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. @Andrew111

    The new charts can accessed from the previous link.

  2. Labour certainly don’t appear to have had any bounce from their a Conference. If anything they have dipped a little. Perhaps they have lost a small proportion of their Leavers.

    I was talking to a staunch Remainer the other day. He is a Tory voter very unhappy about Brexit. I asked him if he would consider voting Lib Dem in an attempt to kick the Tory MP out of his seat and help bring about a Second Referendum and it was a flat no.

    When push comes to shove is it likely that Con will not actually lose much of their support base over Brexit? Their polling has remained consistently around 40% for a long time.

  3. Turk,
    “,so it would appear your comment regarding how the public regard the Tory party ,it seems for all there faults the public has a even lower opinion of the Labour Party.”

    I think it was our trevor whofirst posted a poll about whether people thought parties were good for them, or for the country. less than half seemed to think positively of even the party they were voting for, never mind the rest.

    The conclusion seems to be an overwhelming majority of people do not support the policies of either main political party.

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

    Surely exactly what we would expect if remainers who have supported labout in order to deliver remain feel they are not getting what thy signed up to?

    My prediction continues to be either labour clearly turns to remain, and these people will come back if there is a real vote where remain ia affected, or labour continues to disappoint remainers and they continue to bleed away.

    And considering my comment above to Turk, it shouldnt be surprising if voters feel strongly about one issue, that will overrule any attchment to an established party and create huge volatility in polling.


    Thanks-poor dears aren’t they?


    Alright then-you are clever.

    ………and normal :-)

  5. Hireton,
    “Interesting use of polling by campaign groups: [renters abandon tories housing]”

    I think I commented in this before, re some of the analysis of voting in the last election – it was apparent private renters were abandoning the tories.

    I dont for certain remember, but I fancy there wasnt such a trend amongst social renters (though these were more pro-labour to begin with). I infer the difference is that social renters consider this a lifelong situation, whereas private renters have an ambition to become owners which they see as being thwarted by government.

    The effective tory policy of turning the nation into establishment supporting house owners by giving them houses has reversed, because there are no longer any houses to give away.

  6. Hi Turk.

    Should have thanked you too for explaining the link yesterday.

    Sunday Times today has Boris intent on a showdown with May.

    What feel do you have within the Conservative Party now for Boris’s appeal?. Is he still the darling boyo he used to be? Or is he wearing a bit thin these days?

  7. The graph from my spreadsheet of monthly polling averages shows Lab and LD as almost mirror images since April. Similarly, Con and UKIP are almost mirror images since June. I am sure there is a bit of general churn as well. The movements aren’t exactly vast but as Con are not continuing to lose voters to UKIP (and may be getting some back) while Labour continue to drip voters slowly to LD I would expect Con to open up a gap over Lab – unless conference goes pear-shaped again.

  8. Colin,
    “The sad thing for me is that this is exactly where May was in those brave hours on the No 10 doorstep.”

    May’s record suggest she has always been too left wing for the tory party. Part of the rationale for choosing such a leader is that they can exhort for social reform in public, but the party has no intention of going there.

    Trevor Warne,
    “You might missed Queen Gina telling Remainers that once we’ve left Remainers should accept the result and draw a line under (Brex)it ”

    Whereas others might think if the main parties seek to do so, it opens a clears salient for some EU friendly party, such as the libs, to tack rejoining or reintegrating with the EU onto their manifesto list and create a clear and attractive policy. Libs ought to do very much better at this than UKIP did in reverse, because despite all else that has happened to them, they are a much more credible as a rounded team.

    This particularly true since winners in elections typically only get around 30% support. So if half remainers do not abandon their view, that is a stonking block around which to win. UKIPs downfall was they had nothing besides their one bedrock policy.

  9. DANNY

    To be fair to UKIP, they did share one policy with the LDs: fair voting.

    In fact, they always did better with vanilla d’Hondt than they have to date with plurality and STV elections.

    New thread on the latest polls, btw.

  10. DANNY

    TW’s statement was a very selective snippet from the article he linked to. My reading of it was that if, after a fair referendum, WTO or no deal was voted for, then would be time to give up.

    To be fair to TW, the Reuters headline was somewhat misleading, with:
    Brexit challenger Gina Miller: UK’s battle over EU membership must end.

  11. “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.”
    @nearlyfrench September 30th, 2018 at 8:26 am

    But when you post on here you are primarily trying to communicate something. If you want to talk to as many readers as you can, the easier you make it the better. By all means just put a link, but in Twitter’s case you don’t know anything from the URL itself. Other links are more informative, as they often include the title. But how much trouble is it to grab the title or first paragraph and add that to your post? You may increase the number of people who would want to read it, and make it easier for those who don’t.

    Isn’t that why you are posting?

  12. On passports and the Irish border.

    I think the concept of “Freedom of Movement” is often misunderstood. It’s not really about “Movement” at all, it’s about “Residence”.

    Under “Freedom of Movement”, EU citizens have the right to live and work, or claim benefits (within some constraints) anywhere within the EU. We are told this is one of the inseparable “four freedoms” – because apparently unless you customer base can live anywhere in the bloc, your goods can’t logically be sold anywhere in the bloc.

    EU citizens will in all likelihood be able to continue visa-free travel into and out of the UK after Brexit. In other words they will retain their “freedom of movement” just not necessarily their “Freedom Of Movement”.

    Now neither the UK or the Republic are in the “Schengen Area”, so travellers from either country to the Schengen area will have to show a passport to enter. Also, although passport is not strictly required to enter GB from NI, photo ID is and a lot of companies insist on a passport anyway.

    So, unless the Republic joins Schengen, the situation probably won’t change that much. A GB citizen travelling to Ireland or NI will need ID, and usually a passport, to get on the ferry or plane. If they travel onwards from the Republic to, say, France, they’ll need a passport.

    No need for passport checks at the Irish border, any more than there is now. Border checks are about goods, not people.

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