Over on Labour Uncut Atual Hatwal worries that Labour’s lead may only be 3 points, not 10.

He rightly thinks back to those towering 20 point leads that Labour was enjoying in early 1990, before going on to lose the election in 1992 and warns Labour supporters not to be too complacent – sound advice. However, people can be somewhat more confident in the figures now than in 1990. Two things led to those 20 point leads in early 1990 translating into a Conservative victory in 1992. The first was a genuine swing back to the Conservatives in popular support (largely through removing Mrs Thatcher), the second is that the polls were getting it wrong, and Labour support was probably never that high to begin with. Right up to the election most polls were showing Labour with a small lead, when in reality the Conservatives went on to win with an eight point lead.

In his article Atul ponders whether the polls could be overestimating Labour support again, pointing out that Labour’s lead in the London Assembly elections was not as large as in London polls of Westminster voting intention. The problem with this is that people vote differently in different sorts of elections. This is something I’ve already addressed this year in terms of the Liberal Democrat performance at local elections, which some people thought was a sign that the Lib Dems were actually doing much better than the polls suggested, when in fact it is perfectly normal for the Lib Dems to perform seven percentage points higher at local elections than their national level of support in Westminster polls.

The final YouGov poll of the mayoral election campaign is here. As you can see, London’s Westminster voting intentions in the poll were CON 31%, LAB 49%, LDEM 9%, Others 11%. However, voting intentions for the London Assembly list were somewhat different – they stood at CON 32%, LAB 42%, LDEM 9%, Others 18%. Part of the difference is likelihood to vote (YouGov don’t normally weight by likelihood to vote outside election campaigns), part of it is people simply voting differently – particularly, in the case of the London Assembly list, for minor parties.

Anyway, if you are looking for evidence that the polls may be overestimating Labour’s lead, the only polling figures you can legitimately compare a result to are polls asking about that particular contest. In this instance, the results in the London assembly constituency London Assembly list vote were CON 32%, LAB 41%, LDEM 7%, Others 20%. YouGov’s final poll showed London assembly list intentions of CON 32%, LAB 42%, LDEM 9%, Others 18%. YouGov showed a 10 point lead, compared to the 9 point lead Labour actually acheived.

Needless to say, this does not indicate that the polls are overestimating Labour’s lead.

So, more generally what is Labour’s lead in the polls? Here are what each polling company’s recent polls have been showing

Angus Reid 16
YouGov 12
Opinium 11
Ipsos MORI 10
ComRes 9
Survation 8
Populus 8

There are several reasons for the variation. Part of it is likelihood to vote – the two companies showing the highest Labour leads, Angus Reid and YouGov, do not weight or filter respondents by their likelihood to vote which tends to reduce Labour’s lead in other companies’ figures. Another factor is that online pollsters are tending to show higher levels of support for UKIP than telephone polls, which in some cases may be impacting on their reported levels of Tory support. There is also how pollsters treat don’t knows – the three pollsters showing the lowest Labour leads all reallocate a proportion of people who say don’t know to the party they voted for last time, which again tends to reduce the level of Labour support. Finally there is the normal random variation within the margin of error that we expect to see in all polls. Taking it all into account though, Labour’s lead does tend to be around about the 10 point mark.

At the last couple of elections the overestimating of Labour support seems to have been solved, however all companies overestimated Lib Dem support at the last election, so it would be hubris to deny the possibility that the polls could get it wrong again in the future. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to suggest it. Atul’s other point – whether a ten point Labour lead now translates into one in three years time, however, is an entirely different question. All polls can do is measure what people think now, not what they’ll think in three years time.

Labour DO have a lead of somewhere in the region of 10 points now. Whether they’ll have one in 2015 is an open question.

59 Responses to “A polling question to which the answer is no”

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  1. Thanks AW, as always an interesting piece. I certainly would not agree with Atual Hatwal as i agree with your estimate of the current Labour lead. I have always fett that Labour would have a double figure at this stage in the Parliament and the government certainly ensured it with a poorly presented budget. As you say though what people actually vote in three years time is another matter.

  2. AW…………Moderation has its victims. :-)

    The balance between the gloom and despondency and sunshine and hope, seems to me to be a battle of margins, 10% on either side of the 80% in play………..We know that at least 10% of the the population is thriving, we know that at least 10% is really struggling, best and worst cases. The 80% in play will also have margins, another 10% on either side perhaps reflecting more or less similar conditions, but not extreme. That leaves us of course with 60% making judgements from a more balanced perspective……..not really bad, not really good, but swaying in the current climate according to the political breeze. Of the causes and solutions to the current predicament offered up by our politicians in explanation, depending on their affiliations, and the strength of those, the electorate will respond to pollsters. I think that the current gap in polling figures between AR and ICM, not only supports your analysis, but also my 10% 10% 60% theory, the magic number currently is 10. At least I understand what I’m getting at, whether others will remains to be seen. :-)

  3. A small typo in the paragraph after the list – “the three pollsters showing the lowest Tory leads” when of course it should be labour leads.

    Otherwise, interesting article.

  4. Having spent the past 40 yrs in the banking industry one of my few regrets is in not saving my blotting paper. For years I used to record deeply insightful and professional calculations and analysis on my blotters, many decisions were made as a result of these jottings, money invested, and lent, generally successfully………..my last post is an example of my simplistic and naive analytical style, however, whilst I sit in thrall of the psephological prowess of posters on here, I still reflect on a career built on homespun arithmetical doodling. Bring back the slide rule I say. :-)

  5. David – Ta. Corrected (funnily enough of course, the reallocation of don’t knows does tend to have that effect too – if it is was Labour who had lost support since the last election and the polls were showing big Tory leads, reallocation of don’t knows would being helping Labour)

  6. @Ken

    You said “…Bring back the slide rule I say…”

    Still too hi-tech. We should never have gotten rid of the abacus… :-)

    Regards, Martyn

  7. @Ken

    I understand your point Ken. Certainly makes sense to me, and I broadly agree.

  8. Those “towering” Labour leads lasted for two months (March/April 1990). If we accept that Labour VI was being overestimated by ~4%, and Con VI was being understimated by ~5%, then Labour enjoyed towering leads just into double figures for about eight weeks of the parliament.

    Just looking at MORI, if we strip out the ~9% error for their monthly polls during the 1987-92 parliament, then Labour was probably in the lead for about six of those months.

    Imo a better measure for estimating the likelihood of an election victory would be to look at which party enjoys a clear lead, on balance, for a significant duration of the parliament. Not a rule without exception, because there can be exceptional events late in a parliament which turn things around.

    Since the 2010 GE the Tories have had a clear lead for about six months so far.

  9. It’s clear to me that Angus Reid has the best methodology and henceforth should be recognised as the “gold standard” for voting intention polls.

  10. Anthony

    Opinion Polls always ask a variation of ‘How would you vote if there was a General Election tomorrow?’ This in many respects is a silly question to ask as there is not going to be a General Election tomorrow. However, unlike in previous parliament, the date of the next General Election has been set by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 as 7th May 2015.

    Would the support given to each party in the polls change if opinion pollsters were to change the question slightly to something along the lines of ‘How will you vote in the General Election of 7th May 2015?’ It may concentrate minds and give a more realistic picture as to how each party would perform at the next General Election. What do you think?

  11. @MARTYN

    The abacus is gone? I need to upgrade.

    Labour were traumatised by 1972 after loosing and expecting to win. I think many Tories had wished they had lost 1972.

    But the polls have proved themselves since then, there will always be those who refuse to accept what the polls are telling them and always bring up 1972.

    But it is always wise to be cautious, 10% is good now and would produce a nice landslide for Labour.

    And that landslide is now not in 1915.

  12. @NICKP

    “It’s clear to me that Angus Reid has the best methodology and henceforth should be recognised as the “gold standard” for voting intention polls.”

    Until they are showing Conservative leads?

  13. NICKP………….I support a broader church of polling expertise, preferring the musings of Labour Uncut’s Atual Hatwal, and the, ” platinum standard ” VI predictors, ICM. :-)

  14. Ken

    Loved your last post, LOL!

  15. Political correctness may have gone mad in some people’s eyes but the Abacus and Sliderule are still available for anyone who wants to use them.

    As to the less democratic notion; “it worked for me so everyone else should do it”, well that says more about the advocate of the method than it’s merits.

    For me Labours lead had two main elements, Libdems who are unhappy with their party in the coalition and Tory voters unhappy with the Tories in the coalition.

    Labour has benefitted from deserting Libdems far more than the Tories have.

    A fairly obvious outcome as a LibDem who is happy they are in government even with the Tories is unlikely to desert.

    Indeed there is some hope for the LibDems as I suspect there are people who come the election will vote LibDem to keep Labour out who are saying they will vote Tory now.

    Those Tories not happy with their party doing a deal with the LibDems will probably be to the right and therefore look to UKIP not Labour or the LibDems.

