We almost have the full results for the European elections, so how well did the pollsters do? Here are all the polls taken over the final weekend, plus that final YouGov poll on the eve of polling.

YouGov/Telegraph 03/06/09 26 16 15 18 10 5
ComRes/Green 31/05/09 24 22 14 17 15 2
YouGov/Telegraph 29/05/09 27 17 15 16 9 7
ICM/Sunday Telegraph 28/05/09 29 17 20 10 11 5
Populus/Times 28/05/09 30 16 12 19 10 5
RESULT 27.7 15.7 13.7 16.5 8.6 6.2

Scotland is still to declare, but on the figures so far it looks as if YouGov and then Populus will have the laurels. ICM ended up severely underestimating UKIP support and overestimating Lib Dem support, while ComRes were out on Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens. I’ll update with a proper post, and what lessons we can learn, once the Scottish results have been declared.

UPDATE: I’ve now updated the table to include the Scottish figures so we can look at the final performance of ICM, Populus, YouGov and ComRes (MORI did not carry out any polling for the European election). Looking at the average errors of each company (that is, the average of the difference between each party’s actual share of the vote, and what each pollster had them in their final poll) YouGov performed the best – both their polls in the final week were closer than any competitor, with average errors of 0.83 and 1.23. Second were Populus, who slighly overestimated Conservative and UKIP support, but otherwise performed well with an average error of 1.57

ICM’s average error was 3.16 – this was down to them overestimating Lib Dem support and underestimating UKIP support. As regular readers will know, ICM do tend to produce higher levels of Lib Dem support than other pollsters do, however, in this case I don’t think the error in predicting the Lib Dem vote is part of a wider problem with ICM’s method – rather, I think it’s down to the way ICM and Populus asked the question of how people would vote. ICM prompted with just the main three party names, and then gave supporters of “other” parties a second list of prompts. Populus included minor parties in their main prompt. The results suggest Populus’s approach works better with phone polls (though YouGov’s increased accuracy compared with their 2004 performance suggests it’s the other way round online!)

ComRes’s final poll was furthest out, with an average error of 3.56. Their final poll before the election underestimated Conservative support, and severely overestimated support for Labour and the Green party (for whom the poll was carried out). My guess is that the skew towards Labour away from the Conservatives was due to the lack of any political weighting – exactly what went on with Green support I don’t know, it may well be a prompting issue – but at the moment I don’t know exactly how ComRes worded their question.

81 Responses to “Euro election: How did the pollsters do?”

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  1. Once I throw Scotland in you get a real basket case. Of 632, this would be the breakdown:
    CON 192
    UKIP 114
    LAB 109
    LD 95
    GRN 59
    BNP 43
    SNP 15
    PC 5

    The net result is that the “Right” has 306, the “Left” has 263, the “Nationalists” (SNP+PC) have 20, and the BNP has 43 seats. Add the Left and Nationalists and you get 306-283, with the BNP stuck in the middle at 43 (as a radioactive property nobody will get near), effectively giving the nationalists and/or Greens and/or LibDems the balance of power (in spite of all of them coming in towards the bottom).

  2. All the Scottish results by local authority can be found at:


    For interest, several local authorities are co-terminous with Westminster seats, as follows:

    East Renfrewshire (Conservative win, SNP 2nd!)
    Inverclyde (SNP pipped Labour)
    Midlothian (SNP then Labour)
    East Lothian (SNP then Labour)
    Moray (SNP then Conservative)
    West Dunbartonshire (SNP pipped Labour)
    Argyll and Bute (SNP then LibDem)
    Comhairle nan Eilean Siar / Na h-Eileanan an Iar (SNP then Labour).
    Orkney & Shetland (separate, but you can add them together – LibDem then SNP).

  3. Andy Stidwill,

    “…you cannot be elected unless you win at least 10%”

    Er, what if the BNP get 10.1% next time, do you change the threshold again?!

    Back to the drawing board on that one I think.

    Or, just let Democracy take it’s course and put up with a few oddballs being represented in its name. Most European countries have had various nutters getting EU seats for years.
    I don’t think it’s the big deal it’s made out to be.

  4. And for Wales:


    Helpfully, the Welsh counted by consituency. Bless ’em.

  5. Ivan,
    Good point. Hell, LePen got 7 seats last cycle.

  6. I too thoroughly enjoy observing different electoral systems both in theory and in practice. In 1972 I proposed the German top-up system to the Greater London Young Conservatives ANUAL Conference and was seconded by my St Pancras North Constituency ‘s young PPC, a certain John Major!!!! (I am sure he did this more as a kindness to me than out of conviction!). After I defected to the Liberals in 1975 upon Maragaret Thatcher beating Ted Heath, I thereafter became very familiar with STV in widespread use inside the old Liberal party, and never liked it rigth up until I left politics in 1989. I agree with Joe James B that voters’ fourth or fifth preferences should not be as potent as a first preference for the other candidate – this is plain wrong! However, I do not like List Systems in that they tend to fragment politics (as we have seen at the Euros) into multiple groupings which then barter for power – effectively taking away the voters’ power to “hire and fire”. There is thus no direct plain accountability. List Systems are also an easy shoehorn-in for extremists on pitifully low shares of the vote, even with a hurdle level percentage they always seem to get over it eventually. I once heard a Conservative MP suggest that if ever we moved to an Additional Member System, we should make winning say five or six FPTP seats as a qualifyer for any addtional members – what a brilliant idea!

  7. In that case we’d end up with exactly what we have now. At least on the next election. The Green Party could get 2 seats, otherwise it will be the status quo. Only the Lib Dems, Labour and Tories would get that.

    The German system I believe says 3 seats at some level or 5% threshold? And I think the seats have to be spread in different areas…

  8. I think the BBC slightly overdid the argument that the Tories weren’t doing well enough historically to win the next general election. The bottom line is that if Labour’s vote remains as low as it has been, they will lose a lot of seats. Those seats have to go somewhere. Who do the BBC think they will go to if not the Tories? Do they really expect there to be dozens of UKIP, BNP and/or Green members in the next parliament? If Labour doesn’t pull off a pretty phoenix-like recovery the Tories will win a majority, even on sub-40% vote totals.

  9. Ivan The Terrible:

    I don’t think it is back to the drawing board on that one actually. A 10% threshold could be set and if any party exceeds that threshold they would be fully entitled to representation including the BNP. If the BNP were to win 10.1% they would be entitled to a seat like any other party. Germany has a threshold of 5% in its parliamentary election to stop extremists but I think 10% might be more suitable for this country.

  10. On the 13th June 2004 just before the last Euro election ICM polled Cons 31, Lab 34, Lib Dems 22. In the Euro Election of 2004 Cons 26.7, Lab 22.6, Lib Dems 14.9.

    The ICM poll was typical of the polls of that time, and obviously no rogue.

    From the June 2004 poll all three parties improved by about 2% and the others fell by about 6%

    If the same 2% improvements in each party occurs this time then each would receive in the coming GE Cons 41, Lab 24, Lib Dems 21.

    I’m not saying I predict this, but it gives us a good indication of what we might reasonably expect.

  11. Well, if we’re talking about electoral reform, here’s my idea. Nothing to do with PR, but more about the franchise. Why should a lifetime dole-scrounger living in rented accommodation have exactly the same say in the government of the country as someone who owns part of the country (i.e. their house) and has worked all their life?

    So my proposal is that anyone in work (or retired having worked all their lives) should get an extra vote. I expect to get shot down in flames, but I just thought I’d float the idea.

  12. Neil is right the BBC did over do the Tories not doing well enough line.
    Clearly they are but it is the old chestnut we have covered on many threads in the past about the Governing Party recovering and the opposition sliding as the GE approaches. Disgruntled supporters coming home, more scrutiny of the opposition etc.
    Does this really occur and even if it does will it this time and to what extent.
    Also the Cons tend to gain during the 3-4 week campaign. (more money perhaps)
    So the Cons are doing well but it is a realistic assertion that they may be only 5pts or so above NOC and that they could fall by this in the next year.
    Labour have to recover to around 30pts for any Tory fall to matter as well and tihs may be more in doubt than a Tory fall.
    Someone says above that sub 40 may well be enough for the cons and I agree but to get a decent majority they should get over 40% and with the Gov’t being so unpopular it would demonstrate a real reticence about the Tories if they can’t.

  13. Jim Jam
    I posted on another thread (before the Euro result) that less than 40% might give the Tories a working majority. The reasoning was similar to those posting above – that if the Labour vote doesn’t recover to above about 25%, someone else will be winning many seats. It won’t be the Liberals, because their support is much more evenly spread than Labour’s. We’ve seen in previous elections that even very high popular votes (e.g. early SLD days) don’t give them huge numbers of seats.

    Also, there is the Scottish (and now Welsh?) factor. In Scotland, it seems likely that the SNP will gain seats from Labour, so the opposition will be fragmented. Therefore a low overall majority may well be very effective, especially as someone told me that SNP will not vote on purely English matters.

  14. Since there’s been much hay about them, I had a friend who described the BNP in an amusing way: They have a nasty case of “British kneecap disease”.

  15. @Joe James B

    What’s wrong with reallocating votes? In 2005, around two-thirds of seats were won by someone with less than 50% of the vote. How can it be that someone is elected when more people didn’t vote for them than did (George Galloway got 36%. How does he represent the people of Bethnal Green and Bow when 64% didn’t vote for him)?

    I can see there are some issues, but in general STV gets the candidate most people want and avoids candidates that most people don’t want.

  16. Pete B,

    Multiple votes for those who have shown a commitment to society – you may be surprised to hear that it is not a new idea. May I refer you to a novel “In the Wet” by Nevil Shute written in the 50s. It describes just such a system, with additional votes (up to a total of seven) being earned for various criteria.

    However, I have to tell you that however attractive this may appear there is no chance whatsoever of it being implemented by any so-called “progressive” party since it ends up weighting the franchise to those who are most likely to be conservative (with a small c).

    [BTW – I recommend the book anyway, it is about one man’s struggle to earn the coveted seventh vote.]

  17. Worth noting that Australia has its own version of transferable vote and it works very well.

    I would argue that the difference between a FPTP system and a version of transferable vote is simple.

    FPTP puts in a person even if loathed by most of the electorate (say, 4 candidates 3 following similar policies and one ‘alternative’; the 3 of similar persuasion cut each other votes allowing the least popular to get in. )

    The Australian transferable vote allows the most popular to win as (using the above example) the 3 of similar policies would be eliminated progressively but their 2nd and 3rd choices would count until such time as a person got 50% +1 votes. Presumably one of the 3)

    It’s also useful as it allows ‘protest votes’ (say UKIP / Green / BNP) to be cast as first choice but the real issue would be how such a person casting a protest vote put the big parties. But the protest votes help the community be engaged with voting as it flags up issues even in safe seats.

  18. Jack,

    While the Australian AV system is far better than any list system (which puts power in teh hands of party machinery, not voters) it can still deliver the seat to the least unpopular as opposed to most popular candidate.

    Personally, I prefer our own system, but if we had to change, I would choose to use the French two-round system. This allows a “protest” vote to be recorded in the first round, but focuses minds in the second round when pure FPTP (on a reduced field) applies.

  19. Paul H-J

    I like our single member constituencies as, given the right voting system, it gives people the opportunity to pick someone who can stand up for local issues.

    We need some way of opening up the party lists, so that there is no such thing as a safe seat (closed lists are one of the main causes of our current issues). From there, it’s easy to either run either a full STV election or an instant runoff (STV ranked voting sheets can be used to give a runoff result). Given the current apathy of voters it would be hard to get them to turnout at two seperate rounds of election so I would rather have them rank candidates on one day, then use whatever method is seen fit from there.

  20. The Scottish results were;

    Labour 20.8% (-5.6%), Tory 16.8% (-0.9%), LibDem 11.5% (-1.6%), SNP 29.1% (+9.4%), Green 7.3% (+0.5%), UKIP 5.2% (-1.5%), BNP 2.5% (+0.8%).

    YouGovs Scottish samples were;

    Sample 349; Lab 22%, Tory 14%, LibDem 17%, SNP 31%, Green 5%, BNP 4%, UKIP 3%

    Sample 436; Lab 24%, Tory 13%, Libdem 13%, SNP 29%, Green 7%, BNP 4% UKIP 5%.

    So YouGov seem to have got the SNP just about spot on, but underestimated the Tories in both Polls and overestimated the LibDems. The minor parties were all pretty close and it’s good to see the BNP below 3% although still up a bit.

    It looks pretty much like the SNP soaked up almost all the protest votes going….

    Even though they came second in the UK ahead of Labour ( and the LibDems) UKIP only just got above 5% and their vote actually fell by 1.5%.

    As you will have guessed by now the fact that we are up by 9% while the three main opposition parties are all down and that their combined drop is 8% is a really good result within a year of a general election.


    the Herald today is has a TNS poll purporting to be showing that opposition to Independence has dropped below 50% for the first time in the series. Having said that it seems mostly to be comming from a rise in don’t knows.


  21. Mark M,

    Multi-member STV has its attractions – not least among which is that the voter gets to choose the ranking among candidates of the same party.

    However, recent Council experience in Scotland has high-lighted one deficiency of this system which probably does not matter for any structure with annual elections (eg Student Unions) but which actually makes it unsuitable for Parliament. That is what happens when a vacancy arises should one of those elected at original election either die, resign, or be disqualified.

    For that reason, it is far better to stick with single-member constituencies, whether on pure FPTP or an AV structure.

  22. Paul,

    The recent Council by elections in Scotland do show that outwith the main elections electing a single replacement does effectively mean that we get a FPTP or AV result with the largest part most likely to win any seat.

    Having said that it isn’t really that different from Parlimentary by elections which often give different results from what a general election does.

    No system is perfect, we should have had larger Multi member wards but it is still improvement on FPTP, hell, if nothing else it got the public five years of my service.


  23. Paul,

    I definitely agree with single member constituencies and I do think we should move to STV or runoff voting, as at least with those systems you get either the most popular or the least unpopular.

    It’s not perfect but with FPTP, you can just as easily end up with the most unpopular candidate (dare I use Galloway as an example again?). And I think the BNP getting seats in the Euros should just about kill off any thoughts of closed list PR for Westminster.

  24. Peter,

    In general terms, I believe that the advantages of multi-member STV are that it enables smaller parties to be represented, and, more importantly, it allows voters to choose between different candidates of the same party. It is also ideal in scenarios where candidates are genuinely independent – as used to be the case for most local councils before they became fully politicised.

    The move to this system for the Scottish councils was bound to break open some of the monolithic strangleholds which Labour had exerted in the central belt – and so it proved. If in the process it enabled the good people of the Highlands to enjoy the services of a certain dynamic character from the Black Isle, then all the better !

    Initially I thought that the move to STV had worked well, but the outcome in Scottish Council by-elections to date have highlighted that in such cases it becomes AV – but with the added disadvantage of being based on a larger area/electorate than might otherwise have been the case. That may not matter if there were annual elections such that by-elections were a rarity, but for units with a four year term (did you say five in Scotland ?) that does not hold true.

    For that reason, I would oppose its introduction for Westminster elections, where I think the individual constituency MP link is important. To put it into perspective, for multi-member STV to work for Westminster, you would probably end up with 10-12 regions in Scotland, which would need to combine large areas of the country – say Argyll to Shetland in your case.

    On the other hand, this geographic constraint is less important at Council level. While this might produce some unfortunate results from time to time, I think the system has worked well and should be retained for Council elections. Who knows, in time it may even enable a resurgence of genuine independents and ultimately de-politicise local councils. (I presume you would still offer your services, even without your SNP badge ?)

  25. If ever one wanted to find an indictment of PR, these Euro-elections provided it.

    While there was much heat generated about the fall in Labour’s share of the vote, if one looks at each of the regions and compares what seats changed hands, it becomes evident that the biggest change in number of seats won by each party was due not to the rise or fall in votes cast for any given party, but the reduction in the overall number of seats available.

    Of the 12 regions in the UK, there was no change whatsoever in the distribution of seats in four (incl N. Ire), while in four others the change was purely down to the reduction of seats.

    Only in the case of those regions where the BNP or UKIP took a seat at the expense of Labour was there any change as a result of shift in votes.

    Overall, 10 seats across all parties were “lost”, but of those, no fewer than six were down to the lower overall number. If only 1 in 18 seats changed hands at what was apaprently a calamatous election, what does that tell us about d’Hondt Regional List as a “democratic” system ?

  26. Paul,
    It indicts clearly this type of PR. There are types where you would have less trouble (usually involving longer lists), but also do remember: These numbers were coming off of a lousy year for Labour before, and Labour (the only party to drop their vote severely) dropped a large number of seats. Absent the re-apportionment, Labour would still have lost ground.

    That said, I do agree that PR can cause severe headaches because a major swing in the vote doesn’t necessarily alter the coalition needed to form the government. For example, Labour+Liberals/LibDems has been greater than the Tories in every single post-war election save for 1955 (and then only likely due to the low number of candidates that the Libs posted, as combined they were only .6% short of the Tories while the Libs left over 500 seats uncontested). Though PR would undoubtedly alter voting behavior (a ‘permanent coalition’ situation would lead to the combined vote of the two shrinking somewhat as they become largely interchangeable), the possibility of a “permanent grand coalition” or a “permanent ruling coalition” is probably worse than what we have now.

  27. @Paul H-J
    You wrote: If ever one wanted to find an indictment of PR, these Euro-elections provided it.
    I agree, but it is not specifically the fault of PR, but the d’Hondt closed list version of it.
    I find myself in a dilemma over Electoral Reform. I like the more potent “hire and fire” methods of election which gives power to voters rather than parties post polling day. However, I resent the fact that my vote has never counted towards anything. Always living in safe seats of one side or another, I have either voted for a winner with a majority so large he didn’t need my vote, or a loser whose votes went straight in the bin after the count. Can anyone suggest an electoral system which means every vote counts towards electing “somebody” but also gives every voter’s vote potency in “hiring or firing” a Government? I do not know of one?

  28. Tony-surely “every vote counts” under FPTP.

    It counts in a given constituency,which is the level at which the majority is expressed under that system.

  29. @Tony:
    What I would suggest, honestly, is some system for overall PR followed by “approval voting” for members of the list. Those on the list with the most votes get elected in order, with the caveat that if members receiving less than a given share of the approval vote for that list (say, 1/3 or 2/5 of the highest approval or ballots with approval marks) are disbarred and the party is required to tap someone not on the list to fill the gap.

    I suggest this because the list system is fine, but there should be the ability to sack someone such as Neil Hamilton regardless of position on the list (especially if a party only lists a partial list). I know parties will encourage people to vote approval for all or to go in order, but I see the inability of voters to reject a member as the biggest weakness in any PR system.

  30. A proviso I feel I should add: Pure PR is, IMHO, toxic due to the degree of fragmentation involved. I think it should be paired with either a separate (as opposed to linked) FPTP element (as in Japan) or some form of a majority/winning premium, regionally or nationally, like Greece has (and most assuredly not like Italy, which gives one party an automatic 55% of the seats). The danger of severe factionalization/fragmentation is something that really should be avoided if possible; 6-month government-formation periods are not good for anyone at all.

  31. Tony / Gray

    Yes, I should have been more precise in stating that it is the system used for the Euros that is indicted, ratehr than PR in general.

    Tony, beware Brown’s “offer”. If I may quote Cicero: “Timeo Danaos et dona ferrentes”.

    Mitterand introduced PR for the Chambre de Deputes
    in the early 80s for no reason otehr than he feared a wipe-out at the polls. His party lost the election anyway (even under PR), but the price was 36 Deputes for Le Pen’s Front National. The system was promptly changed back to the traditional two-round FPTP system. As I have argued elsewhere, that system gives (almost) every voter the chance to choose both their first preference, and, if that is but a small minority view, to have a say as between the two leading candidates.

    We should recognise that no electoral system can be “perfect” since it will always be necessary to reconcile a variety of differing viewpoints. But some are less imperfect than others.

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