Polling Matters

Is every poll wrong? The British Election Study suggests they might be – Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 4th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

This may be the most interesting and important Polling Matters discussion in the 3+ years of the show. Keiran and I go through the results of the British Election Study and talk about why it suggests all other polls could be wrong – and what that means for our understanding of attitudes to politics.

You can listen here:

How old is too old to be Prime Minister? Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on January 27th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s episode, Keiran and I talked about a new Polling Matters/Opinium poll on British attitudes to other countries. We saw some interesting splits between ages and political views, and a striking contrast with a recent Gallup poll on the leadership of various countries.

We also looked at polling on how young is considered to be too young and how old is considered to be too old to be Prime Minister and ask what this means for the current political leadership in the UK.

You can listen here:

The return of vote blue, go green? Polling Matters

Posted in Climate Sock, Politics, Polling Matters on January 20th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s podcast, I talked with Keiran about the Tories’ push on environmental policies, how it’s backed up by polling and what it might mean for the electoral landscape.

We also talked about why Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are indicating support for another referendum on Brexit and what recent polling tells us about public opinion on the issue.

And what’s going on with Labour following the NEC elections, is a Corbynite succession now inevitable and will Corbyn’s age be an issue at the next election?

You can listen here:

Who’s the most popular UK politician? Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on January 13th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I was on Polling Matters this week, where we talked about the results from the latest wave of the Opinium/Polling Matters questions on favourability to a host of frontline UK politicians.

I also talked about the Toby Young appointment/unappointment and what that says about the Tories’ strategy – whether they’re planning on pushing further into new territory to win anti-liberal voters. This could be one of the most important factors shaping British politics for years to come.

You can listen to the episode here:

 

Want to stop Brexit? This is the question to watch.

Posted in Europe, Politics, Polling Matters on November 26th, 2017 by Leo – 1 Comment

Was Brexit the right decision? (image: getty)

On Polling Matters last week I mentioned something about Brexit polling that’s been on my mind for a while, but which I haven’t written anywhere. It’s this:

Polling questions on a second referendum get quite a bit of attention. They find there’s not much desire for one – typically 30-35% support the idea. The same applies for blunter questions on stopping Brexit, which find even less support.

This is often used as evidence that Brexit is unstoppable. I think that’s the wrong conclusion.

Relatively few prominent commentators currently say Brexit can be stopped. This is surely a major reason roughly 50% of 2016 Remainers have given up on the idea.

But opinion on this kind of thing can change quickly. Not long before Theresa May called the snap election 55% of Tory voters said there shouldn’t be an early vote. Just after she announced it, 64% of them said it was the right decision. This is a subject where politicians and commentators lead public opinion.

That’s not to say majority support for a second referendum is just a few taps of the keyboard away. It does need to tap into a genuine shift in the public mood – but the question we should be looking at is whether Brexit is seen as the right or wrong decision.

Opinion on that has apparently shifted towards “wrong decision”, but only very slightly. The most recent YouGov poll gives it a 4-point lead – 52% vs 48% when you exclude don’t knows – which isn’t enough to say the public mood has shifted decisively.

If that “right/wrong decision” question shifts further – perhaps to 60% saying it was the wrong decision – there will be much more justification for commentators to argue the public want another say. At that point I’d expect opinion on a second referendum to shift quickly.

That’s why, if you’re interested in knowing whether the public could ever support overturning Brexit, I suggest focusing much more on the “right/wrong decision” question and much less on the ones that actually ask about stopping it.

I talked about this, and the state of the polls since the election, with Keiran and Matt Singh, on Polling Matters:

Where UK politics stands at the summer break: Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on July 27th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Where UK politics stands at the summer break: Polling Matters

I was on Polling Matters this week for the last episode before the summer break, with Keiran and Rob Vance.

We talked about where things stand in UK politics now, including polling showing that the Tories are now seen as more divided than Labour, Chuka Umunna’s recent tweet that seemingly challenged the Labour leadership’s position on Europe. We looked at what polling on Brexit tells us about public opinion on the subject and indeed whether public opinion even matters on the issue given the relative lack of difference in policy on Europe between Labour and the Tories.

We finished by discussing what we will be looking out for when Westminster returns in the autumn.

You can listen to the episode here:

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

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on July 19th, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Jeremy Corbyn is the UK’s most popular politician – Polling Matters

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 – Comments Off on Do the public think Corbyn is ready to be Prime Minister? Polling Matters

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: