There is a Survation poll in the Daily Star on Sunday with topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 34%, LD 12%, Others 22% (including UKIP 11%, Green 4%, BNP 2%). Clearly 22% is a very high total for Other parties, and while I don’t have a spreadsheet of past UKIP polling figures, their highest rating in a GB Westminster voting intention poll that I’m aware of is this 10% from Harris in 2009, so this would be their highest.

The reason for these high figures is fairly straightforward: Survation prompted for the minor parties in their voting intention question. In other words, instead of asking something along the lines of “If there was a general election tomorrow, would you vote Con, Lab, Lib Dem or another party” they asked something like “If there was a general election tomorrow, would you vote Con, Lab, Lib Dem, UKIP, Green, BNP or another party” (in fact, they randomised the order of Con, Lab, LD & UKIP).

These days all the main pollsters include the name of the main three parties in their voting intention question, but none of them list the smaller parties. This makes a clear difference to the answers you get – if people are reminded of the existence of minor parties, then more people say they would vote for them. This Survation poll itself is good evidence of the effect – when they ran a poll without prompting earlier this month they found UKIP on 4% (though some of the difference could also have been between telephone and online methods). There is also the case of YouGov’s Scottish election polling in 2007, where the prompt was changed half way through the campaign to include minor parties – the effect was to increase support for “others” from 11% to 19%, and to change support for the Scottish Greens from 4% to 9% (in the event, the Scottish Greens got 4%).

Now, I sometimes see supporters of minor parties complaining about pollsters not including their parties in the prompt and saying it is unfair. I suppose in many ways it isn’t, and if one was arguing from first principles one might very well think that, given all the parties are on the ballot paper, they should all be in the prompt.

The reason other pollsters don’t include minor parties in the prompt is, however, because in practice not including them produces accurate results. There is no particular logic to it, it is just what has worked in the past. At the last election no pollster included minor parties in their main voting intention prompt, and the polls were pretty accurate in their predictions of support for minor parties:

UKIP 3.1% 3% 3% 2% 3%
BNP 1.9% 1% 2% 2% 2%
Green 1.7% 2% 1% 1% 1%

Including minor parties in the prompt would lead to significantly higher levels of support in polls, yet when compared to actual election results polls do not appear to be significantly underestimating support for minor parties. Certainly in the case of UKIP, most polling companies were pretty much spot on at the last election.

65 Responses to “Survation, UKIP and prompting for minor parties”

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  1. Interesting poll. Even if as you say, prompting causes a higher figure than actually materializes for minor parties, it at least shows potential support – a target for those parties to aim at.

  2. Just for laughs: these numbers punched into the EC regional predictor using the trend values tool (which for example currently has 15/ 33/ 6/ 42 for Scotland)

    LAB short 18 of majority

    CON 32.00% 14 68 253
    LAB 34.00% 79 29 308
    LIB 12.00% 0 33 24
    NAT 2.26% 37 0 46
    MIN 1.29% 1 1 1

  3. Anthony

    Presumably you change the definition of “minor party” depending on where the respomdent lives. The SNP always appears as a option when I am asked. Does Plaid appear when you ask your Welsh panellists?

  4. I think with the minor Parties that various factors tend to cancel each other out with the unprompted questions. Prompting does tend to increase those saying they will vote for the minor Parties, but by definition the extra people will be those with less interest in politics and so less likely to vote. You are also more likely to get the ‘a plague on all your houses’ people to go for one of these, but again in the end they probably won’t bother to make it down the polling station.

    It’s also worth remembering that polls ‘should’ overestimate the small Parties because they do not stand candidates in every seat. At the last election out of the 650 seats UKIP fought 572, BNP 338 and the Greens 334. While this will be in their ‘better’ seats, there will be some vote loss from the seats where there is no candidate.

  5. Roger Mexico

    “by definition the extra people will be those with less interest in politics and so less likely to vote.”

    I don’t think that follows at all.

    However, since the minor parties (as variously defined in the 3 parts of GB by the appropriate Boundary Comissions don’t stand candidates in every seat, I agree with your other point.

  6. If a respondant only says they will vote for a minor party based entirely on being prompted (and thus being reminded that it exists) then it seems very optimisitc indeed that they will somehow have sifficient motivation and interest to go to a polling station to vote for that party come election day.

    Surely the effect of this prompting for minor parties is to simply to artiifiically poll a group of voters who will not turn out anyway.

  7. Is UKIP still a minor party at 11% though? I know it may not translate into seats but 11% is pretty mighty to be considered minor. If this poll is accurate then more than 1 in 10 people you pass when walking down the street supports Ukip whereas a year ago only 1 in 30 supported them, they may be reaching a critical mass for media coverage and everyday conversation.

  8. Anthony,

    What happens if you remove the party prompt for the main parties as well? Is there an effect from prompting those, and is it consistent across all three parties?

    During canvassing we (Labour, but also the Democrats) don’t prompt, although since we’re introduced as from the party, and tend to wear identifying rosettes/badges, then at least one party has been prompted…

  9. Could it be the same effect from asking ‘Thinking about your constituency..’ which gives different results to ‘Who would you vote for…’ because people consider the tactical situation (voting X lets in Y)?

    So people *want* to vote for minor party Z (and give the answer when prompted for that), but when it comes to it they fear that voting Z will let in Y so they opt for X instead?

  10. Oldnat – YouGov treat the SNP & Plaid as major parties and they are always there as main options. I think some pollsters do vary the question according to geography and, for example, prompt by SNP in Scotland but not elsewhere.

    Roger – it’s an interesting question as to uncontested seats, there was a reasonable hypothesis that prompted polls wouldn’t overestimate minor party support, it’s just that actual election results underestimate their support because they don’t stand everywhere. However, at the last election UKIP had extremely good coverage (as you say, 572 out of 650, and I think the uncontested seats included the Northern Ireland ones that aren’t polled anyway). Assuming they stood in their more promising seats, well over 90% of people who wanted to vote UKIP should have had a candidate to vote for.

    The Sheep – historically including the three major parties in the prompt used to increase support for the Lib Dems by about 2 points. I have no idea whether the same would apply now, as the Lib Dems get more publicity anyway, and pollsters rarely if ever poll without prompting.

  11. It’ll be interesting to see whether UKIP increases its support in YouGov and other polls next week if the Euro crisis deepens. In some ways it would be surprising if that doesn’t happen.

  12. There’s a report in the Telegraph about a LibDems rebranding exercise – the three ideas that are suggested are a change of name, change of logo and mentioning the historical liberal achievements.

    We’ve had parties go through rebranding before, of various levels (logos, ‘new’ prefixes, detoxification etc), but in terms of polling, does it actually work?

    And any idea on how the pollsters would handle a change in party name? Will they prompt with ‘the New Liberals who used to be the LibDems…’ or will they just asked ‘Would you vote Lab/Con/NewLib/Other’?

  13. @Colin – “It looks like the flagship measures will be liquidity orientated-Government guarantees of loans to SMS , plus Credit Easing ( interested to see if that is actuallyready to roll ?”

    [From last thread]. I’m really not sure how significant this is. It’s the demand and confidence side that is holding things back rather than access to credit, although there certainly are credit problems out there. Mostly though, it’s companies sitting on cash as they are too frightended to commit to investment, in part due to the cut in investment allowances.

    The measures Osborne seems to be lining up are getting a bit like endless and complex Brownite tinkering. Will commuters really be ecstatic about seeing rail fares rise by 6% instead of 8%? Will we really feel the benefit of not paying an extra 3p on petrol, but not feel the squeeze on tax credits that will pay for this?

    I think Tuesday will be a very difficult sell for the government. I seem to recall that Labour VI held up reasonably well until Darling stood up and announced just how bad it was, and then things nosedived.

