The full tables for the ICM and Populus Oldham East polls are now up here and here. As already dicussed, both have Labout 17 points ahead of the Liberal Democrats in second place.

Both use their standard methodologies, with all that it implies (past-vote weighting, weighting by likelihood to vote and re-allocation a proportion of don’t knows to the party they voted for last time). The only significant differences between them are the sample size (Populus is three times bigger than ICM) and the voting intention question itself. Populus included the candidate names for the main three parties in the question, ICM didn’t. There was some speculation prior to publication that this would make a significant difference to the result – it didn’t, Populus and ICM are well within each other’s margin of error.

We don’t have detailled tables from Survation, the third company to produce a poll for Oldham East and Saddleworth, so we can’t draw any firm conclusions about why their poll showed the Lib Dems doing much better. We can tell they had an exceptionally rate of people refusing to give a voting intention, and that they didn’t weight by things like social class or tenure, which ICM and Populus did.

On the face of it, it looks as though Labour have it in the bag. I would add a few caveats to that. Firstly this poll itself has the potential to change the result. By demonstrating to supporters of the coalition that the Liberal Democrats the best placed to beat Labour, it could encourage Conservative tactical voting for the Liberal Democrats. Against that is that the Populus data suggests there is already a substantial amount of Conservative tactical voting for the Lib Dems, and there would need to be truly massive tactical voting to make up the large Labour lead.

Secondly, there were a substantial amount of former Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who said don’t know or refused to give a voting intention. Overall, 24% of 2010 Tory voters did not provide a voting intention to Populus, a third of 2010 Lib Dem voters did not. ICM found a very similar pattern. While these voters have the potential to make a difference, remember they are already factored into ICM and Populus’s topline figures, as they assume a proportion of them will vote for the party they did last time (in the case of Populus it reduced the Labour lead from 19 points to 17 points).

Finally I wanted to look a the record of by-election polls, which has the reputation of being somewhat patchy. Here is the record from the last Parliament:

In Norwich North there was a by-election on the 23rd July 2009 which the Conservatives won by about 20%. ICM conducted a poll in late June, so a month before the election, that was so early on it cannot fairly be compared to the result (it did, for the record, show the Tories winning).

In Glasgow North East there was a by-election on the 12th Nov 2009 which Labour won by almost 40%. There was a Scottish Opinion poll, but it was carried out in May 2009, so 6 months before the election (it did show an easy Labour win, but again cannot be compared).

In Glenrothes there was a by-election on the 6th November 2008 which Labour won by just under 20%. In September 2008 ICM conducted a poll showing the SNP and Labour neck and neck. Once again, it’s too early to really be compared to the result.

In Glasgow East there was a by-election on the 24th July 2008 which the SNP gain the seat with a majority of 1.4%. There were two polls during the campaign. A Scottish Opinion poll on the 14th-17th July 2008 showed Labour ahead by 17%, an ICM poll on the 10th-11th July had Labour ahead by 14 points. Scottish opinion’s fieldwork finished only a week before the by-election, so clearly got things wrong somewhere. ICM’s fieldwork finished a fortnight before the by-election.

In Haltemprice and Howden there was just one poll by ICM, before the full wierd and wonderful list of candidates was known. It correctly showed David Davis walking it.

In Crewe and Nantwich there was a by-election on the 22nd May 2008, with the Conservatives winning by about 19%. It was heavily polled: there was am ICM poll a fortnight before the election showing a Tory lead of 4 points, then ICM and ComRes polls in the final week showing an 8 point and a 13 point Tory lead respectively. Notably the reallocation of don’t knows to the parties they voted for previously, which works very well in general elections, did not help in this polls – it made them worse. Without them the ICM and ComRes polls would both have shown 15 point Tory leads.

Finally for the last Parliament, there was an NOP poll in Blaenau Gwent in May 2006, a month before the by-election, which showed Labour 12 points ahead. In the event Labour lost, but again, a month is such a long time in the context of a by-election the figures cannot reasonably be compared to the result.

So, while there were around 10 by-election polls in the last Parliament, the majority of them were conducted at the beginning or early on in the by-election campaign, so we can’t really make any judgements about their accuracy. If they were wrong, it could easily be that public opinion shifted during the campaign (indeed, the same applies if they were right), although in some cases it appears that either the polls were wrong, or there were massive shifts in support between the poll and polling day.

The only cases where the polls were conducted close enough to the actual elections for us to hold them to account were really Crewe and Nantwich (where both ComRes and ICM correctly predicted a Tory victory, but underestimated the size of it) and perhaps Scottish Opinion’s poll in Glasgow East (which showed Labour well ahead, when the SNP went on to win).


43 Responses to “The Oldham and Saddleworth opinion polls”

  1. For a January by-election, we should add that the result may be substantially affected by the weather, although perhaps less so these days when (regretably) so many votes are cast by post. Indeed, the result may to some extent already be in the mailbag.

    Anthony’s posts about polls in previous by-elections are interesting. However, given that polls for this by-election showing Labour is in the lead agree with national polls showing a collapse in the LibDem vote, and all the non-polling information about the system, it really would be surprising if Labour did not win.

    The mismatch between the Glenrothes poll and the actual result does look very odd, even now.

    What is far less clear, and for which there is little precedent given that there has not been a Conservative/LibDem coalition in modern times, is how the ConDem vote will split between these two parties. However, if the LibDem vote would more than halve without tactical factors, which is what the national polls suggest, then Tory tactical voting could not be enough to get the LibDems ahead of Labour.

  2. Thanks, AW. This addresses the question I posed a couple of threads ago. In the case of ICM, their decision to assume that don’t knows break for the Lib Dems also reduces the Labour lead from 19% to 17%. Again, the same as Populus.

    At least it can’t be claimed that it’s still up to grabs because the don’t knows have yet to make up their mind. ICM and Populus have already made up their minds for them.

  3. Cancel the last comment – both links on the thread lead to the Populus tables! No wonder “ICM” looked the same as Populus!

  4. Here’s the link to ICM

    h ttp://www.icmresearch.co.uk/pdfs/2011_jan_mos_oldham_poll.pdf

    Before ICM allocate the “don’t knows”, the voting split is Lab 48%, LD 26% and Con 14% (Table 3)

    Afterwards it is Lab 44%, LD 27%, Con 18%.

  5. I still want to know how Labour have picked up 12-15 percentage points since the general election. What on earth have they done to deserve this huge upturn in polling figures?

  6. It’s the Glasgow East loss of a Labour seat to the SNP that haunts me. Labour had a decent lead per the polls but didn’t win.

    8-)

  7. The Lib Dems claim to have canvassed 35,000 homes in the constituency and say their polling is closer to Survation than the other two. We know that large sample size doesn’t beat having a good cross section but how big do you have to get before your results are good regardless of weighting. 35k houses has got to be nearly 90% hasn’t it?

  8. The Lib Dems have a good track record when it comes to telling the truth…

  9. Tthere was an interesting discussion of this on the daily politics today.The lib dem spokesperson said that their
    polling showed a much tighter contest than the other polls.Everyone else immediately said “Well, you would say that wouldnt you!” So perhaps that is something to
    think about.

  10. @ Colin
    If Nick Clegg said this in person, it must be true.

    @ AmberStar
    You’re a born pessimist. Just keep practising the cartwheels.

  11. Colin,

    I know from experience that canvassing on behalf of a party can often lead to dodgy results. People lie to you for all sorts of reasons when they tell who they will vote for.

    Personally, I think that knocking on someone’s door saying ‘I’m from the whatever party, do you mind telling me who you will vote for’ is such a waste of time, it’s not worth bothering with.

    Also, they may have contacted someone in a house, but I bet anything they don’t speak to all Electors. It is quite usual for one person to tell the canvasser who the rest of the house votes for (giving the wrong data).

    I trust the correctly done polls by Populus and ICM over poorly gathered canvas data from 35K homes anytime.

  12. Any indications on turnout? Impressions are that the three main candidates aren’t a particularly impressive bunch.

  13. Wolf,

    My prediction is 45%.

    What do you think?

  14. Were there no polls before the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election in 2006?

  15. @Amberstar,
    I think that you are right to be cautious but the one that is haunting me is the Winchester 97 ,I wonder what Northerners think of a bad loser?

  16. Another problem with extrapolating from canvass returns to overall vote is that canvassing always starts in the strongest areas – after all, canvassing is mostly about identifying your vote so you can remind them on the day. So there is immediately a bias towards the canvassers’ party.

    Next is the problem that refusals are much (much) more likely to be from a different party. Many people don’t mind telling their ‘own’ party how they’ll vote (“to encourage them” for instance), but won’t reply to those from another party.

    Last is the question of what time the canvassing was done (is anyone at home), and what was on TV (not answering the door while Corrie is on), creating a weighting problem no matter how many houses you canvass.

    So as Garry K says, canvassing info is decidedly dodgy.

  17. Ann,

    We Northerners like a good loser as are quite good at it….after all, we have Leeds United, Middlesbrough, and now Liverpool. :-)

  18. Garry,
    Do I presume that you do not like a bad loser then?

  19. I think that losing with grace is important, as is laughing at yourself.

    So anyone who throws their teddy out of the pram when beaten do not endear themselves with me.

  20. Garry,
    I could not agree more.

  21. Interesting article, Anthony.

    I think you’re being just a bit harsh on the poll that put Labour 17% ahead of the SNP a week before the Glasgow Easy by-election.

    That sort of lead can easily be wiped out in seven days – so long as a number of factors come together in favour of the challenger.

    Clearly, in the case of Glasgow East, the SNP were seen as the challengers (especially after the publication of the polls) so they had the momentum and were able to tactically collapse the Tory and Lib Dem vote.

    Labour supporters would, of course, have been reassured that there was absolutely no chance of a Conservative victory if they were to switch to the SNP.

    Factor in a bit of differential turnout and you can see how the Nats managed to pull out their wafer thin margin.

    Remember, also, that in Glasgow East people were able to protest against the incumbent (Westminster) government by switching away from Labour.

    Sadly for the Lib Dems in OE & S they cannot depend upon any such protest vote – because they are part of the government.

    Knowing as I now do that the re-allocation of don’t knows is being done in a way to favour the Lib Dems, I am more firmly persuaded that Labour will hold this one.

    I still think that with the momentum of these polls plus a bit of differential turnout the Lib Dems can top a third of the vote. That is, after all, entirely consistent with that party’s record of closing strongly in parliamentary by-elections.

    If they do pin down around 33% then at least their spin doctors will be able to say they increased their share from the general election.

    But I cannot see, on these figures, how they are actually going to win.

  22. Just because I asked about what the Lib Dems say about themselves doesn’t mean I believe them. I was just thinking that a 90% canvass would just have to be good as there are few others left to distort the result. Points about 1 person from each household and people saying what you want to here are quite valid though.

    Will there be an exit poll? I can hardly wait for the result. Labour winning by 103 again would be very ironic.

  23. @Colin Green

    “The Lib Dems claim to have canvassed 35,000 homes in the constituency and say their polling is closer to Survation than the other two. We know that large sample size doesn’t beat having a good cross section but how big do you have to get before your results are good regardless of weighting. 35k houses has got to be nearly 90% hasn’t it?”

    Two things about this. Firstly, if the Lib Dems have properly canvassed 35,000 homes, and by properly I mean they’ve talked to one or more of the occupants in each of the households, then they must have the best local organisation in Oldham known to man. It would represent one of the most extraordinary canvassing exercises in modern electoral history and, to that extent, I would think it is an figure that has to be taken with very liberal (sic) doses of salt! Secondly, beware canvassing returns and their accuracy, and I say this from some first hand experience of them on the ground. Local parties tend to know where their rock solid supporters are, but as for the rest, most people tell you what they think you want to hear, mainly to get rid of you fast! We had one old boy in our constituency who we knew told every canvasser who knocked on his door that he was going to vote for their particular party, and we used to joke with our Tory and Lib Dem fellow campaigners about him and many other such slippery characters. How the hell he did vote, none of us ever knew and maybe that’s the way it should always be.

    In short, I’d treat verbally pledged voting intentions given to canvassers on the doorstep as not being worth the paper they’re not written on (apologies to Sam Goldwyn)!

    Talking of electioneering from the days of old, does anybody remember the frantic activity as we all tried to knock up our “sure-fire” supporters to cast their votes before the polling stations closed? If they were elderly, and without transport, we used to occasionally offer lifts. I remember the February1974 election when, with about 20 minutes left to vote, I was summoned to give this rather charming old lady a lift to the nearby polling station. She was, I was told, a lifelong Labour voter. As I drove her the short journey she said very little beyond thanking me for the lift. I dropped her off outside the polling station and waited for her to re-emerge a few minutes later so I could then drive her back to her home. To make conversation on the return journey, I asked her if she’d done her duty and voted as she should. She replied, rather abruptly, that she’d never liked Harold Wilson and didn’t want him back as PM, so, for the first time in her life, she’d voted Tory. Wilson scraped in nationally but we lost locally by a whisker. I never did tell my fellow campaigners about my minor part in our local electoral downfall!! She had the last laugh and I still chuckle at the memory.

  24. Colin – it’s been many years since the days of exit polls in by-election. I’m nigh on certain there won’t be.

  25. There are rumours flying around that a (national?) ComRes poll to be released later tonight is going to be really bad news for the blues.

  26. So anyone brave to predict Oldham?

    Let me stick my neck out first:

    Turnout 45%

    Labour Majority 3,000

  27. Comres Poll 10/01/11

    Labour 42%
    Conservative 34%
    Lib Dem 12%

  28. That ComRes poll: CON 34%, LAB 42%, LDEM 12%

  29. The claims from the Lib Dems reek of confirmation bias.

    On the other hand, so does my preference for the ICM and Populus polls…

  30. I don’t know why ComRes bother putting an embargo on their polls sometimes. When they are interesting it *never* holds.

    Anyway, I’ve just finishing writing a nice post on both the ComRes and YouGov figures to go up a ten o’clock, I can’t be bothered to chop it up and just put up the ComRes half for the next 25 minutes!

    (And no, I’m not putting up anyway so you can have the YG figures 25 minutes early ;) )

  31. That ComRes poll is, I think, the first since May which shows the Conservatives polling less than their general election result.

    Interesting – this could be the start of a trend, we shall have to see.

  32. Anthony Oh Go on ! ;-)

  33. @Bert
    ‘I still want to know how Labour have picked up 12-15 percentage points since the general election. What on earth have they done to deserve this huge upturn in polling figures?’

    The short answer is that they haven’t (done anything). And they don’t need to, they only need to be there for protest votes.
    I predict that they will win every by-election where the Tory/LD majority is 15k or less, between now & the GE in 2015. This will delight all the reds who will be gloating for the next 4 years. However, they will then lose the GE big time because they still won’t have done anything.

  34. John Ruddy – no, there have been two previous ComRes polls showing them on 35% and 36% (in October and November respectively)

  35. Thanks for pointing those out Anthony – I must have missed them.

  36. Of course the Lib Dem byelection team always claim to be a percentage of two behind but with momentum. They claim this if they are about to lose their deposit or indeed if they have 90% and everyone else is about to lose theirs. So the Survation poll suits them, even if the sample size is so small that it would be quicker to put up the raw data rather than the tables.

    Having said that, I think the weighting on the Populus/Ashcroft poll may be over-friendly to the Conservatives. It’s difficult to know if usual methods apply in byelections with their lower turnout. ‘Shy’ voters may not vote at all rather than secretly.

    One good thing with an early January date is that the electoral register will be nice and “fresh” (I know people can update it, but they usually don’t bother).

  37. @Bert – People who take an interest in politics probably had a good idea what was coming, but as Polly Toynbee recently pointed out, David Cameron was actually telling the electorate:

    “any cabinet minister … who comes to me and says ‘Here are my plans’ and they involve frontline reductions, they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again”

    Voting intention has changed since the election, understandably perhaps. (Apols for repeating myself.)

  38. Interesting article Anthony. What I’m interested in is whether there were any opinion polls before the Little&Sad by election in 1995. I realise you can’t make any direct comparison, but it would be nice to know…

  39. @ Nick Hadley

    “Secondly, beware canvassing returns and their accuracy, and I say this from some first hand experience of them on the ground. Local parties tend to know where their rock solid supporters are, but as for the rest, most people tell you what they think you want to hear, mainly to get rid of you fast!”

