Earlier in the week we also saw the publication of this article by Martin Boon and John Curtice, their take on why the polls overestimated the Lib Dems at the last election, based upon a call back survey of 1,200 of the respondents to their final survey.

The first reason Boon & Curtice suggest is a late swing, though they see this as explaining only part of the error. 95% of people who told ICM before the election they were going to vote Conservative reported actually having done so after the election, for Labour the figure was 93%, for the Lib Dems it was somewhat lower at 87%. That said, they say that the number of people switching towards the Lib Dems was almost as much as they lost, so this can only be a small factor.

Secondly, Boon & Curtice do not think differential turnout was a big factor. People who said they were going to vote Lib Dem before the election were not significantly more likely to tell ICM in the post election poll that they didn’t vote.

Thirdly, ICM’s don’t knows disproportionately brokein favour of Labour, backing ICM’s decision to use their “spiral of silence adjustment” (Boon & Curtice still refer to this as “shy tory syndrome” in their article, though in this case it was “shy” Labour voters). One of the conclusions they draw in the article is that it may be better to make the adjustment even stronger.

Finally, Boon & Curtice say ICM may have weighted the Lib Dems too highly in their past vote weighting, and that this will be high on the list of their investigations in coming months.

It is also worth reading Roger Mortimore of Ipsos MORI’s reply in the comments to the article, where he makes a very valid point that underlines just how difficult it is to work out for certain what went wrong with the polls – many factors that could have skewed the final polls could also have skewed any call back survey. To take Roger’s example, if the problem was people saying they would vote Lib Dem but not actually doing so on the day, those people might also have claimed to have voted when they didn’t in a call back survey.

In that specific case, we will eventually have concrete evidence of whether differential turnout was a problem or not (the British Election Study recontact interviewees after the election and ask if they voted, but also check them on the marked electoral register to see if they really voted), but there are similar problems we will never be able to rule in or out for sure. If, for example, some people told pollsters they would support the Lib Dems but actually voted for someone else (for whatever reason – being the fashionable thing to say perhaps), they may have said Lib Dem in the ringback survey for that same reason.

UPDATE: And on more topical matters – tonight’s YouGov voting intentions are CON 42%, LAB 34%, LDEM 17%.

548 Responses to “ICM on why the polls overestimated the Lib Dems”

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  1. @JOHNTY -“…tit is a big but….”
    Except for this part, I agree with everything you wrote, I don’t think there will an election this year or next.
    @EOIN -“The blues need a few unscrupulousl power hungry back sta*bers…….. at the moment we reds have a monopoly on those characters..”
    ;) Thank goodness.
    @RICHARD -“Labour is dieing, get used to it.”
    Hardly. To misquote Tony Blair, we’re only sleeping. With one eye open. ;)

  2. Johnty,

    when the Libs are this low Blueys do not need the gap to be quite as big with reds…. now that we have a new uniform swing to work with post 2010.. blues could reasonably expect to add 40-50 MPs.

    It will not happen of course but Clegg’s position in cabinet weakens as his parties fortunes dwindle.. soon it will be Cameron the Kingmaker.

  3. @Alec……………You really don’t get it do you, I am not Wayne’s grandad, by the way, $50k, for that sort of risk, do me a favour, $100k and you’ve got a deal.

  4. Ken,

    So Roland is your daughter? Hmm…. that must make you a quare age :)

  5. @Roland
    ” I am Wayne’s mother.”
    The wittiest comment of the morning so far ! :)
    But you have my sympathies. No amount of Family Allowance can compensate for such a burden. An early adoption would have saved a lot of pain.

  6. @ Éoin……………..Rosalind, ( for he is she ) is a very fine woman, but I deny paternity ! :-)

  7. @Amber

    In my experience when all economists agree we can be certain of a different outcome.
    However there is some disagreement currently about the likelihood of deflation vs inflation and the timing and depth of any change so no joy there.

  8. @Eoin
    If you run the latest numbers through the calculator then the results are not that impressive – and a bit of slippage which could well happen in a campaign might get us back into hung parliament territory e.g. 42 36 17 would give the Conservatives only 319 seats according to UNS. Not much reward for a big risk.
    We are agreed though that this is purely hypothetical – it is extremely unlikely to happen. Once the 66% rule is in place then Cameron’s position is a tad weaker perhaps.
    I think we all tend to be a little too much guided by “history” – or our own rather partial reading of it – as we know “all history is contemporary history”.

  9. @KEN
    I think the deal with the LDs is great but having a girls name is taking it to damn far. On the other hand, it does’nt make me a bad person……..flounce …..flounce.

  10. Johnty,

    Yes I agree the slippage would occur….

    Geddes Axe is repeating itself… just as history always does… remember your talking to an Irishman. we wind the clock back and start again every 30 years….

    the similarities between the welsh wizard and the sheffield shambles are too similar to ignore

  11. @JOHNTY
    If DC called an election based on this poll he would need certifying. The “slippage” would be massive as the Great British Public saw what and upper crust s..t he was. If on the other hand he was forced into an election by LD desertion, he would be well in front.

    The main difference seems to be the matrimonal state of the the two men when thousands of acts of coitus took place. Also LLoyd George always needed a haircut.

  13. @ ROLAND

    “They are never wrong you see, socialism / social democracy really works, its just events get in the way. ”

    As Orwell so astutely explained to us,- then they rewrite history.

    Heard Mandy on his book on R4 this morning. Evan Davis gave him a very rough ride.

    What brought it to mind was your comment Roland-because Mandy, pressed by ED on “where did it all go wrong” finally resorted to -we didn’t explain our policies to the public effectively.

    So there you are-it’s our fault-we never understood what they meant.

  14. @Eoin
    An absurd notion, as anyone who has studied the philosophy of history – or Marx – will know.
    The idea that Lloyd George and Nick Clegg have much in common is daft as you well know!

  15. @COLIN
    Oh yes indeed, “we did’nt get our message across”.
    We are going to leave a bigger debt than the cost of WW1 & WW2 put together, also 1 in 5 “British” people will be from an ethnic background which is not British.
    Who could refuse such an offer had it been explained properly.

  16. @ ROLAND

    “If DC called an election based on this poll he would need certifying.”

    I think DC has moved on -from political necessity to something else entirely.

    As has been said, the top team actually seem to get on & like each other. Comments from the Civil Service indicate that sofa government has been junked in favour of proper cabinet government.

    I think DC now sees this as a first staging post in a realignment of the liberal centre right. If the common purpose & teamwork hold out he may be right. It certainly doesn’t suggest a cut & run GE. to me.

    There is one hell of a radical programme of work to get done-and five years stability is the minimum requirement.

  17. @COLIN
    I absolutely agree with you. In fact, I have wondered to myself, how long this outcome was rumbling around in his head before the GE. The way it came together and steamed into reality, left our mutual friends poleaxed.

  18. @Colin – “Comments from the Civil Service indicate that sofa government has been junked in favour of proper cabinet government.”

    I think this is one of the best outcome, regardless as to anyone’s political persuasion. I’m much less certain it would have happened without the coalition, as DC was, if anything, even worse that TB for making decisions among a small clique when in opposition, but the demands of coalition should make for much better process.

  19. For either side to pull out of the coalition at this stage, after all that’s been said, without a cast-iron, surefire reason, would lay them open to charges of playing politics with the national interest (hoist on their own stable government rhetoric). I can’t help but feel that whoever did this would take a big hit in the polls. Both Cameron and Clegg are too canny for that.

  20. @ ROLAND

    ” In fact, I have wondered to myself, how long this outcome was rumbling around in his head before the GE”

    mmm-its an interesting point.

    It may have been brewing for a while-but to me the clue is in the revelations by Mandy ( & others) about the coalition negotiations.

    There was a point at which Clegg, Ashdown & some others ( excluding the two bitter old pharts of course) started to say they were very surprised at the “positive” attitude of Cons. If that had merely been DC giving anything to get hitched-I don’t think it would have survived the subsequent formal Coalition Agreement.

    I just think they found a lot of common ground when-for the first time-they talked face to face away from the bearpit of HoC.

    It obviously helped that people like Clegg, Laws & Alexander were doing the talking-but at the end of the day both parties MPs accepted the rational & the deal.

  21. ALEC

    ” think this is one of the best outcome, regardless as to anyone’s political persuasion”

    Yes absolutely.

    We have a highly paid, reputedly experienced Civil Service. We should be using them, not ignoring them.

    Anyway-DC needs to hug them now…because they are going to lose some of their perks & privileges soon .


    Quite right. These speculations are just election mad anoraks like us finding something to talk about.

  23. @COLIN
    Listening to Mandy now, is as you say very interesting.
    It makes me ask myself, what was he thinking when trying to cobble together – whatever it was he was trying to cobble together. Surely, even he could see Labour had no further moral right to govern.

  24. ROLAND

    Yes absolutely.

    As I’ve been reading his revelations , I,ve been thinking-blimey that lot were just like John Major’s shambles…….the shambles which caused me ( mea culpa-mea culpa) to vote for ………that lot.

    plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. !

    Its stopped raining-off out now.

    Nice talking.


  25. @Colin – “I just think they found a lot of common ground when-for the first time-they talked face to face away from the bearpit of HoC. It obviously helped that people like Clegg, Laws & Alexander were doing the talking-but at the end of the day both parties MPs accepted the rational & the deal.”

    That’s an interesting take. Personally, I doubt DC gave a coalition much thought pre GE. You need to remember that the Tory HQ were supremely confident of outright victory, even going so far as to completely rubbish the exit polls on election night.

    Some of this is the general nonsense you get in campaigns, but in this case it was absolutely true – several times in the last year Hague admitted that in his view they had already won the election, Tory frontbenchers were telling BBC journalists at the start of the campaign they expected a majority of 70 – 100 and DC’s own preparation for government was couched in such certainties that it is absolutely clear that he expected to be PM without any need for coalition. They really did believe that Ashcroft would deliver a knockout blow in the marginals, even as the national polls were tightening.

    In terms of your comment regarding both parties MPs accepting the deal – recall the fact that DC did not brief, update or ask his MPs in any way, shape or form about the coalition until it was a done deal. He and Osborne absolutely threw promises at the Lib Dems – the spectacular last minute move on the AV referendum was a classic display of desperation.

    My suspicion is that top table Tories were mortified to find the GE result was not anything like they expected. It’s easy to forget, but on May 7th the Tories were in a state of bewilderment, not triumph. DC’s level of support amongst Tory MPs in such circumstances was very shaky – DC and GO are not popular with many backbenchers – and the only way to secure a stable Tory party was to shoe horn a coalition on their behalf.

    That DC realised this in a matter of hours and acted successfully on it is much to his credit, but lets not imagine he secretly harboured a plan to reshape centre right politics. He had a shattered PM in his sights, leading a worn out and discredited party, and was eyeing up a big election win but failed to land the knockout blow through some poor judgement and ill thought through campaigning. He used the results as best he could – nothing more than that.

  26. ‘@Roland……………….I think there is a narrative building, when we all need to pull together regardless of ideology, the losers have sloped off to snipe spitefully from the sidelines, and now they are even bashing one another, the potential leaders continuing the sixth form point scoring and snide commentary so characteristic of their predecessors.
    Meanwhile, the Coalition is gaining ground, and looking like the mature, strong government this country has lacked for so long.
    By the way, gender re-assignment is one of those absolutely necessary services provided by our NHS, cancer drugs aren’t such a priority.

  27. @Alec

    I think that’s fair analysis, except I think that many of the tories started to have doubts (even panic) 2-3 weeks out when the polls showed the Clegg-bounce wasn’t fading as instantly as they thought and there was a definite turning of their guns onto the LDs at that point (aided by their friends in the press). I think come election day itself, they probably thought they had done enough, but I suspect DC had thought through possibilities in case of a hung parliament in those last few weeks.

    Once again I agree with you T O’ T. And therefore disagree with Alec. The Tories were not as confident as you might think towards the end. In any event, when a dyed in the wool like me thinks it is on balance the best result in the circumstances, DC must have got something right.

  29. Johnty,

    Lol indeed.. I am forever LOLing..

    I was trying to give Wayne’s exciting times some traction lol…

    I fully expect to have a 5 year coalition. I think it most likely whoever wins the Labour leadership that DC will be returned with a majority…

    10 years of blues… my mid life crisis will coincide with some russian doll assuming the reins at no. 10!


    LG had no time for haircuts … he was a busy man… did you not know he was a Cling on (not to disparage the Welsh Language)

  30. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the ‘new politics’, where parties are not connected umbilically to tradition, and operate instead in the public interest, it would be nice to think so.
    A good start would be to reassess the role of the , ‘strategic, or political genius’ , always selfserving narcissistic types who love the grandstanding and reflected glory but only contribute trouble.

  31. @Eoin
    You have lost me re LG.
    Incidentally have been reading Toye’s book on LG & WC – found it fascinating. What a pair they were.
    Think I agree with you re the next decade – but events dear boy.

  32. @ Ken

    I think there is a narrative building, when we all need to pull together regardless of ideology, the losers have sloped off to snipe spitefully from the sidelines, and now they are even bashing one another, the potential leaders continuing the sixth form point scoring and snide commentary so characteristic of their predecessors.
    I don’t agree. Some of the old guard have written memoirs – too soon, IMO. They are still too close to the minutiae of organisational politics to have a clear view of their own time in office. The press, as ever, trawl for anything that confirms their own prejudices.

    The leadership candidates eschewed bickering amongst themselves. Of course it would not be a contest, if there were no differences or gaffs along the way. Have you forgotten the combatative Conservative leadership contest so soon?

    The Labour candidates have done virtually zero sniping from the side-lines; many Labourites think they are not criticising the coalition nearly enough.

    Andy Burnham’s comments about the NHS changes were not sniping but genuine concern for the quality & fairness of patient care. 8-)

  33. @KEN
    It is clear that you, I and Colin are all singing of off the same song sheet. I dont mean as blue boys united, but as people seeing Cameron has looked into the future and decided British party politics is badly damaged. It needs a transfusion of blood, guts and honesty if it is to survive. Indeed if his kind are going to survive. Perhaps its the grass routes the Tories appeal to, likewise the LDs. Neither Nick nor Dave can afford the total lack of respect the Labour party shows towards its uneducated tribal clientel. People who are far more interested in soccer than who runs the country. Whatever the faults of tribal Tories, they will not have the urine extracted by the leadership.

  34. Interesting discussions on Conservative Home re possibility of snap election (nil) and on Cameron’s observations about the election and the coalition to defeated conservative candidates. Seems to see a chance to realign politics and keep Labour out for a generation. No surprises there methinks.

  35. @JOHNTY
    Just what we have been saying really. By the by, LG would “cling on” to anything in a skirt throughout his life. That is, I think what Eoin meant.

  36. Interesting discussion about DC and the coalition and also about Labour according to Mandelson but it’s sometimes necessary to look beyond beyond party politics to the bigger picture.
    Labour’s project didn’t fail because of the last election, just as the Tories project didn’t fail just because of the 1997 election result.
    Under the Tories in the 80’s the UK changed, for better or for worse. This change was irreversible. We will never be the same as we were in the 70’s, for better or for worse.
    The same is true of Britain under Labour. Britain is different now than it was, and it will never be the same, for better or for worse.
    The Labour party changed drastically because of its loss of power in the 80’s and the Tories have changed because of Labour’s successes.
    Cameron could never have been the leader of the Tories without Blair. Blair could never have been leader of Labour without Thatcher.
    For better or for worse.