    Tuesday is potentially a little similar – an upfront admission that growth has tanked and the plans aren’t working. Clearly, this government still has a greater reservoir of credibility that Brown’s administration had at that stage, and it’s arguable that the bad news isn’t as dramatic, so the impact might not be so bad, but I have the strong sense that when a Chancellor starts proclaiming tiny sums like the £180m for hard pressed commuters as a political weapon, he’s discovered that he really doesn’t have much left in the arsenal.

  14. Could there be a case of polling leading rather than responding. In the FPTP system if the “minor” parties are recording insignificant numbers then people may believe it a wasted vote but if the polling companies all prompted could this lead to a higher actual “minor2 party vote as people might see it as a worthwhile vote.

  15. I wonder what UKIP supporters will make of it… they shouldn’t make too much of a fuss, I hope. Also the irony of getting 11% in a poll but STILL not beating the LDs into 2nd place is quite hilarious.

    Putting the figures into the notional England results UKIP might just possibly get Buckingham, although of course a swing from Bercow is impossible to predict. They would still not reach over 10,000 votes in any other constituency.

    Poor UKIP, you almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

    By the way, I think that the 2% Labour lead should also be noted. This certainly suggests that many UKIP voters are coming, one way or another, from Labour, as several people have been suggesting.

  16. Tingedfringe

    I think it depends on the nature of the rebranding. Simply changing the name/logo is going to have limited, if any, effect. In fact if it is seen as a cynical ploy then it could have a negative effect.

    Contrast the adoption of the Conservative tree logo (little effect) with the change to New Labour (we still talk about that one, some of us positively, some negatively). One was a logo change, the other was something much more involved.

    Personally I think the LD party has nailed it’s colours to the mast at the moment, and will be better served by trying to make the most of it rather than pretending to a Damascene conversion…

  17. @Tinted
    If the LDs want to emphasise via a name change just how different they now are from the party that many voted for in 2010, it’s their privilege to take that poison. It would be almost like a signal to the rump of their left leaning supporters to b****r off elsewhere.

  18. Anthony, do you (or anyone else) have the Survation’s tables? I can only find the Daily Star’s own page on the results (

  19. YouGov Sunday Times tables have appeared

    Based on 2010 vote, the sample seems to disadvantage the Cons, but only very slightly (assuming perfect recall of course). So maybe the underlying Labour lead is nudging upwards a bit more.

    My nomination for this week’s prize for the daftest crossbreak goes to Labour being within 4% of the Cons in the Rest of the South. (Some Scots might disagree though.)

  20. stanley

    By the way, I think that the 2% Labour lead should also be noted. This certainly suggests that many UKIP voters are coming, one way or another, from Labour, as several people have been suggesting

    Not according to Survation according to a comment piece they’ve put up on their site:

    UKIP for those interested has garnered the support of 16% of Conservative voters in 2010, 8% of Lib Dems and 2% of Labour voters.

    This seems plausible as it replicates the sort of pattern we see in YouGov polls. Of course some of these (especially those who voted Lib Dem or not at all in 2010) may have voted Labour in the past.

    Their “nimble …innovative … young statisticians” (as opposed to arthritic, stuck-in-the-mud, elderly ones like Anthony) haven’t got the tables up yet, but they’re promised for tomorrow.

  21. The Ken Macintosh price is drifting today over at Paddy Power. Still FAV, but Hugh Henry coming out in favour of Lamont doesn’t look good. I think that Lamont has (marginally) run the best campaign. Harris has been a big flop.

    Best prices – Next Labour leader

    Ken Macintosh 8/11 Stan James
    Johann Lamont 5/2 SJ
    Tom Harris 8/1 PP, SJ

    I have a fair sum on Macintosh (when he was at much longer odds), and I haven’t offset any risk by hedging with Lamont. I’m preparing myself for a loss, but hoping for the best.

    Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has been very prominent all week. He has been most unkind about the current “top crop” of Labour politicians.

    For those interested in the future constitution, indeed existence, of the United Kingdom, this piece today is well worth a read:

    If the Union is disolved, what will Anthony rename his website? The England, Wales and A Wee Bit of Ireland Polling Report?

  22. Roger Mexico,

    Thanks for the link.

    Two points:
    1) There could well be an indirect transition from Labour to UKIP, as in Labour to don’t know and don’t know to UKIP. If not, i.e. there aren’t many 2010 didn’t vote, then
    2) there must be a very large number of 2010 Conservative voters in the poll (if they had the ‘correct’ number, 16% of 36% wouldn’t get close to 11% for UKIP). I assume it is more likely for there to be too many DKs in the poll than too many Cons?

    But we need the full figures to find out the truth about this poll.

  23. The YouGov headlines are:

    Con 34
    Lab 43
    Lib Dem 11
    UKIP 5
    SNP / PCY 3
    Green 2
    BNP 2
    Respect 0
    Other 0

    Approval 27 – 58 = -31

    Non-voters 23%

    Respect have 1% in Rest of South, but then SNP/PC have 2% in London.

    Anthony will no doubt provide extensive coverage of the other questions later.

  24. @ Tingedfringe

    I think you’ll find there is no longer any suggestion of a rebranding in terms of change of logo or name, which in any case was a bit of Torygraph mischief.

    To quote: “The rebranding exercise was originally revealed by The Sunday Telegraph earlier this year – with some predicting at the time it could even include changing the name and logo.” i.e. we cooked up something at the time, but couldn’t really stand the story up.

    The work is the normal branding work that any party would do as a matter of course. What are we supposed to do? Neglect our communication strategy or image at all just to please our political rivals?

    Considering the dreadful circumstances, I think 11-13% with improving local by election results is not too bad a place to be.

  25. @ robert c
    “considering the dreadful circumstances”

    It is not circumstances they are beyond someones control it is the consequences of choices

  26. This thing about voters being reminded about the existence of minor parties, and thus gaining support,
    does not quite ring true. They are reminded of them on the ballot paper (they’re not on the back).

    If we have TV debates next time, will UKIP be invited along? Or do you need seats in parliament and a certain amount of support to get there?

  27. Actually, I suspect it’s not inclusion of minor parties in the questions, it’s the fact that UKIP are treated equally to the big three. This means that in three cases out of four, UKIP was mentioned before at least one of the main three parties, which may have prompted people to take the UKIP option more seriously. So treating UKIP equally with the main three may act as a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Or, to put it another way: no wonder the SNP (and probably all other minor parties) is so desperate to get a fourth spot in the leaders’ debate. Including them alone is probably worth a few hundred thousand votes.

  28. Tingedfringe – I think the Lib-SDP merger may have predated prompting by party names, before my time, so it may be a problem that hasn’t needed to be solved before.

    Either way, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

  29. @GrahamBC

    Good point – if running into election, there were regular reports of a highend [Other party] vote in the polls, people would more likely to throw their vote at them, rather than think it’d be wasted.

  30. @ Stanley

    16% of the 2010 Tory vote is about 6% of the 2010 national vote, and likewise 8% of the Liberal vote is 2%.

    So that’s 8%, to go with their existing 3% = 11%.

  31. @Chris Neville Smith

    If they hadn’t just treated UKIP equally with the main three (randomised prompt), you might’ve seen a higher Green/BNP vote – or a lower UKIP vote, as they realised the major parties were getting prompted in order.

  32. *major parties weren’t getting prompted.

  33. Not sure if people can help me here, but if the Lab lead is down to 2% here with what looks like a very low Lab score, but that very few 2010 Lab voters have switched to UKIP and there appears to be limited movement to BNP and Greens, how come the lead has shrunk so much? Is this something to do with don’t knows plumping for UKIP, and if so, would that affect the relative positions of the main two parties?

  34. What I find interesting is that prompting the minor parties has specifically helped UKIP. Yes, Survation have the Greens on twice their rating with YouGov but the difference between 2% and 4% is within the margin of error. The difference between 5% and 11% is not. Therefore, though it may help the Greens, the evidence suggests that prompting specifically helps UKIP.

    What will be interesting is if UKIP pick up on this. If they do, I wonder if they’ll start a brand awareness campaign. I think that it could benefit them a lot because people (in England) generally only think about the three big parties unless prompted.

    I wonder what will happen to the UKIP level of support if the Euro fails.

    I am also somewhat pleased to see that prompting appears to have no effect on the level of support for the BNP.

  35. Alec,

    Inflation is at over 5%. In what sense is demand weak right now? If demand is not weak, then it’s not an adequate explanation of low growth. And, logically, we shouldn’t presuppose that a boost to demand right now would boost growth.

    I agree that, if George Osborne isn’t really careful, he could do an Alistair Darling and crash & burn on Tuesday. The current generation of economic policymakers are not crisis-experienced (in the way that politicians of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s certainly were!) and one can’t bank on them always getting the PR right.

    Inflation is at over 5%. In what sense is demand weak right now?”

    Because 5% inflation is being driven by costs (energy, food etc), not wages, which are growing at 2%. That means real demand is falling at 3% a year. That is weak demand in my books.

  37. @Stanley

    I think that Farage’s comments in the Star should give you an idea of how we in UKIP are taking the poll,

    Nigel Farage last night welcomed the figures – but cautioned more long-term gains were needed before he started celebrating.

    “I’m absolutely delighted with such solid progress. However, one swallow does not make a summer,” he said.

    So with a pinch of salt. That being said, we ae not overly concerned by being behind the Lib Dems in this poll, or other recent polls, that we are snapping at their heels at this point is fine by us. The Lib Dems must be feeling pretty sick about it though.

    That being said, the slow growth over the past twelve month appears to be sustainable, it isn’t a random spike in any way. The Harris poll in 2009 was odd in that it was part of the traditional European Election rise in UKIP support, and thus could be discounted as a reflection of Westminster electoral support.

  38. Charles Stuart –

    UKIP were treated differently to the Greens and the BNP in the poll, they were rotated with the main three parties, so some people would have had UKIP as the first or second option on the list.

  39. @Bill Patrick – @Robert C just said exacctly what I was going to say.

    The area where demand is currently weakest is in business investment. That has collapsed, and was collapsing well before the Eurozone crisis started in mid summer.

    This is where the seeds for real future problems are being sown, as it is this fall in investment at the point in the recovery when investment should be leading the way, that is going to ensure our productive capacity is permanently weakened, meaning slower growth, higher future inflation and a significantly reduced ability to repay debts in the years to come, even when the economy is growing again.

    I think it would be difficult to get consumers spending again now without increasing debt levels, and big increases in day to day spending by government would also have little long term benefit other than increase the national debt. Investment in the future productive capacity is the essential element now.

    I like the sound of Osborne’s plans to provide the stimulus to get pension funds investing in infrastructure projects, and there is some merit in helping underwrite business loans, but many of his other policies are working in the opposite direction and the whole picture so far is one of a lack of clear direction and confusion.

  40. @Alec
    “Not sure if people can help me here, but if the Lab lead is down to 2% here with what looks like a very low Lab score, but that very few 2010 Lab voters have switched to UKIP and there appears to be limited movement to BNP and Greens, how come the lead has shrunk so much? Is this something to do with don’t knows plumping for UKIP, and if so, would that affect the relative positions of the main two parties?”
    Fair question and you may be right about the dont knows. Nonetheless, when a poll is produced by a company without a decent track record and which seems so far to be making a habit of bizarre results, there’s a danger in taking any of their findings too seriously.

  41. @Craig- True

    @Gawain Towler

    “That being said, the slow growth over the past twelve month appears to be sustainable, it isn’t a random spike in any way.”

