Everyone will know the result of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election by now, but what about the polls during the campaign, how well did they do? By-election polls have been a rare creature in recent years, but such was the attention paid to this contest that we saw three of them, two from ICM and one from ComRes.

All of them showed the Conservatives in the lead, so no pollsters looked silly this morning, but apart from having the right party in the lead they were actually a long way from the result.

ICM/Mail on Sunday (May 8th) – CON 43%, LAB 39%, LDEM 16%
ICM/News of the World (May 16th) – CON 45%, LAB 37%, LDEM 14%
ComRes/Independent (May 18th) – CON 48%, LAB 35%, LDEM 12%
Result (May 22nd) – CON 49.5%, LAB 30.6%, LDEM 14.6%

ComRes were very close to the actual level of support for the Conservatives, but everybody overestimated the level of support Labour would actually get, and ICM especially were well short of the actual 19 point Tory lead.

Firstly we should add a caveat that all the polls were done several days before polling day – ICM’s last poll was 6 days previous, leaving 6 days for people to change their minds. Given the nature of by-election it’s perfectly possible the electorate swung even further behind the Tories in those final days (such was its brevity, 6 days was a quarter of the whole campaign!).

I suspect the actual reason was the re-allocation of don’t knows that both ICM and ComRes did. ICM assumed that 50% of people who said they didn’t know how they would vote would end up voting for the party that they voted for in 2005, ComRes reallocated all their don’t knows to the party they voted for last time. Without those adjustments their figures would have been:

ICM/Mail on Sunday (May 8th) – CON 51%, LAB 30%, LDEM 15%
ICM/News of the World (May 16th) – CON 49%, LAB 34%, LDEM 13%
ComRes/Independent (May 18th) – CON 49%, LAB 34%, LDEM 12%
Result (May 22nd) – CON 49.5%, LAB 30.6%, LDEM 14.6%

Which are all far closer to the actual result than the adjusted figures were, it looks as though all those Bashful Brownites that ICM and ComRes allowed for never turned up at the polling stations.

ICM’s re-allocation of don’t knows is based on solid research from past elections that shows don’t knows do tend to break in favour of the party they’ve supported in the past, so I don’t intend this to be a criticism of their approach to general election polling. It just appears that it doesn’t work when it comes to a by-election.

86 Responses to “So what happened to the bashful Brownites?”

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  1. Peter
    Whereas, you’ve always had the ridiculous sight of councils desperately spending their hole-digging budget, say, so that they receive the same next year.

    There are cheaper ways of providing political accountability. I hope Brown is looking North and learning.

    The idea of setting a target has led many to try and hit it, no matter that doing so went against common sense. So you can’t have an appointment next week, because the doctor has to see everyone wthin 24 hours. Daft. It wouldn’t happen in a “partnership” type of arrangement.

  2. Anthony,
    So, looking at GB figures (which, from Electoral Calculus were Con 31.4, Lab 44.4, LD 17.2*) in 1997, they seemed to pretty much bracket the actual result before and after the adjustment :) (Lead was 13%, pre adjustment was 16%, post adjustment 10%)

    Party___before adj__actual__after adj

    Errors (pre adj: 1.4+1.4+1.2 = 4.0; post adj: 1.6+1.6+1.8=5.0)

    I’m sure they’ve done a lot of analysis since then, however. It would be interesting to get hold of the 2001 figures.

    *It’s actually surprisingly difficult to quickly get hold of theGB figures rather than the UK ones; which are, of course, what we have to compare the polls with. Electoral Calculus’s “track record” page conveniently presents them.

  3. When is the next poll? My sense is that opinion has shifted significantly against Labour in general (and Brown in particular) since Crewe.

  4. Peter-An interesting post.

    In fairness to New Labour I think they tried very hard to focus on “Outcomes” across much of their approach to public services.

    But the “Brownian” method of doing this is to micro manage it from the centre-and that means detailing all the perceived elements of the desired outcome at the centre, handing them down to the front line staff & monitoring their detailed progress at the centre.

    It is madness-no wonder we have seen such a huge increase in the State’s workforce-no wonder we see so many examples of inflexibility & disconnect with the requirements of the “customer”.

    This week we have a sobering example.A new under-fives national curriculum containing 69 outcome targets is handed down from Whitehall,in the same week that a seven year old child starves to death, unknown to the child care authorities.

