Here’s a number 138 for John Rentoul’s list of “questions to which the answer is no”.

The Observer’s report of Ipsos MORI’s monthly poll contained this rather interesting nugget: “if turnout were to hit an unusual high of 78%, based on today’s figures the Tories would enjoy a landslide parliamentary majority of 126. But if it slumped lower than the last general election to 50%, there would be a hung parliament.”

Normally polls show Conservative voters saying they are much more likely to vote than Labour voters, with the conclusion normally being drawn that a low turnout would probably help the Conservatives. This seemed to fly in the face of that. The MORI tables are now out (here) and explain it all. It isn’t a sudden switch in voting patterns, it’s the Observer mixing up the two columns and getting it the wrong way round.

Taking only the 50% or so of people who say they are 10/10 certain, the shares of the vote equate to a Conservative majority of 125+ on a uniform swing. Taking everyone who expressed a party preference to MORI even if they said they were unlikely to vote (about 78% of respondents) would produce a lower Conservative lead and a hung Parliament.


22 Responses to “Did MORI’s poll show a low turnout would produce a hung Parliament?”

  1. Observer seem to have misinterpreted quite a few of the responses in that survey.

    For example, “the economy will improve in the next 12 months” is not the same as “the recession is over and the economy is already growing”. If the economy does not improve in the next 12 months, over a year after the recession started, then we really are in deep doodoo.

    One nugget in the detailed tables on Q7 is that whereas most categories show a figure in the region of 43% saying the economy will improve, it seems that Labour has already reaped the benefit of increased optimisim (without a significant uplift in their poll rating) since 60% of Labour supporters believe the economy will improve. i.e. Labour voters are a lot more optimistic than the population at large. If there is not a rapid return to growth and we see further falls in GDP in Q3, or a dip in Q1 of next year, then there is a danger that some of this support could dissipate in disillusionment.

  2. The time-worn statistics showing correlation of Labour strength and low turn-out, with correlation between “likelihood to vote” and Tory/LibDem support should have made the Observer editors question this story.

    Sloppy reporting, I guess.

  3. I do believe a lot of people will not vote but they will be Labour voters mostly.

    The tories will vote & more importantly from a Lib-Dem point of view ,if they cannot make headway in becoming the official opposition when Labour is in the mess it is now they may as well just forget it.

    So all in all a turnout of a about 60-65% for me.

    Would turnout in May be another reason for having a October GE with the weather turning & Labours need for all the help they can get?

  4. Rich,

    If Brown were truly Machiavellian (there is limited evidence to support that theory) and were concerned for the long-term future of the Labour Party, he would go for an autumn election so that Labour can start to rebuild its local council bases from next May.

    As it is, he risks destroying not just the PLP but also the foundations of local parties as Labour face massive wipeout of their foot-soldiers in their northern heartlands. With next to no Labour councillors it will be extremely dififcult for a demoralised Labour party to regroup post 2010 defeat.

    Even if Labour do manage to stay ahead of LDs in votes / MPs in 2001, they may well fall behind LDs in terms of councils controlled. With LD run or led authorities in their heartlands, there is a danger of terminal decline in these areas.

    If in doubt, look at Doncaster.

  5. According to most of the political pundits, the next election will be dominated by the ‘expenses’ scandal and will trigger an avalanche of disgruntled voters going to the polls in order to register their disapproval. But then, they said that of the Euro and Local elections and they produced the lowest voting figures on record!
    Frankly, I do not think anything is going to stop a Tory landslide at the next election – whatever the size of the turnout!

  6. @Paul H-J

    Do you know what base the Tory council seats sank to prior to June 1997? Because it would give us a good yardstick from which to judge Labour’s council losses.

  7. The Tories regained a number of county councils in May 1997 (same day as General Election).
    But they had been reduced to just Buckinghamshire in 1993,
    and even in 1997 there was some recovery against that.

    I think it was fairly modest – 121 seats,
    but it was enough to regain some places even then.

  8. It wasn’t as much as they should have got though.
    I recall something a few weeks or months before where Tories were predicting they’d regain about 15-17 Counties even if there was defeat at the General Election.

  9. Richard,

    I don’t have figures for total number of Councils/Councillors from 1996, but the Thrasher & Rawlings LGC site has the 1996 results (and years since, but not before).

    In 1996, 3022 seats in Metropolitan Unitary and Districts were up (mainly elections by thirds except Unitaries).

    Con share of vote was 22.7% in MBCs and 29.7% in Shire Districts & Unitaries.
    Lab share of vote was 53% in MBCs, 40% in Shire Districts & 46% in Unitaries
    LD share of vote was 20% in MBCs, 25% in Shire Districts & 22% in Unitaries

    Con held 515 seats (17%) vs 1747 (58%) for Lab and 632 (21%) for LD.

    In 1997, GE coincided with County Council Elections and, despite being annihialetd at Westminster, made net gains of 124 seats (out of 2203 up) and 6 counties. There were also Unitaries up on the same day. Con share in both votes / seats at 31% was almost identical to the GE result. Here Cons gained two Councils.

    In other words, with GE on the same day as local elections, Tory recovery at local level started on the same day they lost power nationally.

    The equivalent set to 2010 were in 1998 – 4344 seats up. Con rose from 842 to 1105 (net +263) while Lab fell back 151 seats from 2390 to 2239. It was not until 2000 that Cons were winning more seats than Labour ( and have consistently made gains since).

    After May 2008 local elections state of the parties (Councils / Cllrs) in England was:

    C: 213 / 9,404
    Lab: 44 / 4,428
    LD: 29 / 4,135

    Since then we have had County Council elections in England where Lab lost their remaining Counties to fall below 40 Councils in England, and LDs overtook Lab in terms of Cllrs in England.

    Mets are the only Council category where Lab lead in terms of seats / councils.

    In 2006, Lab won 396 MBC seats compared to 193 for Con and 189 for LD (These are the seats up in 2010). In 2008 the same MBCs delivered: Lab 317, C 247, LD 208.

    I would say that the local council mountain that Labour will have to climb after 2010 is going to be every bit as big (if not bigger) than the Tories faced in 1997.

  10. Well, I’d be surprised if the turnout isn’t in the low 60s (a bit more than 2001 and 2005 because of the enthusiasm for a change of government, but not much since not much else has change in the context of the long-term secular decline in t/o in most Western democracies) – do we know what this poll would suggest as an overall result in such a case?
    Of course there’s 8 months to go.

  11. These days, so many voters are students that the turnout will depend not inconsiderably on whether the election is called during termtime.

    If, as seems likely, the General Election is called on the first Thursday in May (disgracefully in my view, because local and national elections should be held on spearate days so that the issues for each election can be debated separately), it will be in University termtime. If Brown holds onto the very last minute, the elections will be during exams or when the students have gone home (or are celebrating and couldn’t care less about elections).

    In 2005, students went heavily, insofaras they voted at all, for the LibDems – who now hold a clutch of university seats such as Cambridge, Osford East, Cardiff Central and Manchester Withington. One may doubt whether the students next time (who will, bar some postgraduates, be different individuals) will be quite so LibDem, but I don’t see them voting Labour in droves. From this point of view, if Labour call the election on the first Thursday in May it could be a misjudgement.

    I suspect that turnout will be low amongst younger voters in particular. I fear they tend to see pressure over the internet – Facebook, Twitter etc. as more effective than voting. Democracy needs to get up to speed with the information age of the twenty first century.

  12. As soon as I saw this I knew it must be wrong. Tories always vote regardless of how low turnout is and Labour voters are always the most likely to not bother. I’m astonished no-one at the Observer realised this when so many amateurs, such as most people who post on this site, would have noticed it straight away.

  13. Just 2 points if I may on turnout one on the recent past and one on the future:

    1. Despite having a “general election” turnout in the Crewe & Nantwich by-election, the Tories achieved a swing of 18% and a swing almost as high at the Norwich N by-election which had a respectable turnout. Logically they would have done even better on a normal by election turnout.