    Please dont think I am being critical of your defence of Labour regarding Kens comments, but I do wonder if an interjection by Burnham (or anyone else in Labour) might be better received on other than the NHS. We face so many issues and yet the only thing Labour ever want to talk about is the NHS. Perhaps a comment or speech about defence or Afghanistan would solicit more respect than the usual begging bowl “lets throw money at hospitals” Labour war cry. A hell of a lot of medical conditions in the middle aged population are self inflicted these days. Maybe some tough talk about that rather than avoiding the facts (like immigration) would gain some respect in lieu of the usual same old same old.

  38. I have read the comments from this afternoon. I am very pleased that I started the debate as to whether DC will call an election soon.

    I have said many many times on here that the polls are moving to a 45/30/15% ratio. I expect the publics acceptance and glee for deep deep cuts will carrying on benefitting the torys, who will be seen as a salvation.

    Next year when we start to see growth, growth , growth. I expect to see something like 46/48 Torys 27/28 Lab and 15% Lib. I may be wrong, doubt it though!
    Then a GE will follow!
    Exciting Times Ahead, let’s be cheerful

    I am not sure about who might have followed who as leader/PM. But the main thrust of your comment cannot be denied. I look at my son and daughter and think, if I had not gone to a business meeting in Scarborough, I would not have met your mother and you would not have been born. History big or small shapes our lives.

  40. @WAYNE
    Well said “son”.

  41. @ ALEC

    “He used the results as best he could – nothing more than that.”

    Maybe so.

    But what I am proposing is that in the process of putting the coalition together, he found a substantial meeting of minds -perhaps unexpectedly so- & the shot-gun was not quite as necessary as they all thought.

    Whether it lasts-who knows.

    I’m not in favour of arranged marriages by any means…………but if the parties love each other there is hope for the future. ;-)

  42. @COLIN
    I am not a fan of arranged marriages, however through my wife’s profession we know a good number Hindu couples who seem to be blissfully happy with such a start in married life. The British Christian record in this regard over the last 40 years has been bloody awful.
    Perhaps Dave & Nick can teach us something.

  43. Roland,

    You are correct that DC and NC need to be more attuned to the concerns of their core / grass-root support than Labour. DC in particular will be aware that the last time a Tory PM ignored the wishes of his party it led to electoral devastation – not just at the GE which he was able to delay for several years, but at every local election at every level and in every corner of the country.

    Eoin is right in his expectations – this government will last until at least 2014, and then DC will be returned with a stronger position than he has now.

    Note – I do not assume that the next government will be pure Con with no LD involvement – even if Cons have a majority in parliament. I suspect that Colin is right in that once teh coalition talks got under-way in May, teh two parties found tehy really had far more common ground than either had previously admitted. I can see that continuing at Westminster – though not necessarily at local level ??

  44. Wayne,

    I am so excited, and I just cant hide it…………………….. :) :) :) By the 30 Sept. it will be 40 Labour 38 Blue 13 Yellow…

    It will quickly revert back to blue domiance dont worry it is just a post conference boost … but it will be exciting

  45. ROLAND

    “Perhaps Dave & Nick can teach us something”

    I’m really hoping so Roland-question is what?

    Your experience of arranged Hindu marriages is interesting.

    I suppose there is a spectrum -from unwilling & forced to an unknown….all the way to not unwlling to a family friend.

    It’s the coercion which is wrong.

  46. Given the con/doms have launched a major restructuring of the NHS, why is it unreasonale for Labour to raise it?

  47. Valerie

    Con/Doms lol lol

    How did that get through moderation lol?

  48. @Eoin
    Its the way I tell ’em! Actually. that was a freudian slip!

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