  5. Yep, Stalinist micro-management, also visible in the USA in the 1930s. And the system collapses under its own paper.

    The central aspect of it is the deskilling of the workplace (how many teachers have any autonomy at all? None.) So, guess a major problem for New Labour is that no-one in the workplace believes in its methodology any more; we have all filled in too many forms to believe in the system any longer. It’s more than the cost of petrol facing Brown, it’s that none of us believe in the micro-management target setting fill in more paper approach.

    Why? The fundamental assumption underpinning it is that the individual can not be trusted, but hey that’s why ID cards, CCTV, massive data bases etc are part of the new labour belief structure..

    I would argue all the Tories / Liberals need to do is overall say nothing bar ‘remove all targets’ and ‘less paperwork’…

  6. Poll in the London Lite today (unknown sample size and weighting, if any)

    Would you vote Tory?

    YES 71%
    NO 29%

    Does this mean the Tories are at 71% of the vote? :-S

  7. Clearly not scientific but perhaps a straw in the wind. If, as seems likely, Labour clings on to power in the face of rising public anger then WMA C Leads of 30 points are quite possible. Esp if Brown manages to cling on – unlikely I know but possible.

  8. Voodoo poll – ignore it entirely. Easy to fix, not representative in any way, shape or form.

  9. I don’t see public anger rising in the next two years; if anything it will subside as Darling responds to changing global economic conditions by shelving the so-called green tax rises.

    There are a number of options open to Brown/Darling to change course enough for public opinion to soften, especially as Cameron doesn’t have anything to say apart from how “angry” he is on behalf of everyone.

    London Lite is from the same stable as Metro, Evening Standard, Mail etc.

  10. I think the Lite polls are based on voluntary phone-ins. Obviously it would just be a question of who is motivated to phone-in.

    Still, that only 29% of the total number phoned in to say they wouldn’t vote Tory may be indicative of th evaporation of hatred against the Tories. I could not imagine such a result in any poll a few years ago.

  11. John TT “I don’t see public anger rising in the next two years; if anything it will subside as Darling responds to changing global economic conditions by shelving the so-called green tax rises.”

    John you must be joking – it isn’t going to help Labour just because they don’t bring in yet more tax rises.

    I predict that public anger will grow even more over the next 2 years as petrol and food prices continue to rocket, unemployment rises considerably and the economy slows much more than anticipated.

    For GB to pretend today that he can have any influence over the market cost of oil is just ridiculous.

    I’ll say it again – we are a ajor oil producing country and yet have the highest petrol/ diesel prices in europe. If the Government wants some popularity it should slash 10p off the fuel tax now! Green issues come second when we’re in a situation like this and green issues have never been the main driver behind the tax on fuel in any case – ease of collection and trapping everybody is more the reason.

  12. More than ninety per cent of the PH100, PoliticsHome survey of expert and inside political opinion, are currently forecasting that the Tories will be the largest party in the next parliament.

    And a large majority of the “politically balanced panel” now believes that David Cameron will achieve the sort of swing necessary to form a majority government. Well over two thirds of the panel is forecasting that the Conservatives will have a parliamentary majority after the next election.

    RE public anger-the lesson from C&N seemed to be that the voting public are now a bit like angry children-demanding more & more concessions from their semi-detached parents without showing any signs of being grateful.

    Something of a metaphor for the family in our times ?

  13. The green taxes I referred to comprise the very fuel tax you refer to, as well as the road tax rises next year.

    GB is bringing what influence he has to bear on OPEC and pursuing other ways of increasing supply. To suggest he’s pretending anything says more about your blinkers than it says about him.

    “Green issues come second when we’re in a situation like this ”

    You seem to be in agreement with me, and almost certainly with Downing Street. The only difference is they are rightly not jerking the old knee like you would.

    You must be joking if you think the whole of this country feels the same anger as you do. Most of us are getting on with getting through this. There are still 80 odd thousand fewer unemployed than there were a year ago….oh, yes, Iknow, the “real” unemployment rate is over 15 million, the real inflation rate is of Zimbabwean proportions, etc, etc etc.

  14. Hi Colin
    “more concessions from their semi-detached parents without showing any signs of being grateful”

    That sounds true, but I think we should wait to see if policy changes do affect the polls – the Autumn statement is the time for such concessions, and by that time the children might have grown up a bit. If DArling can convince the electorate that he’s steering a big ship, not a speedboat, he has every chance.

  15. John TT

    “You seem to be in agreement with me, and almost certainly with Downing Street. The only difference is they are rightly not jerking the old knee like you would.”

    At what point would you like to see Darling jerk his Knee ? When the oil pricce is $200 a barrel and pump prices are 180p a lite or sometime before ?

