Polling Matters

Jeremy Corbyn is the UK’s most popular politician – Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on July 19th, 2017 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On Polling Matters this week, Keiran and I discussed an exclusive Polling Matters / Opinium poll, which measured the favourability / unfavourability of a series of front-line politicians. The results were very interesting, including that Corbyn was, comfortably, the UK’s most popular politician – but he was also polarising, with many people very unfavourable towards him.

You can listen to us talking through the results here:

 

Do the public think Corbyn is ready to be Prime Minister? Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on July 8th, 2017 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I was on Polling Matters with Keiran Pedley and Habib Butt from Political Betting. Among the topics we covered were:

1) What the polls tell us about the state of the parties

2) Who the voters think would make the best Prime Minister and what those numbers mean

3) Polling Matters / Opinium numbers on why people voted as they did in June and whether Corbyn is ready to be PM or not

4) How Remainers and Brexiteers like their steak

You can listen to the episode here:

 

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.

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.

 

How past Prime Ministers are seen: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 8th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on How past Prime Ministers are seen: Polling Matters

This week’s episode discussed the latest Opinium/Polling Matters data, which looked at how past Prime Ministers are seen. We also talked about the chances of a possible Labour leadership challenge and whether there’ll be a vote of no confidence in the speaker.

The first part of the show covered German politics, where the SPD’s new leader has given the party a rapid boost in the polls.

Corbyn and May’s relative strengths: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 1st, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Corbyn and May’s relative strengths: Polling Matters

Polling Matters is running weekly polls with Opinium. This week we talked about new data showing that Corbyn trails May on a series of characteristics that people might want in a leader – strength, caring about people like me, and capable as/of being Prime Minister. The Opinium data is here.

The first half of the show discusses Northern Ireland in the context of its forthcoming election and the complications of Brexit.

 

Winners and losers from 2016: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on December 17th, 2016 by Leo – Comments Off on Winners and losers from 2016: Polling Matters

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: