There is plenty of new polling in today’s papers, including two polls proporting to show that large numbers of people would vote for new political parties. One by BMG for the Huffington Post, claiming 58% of people would consider backing a new party at the next election, and a ComRes poll for BrexitExpress, claiming 53% of people in a selection of Tory constituencies would consider voting for a single issue party campaigning to “conclude Brexit as quickly and as fully as possible”. There have been various other polls in recent weeks asking similar questions about how popular new parties would be.

These sound like large figures, but you should take them all with a huge pinch of salt – the reality is that quantifying the prospects of a new political party before it exists is an almost impossible task. Certainly it is not something that can be done with a single question.

First let’s look at the question itself. Polls tend to take two approaches to this question, both of which have flaws. The first is to say “Imagine there was a new party that stood for x, y and z – how likely would you be to consider voting for it?”. The problem with that as a question is that “consider” is a pretty low bar. Does thinking about something for a fleeting second before dismissing it count as “considering”?

An alternative approach is to say “Imagine there was a new party that stood for x, y and z. How would you vote if they stood at the next election?” and then prompt them alongside the usual political parties. This does at least force a choice, and sets the new hypothetical party alongside the alternative established parties, prompting to people to consider whether they would actually vote for their usual party after all.

There are, however, rather deeper problems with the whole concept. The first is the lack of information about the party – it asks people whether they would vote for a rather generic new party (a new anti-Brexit party, a new pro-Brexit party, a new pro-NHS party, or whatnot). That misses out an awful lot of the things that determine people’s vote. Who is the leader of the party? Are they any good? Do the party appear competent and capable? Do they share my values on other important issues? Can I see other people around me supporting them? Are they backed by voices I trust?

Perhaps most of all, it misses out the whole element of whether the party is seen as a serious, proper contender, or a wasted vote. It ignores the fact that for most new parties, a major hurdle is whether voters are even aware of you, have ever heard of you, or think you are a viable challenger. That is the almost insoluble problem with questions like this: by asking a question that highlights the existance of the new party and implies to respondents that it is a party that is worthy of serious consideration a pollster has ignored the biggest and most serious problem most new parties face.

That’s the theory of why they should be treated with some caution. What about their actual record? What about when people polled about hypothetical parties that later became real parties that stood in real elections? Well, there aren’t that many cases of large nationwide parties launching, though there are more instances of constituency level polls asking similar questions. Here are the examples I can find:

  • At the 1999 European elections two former Conservative MEPs set up a “Pro-Euro Conservative party”. Before that a hypothetical MORI poll asked how people would vote in the European elections “if breakaway Conservatives formed their own political party supporting entry to the single European currency”. 14% of those certain or very likely to vote said they would vote for the new breakaway pro-Euro Conservatives. In reality, the pro-Euro Conservative party won 1.3%.
  • Back in 2012 when the National Health Action party was launched Lord Ashcroft did a GB poll asking how people would vote if “Some doctors opposed to the coalition government’s policies on the NHS […] put up candidates at the next election on a non-party, independent ticket of defending the NHS”. It found 18% of people saying they’d vote for them. In reality they only stood 12 candidates at the 2015 election, getting 0.1% of the national vote and an average of 3% in the seats they contested.
  • Just before the 2017 election Survation did a poll in Kensington for the Stop Brexit Alliance – asked how they might vote if there was a new “Stop Brexit Alliance” candidate in the seat, 28% of those giving a vote said they’d back them. In the event there were two independent stop Brexit candidates in Kensington – Peter Marshall and James Torrance. They got 1.3% between them (my understanding, by the way, is that the potential pro-Europe candidates who did the poll are not the same ones who actually stood).
  • Survation did a similar poll in Battersea, asking how people would vote if a hypothetical “Independent Stop Brexit” candidate stood. That suggested he would get 17%. In reality that independent stop Brexit candidate, Chris Coghlan, got only 2%.
  • Advance Together were a new political party that stood in the local elections in Kensington and Chelsea earlier this year. In an ICM poll of Kensington and Chelsea conducted in late 2017 64% of people said they would consider voting for such a new party. In reality Advance Together got 5% of the boroughwide vote in Kensington and Chelsea, an average of 7% in the wards where they stood.

In all of these examples the new party has ended up getting far, far, far less support than hypothetical polls suggested they might. It doesn’t follow that this would always be the case, and that a new party can’t succeed. I suspect a new party that was backed by a substantial number of existing MPs and had a well-enough known leader to be taken seriously as a political force could do rather well. My point is more that hypothetical polls really aren’t a particularly good way of judging it.

662 Responses to “The perils of polls about “new parties””

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  1. Another post from Frances Coppola explores labour and Conservative approaches to Brexit

    Neither Theresa and her allies nor the ERG group are remotely interested in what is best for the country. All they care about is who governs it. Brexit is really nothing to do with the EU. It is, as it always has been, a war between two wings of the Tory party over the right to govern the UK.

    Now, those of you who look down your noses at the parochial Tory party and say “of course the Labour party wouldn’t behave like that” – you couldn’t be more wrong. The Labour leadership is playing exactly the same game….

    ….But let’s suppose for the moment that Labour does manage to garner enough votes to defeat the final withdrawal agreement. What happens next?

    Voting down the final withdrawal agreement would leave no-deal Brexit as the only option…

    …However, because there is so little time left, the Government could decide to hold the general election after Brexit, thereby eliminating any need for an extension…

    …As far as I can see, voting down the withdrawal agreement leads inexorably to no-deal Brexit, simply because Labour can’t make the Tories do what they want. But Labour would inevitably be blamed for that no-deal Brexit. What price the next election then?

  2. @Oldnat

    “But I expect he’s going to put the boot into Welsh Labour in a very short while soaked Grammy way, highlighting them as the party of a comfortably incompetent establishment.”

    Sounds possible. Given the Scottish experience of long term one-party domination, it might even have the advantage of being true – always useful in any campaigning. :-)


    I assume you’re referring here to the SNP? :-)

  3. It is amusing how the “dangerous” McDonnell seems to be giving RoCs sleepless nights.

    Are you Men or Mice? :-)

  4. AL URQA (2:04 pm)

    I don’t think Kahneman’s example really applies because the two questions mirror each other. It may be something to do with the way in which these agree/disagree questions operate which makes it more difficult for some people to pick disagree. Possibly because they get confused by double negatives; possibly because people tend to agree to things more readily than they disagree with them – especially if there is a DK option available. It’s why Anthony dislikes the question structure except in specific instances.

    As it happens I’m not very impressed by Kahnman’s example anyway, because the alleged equivalence of the lists ignores the convention that we tend to list the more important or salient characteristics first[1]. So the information giver might see Alan’s intelligence and Ben’s enviousness as the most important thing about them and we may be rationally judging on that.

    [1] Of course the agree/disagree questions usually tend to fall victim to this problem as well.

  5. @Sam

    “But Labour would inevitably be blamed for that no-deal Brexit. What price the next election then?”

    If TM fails to get her deal through Parliament, it will be rebels in her own party that will be responsible.

    I really thi k you are indulging in wishful thinking if you believe the Tories can pin the blame on Corbyn.

    If the deal is voted down, the Tory Government will crash and burn in a big way, and I can’t see the Tories will be in any fit state to face the country.

  6. @ JJ – Fair point about Leslie’s views. I should correct “Arch-Remain” to “Anti-Corbyn”. There is a high correlation between the two though as we’ve seen with previous shadow cabinet departures (voluntary or otherwise).

    Hoey stands out as very obviously being the wrong MP for both Vauxhall and LAB party but I don’t think she has been overly critical of Corbyn (maybe she has and I missed it). I tend to think of her as the 11th DUP MP! Field less focussed on NI so he’s effectively UKIP.

    I don’t think Mann (Bassetlaw, 68% Leave) has been that critical of Corbyn either and looking at his seat I think it would be risky to deselect him for his Brexit views (he doesn’t always rebel, where as Field and Hoey always do). Why do you think he is a target?

    Anyway looks like the CON conf shambles has already started:

    These clowns would struggle to manage a p1ss up in a brewery :(

  7. @ JiB

    “I can’t see the Tories will be in any fit state to face the country.”

    Hmmm, not convinced thats enough to stop people voting for them anyway. When did being incompetant prevent anyone from winning a GE?

  8. LASZ|LO


    A very interesting topic-one of those key subjects about the evolution & nature of humans.

  9. Plaid Cymru

    Welsh Assembly they have 12seats (20% of total), 20.5% of vote
    Westminster they have 4seats (10% of total Wales) and 10.4% of Welsh vote.

    Looking at GE seats:
    Ynys Mon – over 5k behind but the seat has Holyhead (port for Ireland trade), winnable for sure.
    Everywhere else they are over 11k behind so even if % goes up, it will be more about vote stacking in current marginal/safe(ish) seats and possibly solidifying/moving up to 2nd elsewhere.

    Welsh Assembly 2021.
    UKIP will hopefully be gone for good by then and LDEM pretty much already gone. The “redistribution” of UKIP’s 7 seats might give WLAB a few extra but certainly quite likely PC become “king makers” next time.

    Would PC be willing to form a defacto coalition with WLAB? Lesser of two evils?

  10. JIM JAM

    Whilst I would have to be in that constituency to have a firm view, I can understand from afar why even mainstream members might wish to deselect, Woodcock, Field, Hoey and Ryan (don’t know about Shuker and how come John Mann is not under pressure?)
    Seems to me, though, that Lesley might be victim of a lack of willingness to tolerate disagreement, not about being an arch remainer but for his general critique of the leadership.

    This thread from Lion & Unicorn (not particularly Corbyn fans):

    has some more info including the text of the motion. As usual I suspect it’s not just one thing, but a number of different ones that have built up over the years: his endless plotting and constant running to the media; the fact he doesn’t seem to be a particularly good constituency MP; maybe his fairly disastrous performance as Harman’s Shadow Chancellor; his attitude towards his CLP. Brexit seems to have nothing to do with it, if anything it seems to have been seen as the only thing in his favour.

    As I’ve said before CLPs are usually pretty tolerant of dissident MPs, providing they do it with integrity and keep up the constituency side of things. This doesn’t seem to apply to Leslie.

    As to John Mann, who I would actually find to be the most objectionable on that list, I’m not sure why he hasn’t been under similar pressure. It may be that he’s a good constituency MP or just that he managed to keep his local CLP under tighter control. I suspect some of the Labour Midlands non-city seats have small memberships that are unwelcoming and exclusive, enabling continuing control by Party establishment.

    Certainly low membership in such seats may help explain why they had pretty unimpressive results in 2017. High levels of support for Brexit may be another, though it is notable that Labour Leavers such as Mann (and Skinner) did just as badly if not worse.

  11. @ VALERIE – Well mice are the smart ones. They leave sinking ships ;)

  12. NORBOLD (from Thursday)

    [The researcher] found that in Newham a high number of commonwealth immigrants or second generation immigrants voted to leave Europe on a promise from the local Leave campaign that once we left Europe all European immigration would be stopped and that it would be made much easier for Commonwealth immigrants to enter the country, so all their family and friends could come here to join them.

    She said, that speaking to these people now, they have mostly realised this is not true and that leaving Europe will make no real difference to the number of Commonwealth immigrants being allowed in and that, given the problems leaving will cause, most of them have now changed their mind

    That’s interesting and sort of ties in with the area studies on diversity – that found that some wards with lower white percentages were more Leave-voting than you would expect. Presumably these are areas where one particular community tends to dominate and so mixes less with others, and perhaps has stronger links with ‘the old country’. Making immigration (or even visits) easier would appeal. You did also hear of this line being pushed by Leave during the campaign in places such as Harrow.

    I don’t know that it made a vast difference to the Referendum result. Polling suggests that about 70% of BAME voters chose Remain, though it’s possible that the sort of voters that were persuaded by this line are under-represented on polling panels – as other groups of Leave voters often seem to be – and that the real figure would be lower. Certainly the sort of characteristics that you might associate with such BAME groups – older, less educated and so on – tend to associated with voting Leave in the more general population.

    Still with such a close result it doesn’t take much of a swing to make a difference and a change among groups that polling might find more difficult to pick up on could have some significance.

  13. Valerie

    “I assume you’re referring here to the SNP? :-)”

    Not yet (though it is likely to be the case at some point).

    With STV at local level, leading to most councils being coalitions and minority administrations, and the AMS system at Holyrood being much less FPTP dominated in Wales, it’s now very hard (I’m glad to say) for any party to dominate the political system in the way it once was.

  14. Jonesin bangor

    “I really thi k you are indulging in wishful thinking if you believe the Tories can pin the blame on Corbyn.”

    I really think you are indulging in wishful thinking if you think you can read my mind. Kibitzing, which you and some others on this site engage in, is a waste of space

  15. Trevor Warne

    “Would PC be willing to form a defacto coalition with WLAB?”

    While we’re both outsiders looking in on Wales, you should remember that Plaid and Llafur were in a coalition government from 2007-11 with an agreed “One Wales” programme.

    As for UKIP, I agree that all/most are likely to lose their list seats, but the Senedd is dominated by constituency representatives. If Plaid does make an electoral advance under Price, it may be more like Scotland in 2007, as it becomes the biggest party – though too early for that, I expect, Brexit may yet have more cards to play!


    Would PC be willing to form a defacto coalition with WLAB? Lesser of two evils?

    Actually Adam Price has been quite clear that he wouldn’t go into coalition with Labour. Presumably any support would be on a case-by-case basis rather than C&S:

    Adam Price told BBC Radio Cymru he did not want to enter a coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour.

    “No to both unionist parties. Both have let the people of Wales down,” he said.

    He’s also obviously much keener on highlighting Welsh independence that Wood was.

  17. Forsa German poll

    CDU/CSU 28 %
    Greens 17%
    SPD 16 %
    AfD 15 %
    Left 10 %
    FDP 9 %

    Probably unwise to assume that the “20th century parties” will always retain their dominance in the 21st century.

  18. Colin

    I tend to assume that if someone posts a link without any explanation, then if they can’t be arsed to do that, it won’t be worth looking at anyway.

  19. Oldnat

    What Colin was alluding to.

    Opinium poll
    Con 39
    Lab 36
    L/D 9
    UKIP 6

  20. OLDNAT

    Did it need an “explanation”?

    Its an Opinion Poll result-this is a site about Opinion Polls.

    Anything I have to say about it would be superfluous.

    Whether it is “worth looking at” is for readers of UKPR to decide-who better , one might suggest.

  21. Oldnat

    I didn’t think that needed explaining. Particularly a link to “Some guy on twitter said something”.

  22. The link below is to a cartoon about Theresa May.

    I believe the words “usual please” are to be associated with the sign over the door -“Last Chance Saloon” in a portrayal of a Prime Minister who has been told on numerous occasions that her tenure as Party Leader is under threat, and who is about to enter the Party Conference to face this threat again .

    The humour is achieved ( if indeed it is achieved with you dear reader) by portraying a PM who knows that this is so & is quite blase about it by using a phrase which indicates a request for a regular drinks order in a Bar.

    The phrase “Last Chance Saloon” is a reference to drinking ones last drink in a bar unless certain changes in ones situation are brought about.

    This explanation may however be incorrect. Only the Artist can say.

  23. Has this been posted earlier?

    Mke Smithson
    CON 39+2
    LAB 36-3
    LD 9=
    25 replies .



    Mike Smithson

    5 hours ago

  24. Here is a link to NCP’s poll of English marginal constituencies on behalf of Shelter which contains a link to the tables:

  25. Colin

    It’s pretty hard to judge whether something is worth looking at without any form of context. Newspapers understand this and use headlines to let readers know the topic of each article.

    I suspect if they replaced all headlines with “STUFF! READ THIS!” it would be a less than successful strategy.

    Without Turk acting as your subeditor I would have had no clue you were referring to an opinion poll. A simple title “Opinium poll” with perhaps the headline figures would have allowed me to judge whether or not your link was worthwhile following or not.

  26. ALAN

    I don’t care whether you had the right “context” , or “a clue”.

    If you need these things before clicking on a link and they are absent-and it worries you so much -just ignore it FFS !

    I just posted a link on a “Breaking” Opinion Poll. You want a sodding essay on it. So wait for AW to do a thread then .

    Jeez. !!!!

  27. Of course – it appears above my post after I posted it!

    Opinium may be an odd one or it could be that the Lab conference was not as well received as appeared in much of the media.

  28. Colin

    “If you need these things before clicking on a link and they are absent-and it worries you so much -just ignore it FFS !”

    I did.



  29. Colin

    Thanks for that.

    I shall carry on ignoring your posts in future.

  30. If Kier Starmer was leading Labour with Chris Leslie as SC and a decent Shadow Home Secretary then I am sure they would be 10-15 points ahead now.

    Look where Cameron was in 2009 (and he didn’t get a majority), and where Blair was in 1996 (he did, I believe).

  31. Hireton

    From the Number Cruncher link –

    Sixty-seven per cent of adults in the [English] seats we polled think that things have got worse when it comes to housing over the last five years, while 69 per cent agree with the statement “there is a housing crisis in Britain”, including three-in-four renters.

    Polling just measures respondents answers to questions, and doesn’t test to see whether their responses match the actuality, or whether the question even related to matters they are likely to have any knowledge of.

    It’s a useful way, however, for campaigning organisations to see if their message is having the impact they had hoped for and, in this case, to try to measure the political impact that their dominant issue might have in an election in England.

    Shelter’s use of “Britain” and not “England” or “UK” is, of course, just sloppy wording.

    I’m not sure that it helps us to understand how the marginal seats in the English polity will actually vote, when prompted by many sets of lobbyists.

  32. Colin
    Don’t let them get to you. There are a lot of humourless control freaks on here.

  33. @BazInWales

    Opinium has a history of predicting slightly higher Labour % and slightly lower LibDem % than other pollsters; look at “Latest Voting Intention” at the top of the right-hand column for some recent examples. It could be that they are beginning to catch up with trends apparent from other pollsters.

    I prefer to follow catmanjeff’s moving average, which is based on YouGov polls only. Even though the absolute level of support for each party will be affected by ‘house effects’ it does make trends clearer. Here, the support for Labour has been declining steadily since the begining of August 2017 while the support for the Tories dropped sharply from June 2018 and the Lib Dem support began rising after January 2018. All are now outside the three-sigma confidence limits centred on the 2017 General Election results.

  34. ON
    (re the Number Cruncher link)
    “I’m not sure that it helps us to understand how the marginal seats in the English polity will actually vote,”

    Quite right, because different groups will blame different causes for the ‘housing crisis’. Some will blame high immigration, others the Tory government, others greedy landlords etc.

  35. Andrew M, you may be right but you could also look at where Labour were in OPs prior to the 2017 GE. Extrapolating current polls and applying the swing from pre 2017 polls to the actual result would suggest a huge Labour win which is as inaccurate imo as asserting that the current parity or small Tory lead suggests a large Cons majority at the next GE.

    Labour probably should have a modest lead at the moment but applying trends from the GE before last and prior polls
    inappropriate in a Brexit dominated environment,

  36. @ Andrew Myers

    “Look where Cameron was in 2009 (and he didn’t get a majority), and where Blair was in 1996 (he did, I believe).”

    Either you should be comparing those numbers with the VI in 2021 (which I have little idea about yet, maybe you know better), or you’re assuming there will be a GE next year. I know it’s difficult to predict anything right now, but I am currently of the opinion that of the many things that could happen next year, I doubt a GE is one of them. As I’ve said before, I don’t see the Torys letting things get quite that bad. Though, in many ways, I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

  37. “Foreign buyers of UK homes will be hit with higher stamp duty, as Theresa May seeks to counter criticism that her “mission” to tackle the housing crisis is a flop.” says the Independent.

    Apart from the obvious ignorance that “the UK” has stamp duty, I wonder if those foreigners buying mansions in the more affluent areas of London will be put off? At the same time, will a non-British citizen (for example a nurse) have to pay more to buy her house (except in Scotland) than a Brit – even if she has a “right to remain”? Presumably.

  38. @Leftie Liberal and anyone else

    Please see below a link to the You Gov charts, now updated:

    YG are showing a improvement for the Conservatives and Lib Dems, with Labour and UKIP in decline.

    I think Labour’s decline is down to more DKs and WNVs, and the Conservtaives are getting back their 2017 GE voters (from those who have moved from UKIP post Chequers.)

  39. I wondered this evening whether the Brexit situation is a continuation of the FO policy encapsulated by the first quote on this link:

    Perhaps we have given up trying to destroy the EU from the inside and are now attempting to do so by having a disorderly Brexit? We may have some short-term pain, but it is worth it to see the breakup of the EU?

    But then again we don’t seem to have anyone as clever as Sir Humphrey any more, unless a certain buffoon is hiding his cleverness in plain sight.

  40. “It may be something to do with the way in which these agree/disagree questions operate which makes it more difficult for some people to pick disagree. Possibly because they get confused by double negatives; possibly because people tend to agree to things more readily than they disagree with them – especially if there is a DK option available. It’s why Anthony dislikes the question structure except in specific instances.

    As it happens I’m not very impressed by Kahnman’s example anyway, …”
    @Roger Mexico September 29th, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    Thanks. Yes, it shows how difficult, if not impossible, it is to construct neutral questions; the baggage we all carry pollutes our answers.

  41. Pete B

    Thanks for the reminder of the Yes Minister quotes.

    I’d quite forgotten that the UK Government had taken on Sir Humphrey’s approach with regard to Brexit – Well, I wouldn’t call civil service delays “tactics”, Minister. That would be to mistake lethargy for strategy.

  42. “Anything I have to say about it would be superfluous.”
    @colin September 29th, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Well Turk (September 29th, 2018 at 8:38 pm) managed it. Never too late for an old? dog to learn new tricks.

  43. On


    G’night all.

  44. CMJ
    Nice charts as always! You should post them in the Yougov polls bit of voteukforum (where they would hang around for longer).

    Interesting that there has been no significant shift between Con and Lab. Has there been a shift from either of them to Lib Dem though, the one thing missing in the plots? And how about Lab to Green?

  45. @PETE B
    Don’t let them get to you. There are a lot of humourless control freaks on here.”


    Not sure telling Col. what to do entirely helps with the control thing, but whatev…

  46. When a known contributor posts a link without explanation, I assume it is interesting or important and requires no further explanation. Some would put a comment on the lines of “have a look at this!” but that really adds nothing.

    In either case I usually find it worth taking a look. The furore that Colin seems to have inadvertently caused, is ridiculous. Get off your high horses folks.

  47. @Andrew111

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Lab to Green isn’t in the dataset I’ve copied over, but I’ve added the graphs for Con 2017 to LD (no significance), LD 2017 to LD (no significance) and Lab 2017 to LD (very significant).

    Signs of a a move from Lab to LD by some Lab 2017 voters.

  48. COLIN

    Call me clever if you like but, what I do with unmarked links is open them and then, if I’m interested, I read them and if I’m not, well – I don’t.

    I find that takes even less time that yet another letter of complaint.

    Hope that helps you in any ensuing court case.

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