    If we get to that point the econmomy really will be in serious trouble and peope will not be able to afford to commute to work etc etc.

  16. Hi john-I admire your tenacity of belief & sincerity-and your posts.

    ….but I do think “the children might have grown up a bit” is a surprisingly Blearsian view of the British Public coming from you.

    RE: Fuel Taxes, Brown/Darling must be thanking their lucky stars that something is going their way at last. Budget assumptions last March were for oil at $83.8 barrel.Duty& VAT on the price escalation since then amounts to £1 billion pa-a sum equal to the next rise proposed in fuel duty.There would appear to be scope for concessions -critically without compromising tax revenue assumptions.

    By the way Fuel Duties are not “green taxes”. They are part of general revenues and not hypothecated for environmental expenditure.

  17. Bloomberg reports that the government exempted 30 unprofitable oil fields from Petroleum Revenue Tax and granted licenses to two new sites operated by Petrofac Ltd. following a meeting with industry executives in Scotland today.

    It also comments that s finance minister until June 2007, Brown lifted taxes on North Sea producers in 2002 and 2006, prompting BP and Exxon to sell assets in the region.

    The North Sea, having already produced 37 billion barrels of oil, is into unstoppable production declines as it ages.

  18. John tt – are you related to Hazel Blears. It is not “the economy” that is making people angry with Brown and Labour. Nor is there anything Brown and Darling can do to avoid serious problems with inflation, house prices and the generally appalling state of the public finances.

    Brown as PM is unelected and (widely perceived as) incompetent, dishonest and out-of-touch. Unless these perceptions are reversed (unlikely) then people will be increasingly angry that we have him as PM against their wishes. Which will increase the unpopularity, the anger and the negative perceptions.

    Cameron has actually said quite a lot about how he will work as PM, but at the moment no-one cares very much. He is elected, competent and (widely perceived as) honest and in-touch. QED, really.

  19. I still feel that if oil and fuel prices continue their inexorable rise , as seems likely, the next round of serious fuel protests will make the ones from 7-8 years ago look like a village tea party. It could even be Labour’s poll tax as if they don’t currently have enough problems.

    I have family who live in California – they pay about $3.80 dollars a gallon at the moment. When I tell them we are now paying the eqivalent of $10 a gallon they wonder how society can function and roll their eyes.

  20. KTL,

    Remember a US Gallon is 4/5ths of one of ours and the dollars recent depreciation makes it look worse than it is.

    Even if brown caves in and drops the 2% rise in duty or does something about VAT, the Chinese and Indians are still going to want oil so the price will still rise. Browns announcements today where little short of spin.

    Boosting North Sea output won’t make a dent in the global demand for oil and any new Nuclear stations are at least a decade away.

    As to the haulage industry well it’s supply and demand, if the number of hauliers falls then those that survive will be in a position to raise there prices, although if the economy slows substantially then maybe not.

    I have to say, although I don’t like paying £6 a gallon ,I’d don’t have much sympathy motorists, hauliers or banks who had it good for a long time on cheap fuel, low interest rates, light regulation and easy credit, but who then start to whine when the chickens come home to roost.


  21. “Browns announcements today where little short of spin.”

    Actually I think that’s unfair.
    He also said high oil prices are a “long term problem”-which is not spin.
    Yes tweaking the North Sea wells maybe like squeezing an empty tooth paste tube-but has he claimed it is the solution to our problems? I would expect him to do what he can up there.

    But Peter’s remark, & my own reaction to another GB announcement today makes me more certain that ,whatever he says now will be treated as a desperate & cynical ploy to save his neck.

    He announced a UK ban on cluster bombs. I thought-well why now after all that maiming & injury?-till I read that an international conference is taking place on the subject.It’s an announcement in context & he deserves praise for it.

    But I doubt he will get much-the 10p u-turn syndrome hangs heavy in the air.

  22. Colin,

    I am all for the Ban on cluster Bombs, but it’s the kind of thing he should have done in the summer, or even last week before the conference. As it is we went in to the conference saying we were keeping some and have changed our mind now.

    I don’t think that is Brown being Cynical to improve his image, but it does show that he is chasing events rather than shaping them.

    Going to see the oil companies after it hits $130 or the banks after the Libor rate stops tracking the base rate looks like trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted.

    I’d be much happier if on inflation and House prices he just come out and said that were all going to have to tighten our belts including the government, that to try to suggest he can do anything about them.


