearly equally good r-squared values.  The fit is almost exactly as good with a linear regression but in that case the Tory victory is around 1pt greater. So I suggest this points to a Tory victory of 15-18 points.

(This is in GB only, but that shouldn’t make much difference to the gap between the parties expressed in terms of UK results.)

This suggests the Tories are likely to exceed their 1983 victory, but probably not 1931.

It would mean current polls are mostly overstating the Tories’ lead. The last five have given the Tories a lead of 16-22pts, which appears a little high.

That said, it may be that opinion has shifted since the latest Mori poll. Perhaps the unusually short period between elections means opinion is less settled than it normally is before an election, so the 6-week-out poll isn’t as accurate as it normally is. The next Mori poll, out in a couple of weeks, will tell us whether satisfaction with the leaders is indeed still shifting.

On a final note: I was wrong. I’ve said a few times that I think the suggestion that analysts should look beyond voting intention numbers, to underlying figures, was like astrology – you could always find something in the underlying numbers to, retrospectively, fit with what actually happened.

But this analysis has changed my mind (perhaps it should have been changed by Matt’s analysis two years ago). I’ve also run the same dependent variable – election results – against the voting intention data in the same Mori polls that I took the leadership-satisfaction scores from. Unexpectedly, to me at least, the correlation between voting intent (in terms of gap between the parties) and the election result was worse than the correlation between leadership satisfaction and the result (the same is still true of the final Mori poll before the election, although the difference is smaller):

In short, if you want to project the gap between the parties at the election, it’s better to look at the leadership satisfaction – and apply the regression formula – than it is to look at voting intent.

Unless perceptions of Corbyn and May shift dramatically, the Tories are heading for the biggest win since before the Second World War.

Are radical policies the answer to Labour’s slump?

Posted in Labour, Politics, Polling Matters on April 24th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Are radical policies the answer to Labour’s slump?

This was originally published on Political Betting.

Despite using Easter to announce several policies, Labour is making little effort to pretend it knows what it would do with power. The party’s website still invites visitors to “help shape our next manifesto” and Corbyn semi-loyalist Dawn Butler suggested on Newsnight there might have to be a “rolling manifesto” while policies are developed.

This isn’t just a lack of detailed policies. It’s also about what Labour stands for and who it is trying to appeal to.

Corbyn ran for the leadership with the promise of a “radical economic strategy” yet the recent announcements have largely been repeats of earlier Labour policies. Free meals in primary schools was floated for the 2010 election. A plan to pressure big companies to pay suppliers on time was in the 2015 manifesto. The triple lock on pensions was another Miliband pledge.

You could argue that Labour’s recent policies go further than previous ones. But no-one can seriously claim they would revolutionise the economy. As such, they seem designed for the same voters – progressive but not radical – that the 2015 manifesto aimed to win over.

Yet Corbyn’s Labour has also made some radical pledges that wouldn’t have made it into recent manifestos. Among its current 10 pledges are rent controls and nationalisation of the railways.

This week’s Opinium poll for the PB/Polling Matters podcast tested public views of eight possible and actual Labour policies.

The policies that did best were a mix of the radical and the incremental. Two of the top-scoring were 2015-style measures: a £10 minimum wage in 2020 (more radical than Miliband, but hardly socialist) and requiring companies to pay suppliers on time.

Also among the top-scoring was “control rents so landlords cannot keep increasing the amount they charge”, which 47% of those considering Labour strongly supported. Surprisingly, that measure was most popular among the 55+ age group, and least popular among the ‘generation rent’ 18-34s.

Other radical policies were much less popular though. A citizens’ income of £6000 and railway nationalisation were strongly supported by only 29% and 32%, respectively, of people who would consider Labour.

So Labour might find support for a mix of tangible incremental policies, and radical policies aimed at tackling a well-known problem. With 49% saying they would at least consider Labour, these policies appear to win the strong support of around a quarter of the population – suggesting there is still a 25% strategy open to Labour.

But while this might suggest Labour could avoid slipping further, there are two problems with this approach.

First, such an incoherent mix of policies would leave voters struggling to know what Labour stands for. One set of policies suggests Labour would govern as social democrats. The second set suggests Labour wants to revolutionise major parts of the economy.

Without a unifying argument, Labour’s pledges would be easily forgotten. Ed Miliband didn’t lack popular policies but the failure to stake out a clear position, and stick to it, cost the party at the election.

Second, the poll also suggests even well-scoring policies may be less popular than they seem. Over Easter, Labour’s policy that got the most coverage was the pledge for free school meals. Yet this was the least popular of the policies tested.

It’s hard to be sure why it did so badly, but free food for children doesn’t seem an inherently unpopular measure. Its failure in the poll might be because it is now associated with Labour. If that’s the case, more policy announcements might do little to stop Labour’s vote sliding further, even if they were popular before they become linked with the party.

Listen to the latest episode of Polling Matters, where I talked about the state of the parties and the race ahead with Conor Pope of Progress and Laurence Janta-Lipinski, a political consultant:

The Lib Dem fightback – how high can their support go as the party of Remain? Latest Polling Matters

Posted in Liberal Democrats, Politics, Polling Matters on April 17th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on The Lib Dem fightback – how high can their support go as the party of Remain? Latest Polling Matters

This article was originally published on Political Betting.

The SNP lost a referendum and won a landslide. Could the Lib Dems do something similar by becoming the party of Remain voters?

This week’s PB/Polling Matters Opinium poll suggests the party could do well with a relentless focus on stopping Brexit. But it also shows that a single-issue stop Brexit party would be unlikely to win more than a quarter of voters.

Only around 11% currently say they’d vote Lib Dem, but the Opinium poll found 41% of the public would definitely vote Lib Dem or would consider doing so, including 47% of current Labour voters. Winning over half of those considering the Lib Dems would put the party above even its record 2010 vote.

So should the party try to gain these voters with a promise that they would keep the UK in the EU?

In part the poll backs this up. Among those who voted Remain, 60% would at least consider the Lib Dems – around 29% of voters.

But this overstates the opportunities for the Lib Dems in focusing on stopping Brexit. Most Remainers don’t care enough about staying in the EU to put it above all other issues.

In another question the poll found that only 22% agree with the statement “My top priority when deciding who to vote for is supporting a party that will try to stop Brexit”. This 22% may be a more realistic limit for how far a stop Brexit party could go.

This still suggests the Lib Dems could double their vote share with an anti-Brexit focus. Even winning over just those who strongly agree with the statement, and aren’t already Lib Dem voters, would add 7pts to the Lib Dem vote.

With Labour now facilitating Brexit, the field is clear for the Lib Dems to be the party of Remain. The poll suggests this focus could serve the Lib Dems well, in comparison with their 2015 vote.

But a single-issue stop Brexit party is unlikely to win more than one in four voters. Unless the UK’s exit goes so badly that public opinion changes, this focus can take a party from fourth to third, but it can’t take them from third to second.

You can listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast here:

3 reasons there won’t be an early election

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on March 28th, 2017 by Leo – 5 Comments

The Tories’ vast poll lead is prompting speculation Theresa May will call an early election. Despite the government’s repeated denials, the rumours won’t stop.

But here are three reasons – which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere – why the government might not go ahead this year:

1. Boundary changes won’t go through until after the September 2018 review. They will make elections easier for the Tories. Calling an election on the old boundaries would both forego the benefit of the changes for a few more years and would mean having to find candidates for seats that won’t exist at the next election. Not impossible but an avoidable pain.

2. Theresa May might hope to be PM for 8-12 years. That’s how long the most successful seem to be able to last.

Let’s say she’s thinking about the lower end of this and expects to stand down around 2024. If that’s the case, a 2017 election would mean fighting another by 2022. The first election might shock Labour enough it gets rid of Corbyn, elects a new leader and becomes a plausible opposition by 2022. That second election could be quite tough.

