Saturday, May 27, 2017

Tyrannical Theresa finds it too close for comfort as average of tonight's five polls gives the Tories a lead of less than 10%

You're way ahead of me here, guys.

*puts on Canadian accent*

It's another terrrrr-ible night for the Conservative party.

So far there have been five new GB-wide polls published this evening - three of them show a drop in the Tory lead, one shows no change in a lead that dropped sharply last time, and the fifth shows only a statistically insignificant recovery in the Tory lead from the lowest point in the campaign to date.

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 43% (n/c)
Labour 36% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-1)
UKIP 4 (n/c)

(SNP vote share not released yet.)

*  *  *

GB-wide voting intentions (Opinium) :

Conservatives 45% (-1)
Labour 35% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (-1)
SNP 5% (n/c)
UKIP 5% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (+1)

*  *  *

GB-wide voting intentions (ComRes) :

Conservatives 46% (-2)
Labour 34% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-2)
UKIP 5% (n/c)
SNP 4% (n/c)
Greens 2% (-1)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)

*  *  *

GB-wide voting intentions (ORB) :

Conservatives 44% (-2)
Labour 38% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 7% (n/c)
UKIP 5% (-2)

(SNP vote share not released yet.)

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GB-wide voting intentions (ICM) : 

Conervatives 46% (-1)
Labour 32% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (-1)
UKIP 5% (+1)
SNP 4% (n/c)
Greens 2% (n/c)

In a strange way I think Labour will be most disappointed with the Opinium findings.  Given that the previous YouGov poll was almost too good to be true, they would have been fully expecting some kind of reversion to the mean in the next poll from the same firm, and will take heart from the fact that their apparent gains have only been partly reversed.  As far as the larger Tory leads with ComRes  and ICM are concerned, that's not unexpected due to those firms' Tory-friendly methodology, which automatically gives greater weight to certain demographic groups due to the tendency to vote they've demonstrated in previous elections.  Bearing in mind that Corbyn's whole electoral strategy depends upon mobilising people who haven't bothered to vote in the past, you'd think that a polling company's brief would be to test whether he's succeeding in that endeavour, rather than starting from the assumption that he's bound to fail and working backwards.  In a sense all that the young and dispossessed have to do to prove ComRes and ICM wrong is to turn out to vote in sufficient numbers.  The two firms would point out that the pattern of differential turnout has tended to be very stable from one election to the next, which is true - but then again, it's been several decades since one of the two largest parties has put forward such a radical left-of-centre manifesto, so there's an obvious reason for at least wondering if the pattern might be broken.

It's a testament to how far and how quickly expectations have been adjusted that Tory supporters are able to squint at five polls giving their party an average lead of less than 10%, and conclude that it's not so bad really.  It's only been a matter of days since they went into blind panic because a single poll put their lead as low as 9%.

I'm not able to update the Scottish subsample average any further, because as far as I can see ICM, YouGov and ORB haven't published their datasets yet.  We'll hopefully know more by the morning, but there's certainly no obvious sign of any slippage for the SNP in the headline results.

UPDATE : Just out of curiosity, I had a look at the raw numbers in the Opinium datasets, and it turns out that the Tories have been flattered by the effect of rounding - their true lead is closer to 9% than to 10%, meaning that Opinium's findings aren't so radically different from ORB's or YouGov's.

Scottish Tories remain below 30% in latest subsample average

Given the distinct lack of full-scale Scottish polls at such a crucial stage of the campaign (you'd hope there might be one in the Sunday papers but I haven't heard any rumours), it probably makes sense to keep a particularly close eye on the rolling average of Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls.  Here is the average of the three subsamples to be conducted since the suspension of campaigning on Tuesday, updated after the publication of new Opinium and ComRes polls over the last couple of hours.  This may give a better indication of the true state of the race than yesterday's update, which was very heavily skewed by an unusual Kantar/TNS subsample.  As you can see, there is continued evidence of a modest Labour recovery, although the jury is still out on whether those extra votes are coming more from the Tories or the SNP.