    2. Surely we cannot be absolutely certain that the GE will be on a Thursday. Surely twice the govt has been examining weekend voting – the last time last year by Ministry of Justice and Electoral Commission? It is thought weekend voting may increase turnout.

  14. I’m hoping that turnout may be close to 70% than 60% but I defer to Robert Waller’s superior knowledge and insight on these matters. One possible scenario is that if there are large increases in turnout in marginal seats – in the order of 10% – it may allow overall turnout to be higher than 62-63%.

  15. Not directly on the turnout question,if we do have a leadership debate & we get people involved,i think it may just boost the turnout at the GE.

    It can’t be a bad thing thats for sure.

  16. I have to say, a turnout below 65%, when there is the prospect of a change of government, and in my view, still a relatively close outcome in seats possible, would be extremely disappointing.

    I think I tend to agree with Andy, that turnout might well rise about 7-9% in competitive seats (or perhaps in areas where Tories or sometimes other parties are motivated to vote), but still be a pretty sluggish +1/+2 in lots of other seats.

    I think 70% is a possible long shot.

  17. @Peter Election Follower

    On point 1, I wonder if this was due to the catastrophic choice of campaign by Labour more than anything else. Like Hague’s 2001 campaign, Labour forgot that the big intra-party issues (Tories’ save the £, Labour’s class war) are irrelevant to the big wide world.

    On point 2, I wonder… Would Labour rather use the GE to boost turn-out so they can hold council elections, or would they be running the risk of losing the councils as well in a GE-led whitewash? But after the last few elections, a move by Labour to separate the elections this once might smell of gerrymandering if they can’t give a good reason for it.

  18. Richard

    Labour have tried all sorts of fiddling, ostensibly to boost turnout, but mainly to protect their exposed seats. Moving to weekend voting smacks of desperation, but Labour HO ought to give some thought to what might happen to their traditional working class support if they chose to vote rather than simply stay at home. It may not be good news for Labour.

    I have pointed out elsewhere – look at Doncaster.

  19. @Paul H-J

    This is true; I wonder if now is the time that politicians discover the down-side of aggressively ignoring “core voters”?

  20. I don’t think Labour could get away with weekend voting even if they wanted to.

    The churches would create a massive uproar (particularly in Scotland) if anybody proposed Sunday voting in the UK. And on Saturday people have more important priorities like shooping and football.

    There is a case for Sunday voting for European elections so that the UK votes on the same day as continental countries where voting is always on a Sunday. The Government appear never to have seriously considered this, which may well reflect recognition ot the political impossibility of such an arrangement in the UK.

    Of course, the actual election day is increasingly irrelevant when so many people, deplorably, vote by post. Indeed, the important date now is arguably that on which postal voters receive their ballot papers. After that, the campaign goes dead.

  21. Your file and comment is correct; it was an error, and it was mine. An error in the copy which appeared in the Observer Sunday under Gaby Hinsliff’s by-line had the two figures reversed which made a nonsense of the conclusion, and rather spoiled the story. The key finding in the Observer’s coverage of the Ipsos MORI poll was that as economic optimism has been rising, support for the Labour Party has gone down over the past seven months. This blows a big hole in Labour’s argument that ‘it’ll be all right on the night’ for Labour at the election next May if the economy turns around by the end of the year. Wrong. See my other blog, put up on the Ipsos MORI website yesterday.

    So what was the error, and how did it occur? My mea culpa:

    The numbers were reversed, simple as that. An error, for which I take responsibility, as Gaby took down what I said on the mobile in a taxi on the way to the airport coming away from the EPOP conference. I may have told her the wrong figures, she may have taken them down wrong, but whatever, she emailed me the file Saturday afternoon to check the copy, and I missed it. Rereading it I just don’t know how I missed it. Sorry Gaby, sorry Ipsos MORI, and sorry, your army of devoted followers.

    Sir Robert Worcester is the Founder of MORI

  22. That explains it.

    And, wow. Bob Worcester!