Most of the time on UK Polling Report I write about what the polls tell us about public opinion. Only when elections come along do we get to do it the other way around, and see what public opinion tells us about the accuracy of the polls.

As regular readers will know I have deep reservations about naive comparisons of eve-of-election polls and results and pollster “league tables”. They are often used in an extremely simplicistic fashion, with people balancing absurd conclusions upon one pollster being one point closer in a poll with a three point margin of error. One can get a slightly better idea in a well polled election race when consistent trends can be identified (as Rob Ford, Will Jennings et al did at the last election, producing a very different league table) but ultimately all a pollster can really hope for is to be within the margin of error of the result. All else is luck.

Five companies produced polls for the London mayoral election (TNS-BMRB also did one poll, but it was early in the campaign so can’t really be compared). Their final results are below.

First round . Second Round
Pollster Johnson Livingstone Jones Paddick Benita Webb Cortiglia Johnson Livingstone
ACTUAL 44 40 4 4 4 2 1 52 48
YouGov (30th Apr-2nd May) 43 38 3 7 4 4 1 53 47
Opinium (24th-30th Apr) 43 37 6 7 3 3 1 52 48
ComRes (23rd-25th Apr) 44 37 5 6 3 3 1 54 46
Populus (27th-29th Apr) 46 34 6 5 5 3 1 56 44
Survation (18th-24th Apr) 42 31 4 10 3 5 4 55 45

YouGov, Opinium and ComRes were all within 3% of all the candidates’ actual support, with YouGov slightly overestimating Brian Paddick’s support, and Opinium and ComRes slightly underestimating Ken’s. On the final round Opinium got the 52-48 split right, with YouGov calling 53-47 and ComRes 54-46. Well done to all three of them.

I’m unsure why Populus – who are normally one of the most accurate and reliable pollsters – ended up so out, showing a 12 point lead in the second round and significantly underestimating Livingstone in the first round. One thing that springs to mind is ethnicity. Since 2008 YouGov have weighted by ethnicity in London polls and it does makes a significant difference to results (Labour support ends up too low without it). There is no mention of ethnicity on Populus’s tables… but then again, neither is there on ComRes’s tabs. Perhaps Populus were just unlucky enough to get a dud sample. They also finished their fieldwork 4 days before the election, so perhaps there was movement towards Ken in those final days (the same applies even more to Survation, whose fieldwork ended 10 days before the election, so there was plenty of time for a swing).

Note that everyone overestimated UKIP’s support… although part of that could be their decision not to put UKIP in their description on the ballot paper (though they still used the UKIP logo, which says UKIP in it.)

Survation and YouGov also produced figures for the London Assembly, figures below.

London Assembly List vote
Pollster LAB CON Green LDEM UKIP BNP Others
ACTUAL 41 32 9 7 5 2 5
YouGov (30th Apr-2nd May) 42 32 7 9 8 1 2
Survation (18th-24th Apr) 33 28 8 10 7 3 11

126 Responses to “London polling post-mortem”

1 2 3
  1. Latest YouGov/The Sun results 8th May CON 31%, LAB 44%, LD 8%, (UKIP 8%); APP -43

  2. Robin

    I implore all councillors:

    ‘Don’t do case work’ (except for the appearance of being helpful). Most are either nutters or other unfortunates, who will take up all your time and then you will discover they don’t vote (and they won’t thank you either to boot) . Just pass the buck to the nearest unfortunate officer.

    Politics is about getting votes, not about do-gooding.

  3. Howard was it 3.6K or was it a typo and you meant 36k?

    Surely no one can live off 3.6K a year, I think you get more on benefits.

    (Does some quick math)

    Not quite, if you claimed the full £64.50 for 52 weeks, you get 3.4K which is only £200 less. Not really worth it.

  4. @Neil A

    I think you’ve just given the Boundary Commission a collective heart attack :(

  5. Labour lead widening, maybe hardening ?

  6. @ Big John,

    Thanks for that – blimey!!

    I was expecting a little shrinkage in the Lab lead after the elections. You know, the “we’ve taught them a lesson now lets go easy on them for a while” reaction.

    Probably still 11% lead give or take. Will be interesting to see leader ratings at the weekend.


  7. Max – “how are you supposed to live off that and raise a family?”

    You aren’t. Apart perhaps from council leaders or cabinet members in bigger authorities it is a part time role people do in addition to their proper job.

    Neil A – “Surely there would be some sense in the government going ahead with the Boundary Review, but delaying the reduction in seats”

    Impossible to do with out delaying both until after the election. Would require primary legislation to chamge the rules, then starting the whole review process again from scratch.

  8. “Was that £3,600 as you said or £36,000? 36K seems fair, but 3.6 if true or even £15 pound a meeting is peanuts how are you supposed to live off that and raise a family?”

    It’s meant to be an allowance, not a wage. The vast majority of Councillors work full time at other things and fit their council work in around their job and homelife.That is why the much used criticism ‘you only see them at election time’ is a nonsense.Most people seem to think all Councillors get a huge amount of money and do nothing but council work.

  9. @AW

    Did we ever find out all Mayoral candidates second preferences?

  10. Correct me if I am wrong, anyone, but I was under the impression that being a councillor was not expected to be a full time role in the classical sense, so having another job outside of being a councillor is not unusual…?
    Granted, I am not raising a family currently, but I don’t get paid much more than 16k and it does me fine…

  11. @Peter

    Like what???

    Anyways In like 10 years time do you really think we will still be visiting this site, none of you will remember me, and I doubt the data will still be on the server, also its not hard to change your name on here, I could change it at the flick of a switch, so all the comments would be from Basil Brush of the fantastic dustbin.

  12. RAF – dunno. I haven’t seen them, but I haven’t really looked very hard!

  13. @Howard

    I assume you did no case work? You met no constituents? Ran no advice bureaux? Went to no constituent meetings? Housing liaison boards? Police liaison committees? You served as a Council rep on no local charities/organisations? You never queried your officers, or set policy? The budget that you were legally responsible for, you just signed off? You never worked for grants to go to local organisations? You never campaigned against the closure of local services? Never represented your City or ward to outside agencies?

    As I said, a good Councillor would do far more than the allowance suggests. A bad one far less. Very little of that work is actually done in committee.


    Yes, it’s not a fantastic wage (although many of your constituents would be on less), but you are allowed to do it “part time”. How viable that is depends on the size of the Council and how seriously you take it.

    Theoretically it could be a route to becoming an MP, but look at the HoC and see how many actually were Councillors…

  14. @RAF

    “Did we ever find out all Mayoral candidates second preferences?”

    Libs – endorsed neither
    Green – Ken
    Ukip – Boris
    BNP – Ken (yes a lefty)
    Siobhan – endorsed neither.

  15. Latest YouGov/The Sun results 8th May CON 31%, LAB 44%, LD 8%, (UKIP 8%); APP -43

  16. Is there a limit to the number of councils an individual can be elected to? One might be able to scrape together a decent living by juggling about a dozen of them at a time…

    (Multiple seats on a single council would be better, saving quite a bit in petrol money.)


    I have often wondered if you can be an MP of more than one constituency.

  18. Michael: Are you looking out for Max here? I reckon he could put a dozen of them straight at least.

  19. I too am surprised by tonight’s YG. The momentum does not appear to have been lost, although anyone listening to Ed Miliband’s glottal stops this morning on Radio 5, may well have pondered whether it really is necessary to demonstrate that you are decisive by such tactics. His brother does it too, and Blair did it. I assume there was a deep worry that they would come over as well-educated as the toffs.

    The Sheep
    AW is correct, it’s an allowance. I admit that urban councillors convince themselves that they have to do what they do, but they don’t. In my area, I proposed we should have evening council meetings so the working public could attend, but many members complained that were afraid to drive home in the dark. The average age of councillors will tell you everything you need to know

    BTW Greeting to old friends including our host and HM..

  20. Max: “Often wondered”

    Are you serious? My bet is that they’d notice. You could try the Basil Brush idea though – must be worth a shot at least.

  21. Actually, apropos Max’s musings, does anyone know if you could be PM of more than one country at a time?

    It would boost your income and also save money on currency exchange and high level meetings, which you could hold in bed.

  22. Max – you used to be able to stand for more than one seat. It was used by political figures in previous centuries before general elections were held on a single day as backup – if you didn’t get elected in one, you might get elected in another. If they won more than one they resigned the others.

    It was only made illegal quite recently, within the last 5 years or so. The most well known recent instances of it happening prior to that are

    John Whittaker of UKIP, who stood in 8 different seats in 2005
    Rainbow George Weiss who stood in 12 constituencies in 2005
    Screaming Lord Sutch who stood against all three main party leaders in 1992
    Wesley Williamson, who stood under the name of “Peter Barry” in four Northern Ireland by-elections on the same day in 1986 (all the NI unionist MPs resigned to force by-elections, but four would have been returned unopposed. Williamson stood under the name of the Irish foriegn minister to force actual elections)

  23. As for the 13% Labour lead in tonight’s YouGov, I’m not at all surprised, I have to say. It could well be as good as it gets and maybe the only way is down, but I sense shifting sands that might suggest a structural double-digit lead for Labour for some time to come. Why do I think the sands have shifted? I haven’t seen the sub-questions in tonight’s poll, obviously, but I would hazard a guess that the Tory’s two trump cards of Cameron’s personal ratings and Osborne and Cameron’s lead on economic competence are now no longer the aces they once were. Probably more like jokers now! This changes the rules of engagement and the danger for the Tories now is that once their strong suit is gone they are exposing all the things that made the electorate reject them for nigh on 20 years. The Lib Dem fire-shield seems to have disappeared too.

    I thought Umannu put it quite well. The Tory Governments of the 80s and 90s may not have been much liked but they were respected and grudgingly admired for their effectiveness and overall competence, certainly until Major got his uncertain hand on the tiller. Callous, maybe, but efficient. The Cameron coalition, on the other hand, may be acquiring a reputation for being both heartless and hopeless. That’s not a good place to be politically, not a good place at all.

    Now, I agree with those that say that all this is much more anti-incumbent sentiment than any obvious enthusiasm for Miliband and Labour, but, what an opportunity now for the much derided Miliband. The two gifts the formation of the Coalition gave the Labour Leader were an instant trenche of disaffected Lib Dem voters en bloc and a chance to camp out on a large swathe of vacated centre-left ground. To start with, these gifts proved elusive as the Coalition caught the imagination of an electorate keen for something fresh and new. Miliband started uncertainly, seemingly unsure how to free himself and his party from a toxic economic legacy and uncertain as to how to counter a sure footed opponent. As recently as early this year, his poor form and run of bad luck continued and the detractors circled. Then, as always happens in politics if you stay the course, his luck turned and this sudden run of good political fortune coincided with his own growing self-assuredness and confidence.

    I think the next 12-18 months will make or break the Coalition and while I think the economy will be the key, Messrs Cameron and Clegg might have to factor in a resurgent opposition into their calculations now. I suspect they wouldn’t have been doing that only 6 months ago.

  24. Max

    The UKIP vote confuses me.

    They averaged 14% in the locals, but in London they only got 2%, then nationally, they are on 8% where is the true value???

    The 14% is only where they actually stood – and obviously you stand where you have the best chance of winning, have a well-known local candidate etc. The number of councillors actually elected is still single figures and most will effectively be elected for who they are not what their Party is.

    The 2% is the figure for Mayor and it is clear that some candidates got squeezed by the big personality battle – I don’t think the Lib Dem’s real percentage is 4% either. London was full of people saying they though Brian was the best candidate but they were voting for Boris/Ken because they knew he couldn’t win.

    Of course you could have given your ‘first’ vote to Brian and the ‘second’ to Boris/Ken but not many people seem to really understand the implications of the voting system. In retrospect I wonder if this is why Jenny Jones came third – because she clearly instructed her voters how to vote so they didn’t fall into the ‘must vote for Boris or Ken’ trap.

    I actually suspect the 8% may be a little high because I think on-line polls slightly overstate UKIP, but 5-7% could well be the true figure.

    And don’t worry about your on-line comments coming back to haunt you – if only because Anthony deletes to worst of them. It’s Facebook that will blight your future (if you’re daft enough to use it).

  25. @ Colin

    “………..on the other hand-Election promises are just a means to an end :-”

    Well, keep in mind that he has to do what is going to be in the best interests of the French people and he is also constrained by the realities of the EU and the modern economy. Not a terrible thing to have that in a leader.

  26. Anthony mentions that a failure to weight by ethnic minority may have resulted in some London polling being out. I suspect that a failure to weight by nationality is responsible for some polls exaggerating the lead Boris has. In the London elections any registered voter can vote, not just U.K. + Irish + Commonwealth citizens as at general elections. These non-U.K./Irish/Commonwealth citizens may make up as much as 10% of voters in London. Citizens of other EU countries have little incentive to apply for British nationality as they already have the right to live and work in the U.K. Of course, this phenomenon applies not just to London Assembly elections but also to all local elections and to the European elections, but is particularly pronounced in London given the high percentage of non-British. The fact that the polls overstated UKIP support also suggests that the pollsters are blind/ignorant of the difference in the voter base for different types of election. Non-British citizens who move to U.K. have an incentive to go on the register as it helps them build a credit rating and if you look at the registers in London boroughs you will find them registered in quite high numbers.

1 2 3