    Possibly. But slow growth can turn into slow descent in the poll, and if the Cons can build more trust on European affairs- e.g. if the EU tries to change something in a treaty, and we have a referendum and reject the change- by 2015 there is a good chance that UKIP will not be nearly as well supported as it would seem.

  42. I think it’d be really useful if, in this time of growing third parties, pollsters came to an agreed definition of what a ‘minor party’ is.

  43. Alec,

    “I think it would be difficult to get consumers spending again”

    In what sense are consumers not spending now? As I said, inflation is over 5%.

    I agree on investment though. If anything, most of what the coalition has done so far has been unhelpful in this regard e.g. cutting investment grants and increasing capital gains tax.

    As I might have said before, my most favoured tax reform would be to replace income tax and CGT with a progressive consumption tax, i.e. eliminating the disincentive to consume rather than invest income. This isn’t a panacea, but it would have quite a few positive effects, not least changing the balance of power somewhat between wages and capital since investment would be more plentiful.

  44. Robert C,

    “Because 5% inflation is being driven by costs (energy, food etc), not wages, which are growing at 2%.”

    (1) Inflation is always the result of the cost of production/sale + the level of spending. If the UK has <5% NGDP growth and yet inflation is around 5%, then that indicates that the UK is dealing with costs much worse than other countries; i.e. the UK has structural problems.

    (2) Wages are not the same thing as demand. After all, wages do not have to be spent, and not all spending is financed out of wages e.g. an investor may well finance expenditure out of dividends.

    "That means real demand is falling at 3% a year."

    No. It means that real wages are falling at 3% a year.

    "That is weak demand in my books."

    I would consider re-writing them.

  45. ALEC

    @”It’s the demand and confidence side that is holding things back rather than access to credit, ”

    Obviously demand is supressed at present.
    Clearly confidence is lacking-why wouldn’t it be in the circumstances.

    BUt according to Richard Lambert this morning, credit to SMEs is absolutely dire-not new facilities-just renewing existing facilities, which are being withdrawn for nomapparent reason.

    So liquidity is a problem & GO is absolutely correct to address it. IT would be stupid to ignore the risk to UK businesses of Credit Crunch2.

  46. @ “Obviously demand is supressed at present.”

    I can see that I will be corrected by Bill on that !

    Perhaps I mean “spending” is supressed………..or “consumption” is supressed……..or spending is falling with real wages.

    THere are a LOT less folk shopping in our local Supermarket-and they are at the tills with fists full of money off vouchers.

    My wife has become a “money off ” junky….I’m very relieved to say :-)

  47. Colin,

    You don’t mean spending, in that “demand” and “spending” are basically the same thing.

    Household consumption has fallen; it began falling in Q3 2010. But consumption doesn’t equal demand either.

    This is why I don’t take “the problem is demand!” argument seriously. And, because I don’t take them seriously, I don’t take their conjunct arguments (“weak growth due to cuts”) seriously either. The numbers simply do not stack up.

  48. (Because weak demand is supposed to be the transmission mechanism for the effect of the cuts on growth.)

  49. BILL


    I do enjoy your comments. :-)

  50. Bill. If you’ll indulge my simple-minded amateurishness for a moment …

    Surely your argument only jus if there is a 1-to-1 relationship between demand and the RPI/CPI measure if inflation?

    But these measures can only ever be relatively simplistic estimates of true inflation. Take fuel prices. Fuel price increases lead automatically to an increase in the measure if inflation. But they also tend to depress fuel consumption. The 79-81 period is a perfect example – oil quadrupled in cost and this helped push the measure of inflation up. But actual energy consumption dropped by 20-odd percent during those two years, due in great part to the vicious recession.

    So demand collapsed but the measure of inflation went up. Would not surprise me in the least if we were in a similar situation (with similar external effects causing the out-of-kilter relationship between actual demand and the crude measure of inflation).

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