  23. In terms of full democracies that now puts Nepal ahead of us of course.

  24. “I’d be much happier if on inflation and House prices he just come out and said that were all going to have to tighten our belts including the government, than to try to suggest he can do anything about them”

    Yes-candour so often defeats politicians-until they are no longer in office of course.

    But I think you’re asking a bit much for any Prime Minister to admit they can do nothing about inflation!!

  25. I agree Colin – Government’s won’t ever admit that they can nothing about inflation but actually by giving up control of interest rates the Government can do very little about inflation.

    In addition it’s hard to take any government’s inflation claims seriously when their own policies contribute to inflation rising.

    The fuel task escalator is inflationary.

    Yearly increases in tobacco and alcohol tax are inflationary.

    Allowing Councils to put up Council tax by 5% per year is inflationary.

    I’m sure there are more.

  26. Cutting taxes during upswings is inflationary , and presumably “sharing the costs of recession” will have to follow “sharing the proceeds of growth”.

    The government set the target.

    Nbeale – I always enjoy your bit of fun with the WMA, but being rude about my relations or lack of won’t disguise the fact that you’ve forgotten Brown was extremely popular this time last year. Since then the economy has worsened and at the same time risen in importance in the polls. It’s the economy.

    KTL – knee jerks are not a good thing. We don’t really know what’s going to happen to the oil price – it’s been driven up by speculators (similar type of capitalism that drove up house prices, cheap sub-prime US mortgages). There are as many who think the price will settle back to around $80 as there are who are talking it up to $200. We’ll see, but the point is that Darling shouldn’t be basing fuel tax reductions on the notion that the oil price will hold up. There is scope, but a knee-jerk would probably result in an over-compensation.

  27. There is certainly a speculative component to the price of oil -and perhaps a significant one just now.

    One of the most sensible things Brown has said in the last few days is that Oil companies must “come clean” about recoverable resources.

    The whole Peak Oil debate has reared it’s head again & there are two diametrically opposed views on the topic-which is grist to the mill of speculation.

    Presumably “recoverable” is as much a function of oil price, as of engineering difficulty-but still we do not hear enough of the facts about the worlds’ oil reserves. This is crazy-we need to plan much more effectively & openly for energy or the worlds’ major economies are operating on a wing & a prayer.

  28. John tt
    You make a stout case when defending the government’s record John but I think that you would prosper even more if you refrained from telling people with whom you disagree that they are wearing blinkers, off the wall or lacking veracity etc etc.
    It is not just the economy that has brought about what many better placed observers than I think is a sea change in the political climate.Certainly the worsening state of the economy has acted as the catalyst for that change but in the process the public have remembered all the things that annoyed them about the government right back to the disasterous raid on pensions in 1997 and the sale of our gold reserves at giveaway prices in 1999 not to mention the falsehoods over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the farcical election that never was, Gordon Brown’s unfortunate personality and the current fiasco of the 10p tax rate abolition-oh the list is endless. It was much the same around 1995 with John Major’s administration. In their case the ignominous exit from the ERM was the catalyst but then the public remembered all the things it had disliked about the Tories all the way back to 1979 including the abortive poll tax and the unemployment queues.
    I see each perceived ‘sin’ by this government as representing a stone being dropped into a pool of water followed by another stone and another and another until the stones form a mound which eventually rises above the surface. At that point voters recollect all the stones beneath the one that finally snapped their patience. At the local elections,in the race to be London mayor and above all in the Crewe and Nantwich by election the patience of the voters snapped. This government is finished.Kaput. And the longer it hangs on then like John Major the worse the defeat will be. Labour back benchers know this hence the panic, the disloyalty and the backbiting that’s going on. The game is up john tt!!

  29. I remember from my old geography “O” level that as a rule of thumb doubling the price increases availability by 50%. So if Oil goes from $80 to $160 a lot of marginal fields in the North sea suddenly become profitable.

    The problem is that the investment required and the long lead times means that you need to be sure that the price will remain near $160 for a decade because if it doesn’t your in big trouble.

    Thus when Oil was down to below $25 people cut back on exploration and investment, particularly refining capacity (the US hasn’t built an oil refinery in over 25 years). So what the industry wants is to have certainty that the price is here to stay.

    Even then if they all pump out more if the price will falls the very marginal fields they have invested to develop will then become a burden.

    Oil Companies will look long and hard at things before they put big money in to new fields and even if they do it won’t start to come on stream in a quantity that will make a difference till 2020 or so.

    Possible ways forward?, Tax breaks for exploration and development, Joint Private/State ventures, A nationalised Oil Company with a long term strategic outlook.