On the other hand – if May thinks Labour is unlikely to improve much by 2020 – holding off another three years means she might only have to fight one election. She can leave by mid-2024, giving her successor time to get ready for the following year’s election.

This means, from the perspective of May’s entire Prime Ministership, the question isn’t just “will Labour improve by 2020?”, but is also “will Labour be better in 2020 than it would be in 2022 after having lost a 2017 election?”.

Of course if she wants to go beyond eight years she’ll have to fight at least two elections regardless. But then if she wanted to go past 11 years, an early election now would mean fighting three over her time in office.

3. The Lib Dems are mostly talked about as a threat to Labour, but they’re more likely to stop May calling an early election.

It’s certainly true that their pro-EU message appeals to some 2015 Labour voters and potential converts. But the Tories have 24 seats with a majority of less than 10,000 over the Lib Dems, compared with Labour’s 6 seats. Given the Lib Dems’ improvement since 2015, many of those seats are likely to fall.

In an early election May could be confident that her gains from Labour would outweigh these losses to the Lib Dems. But that won’t be much compensation to the 24 Tory MPs who might lose their seats and are, presumably, arguing against an early election.

 

I talked about these issues, along with Scotland and Northern Ireland, on this week’s Polling Matters podcast with Keiran and Rob:

Why fake news might not be such a problem for UK liberals: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 16th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Why fake news might not be such a problem for UK liberals: Polling Matters

On this week’s Polling Matters, Keiran and I were joined by Harry Carr, who run’s Sky’s polling. We talked about an interesting YouGov poll on ‘fake news’, which suggested that people in the UK are relatively unlikely to believe made-up stories about immigrants and benefit scroungers. We also discussed the new Polling Matters/Opinium poll on immigration, which found public opinion to be more nuanced than it might seem.

 

Tory governments age well in the memory. Labour governments turn sour.

Posted in Politics on February 12th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Tory governments age well in the memory. Labour governments turn sour.

This article originally appeared on Political Betting

No recent Prime Minister was popular as they approached the end of their time in power. Each of the last five had net satisfaction scores – the proportion satisfied minus the proportion dissatisfied – of well below minus 20 points during their final month, according to MORI’s satisfaction data.

Thatcher was the most unpopular, with 71% dissatisfied with the job she was doing. The least unpopular was Gordon Brown, who still had the support of 35% before the 2010 election.

If it seems surprising that the Scotsman was less reviled than the others, that’s because of what’s happened after his defeat.

In the time since each Prime Minister left office, the collective memory of their effectiveness has been transformed. This week’s Opinium poll for the PB / Polling Matters podcast found that Thatcher has gone from being the least popular recent Prime Minister, when she left office, to the most popular now.

Over the same time, Blair and Brown have gone from the Prime Ministers with the joint-highest satisfaction scores (along with Major) as they were leaving Downing Street, to being seen as the ones that did the worst job.

With Cameron moving up the ranking, the picture is clear – Tory governments are remembered increasingly well over time, while Labour governments become less popular.

The reason for this is Labour voters. While current Tory voters have views that you’d expect – overwhelmingly believing Tory Prime Ministers did a good job and thinking the opposite of Labour ones – Labour voters are more reluctant to support their party’s leaders.

Only one in three thinks Blair did a good job (he’s more popular among Lib Dems) while even fewer think the same of Gordon Brown.

This ambivalence does Labour no good. Tory voters can draw on several examples of what they consider successful Prime Ministers from their side. If even the currently diminished ranks of Labour voters don’t believe that past Labour governments were worthwhile, it’s hard to see who will resist the accusation that Labour administrations spend too much for too little benefit.

There are many reasons that Labour supporters might come up with to justify their doubts about Blair and Brown’s governments. But Tory voters have forgotten their previous reservations about the woman who left office as the least popular Prime Minister in recent history. If Labour is to become an election-winning machine again, it will need to do the same for its own past leaders.