    See that I don’t quite understand. I’ve heard that Brits are so polite that canvassing can often be inaccurate because people don’t want to say they’re not voting for your party/candidate. Now, I don’t believe in such time honored traditions as (1) slamming the door in a canvasser’s face, (2) cussing out the canvasser and/or his party/candidate, (3) screaming at the canvasser, or (4) threatening to use or actually brandishing a firearm at the canvasser. Some people feel entitled to have these tempermental act outs at political canvassers. I feel the more appropriate method is to be honest and politely say “no thank you.” Or “I’m afraid I will be voting for candidate X and I’ve made up my mind. But good luck to you.”

    Admittedly, I haven’t been canvassed much myself. I’ve probably canvassed more than I’ve been canvassed actually. But I wouldn’t tell a canvasser that I’m voting for their candidate just out of some perceived notion of politeness or to make them go away.

    “Talking of electioneering from the days of old, does anybody remember the frantic activity as we all tried to knock up our “sure-fire” supporters to cast their votes before the polling stations closed? If they were elderly, and without transport, we used to occasionally offer lifts. I remember the February1974 election when, with about 20 minutes left to vote, I was summoned to give this rather charming old lady a lift to the nearby polling station. She was, I was told, a lifelong Labour voter. As I drove her the short journey she said very little beyond thanking me for the lift. I dropped her off outside the polling station and waited for her to re-emerge a few minutes later so I could then drive her back to her home. To make conversation on the return journey, I asked her if she’d done her duty and voted as she should. She replied, rather abruptly, that she’d never liked Harold Wilson and didn’t want him back as PM, so, for the first time in her life, she’d voted Tory. Wilson scraped in nationally but we lost locally by a whisker. I never did tell my fellow campaigners about my minor part in our local electoral downfall!! She had the last laugh and I still chuckle at the memory.”

    That really blows! That’s kind of rude of her to waste your time like that too. I don’t think you can blame yourself, she intentionally decieved you. I don’t think I would ever do something like that to someone else. Oh well, it’s it a good political campaign war story. And a good cautionary tale.

  40. Hello Commrads,

    Well I think the winner of Old & Sad is not going to be good ol’ Labour! — despite the polls, I think the Lib Dems will take it with a very slim majority (no-more than 50!!)

    Many people have forgotten why this by-election has been called — the disgraceful antics of the former incumbant. An It is my reasoning that while Labour voters have responded that they will vote labour i believe that this long and dark shadow will leave many traditional Labour voter at home.

    So inspite of the strong poll lead it is trust of the people that has been broken and may take the party longer to rebuild.

    Regards
    Red Herring

  41. And what do you base that scientific prediction on Red Herring? You better place a big bet on Ladbrookes or Paddypower and make yourself a small fortune. But I hardly think the Libdems are in any postion to lecture people on “trust of the people” being broken! They havent done anything else since May 2010. But then again, I am biased as biased as you evidentally are. I hope for a Labour win but these things are never predictable.

  42. Hello Chums,

    By-elections are their own little events that do and panda to local issues, tempered by the occasional waft of national mood music.

    @Red Herring is not incorrect in stating that he believes the LibDems might squeeze out a win. However, the polls and the underlying non-headline figures have been in considerable flux of late; and virtually any prediction, based on individual criteria, is valid.

    I suspect Labour’s vote will be down as too the LibDems and so even a Tory win should not be ruled out.

    I look forward for being heckled by the Red and Yellow teams for this self evident statement!

    Anyway not that long to go — we’ll all soon know the result!

    Sincerely

    Blue Streak

  43. Hello Commrads,

    My prediction is as follows:
    con 7861 20% -6%
    lab 13865 35% 3%
    lib 13941 35% 4%
    other 3746 10% 6%
    Total 39413

    This analysis takes into acount previous voting, declared voting intentsion and a detrimetal collapse of Labour core support of around 10% based on confidence in Ed Milliband and Local issues around Labours track record