Today’s Times has figures for European voting intention from the recent Populus poll – our first poll for the European elections from a pollster other than YouGov. The topline voting intention figures are CON 34%, LAB 25%, LDEM 20%, UKIP 6%, GRN 5%, BNP 2%.

On a uniform swing this would lead to the Conservatives winning 31 seats, Labour 20 seats, the Lib Dems 14 and UKIP only 3. The SNP and PC would both win 1, though a uniform swing calculation will underestimate their performance given that an increase in their vote would actually be concentrated entirely in Scotland and Wales.

These figures are very similar to those I reported for YouGov at the weekend. The BNP have significantly lower support – 2% compared to 4% – but that’s to be expected given that Populus use live phone interviewers and YouGov use a more anonymous web-based survey, where there is less chance of a social acceptability bias.

However, on the subject of YouGov’s voting intention Peter Kellner has a commentary on YouGov’s European Parliament figures. Firstly Peter has provided figures for only those certain to vote, which given the likely turnout in the European elections he thinks will give a better prediction. These figures are CON 37%, LAB 22%, LDEM 19%, UKIP 7%, SNP/PC 5%, GRN 4%, BNP 4%. These would, on a uniform swing, give the Conservatives 32 seats, Labour 18, the Lib Dems 13 and UKIP 4 (on this calculation the SNP and PC would get one each, but since in reality their increase would be wholly in Scotland and Wales the SNP would get more). Unlike the unfiltered YouGov figures and Populus’s figures, these show Labour declining compared to 2004, which does seem rather more feasible given the currently political situation.

Is Peter right to go for the “only those certain to vote” though? Well, in theory he certainly is – the European elections are a low turnout election and some sort of filter should really be applied. In practice it isn’t quite so cut and dried, YouGov produced both sets of figures back in 2004, and filtering by likelihood to vote certainly gave far more accurate vote shares for Labour and the Conservatives. It was less good for UKIP and the Lib Dems though.

2004 YouGov European election polling
All giving an intention – CON 24%, LAB 26%, LDEM 15%, UKIP 19%, GRN 6%, BNP 4%
Certain to vote – CON 26%, LAB 24%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 21%, GRN 6%, BNP 3%
Actual result – CON 27%, LAB 23%, LDEM 15%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6%, BNP 5%

Those figures bring us onto the other significant question – whether or not to prompt by minor parties. In Westminster voting intention questions all pollsters prompt by party name: would you vote Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem or SNP/PC? The reasons is that historically polls that did not prompt by party name used to underestimate the level of Liberal Democrat support – people forget they were an option. Pollsters do not, however, prompt by the name of smaller parties like UKIP or the Greens for similar emperical reasons, if they do, they end up overestimating support for them. It may not sound very fair, but it leads to the most accurate results.

However, with elections run on a PR system it’s a trickier question. Parties like UKIP and the Greens have representation at regional or European level. No longer parties that can’t win, or won’t even have candidates in many constituencies, shouldn’t they be prompted for? Again, the answer comes down to what works. In 2004 YouGov included minor parties in their prompt by party name, and it significantly over-estimated the true level of support for UKIP. In the Scottish elections in 2007 YouGov prompted by minor parties in the regional vote question and over-estimated Green support. In his commentary Peter also reveals that YouGov ran test surveys after the 2004 European elections to see what level of prompting gave the better recall result, and they too suggested it was better not to include prompts for minor parties in the question. As a result YouGov are not including minor parties in their main prompt for the European elections this time round.


31 Responses to “Populus Euro-poll, and YouGov’s European methodology”

  1. Nationalist figure looks very high Anthony. 2.4% last time. Even if the 5% quoted is 4.6% to a decimal that’s a massive increase. I’d love to believe it but is there a methodology doubt with Nationalist votes in such a poll (insufficient Welsh / Scottish sample?)

  2. Whether one looks at the first YouGov Euro poll in January, the euro question in the recent YouGov poll, Kellner’s adjustment, or this one, the picture is fairly consistent, and the actual percentages are all within general margin of error around: C35; Lab 24; LD 20.

    Personally, I don’t think any of these polls have made sufficient allowance for “others”, especially now that the expenses furore has ensured that either turnout will be abysmal and/or the main parties will be shunned. Remember also that teh combined Con/Lab/LD result in 2004 was under 65%. Therefore I would shave at least 2% off each of those – and possibly more off Lab.

    On the subject of others, now that nominations have closed, the candidates list for these elections must surely be a record.

