There have been several new polls with voting intention figures since the weekend, though all so far have been conducted before the government’s defeat on their Brexit plan.

ComRes/Express (14th-15th) – CON 37%(nc), LAB 39%(nc), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 7%(+1)
YouGov/Times (13th-14th)- CON 39%(-2), LAB 34%(-1), LDEM 11%(nc), UKIP 6%(+2)
Kantar (10th-14th) – CON 35%(-3), LAB 38%(nc), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 6%(+2)

Looking across the polls as a whole Conservative support appears to be dropping a little, though polls are still ultimately showing Labour and Conservative very close together in terms of voting intention. As ever there are some differences between companies – YouGov are still showing a small but consistent Tory lead, the most recent polls from BMG, Opinium and MORI had a tie (though Opinium and MORI haven’t released any 2019 polls yet), Kantar, ComRes and Suration all showed a small Labour lead in their most last polls.

Several people have asked me about the reasons for the difference between polling companies figures. There isn’t an easy answer – there rarely is. The reality is that all polling companies want to be right and want to be accurate, so if there were easy explanations for the differences and it was easy to know what the right choices were, they would all rapidly come into line!

There are two real elements that are responsible for house effects between pollsters. The first is the things they do to the voting intention data after it is collected and weighted – primarily that is how do they account for turnout (to what extent do they weight down or filter out people who are unlikely to vote), and what to do they with people who say they don’t know how they’ll vote (do they ignore them, or use squeeze questions or inference to try and estimate how they might end up voting). The good thing about these sort of differences is that they are easily quantifiable – you can look up the polling tables, compare the figures with turnout weighting and without, and see exactly the impact they have.

At the time of the 2017 election these adjustments were responsible for a lot of the difference between polling companies. Some polls were using turnout models that really transformed their topline figures. However, those sort of models also largely turned out to be wrong in 2017, so polling companies are now using much lighter touch turnout models, and little in the way of reallocating don’t knows. There are a few unusual cases (for example, I think ComRes still reallocate don’t knows, which helps Labour at present, but most companies do not. BMG no longer do any weighting or filtering by likelihood to vote, an adjustment which for other companies tends to reduce Labour support by a point or two). These small differences are not, by themselves, enough to explain the differences between polls.

The other big differences between polls are their samples and the weights and quotas they use to make them representative. It is far, far more difficult to quantify the impact of these differences (indeed, without access to raw samples it’s pretty much impossible). Under BPC rules polling companies are supposed to be transparent about what they weight their samples by and to what targets, so we can tell what the differences are, but we can’t with any confidence tell what the impact is.

I believe all the polling companies weight by age, gender and region. Every company except for Ipsos MORI also votes by how people voted at the last election. After that polling companies differ – most vote by EU Ref vote, some companies weight by education (YouGov, Kantar, Survation), some by social class (YouGov, ComRes), income (BMG, Survation), working status (Kantar), level of interest in politics (YouGov), newspaper readership (Ipsos MORI) and so on.

Even if polling companies weight by the same variables, there can be differences. For example, while almost everyone weights by how people voted at the last election, there are differences in the proportion of non-voters they weight to. It makes a difference whether targets are interlocked or not. Companies may use different bands for things like age, education or income weighting. On top of all this, there are questions about when the weighting data is collected, for things like past general election vote and past referendum vote there is a well-known phenomenon of “false recall”, where people do not accurately report how they voted in an election a few years back. Hence weighting by past vote data collected at the time of the election when it was fresh in people’s minds can be very different to weighting by past vote data collected now, at the time of the survey when people may be less accurate.

Given there isn’t presently a huge impact from different approaches to turnout or don’t knows, the difference between polling companies is likely to be down some of these factors which are – fairly evidently – extremely difficult to quantify. All you can really conclude is that the difference is probably down to the different sampling and weighting of the different companies, and that, short of a general election, there is no easy way for either observers (nor pollsters themselves!) to be sure what the right answer is. All I would advise is to avoid the temptation of (a) assuming that the polls you want to be true are correct… that’s just wishful thinking, or (b) assuming that the majority are right. There are plenty of instances (ICM in 1997, or Survation and the YouGov MRP model in 2017), when the odd one out turned out to be the one that was right.


The Guardian today has the results of a Populus poll for Best for Britain, apparently leaked without their permission. It found “almost a third” of respondents who would less likely to vote Labour if the party was committed to stopping Brexit, compared to 25% who said it would make them more likely – presumably the opposite of the headline finding the client was hoping for.

As regular readers will know, I think “would policy X make you more likely to vote Y” questions are of little or no worth anyway. Many respondents use them to indicate their support or opposition to the policy in question, regardless of whether it would actually change their vote, and you typically find a substantial proportion of people who say it would make them more likely to vote for a party already do so (and many of those saying less likely would never do so anyway).

This means the response from Best for Britain in the Guardian write up about the picture being skewed by Conservative and UKIP voters, while it may sound like special pleading, is probably quite right. I expect the third of people saying they’d the less likely to vote Labour are indeed probably largely Conservative and UKIP voters who wouldn’t vote Labour anyway. On the other hand, the people saying more likely are probably largely Labour voters who are already voting Labour – it’s why it is such a poor approach to the question.

In the meantime, it’s a reminder of why one needs to be a little cautious about polls commissioned by campaigns. You can never tell what other polls they did that they never released. It is the job of pollsters to make sure the actual questions are fair and balanced, but ultimately it’s often up to clients whether they keep a poll private, or stick it in a press release.


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The weekend papers have the first two polls with fieldwork conducted after the New Year – BMG in the Independent and Survation for yesterday’s Mail. Voting intention in the two polls is:

Survation: CON 38%(-1), LAB 41%(+1), LDEM 10%(+2), UKIP 4%(nc)
BMG: CON 36%(-1), LAB 36%(-2), LDEM 12%(nc), UKIP 6%(+2)

Survation’s poll was conducted on Thursday and Friday, changes are from their big Channel4 poll at the end of October. BMG was conducted between Tuesday and Friday and changes are from last month. Neither poll shows any real significant movement. As you would probably expect, the bulk of both polls focused on the looming issue of Brexit.

On the Brexit deal itself BMG found that 29% of people think MPs should approve the deal (up 3 points from December), 37% think it should be rejected (down 6 points). Survation found 36% of people wanted MPs to approve the deal (up 5), 40% wanted it rejected (down 6). Both polls show some movement in favour of passing the deal, but still more opposition than support.

BMG asked whether people would support or oppose various alternative Brexit options. By 46% to 28% people would support a second referendum. By 45% to 39% people would support reversing Brexit and just remaining. Further negotiations were supported by 45% to 34%. A “Norway-style deal” was supported by 40% to 36%. Leaving without a deal was opposed by 45% to 35%.

Survation’s poll included questions on how people would vote in various referendum scenarios – in a deal vs no deal referendum, 41% would prefer the deal, 32% no deal. In a referendum between no deal Brexit and remain, people prefer remain by 46% to 41%. A deal vs referendum vote would be neck-and-neck: 40% deal, 40% remain.

Tabs for Survation are here, BMG aren’t up yet.


A brief update on the state of the polls as we head towards Christmas. First let look at voting intention. The six voting intention polls we’ve seen published so far in December have all shown the two main parties essentially neck and neck – two have shown tiny Labour leads, two have shown tiny Conservative leads, two have had them equal (the YouGov poll for the People’s Vote campaign in the Sunday papers today may have had a slighter larger lead, but it shouldn’t upset the average).

Opinium (14th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 39%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 6%
YouGov (7th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 37%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 3%
Kantar (6th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 5%
Ipsos MORI (5th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
YouGov (4th Dec) – CON 40%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
ComRes (2nd Dec) – CON 37%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 6%

Despite the incredibly turbulent situation in British politics, there has been relatively little change in voting intention since the general election. Through late 2017 there was a very small Labour lead, for most of 2018 there was a very small Conservative lead (with a few periods of Labour ahead – most significantly the weeks following the Johnson/Davis resignations). At no point has either party really pulled away. Politics may have been chaos, but voting intention have been steady.

This itself is remarkable given the state of the government at present. If you look at any other measure, they are in a dire situation. The government’s net satisfaction rating in the MORI poll last week was minus 45 (24% satisfied, 69% dissatisfaction). That is comparable to the sort of figures that the Brown government was getting in 2008 or the Thatcher government in 1990… both periods when the opposition had a clear lead in voting intention. Any question asking about the government’s main policy – the delivery of Brexit – shows that a solid majority of people think they are doing badly at implementing it. Today’s poll from Opinium found people thought the party was divided by 69% to 18% (and quite what those 18% of people were thinking I do not know!). And yet, the Conservatives remain pretty much neck-and-neck in the polls.

I can think of three potential explanations (and they are by no means exclusive to one another). The first is that people have simply switched off. The ongoing chaos isn’t impacting people’s voting intention because they are not paying attention. The second is that voting intentions may still be being largely driven by Brexit and, regardless of how well the Conservatives are delivering Brexit, they are the main party that claims it is committed to doing so, and while support for Brexit has fallen, the split in the country is still normally around 47%-53%.

The third potential reason is that Labour are not a particularly attractive option to many voters either – one of the few clear changes in the polls this year is a sharp drop in Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings. At the end of last year his approval rating from MORI was minus 7, in the MORI poll last week it was minus 32. On YouGov’s Best Prime Minister question he continues to trail well behind Theresa May (and often both of them trail behind “Not sure”).

While it is interesting to ponder why the voting intention figures remain stable, it’s not necessary particularly meaningful. In the next four months Brexit will either go ahead with a deal that many will dislike, go ahead without any deal with whatever short or long term consequences that may bring, or be delayed or cancelled. Any of these has the potential to have massive impact on support for the parties.

On Brexit itself, public opinion on what should come next is not necessarily much clearer than opinion in Westminster. Throughout 2018 opinion has continued to drift slowly against Brexit – asked if we should remain or leave polls tend to find a modest lead for Remain – typically showing a swing of around 5 points since the referendum (They are helpfully collated by John Curtice here – his average of the last six polls to ask how people would vote now currently shows a Remain lead of 53% to 47%).

While the majority of people don’t support Brexit any longer, that does not necessarily translate into clear
support for stopping it, or indeed for most other courses of action. Poll after poll asks what the government should do next, and there is little clear support for anything. Theresa May’s proposed deal certainly does not have majority support (YouGov’s Sunday Times poll last week found 22% supported it, 51% opposed. MORI’s poll found 62% thought it was a bad thing, 25% good). When Opinium asked what should happen if the deal was defeated, 19% wanted to re-open negotiations, 20% said leave with no deal, 10% said have an election, 30% have a referendum, 11% cancel Brexit altogether. When MORI asked a similar question with slightly different options 16% said renegotiate, 25% said no deal, 10% an election and 30% a referendum.

When polls ask directly about a referendum they tend to find support (although, to be fair, most polls asking about referendums normally find support for then – it is essentially a question asking whether the respondent would like a say, or whether politicians should decide for them). However, a new referendum is obviously a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

And therein lies the problem – there is scant support for most plausible leave outcomes, but reversing Brexit in some way risks a significant minority of voters (and a majority of the government’s supporters) reacting extremely negatively indeed. In the YouGov Sunday Times poll last week they asked what people’s emotional response would be to the most plausible outcomes (current deal, no deal, soft Brexit, referendum and no Brexit). Would people feel delighted, pleased, relived, disappointed, angry, betrayed, or wouldn’t mind either way?

If Britain ended up leaving without a deal 23% would react positively, 53% negatively.
If Britain ended up leaving with the proposed deal, 20% would react positively, 51% negatively.
If Britain ended up with a softer Brexit, staying in the customs union and single market, 27% would react positively, 35% negatively.

Finally, if there was a referendum and Britain voted to stay, 42% would react positively, 39% would react negatively. This is the outcome that would have a positive reaction from the largest proportion of people, but it would also be by far the most divisive. When asked about their reaction to the deal or a soft Brexit, most people gave people towards the middle of the scale – they’d be disappointed, or relieved, or wouldn’t mind. Asked about reversing the decision to Leave, answers tended to the extremes – 26% would be delighted, but 23% would feel betrayed, including 51% of people who voted Brexit back in 2016.


A brief note about the Survation poll in today’s Mail. A lot of responses to this have really got the wrong end of the stick – the Daily Mail have, quite obviously, written it up with a very pro-deal slant and have not focused upon elements of the poll showing support for no-deal or for a fresh referendum. Nevertheless, the core of the story – that more people said they wanted MPs to vote to support the deal than wanted MPs to reject it – is quite correct.

Firstly, lets us address social media claims that the poll actually showed opposition to the deal and that the Mail has lied about it. This is untrue. What actually happened is that when the Daily Mail front page was published yesterday Survation has not yet put up the full tables, so people looking for the full results on Survation’s website stumbled upon their previous poll for the Daily Mail, which had shown people opposed the deal. Today’s poll is different – and that’s the point of the Mail’s splash – the poll suggests public opinion has changed.

The two polls asked identical questions about support for the deal (so there’s no jiggery-pokery, so changing the wording – it’s a straight comparison).

Survation’s poll conducted on November 15th found that 61% of people had heard about the deal and of those people 27% supported it, 49% opposed it. The full tables for that poll are here (the chart that lots of people were posting on social media this morning was from this poll)

Survation’s new poll conducted on November 27th asked the same questions, and found 72% had now heard about the deal. Of those people 37% supported the deal (up 10), 35% opposed the deal (down 14). The full tables for that poll are here (Wednesday’s Daily Mail story is about this poll)

In the next question Survation asked how people wanted MPs to vote on the deal. 41% said they would like MPs to vote for the deal, 38% would like MPs to vote against the deal.

So far, so good. The poll shows a sharp increase in support for the deal since it was first announced – a fortnight ago the public were opposed by nearly 2-to-1, now it is pretty much neck-and-neck. While this is only a single poll and one shouldn’t read too much into it until there is other polling evidence to back it up, it does appear to be a very clear shift.

However, before one concludes that the public are now leaning in favour of the deal, it’s also worth looking at the other questions in the poll. The poll also repeated questions asking how people would vote in some hypothetical referendums. These suggests that people continue to prefer remaining in the EU to the deal (Remain 46%(+3), Leave with the deal 37%(+3)) and that in a choice between the deal or leaving without one, they’d go for no deal (No deal 41%(+7), deal 35%(+3)).

This leaves us in a bit of a quandary. People narrowly approve of the deal and think MPs should approve it… but they also prefer both of the two obvious alternatives to the deal. For the record, the poll also finds people in favour of a new referendum on the deal by 48% to 34%. It is hard to resist the conclusion that the public are as unclear as the political classes about their preferred way forward.