    Depending on your politics you’ll choose one of the above. On balance I am probably interested in number two as it shares risk and reward over the long term.

    Just to finish though, this is a big issue in Scotland particularly in rural areas and like it or not over the next year “Scotland Oil” will be back on the agenda.

    To be honest I’d rather it didn’t because there is a lot more to the argument than oil and I think it can be over emphasised and as I am a strong supporter of a Scottish oil based Sovereign Wealth Fund I think we need to balance the books of the Non Oil Economy (NOE), and invest what we get from the North sea for when it runs out.


  30. John tt

    Brown’s “popularity” last year was an illusion fed by some fawning media. Once he was seen as dithering, incompetent and deceitful his popularity reverted to previous levels and then declined further. Of course the economy is making things worse – not least because it makes his boasts about getting rid of boom and bust look ridiculous – but if he were seen as competent, honest and decisive then tough economic times would play to his advantage.

    He has also led the Labour Party to insolvency and possible bankruptcy – debts for which he would be personally liable. Just wait until the electorate realises this. Hardly inspires confidence, does it?

  31. “telling people with whom you disagree that they are wearing blinkers, off the wall or lacking veracity etc etc.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever accused anyone of lying, and I certainly only ever retaliate in kind. I don’t follow what your “etc” was replacing.

    Colin and I disagree intensely, but he’s never accused me of being related to the Govt, or used phrases like “you must be joking”. If he had, I’d have had a go back.

    I have many weaknesses, but using an ad hominem approach isn’t generally one of them.

    Your stones in the water analogy hits the nail on the head with regard to memorable sins (and forgettable good deeds)of governments. I believe the sight of the mound above the surface could be a bit of a mirage. Depends what happens over the next year or so.

    The game was only really up for major when Blair had produced his “pledges”. Cameron hasn’t started that yet (not that he needs to right now)

  32. Nbeale – the figures on Labour’s debt position have been known to the electorate for a while. The funding “problems” were well known during Brown’s honeymoon period, a period that you seem to be saying was down to the fawning media.

    The media alternately fawns over and kicks all of them, depending on what makes the best narrative. It’s not your usual forensic analysis to argue that Brown’s good poll ratings were then down to a fawning media, and his poor ratings now are down to his performance.

  33. john tt
    The electorate don’t vote for the opposition so much as vote against the government. Labour could have put up a donkey in 1997 and still won. That’s why there was so much tactical voting.Blair’s embellishments merely increased the size of the majority.Cameron will of course have to produce a manifesto that is attractive to voters but no more so than in 1951,1970 or 1979.Should be a doddle.
    As for saying lets see how things develop over the next year or so whether we technically have a recession or not I don’t think Joe Public will notice the difference. There is absolutely no chance of the feelgood factor returning until at least 2011 but by the time Cameron seeks re-election in 2014 all should be nicely in sync again!!
    How do you rate the chances of Labour losing their deposit in Henley?

  34. Not very high. The last time they lost a deposit was Cheadle in 2005 (though the fall from 8.6% to 4.8% was surprising). There won’t be so much tactical voting this time – it’s a seat the Conservatives should hold with Libdem second and Labour third – I’m no Oracle, but I can’t see them going below 10% there – on a low turn-out.

    As far as the next G.E. goes, complacency and arrogance are two things that Cameron should be wary of. The other is the ideological divide widening to such an extent that the “safe in our hands” mantra stops being credible.

    Anyone would think that we all regret rejecting health and education vouchers, low wages, high unemployment, high interest rates. If there’s a feelgood factor in 2014 and Cameron is there, it would be because we’d know that his one term would be almost over!

  35. John TT – that’s definitely a yellow card for a partisan comment.(Only joking)

    If the Tories rout Labour in 2010, as seems likely, I’m predicting that they will be in for 2 terms at least and probably 3 because it is difficult to get back into Government when you have so many seats to win as the Tories found out recently themselves in 2005

  36. And will find again in 2010

    I’m proud of my yellow card, so thank-you :)

    Paradoxically, tax rises can be deflationary, depending on the sort of inflation. Cost-push (sudden increases in oil, food) inflation needn’t necessarily have a huge impact, as long as demand falls (get the bus, bake your own, etc.).

    I still don’t understand how Cameron is going to include “sharing the proceeds of growth” in his embellishments (sorry, “attractive manifesto”). It means tax cuts during the good times, doesn’t it? That surely would be inflationary, as more money would be being spent chasing goods. I think he depends on people spending their extra money on charitable causes. Can’t see it myself.

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