    There are a total of 883 candidates for the 72 UK MEPs. If one excludes NI (7 for 3), that gives 876 candidates for the 69 seats in Gt Britain – a ratio of 12.7 per seat.

    The longest ballot paper (in candidates) is in SE – 133 candidates for 10 seats, but the widest choice (14 lists + 5 Ind = 19) is in London, while the SW with 14.83 (89 for 6) has the highest number of candidates per seat.

    Wales (11 lists of 4) has the narrowest (!) choice, while there are at least 12 lists on offer everywhere in England.

    Even if none of the over 20 lists/individuals other than Con/Lab/LD make it into double figures (and only UKIP is likely to come close), if only half of them make it past 1.0% we could easily be looking at more than 30% for all others.

    I don’t think any polling company can accurately test the likely level of support for any of the fringe parties, since prompting by name would undoubtedly inflate the results – and probably leave the interviewee bewildered. (Actually, maybe that is a probable outcome at the polling station when unsuspecting electors are confronted with their ballot papers.)

  3. What effect will the County Elections have on turnout? These are mainly in Tory areas, and that could tilt it more that way

  4. I think it’s very short sighted of people in general if they don’t vote as a result of the expenses stuff. At the end of the day, a vote should be about who best represents your views (taking into account that you may need to vote tactically in FPTP, but the same rule applies to whoever you are voting tactically for). Not turning out, or voting for the BNP because of expenses revelations is something I believe a voter would later regret. Who knows how much of the electorate thinks like me however?

    I think we may see a short term boost in other party support (whether reflected in polls or not), but I would expect it to subside as people get more rational and circumspect about expenses over time – the outcome on election day will likely be rather different than we are seeing now.

  5. You say that the minor parties aren’t prompted but in 2004 of course UKIP beat the LIb Dems, yet UKIP don’t appear to have been prompted by YouGov. Surely that risks under-estimating the UKIP vote?

  6. What i just cant get my head round, is why all the parties, even the one which dominates a particular Euro region of the country feels the need to field the full number of candidates in that region.
    Even the Tories could not be certain of even getting 50% of their candadates elected, the other parties stand even less chance, but still they insist on fielding the full number .
    What is the current £ deposit per canditate, and does the system require a vote threshold to ensure it being returned to party ?

  7. Gordon – as far as I’m aware there isn’t a deposit per candidate, it’s per list.

  8. @Simon Birtwistle

    “Not turning out, or voting for the BNP because of expenses revelations is something I believe a voter would later regret. Who knows how much of the electorate thinks like me however?”

    I suspect that most of the electorate don’t think like you and I suspect that many would later regret voting for one of the ‘mainstream’ parties. The expenses revelations continue, and I think that the polls will inevitably lag behind the public mood.

    It’s difficult to gauge the effect on turnout. Will the disgusted abstainers outweigh the protest voters? If turnout is even lower than usual, fringe parties should benefit disproportionally, as the majority of abstainers will be mainstream party supporters, whereas protest voters will be more motivated to turn out.

  9. I suspect that all major parties will suffer to a degree and the effect might well be seen most by people on the doorsteps during the election.

    This could well cause activists to sit on their hands during the June elections or and this is worse if you are a sitting MP, be so enraged by what they are subjected to by the public that over the summer and running up to the conference season we see a wave of moves towards deselection.

    If MP’s are lucky the summer break will give them some breathing space to repair their local reputations but I hope not. Their could more more new blood in the next parliament than we expected and a lot spilt to get it there.

    Peter.

  10. @Pete B

    ” ‘Not turning out, or voting for the BNP because of expenses revelations is something I believe a voter would later regret. Who knows how much of the electorate thinks like me however?’ ”

    “I suspect that most of the electorate don’t think like you and I suspect that many would later regret voting for one of the ‘mainstream’ parties. The expenses revelations continue, and I think that the polls will inevitably lag behind the public mood.”

    I think much of the electorate already regrets voting for the mainstream parties.
    They’ve become like processed meat: flavourless, and with dubious contents and manufacturing processes
    …the current scandal is possibly analogous with discovering a scandal at the meat processing factory …people might seek the safety of an organic steak over cheap sugary chemical tinned spammo.

    I think it would be the healthiest thing for this country to have the main three crushed at the ballot box, and a more even spread of parties… maybe 6 medium sized ones and a load of independents, rather than two and a half big ones.

    As with most things, this expenses issue is really a proxy for other frustrations and disenchanments; and there’s every chance for small parties like the Greens and the BNP to be given a chance as a respite for the rot of the established parties… so big and complacent.

    A vote is only wasted when it’s given to a large party that takes it for granted; and your voice is lost in the crowd.