The SNP's national lead over Labour still seems to be 20+ points, which means Labour have little hope of making a telling breakthrough in terms of seats unless they can significantly outperform the national swing in specific geographical areas (which is why practically their entire campaign is a begging letter addressed to Tory supporters).

SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

SNP 42.3% (-2.7)
Conservatives 29.0% (+5.0)
Labour 21.7% (-0.5)
Liberal Democrats 4.7% (-2.7)

SurveyMonkey subsample finds 54% of Scottish public want independence

I'm not sure if we're ever going to see datasets for last night's GB-wide SurveyMonkey poll for The Sun, but one person who clearly has seen more detailed results is Hugo Gye, a political correspondent for Sun Online.  He revealed an intriguing titbit last night...

"And one fairly surprising finding: in this survey, 54% of Scottish voters say they would support independence..."

Now, of course, that result is merely taken from the Scottish subsample of a GB-wide poll, but it's an unusually large subsample. The GB sample was around 6000, so presumably around 500 were in Scotland - roughly the sort of figure required to make a poll credible. The snag is that the subsample probably wasn't correctly weighted, but it's an interesting straw in the wind all the same. It arguably reinforces the message from recent full-scale Scottish polls, which is that support for independence is either holding steady or perhaps creeping up a little.

* * *

A number of people have written to me in recent days, asking about 'constituency polling' that YouGov appear to be conducting in several Scottish seats. It's actually not at all what it seems - people responding to standard GB-wide polls are just automatically being asked a supplementary question about how they will vote in their own constituency. I'm not an obsessive follower of the articles on YouGov's website, so I'm not sure if there's been a public explanation yet, but I can think of a few possibilities -

1) It might be for internal testing purposes, ie. to see after the election is over whether the headline or constituency question was more accurate. (Famously, and to the surprise of many, the constituency question proved the less accurate of the two in Ashcroft's polling for the 2015 election, especially in Lib Dem-held seats.)

2) It might be to help reassign respondents who initially say they will vote UKIP or Green in constituencies where those parties aren't standing.

3) It might be an attempt to build up constituency samples over the course of several weeks that are large enough to make a stab at predicting the election seat-by-seat.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Fresh blow for Tyrannical Theresa as up-to-date SurveyMonkey poll shows another single-digit Tory lead

The second poll to be conducted after the suspension of campaigning has been released by the US outfit SurveyMonkey.  They've made a small number of previous forays into UK political polling, but with a limited track-record and a lack of transparency over their methods, it's hard to know how much faith to put in their findings.  However, what they've come up with is pretty similar to recent polls from the more familiar firms.

GB-wide voting intentions (SurveyMonkey) :

Conservatives 44%
Labour 36%
"Others" 9%
Liberal Democrats 6%
UKIP 5%

The "others" will be primarily the SNP and Greens.

The Tory-supporting English edition of The Sun is furiously spinning this poll as some kind of breakthrough for Theresa May, but the reality is that it's the joint second-worst poll of the campaign for the Tories (in terms of the size of their lead), and all three of those worst polls have been published either today or yesterday.  It suggests that the Tory lead is a measly 1% higher than David Cameron managed two years ago when he secured a wafer-thin majority of 12.

I somehow don't think poll numbers like these are quite what the Prime Minister envisaged when she called a snap election.  Unwanted, expensive, divisive...and now pointless?

SNP lead the Tories by more than 20% in latest subsample average

Someone working with the media asked for an update of the Scottish subsample average, so as I did the calculation anyway, I may as well share it here...

SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

SNP 45.0% (-1.6)
Conservatives 24.0% (-6.1)
Labour 22.2% (+7.3)
Liberal Democrats 7.4% (+3.1)

Before anyone gets too excited, this average is based on just five subsamples, and is heavily skewed by the Kantar/TNS results, which are wildly out of line with everything else.  Without Kantar, the SNP would be lower and the Tories would be higher.  Nevertheless, it does look very much like Labour have genuinely made a modest recovery - their vote share is pretty consistent across the subsamples.  That opens up some intriguing possibilities - if, for example, the GB-wide swing from Tory to Labour has been replicated in Scotland without the SNP taking a significant hit, it might help the SNP in several constituencies (although obviously if Labour recover too much, the SNP might start losing seats in former Labour heartland areas).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Disaster for Tories as up-to-date YouGov poll unexpectedly shows their lead dropping even further

It's that time again, folks.