  11. “Their could more more new blood in the next parliament than we expected and a lot spilt to get it there.”

    Oh I do hope so.

  12. The concept of not voting for the big three prompts many questions. One of the key problems with FPTP is that it makes life very hard for new entrants, either nationally or locally, and results in the cosy arrangements among the political elites. While one party or other is liable to be turfed out, and individuals will be reprimanded, effectively the system will be preserved. Only in in the special circumstances of Scotland and Wales have new parties been able to break this stranglehold, and even here it’s down to devolution, a pretty radical change in itself. As electors, we have effectively handed over control of politics to a self governing elite who are collectively pretty much bomb proof from any systematic examination. As a result we have such a low level of political debate it’s embarrasing, and the political parties frame policies to suit the 20,000 swing voters in key constituencies, who with all respect are extremely unrepresentative of the country at large.

    Some form of PR would help solve this, but at the possible expense of one of our systems potential strengths – namely a swift change of government without endless negotiations and compromises.

    At least with the Euro elections there is a national opportunity to select from a wider choice. For example, although I’m not in agreement with them, the presence of UKIP gives an opportunity for those who have felt railroaded into closer EU integration, something that all three parties have colluded in with minor disagreements for the last 20 years or so.

    Just when we need it most, politics in this country is in dire trouble. The expenses issue is in practical terms a complete irrelevency – its the lack of any imaginitive and bold ideas for the future that is the real issue. MPs expenses are only a symptom of the disease.

  13. Alec,

    Actually, while we may rail against teh stranglehold that the main parties have under FPTP, the success of PR in giving parliemanetary representation to minor parties is limited to doing just that. Minor parties get parliementary representation. They remain powerless, but can no longer blame the system.

    Worse still, the main parties stitch up a coalition ararngement which is far harder to remove than by the large shifts which can be achieved under FPTP.

    Just look at how little change has happeend in those parliaments elected under PR. Only when there has been a seismic change in opinion has there been a (modest) change in government structure.

    The PR system for the Euro elections is just a pressure valve to take the heat off the government prior to the main battle – which will be at a GE under FPTP, and in which minor parties will remain irrelevant.

  14. anyone betting on a few shocks like the conservatives not gaining target councils beacuse of expensses ect, same with labour losing more than predicted.

  15. Paul – I think the points you make are very valid. I don’t know what the answer is, other than we have to find a way for every vote to count and for new ideas to emerge and challenge established thinking.

    Stuart – I think you could be right.

  16. Gordon Brown in discussion with the other major parties regarding putting into place proportional voting before the next General election? will we see this on the news soon?
    If he wants to save his party this could be on the cards!

  17. Alec,

    Maybe it’s just because I am a Francophile, but I have long believed the French two-round FPTP system to be the best.

    Basically, it works just like our system, except that if no candidate gets more than 50% on the first ballot, then a second vote is held two weeks later from which all candidates who fail to reach a qualifying threshold are eliminated. (In practice most seats are then only contested by the two leading parties, but that is not what the rules actually say).

    This is preferable to the AV system since the winner in the second round is the candidate with the most votes. The MP elected is therefore the most popular as opposed to the least unpopular candidate.

    One additional benefit of the French system is that it allows there to be two or more parties with subtly different postions on either side of the central divide. Both can stand in the first round, then defer to the better supported in each seat for the second.

    The main disadvantage is that in a close election where a large number of seats go to tight second round contests there is a period of uncertainty until the overall result is known. However, even this aspect is tempered by the opportunity for the electorate to take stock of the first round results and decide whether they want to obliterate one side or moderate a potential landslide.

  18. Bill,

    Brown has neither the imagination nor the authority within his own party to even propose this.

    Regardless, it is too late. There is no way any bill to bring about such a fundamental reform of the electoral system could be introduced, passed and implemented before next year.

    Of course Brown might offer PR as a carrot to Clegg, but Clegg would be a fool to accept it, however tempting it may be to some LDs.

  19. Paul H-J: “In practice most seats are then only contested by the two leading parties, but that is not what the rules actually say). ”

    I never knew that – I always thought it was automatically the top two parties. You learn something new everyday, etc, etc…

  20. Anthony, have you done any modelling of what happens on an extremely low turnout?

  21. Alex – difficult to do in any accurate way. All the polling would suggest that it helps the Conservatives, since their voters tell pollsters they are the most likely to vote, but in practice one can’t really model it, it depends what has happened to cause the low turnout and which voters chose to stay at home.

  22. Paul H-J

    “This is preferable to the AV system since the winner in the second round is the candidate with the most votes. The MP elected is therefore the most popular as opposed to the least unpopular candidate.”

    Think back to the re-election of Preisdent Chirac. He was by no means popular, but many held their noses and voted for him in the 2nd round because the alternative was Jean-Marie Le Pen.

    I think the AV method does have benefits, but there would be plenty of nose-holding in seats where one of the candidates or parties was very unpopular. I suppose it maximises the chance to use tactical voting in the 2nd round, while freeing up people to use their first round vote more honestly.

  23. Oddly enough, we have a system similar in conception this already for Westminster elections – but only if you live in Northern Ireland.

    I see some merits in this, but I still feel it wouldn’t address the central problems we face of an effective monopoly on power held by two parties who rely on internal discipline over political belief and principle. I am increasingly coming to the viewpoint that we should move more to US system – a directly elected executive with a more independent legislature. Any system has faults, but something radical is required.

  24. If we’re talking about changing the system, why have parliament at all? We could elect (say) 100 people on a PR system to propose and then carry out policy, but they wouldn’t be allowed to actually enact it.

    Any proposed legislation could be put on a website and everyone given say a week to vote. Simple majority says yea or nay to the proposal. I believe this is called democracy.

    Special arrangements could be made for computer-phobic or incapable people. It would be more secure than postal voting, and we’d get away from all the yah-boo politics and ridiculous customs of Parliament.

  25. Anthony,

    If I recall correctly from when I was a student in Paris, the bar to go forward to the second round is either 12.5% or 15%, but I have a feeling that this was measured by reference to the electorate and not to votes cast. Quite what happens when turnout falls below 50% was not something the French had focussed on.

    Mitterand changed the system to a regional PR list in the mid 80s to ensure the PS got relected in 1986 – it didn’t work – indeed it gave Le Pen 36 MPs – and the PR-UDF coalition changed it back to the traditional method for the 1991 election. They stuck with d’Hondt for MEPs since the local constituency linkage didn’t really work anyway.

    The top-two candidates only rule does apply for the presidential elections, but not to the Parliamentary or local elections.

    Steven F,

    What the 2002 presidential election did was turn Chirac’s c30% in round 1 into 80% for round 2. It is most likely that, had Jospin not lost his right to contest the second round, a Chirac-Jospin second round would have given Chirac a lead of 10-15% instead of 60%. Thre was no evidence to suggest that Jospin would have won the second round.

    One could credibly argue that all the candidates stank – just that some stank more than others !

    At least with Chirac it was a fine nose….

  26. I suspect that Labour and Conseravtive MPs and local party officials are feeding back anger amongst volunteer party workers and a sod the lot of you attitude amongst some voters. It doesn’t make much sense to vote for a fringe party if you think politicians are all the same, so i won’t be surprised if turnout is low without any big increase in others. The bewildering choice of parties only emphasises their irrelevance.

  27. So what will the turnout be please?

  28. “Any proposed legislation could be put on a website and everyone given say a week to vote. ”

    It would have to be the most secure website in the world, perhaps the cost would be worth it.

    There does need to be some structure to parliament with ministries needed, and constituencies represented.

  29. “There does need to be some structure to parliament with ministries needed, and constituencies represented.”

    That’s why I said that the elected representatives would propose and carry out policy. They could head up ministries just as happens now. The big difference is that Parliament would not be able to actually pass any laws, that would be decided by the people. The only reason for not doing this would be that the people can’t be trusted to make their own decisions. If that’s the case, why even pretend to be a democracy?

    Anyway, the forthcoming European and county council elections will be very interesting, both for the level of turnout and how the minor parties perform.

  30. Alec

    “Just when we need it most, politics in this country is in dire trouble. The expenses issue is in practical terms a complete irrelevency – its the lack of any imaginitive and bold ideas for the future that is the real issue. MPs expenses are only a symptom of the disease.”

    Isn’t it really the case that, like many things latched onto by the media, that this is a proxy war over other issues that might suffer from “social acceptability bias”.
    I think there are a host of attitudes and “values” advanced by the baby-boomer generation that simply can’t be tackled openly and directly, and so they are manifest in apparent trivia of: “BBC fakery” and “MPs expenses” scandals… they belie more profounder attitudinal, moral, even philosophical conflict deep beneath the surface.

    There are many attitudes or policies people will covertly espouse, but would not like to be caught espousing them; and would not vote for them, and yet they smoulder on.
    I would expect plenty more piffle being given undue weight by the media, because they can smell dissent, but can’t quite locate it.