*puts on Canadian accent*

It's another terrrrr-ible night for the Conservative party.

Britain-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 43% (-1)
Labour 38% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (n/c)
UKIP 4% (+1)
Greens 1% (-1)

I've already had to hurriedly update this blogpost, because YouGov have broken the habit of a lifetime by getting their datasets out straight away, which means we don't have to wait until the morning to learn the SNP's vote share.  The good news is that the party appear to be holding firm, although there's no sign of any additional progress in the Scottish subsample - the SNP lead the Tories by 41% to 30%, which is pretty similar to the most recent full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov.  But of course individual subsamples are not especially reliable - it's perfectly possible that this one is underestimating the SNP lead, and that the GB-wide Tory slump is being replicated in these parts.  And it's certainly very interesting to learn that it's even possible for Labour to reach a heady 38% of the GB vote without a major recovery in the Scottish subsample (although admittedly their 22% showing is somewhat better than their recent average).

The fieldwork for this poll took place yesterday and today, which means not only that it was entirely after the tragedy in Manchester, but also that it was entirely after the Prime Minister's announcement that the UK's threat level had been raised to 'critical' - which I thought was the moment that might have the really significant political effect by putting security matters (a traditional area of Tory strength) at the forefront of voters' minds.  YouGov have pointed to some internal polling as evidence that the situation was even worse for Theresa May on Monday, implying that the events of the last few days have indeed helped her to recover from a low that we weren't even aware of - but even if that's true, it looks like the recovery must be extremely modest.  It appears that we may have a tendency to significantly overestimate the effect of sudden shocks on voting intentions - like many others, I expected the reaction to the Jo Cox tragedy last year to boost the Remain vote, and perhaps it did, but not by a decisive amount.

As always with a single poll showing something truly out of the ordinary, we need to remember that the further narrowing of the Tory lead could just be an illusion caused by sampling variation.  But what this does mean is that it's pretty unlikely that the Tories are in a better position now than they were immediately after their manifesto launch, when it appears their lead may have slumped to single figures.  (The only polling firm taking issue with that is ICM, who put the lead at 14 points.)  It looks, therefore, as if Monday's U-turn on social care did not have the desired effect, and may even have made things worse for the Tories - at least in the short-term.

To answer the question a lot of people are asking : yes, if there's a uniform swing between Tory and Labour, and if the Lib Dems and SNP are resilient in seats they're defending, this poll takes us firmly into hung parliament territory.  The trouble is that the Brexit factor means there almost certainly isn't going to be anything even close to a uniform swing, meaning it's impossible to know for sure whether a 5% Tory lead would translate into a hung parliament or a small overall Tory majority.  But at the very least it would put the Tory majority at severe risk.

Of course the million dollar question is whether the polls are even accurate.  It would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that the polls must be underestimating the Tory lead by roughly as much as they did last time, because methodology has been changed since then in the hope of avoiding any repeat.  Nevertheless, Matt Singh is gaining a lot of publicity for his prediction that the Tories will once again significantly out-perform the polls.  I must say I was a little underwhelmed by his reasoning - he's certainly on solid ground in suggesting that leadership ratings are predictive of election results, but I fear he may be placing too much emphasis on the sharp difference between the outcomes of May local elections and June general elections in 1983 and 1987.  It's possible there were 'era-specific' explanations for that phenomenon (such as the existence of the SDP-Liberal Alliance).  There's no reason to automatically assume that because something has happened twice in the relatively distant past, it's bound to happen a third time.

One problem the Tories have now got is that if they're in a bit of a hole, they can't really dig their way out of it by going after Jeremy Corbyn quite as brutally as they probably intended to until recently.  National campaigning will get underway again tomorrow, but all parties (with the possible exception of UKIP) will know that anything too nasty from them could backfire badly given the current public mood.

And a comforting thought to finish with - if this poll is close to being right, it reflects the state of public opinion at a time when the election was already underway.  A great many postal votes have already been cast.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Who will benefit from the suspension of campaigning?

The short answer to that question is : almost certainly the Conservative party.  At least until Monday morning, the momentum had been running away from the Tories, and even after the U-turn on social care, Theresa May was firmly on the back foot, as witnessed in her interview with Andrew Neil.  Since then, simply by doing what any potential Prime Minister (including Jeremy Corbyn) would do in the same situation, she has probably gone some way towards repairing her "strong and stable" brand in the public imagination.  And, whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, the sight of armed forces on the streets will scare the living daylights out of a lot of voters, leading them to prioritise national security over bread-and-butter issues - a shift which is bound to favour the Tories.

There are a few possible counter-arguments to that reading of the situation -

1) A tragedy like the one we've seen this week may bring about an increase in civic-mindedness, and thus boost the turnout.  Although the surprise socialist victory in the Spanish election just after the 2004 Madrid bombings was attributed to Aznar's dishonesty in blaming Basque terrorists for the atrocity, it may have had just as much to do with the simple effect of a boost in turnout automatically favouring the parties of the left (ie. because the demographic groups most likely to vote for right-wing parties generally turn out anyway).

2) There may now be a modest UKIP recovery.  I've been astonished and dismayed by the number of otherwise sensible people I've seen on Facebook over the last 36 hours calling for mass deportations.  UKIP's campaign message may not go quite that far, but it's certainly the closest fit.  If UKIP do win some lapsed voters back (and remember they're only standing in roughly half the constituencies this time), it's not clear which party would suffer the most, but it's possible it might be the Tories.

3) Power is somewhat more dispersed in the UK than it used to be, so the politicians in leadership roles who have been making high-profile statements on the Manchester bombing and its implications haven't been confined to the Conservative party.  The new directly-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester is of course Andy Burnham, very well known to be a Labour politician.  Nicola Sturgeon's statements have been well-publicised in Scotland, and presumably the same is true of Carwyn Jones' statements in Wales.  The "clinging to the party of power in a moment of crisis" effect is therefore not quite as clear-cut as it might otherwise be.

4) The longer the campaign is suspended, the less time the Tories have to implement their planned "shock and awe" campaign to destroy the credibility of Jeremy Corbyn.

All of those factors should be taken seriously, but even in combination I don't think they outweigh the advantages that the Conservatives are now gaining.  When the next Britain-wide polls are published, I expect to see an increase in the Tory lead.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's more important than ever that pro-independence voters get behind the SNP in this election

First of all, a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website, which was inspired by an exchange I saw on Twitter last week between two passionately pro-independence young people who have become disillusioned with politics of late. The article argues that it's vitally important that the pro-independence movement gets out and votes SNP on June 8th.  You can read it HERE.  (You'll probably be able to spot that it was written before the events of the weekend.)

The promised firecracker of a Welsh poll from YouGov certainly didn't disappoint - it shows a complete transformation in the fortunes of the parties, with Labour not merely regaining the lead, but opening up a commanding advantage.

Wales-only YouGov poll :

Labour 44% (+9)
Conservatives 34% (-7)
Plaid Cymru 9% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)
UKIP 5% (+1)
Greens 1% (n/c)

The fieldwork dates were from Thursday (the day of the disastrous Tory manifesto launch) through to yesterday.  Taken in conjunction with the GB-wide YouGov and Survation polls we saw at the weekend, plus a new GB-wide ICM poll released today showing the Tory lead dropping six points, I think we can safely say there is now ample evidence that the manifesto cost the Tories a shed-load of voters.  What we don't know yet is whether the partial and vague U-turn today will be enough to reassure those voters and bring them back into the fold.  (There's also a possibility that they'll be reassured on the specific policy but have new doubts about Theresa May's credibility as a leader.)  I have absolutely no idea what the effect will be, so all bets are off until we see at least one poll that includes fieldwork from today onwards.

Incidentally, in spite of the ICM poll showing a hefty swing away from the Tories, it still puts them 14% ahead, which is a bigger lead than in the YouGov and Survation polls.  But the difference might be partly explained by the fact that ICM appear to have too many Leave voters in their sample - 49% of respondents recalled voting Leave, and only 40% recalled voting Remain.  The poll is correctly weighted to recalled voting from the 2015 general election, but I'd have thought EU referendum vote is just as important a predictor of how people might act now.

*  *  *

For some unknown reason, I'm on the Tory mailing list, and today I received an email from Theresa May informing me (as a presumed Tory supporter) that if she loses just six seats, Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister.  That is absolute and complete rubbish - she's knowingly lying to her own supporters.  It's true that Corbyn could theoretically become Prime Minister without Labour becoming the largest party, but at an absolute minimum he would need the combined forces of Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the SDLP to outnumber the Tories (and in reality it would probably take more than that, because I doubt if the Lib Dems would back him).  That would require the Tories to lose significantly more than six seats.

*  *  *

LAST CALL TO REGISTER TO VOTE : Please check your broom cupboards and attics for anyone who may not have registered to vote - they now have only a few hours left to do so. It's really quick and easy to do it, but if they miss the deadline they'll be powerless to stop the Tories in June. The estimates for the number of people who still haven't registered are absolutely terrifying, and they are disproportionately people who would be likely to vote against a Tory government. If you find someone who needs to register, send them to this link, and they'll be sorted in a matter of minutes.

Tyrannical Theresa's wobbly weekend concludes with another sensational poll showing the Tory lead collapsing

OK, here we go.

*puts on Canadian accent*

It's another terrrrr-ible night for the Conservatives.

Survation telephone poll of GB-wide voting intentions :

Conservatives 43% (-5)
Labour 34% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 8% (n/c)
UKIP 4% (n/c)
SNP 3% (-1)
Greens 2% (n/c)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/c)

The SNP's 3% share is a little better than it looks - they were very close to being rounded up to 4% rather than rounded down to 3%.  In the Scottish subsample, they have a decent-enough lead over the Tories of 41% to 26%.  In terms of the gap, that's actually pretty similar to last week's subsample, which had the SNP ahead by 47% to 31%.  Remember that Survation's subsamples are particularly tiny (only 65 respondents in this case after the turnout filter was applied), so we can expect huge variations from week to week which will often be completely random and meaningless.

So we now have three GB-wide polls conducted since the public had a chance to digest the controversial pledges in the Tory manifesto.  The message from two of the three is absolutely unambiguous - there has been a telling swing from Tory to Labour which has brought the Tory lead down to its lowest level of the campaign.  The fact that one of those two polls was conducted online and the other by telephone makes it seem even more likely that a genuine shift in opinion has been detected. The picture is admittedly complicated by the fact that the third poll (the online Survation poll) technically showed an increase in the Tory lead from 11 points to 12.  However, the previous 11 point lead was several weeks ago, and even at the time stuck out like a sort thumb as a potential rogue poll.  In truth, a 12 point lead is on the low side for this campaign, and is well within the margin of error of the 9 points leads.  It's therefore perfectly consistent with the notion that the gap has probably narrowed significantly in recent days.

The big question is whether it will stay narrowed.  What's happening at the moment reminds me very much of the period in the independence referendum when the No-friendly pollsters (TNS, YouGov and Ipsos-Mori) very suddenly showed the No lead dropping sharply.  We reached a crossroads where one of two things was about to happen - either the momentum would prove irresistible and carry Yes to victory (or to a very narrow defeat), or people would for the first time consider the possibility that Yes might win, get very scared, and draw back from the brink.  As we all know, it turned out to be the latter, helped along by an unprecedented 'shock and awe' campaign from the London-based broadcast media.  I do wonder if the same thing might happen now.  Even though the chances of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister in a hung parliament are still extremely modest, people may start taking them a little more seriously, which will make all the old scare stories somewhat more potent once again.  If so, this weekend may actually help the Tories rather than harm them.  Let's hope not.

We know we'll get at least one more poll tomorrow (Monday), and that'll be a Wales-only poll from YouGov.  Professor Roger Scully has already revealed that it's going to show something pretty remarkable, and I don't think he's the sort to lead us up the garden path.  As the previous two polls in the series have shown Conservative leads, I think to qualify as remarkable the new poll would have to show either a big swing back to Labour, or an absolutely enormous Tory lead.  As the latter would be totally against the prevailing GB-wide trend, my strong guess is that we'll see more evidence of a Tory collapse, and Labour reclaiming their familiar position of dominance in Wales.  But I may be completely wrong - time will tell.

LAST CALL TO REGISTER TO VOTE : Please check your broom cupboards and attics for anyone who may not have registered to vote - they now have less than 24 hours to do so.  It's really quick and easy to do it, but if they miss the deadline they'll be powerless to stop the Tories in June.  The estimates for the number of people who still haven't registered are absolutely terrifying, and they are disproportionately people who would be likely to vote against a Tory government.  If you find someone who needs to register, send them to this link, and they'll be sorted in a matter of minutes.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Finally the election explodes into life as YouGov poll moves the race closer to hung parliament territory

Whenever you see a Britain-wide poll showing a huge Tory lead (which has basically been every single poll in this campaign so far), it's worth bearing in mind that Jeremy Corbyn's theoretical objective is not to overturn that lead, but simply to bring it down to a level that might conceivably translate into a hung parliament rather than an overall Tory majority.  That's still a mind-bogglingly tough hurdle for him, but it does put a slightly different perspective on things, because depending on the distribution of votes even a 6 or 7 point Tory lead might not be quite enough for a majority.
Earlier today there were two polls which showed modest declines in the Tory lead, but which still left Theresa May with a very comfortable 12 or 13 point cushion.  However, both of those polls were largely conducted before people became acquainted with the controversial Tory manifesto, and the million dollar question was what impact that would have.  Expectations genuinely differed - some commentators thought working-class voters would be taken in by the faux 'redistributive' aspects of the manifesto, while others thought the Tories were taking a big risk with their core vote.  Judging by the newly-released post-manifesto poll from YouGov, the latter analysis may have been closer to the mark.

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 44% (-1)
Labour 35% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-3)

For the first time in the campaign, then, we have a poll that makes it look just about plausible that we could end up with a hung parliament - the Tory lead would only have to slip two or three points more.  I still think that's highly unlikely - if anything, it's more probable that this is just a blip and the gap will widen again as polling day approaches.  But it's certainly electric shock treatment for a campaign that until now has been the dullest since at least 2001.

For reasons only they can explain, YouGov never reveal the SNP's vote share until the following morning, but judging from the percentage changes of the other parties there's no obvious reason to suppose the SNP have slipped back.  [Update : The SNP and Plaid are unchanged on 5%, and the SNP lead the Tories in the Scottish subsample by 44% to 28%.]

UPDATE : Hot on the heels of YouGov comes a post-manifesto Survation poll which goes some way towards confirming that there has been a telling swing from Tory to Labour, but which still leaves Corbyn with a bigger deficit than he has in the YouGov poll.

GB-wide voting intentions (Survation) :

Conservatives 46%
Labour 34%
Liberal Democrats 8%
SNP 4%
UKIP 3%

A more realistic hope than a hung parliament is that the Tory surge we saw at the start of the campaign may have now gone into reverse, and that we'll see the effects of that in Scotland as well as south of the border.  If so, the SNP lead over the Tories might just start to inch up, and some of the Tories' longer-shot constituency targets might begin to look out of reach.

UPDATE II : I've removed the percentage changes from the Survation numbers above, because they were comparing apples with oranges - this is an online poll, and Survation's other recent polls (for Good Morning Britain) have been conducted by telephone.