    Come 2012 when it is still be overwhelmingly Labour v Tory, Cameron v Miliband (I expect them both to still be there) some tactical voters will return to the LibDems especially Tories with fewer Labour ones and the majority of UKIP support to the Tories.

    The best Labour can realistically hope for unless the economy tanks or the coalition crumbles is to go into the last conference season with a lead of half what it has now.

    To win a majority it will need a better narrative than now, a mood for change, and for Ed Miliband to have done a lot more to convince people he can lead the country.

    The Tories are in a bit of a mess right now but ,although I don’t follow the gossip that closely, internally Labour still seem to be feuding and don’t come across as a winning team yet.

    Oh and of course. I can’t finish without reminding people we have a referendum first.


  16. THE OTHER HOWARD…..Credit where credit’s due, these guys are good ! :-)

  17. Isn’t it also the case that those London splits are very volatile – the Sun poll on 2 May has split of 42-38?


  18. Personally I think atm whatever lead Labour have at the moment, from current polling, it shrink to something like 4% at election time once policies are announced and things get serious. It strikes me as a bit silly to be worrying about only having a 3-4% lead going into an election. That’s enough to win a Labour majority. Is he expecting a landslide every time? I think there’s never any reason to expect that.

    Basically if Europe is still a problem in a couple of years time, then UKIP will badly threaten any Conservative chances of a victory next time. If Europe isn’t a problem, then they might be okay as long as the economy isn’t too bad. There’s no great enthusiasm for any party leader now, just a vague sense of displeasure that Labour by default are reaping. It need not stay that way either.

  19. Matthew – oh yes, steer clear of regional splits on voting intention. Atul did not make that mistake though – all the polls mentioned here are properly sampled London polls.

  20. Ken

    I have thought your were a complete and utter banker ! ;)

    When I started work, the first question asked was whether I wanted to work with computers or ledgers. Computers were only just starting to be introduced and the office work was divided between the two.

    A question has always been on my mind and you may be an ideal person to answer it. Would we have suffered the banking crash in 2008, if we did not have computers linked to the internet, which makes trading much more instant ?

    My thinking is that due to technology, it is much easier to trade many billions of pounds of investments and therefore you don’t have the same level of accountability in the system. When I first started work, we had many layers of supervisors and managers, who had to authorise our work. In recent years, many layers have been cut out and there is not the same level of authorisation required. I personally think that risk control has suffered as a result.

  21. Labour still have an unelectable leader, however the public mood shows at the moment. Ed Miliband will never be PM.

  22. “@ bernard

    Labour still have an unelectable leader, however the public mood shows at the moment. Ed Miliband will never be PM. ”

    That judgement would be difficult to evidence, nearly 3 years away from the GE. Yes if there was a GE today, I think he would struggle, but in 3 years time, if the economy has not improved and the Tories are mired in sleaze again, then it is not unrealistic to imagine any Labour leader becoming PM.

  23. @R HUCKLE

    Did they have computers at the time of the South Sea Bubble and the great depression?

    Traders in all the major banks around the world bought sub prime debt and all its derivatives and suddenly found themselves holding a lemon. Without computers it just might have taken a little longer to find the lemons.

  24. however all companies overestimated Lib Dem support at the last election
    So ChrisLane1945 was right all along?! Wonders never cease. :P

  25. Oh, you’re referring to the 2010 election. Ignore me. I blame sleep deprivation!

  26. @bernard – “… Labour still have an unelectable leader”

    Same goes for the Tories if this is anything to go by:


  27. @ Bernard

    Labour still have an unelectable leader, however the public mood shows at the moment. Ed Miliband will never be PM.
    Public mood may be that Ed M would not be the ‘best PM’ when David C is the other contender.

    But public mood, as represented by Voting Intention, shows he would be PM, were a GE held now – unless you have some polling showing Ed M would not win his own constituency!

  28. @ Sandy Brownlee (from the previous thread)

    “Did I turn over two pages at once? How’s that possible?”

    Actually, that’s a very good question. I thought it was a joke when I first heard it and I should explain further. It’s a number that is possible due to the availability of same-day voter registration. Actually given results last night, I doubt it was actually that high a voter turnout. But it was still quite high. I suppose a good day for democracy though the results are depressing as hell. Lol. :(

  29. @ Anthony Wells

    “At the last couple of elections the overestimating of Labour support seems to have been solved, however all companies overestimated Lib Dem support at the last election, so it would be hubris to deny the possibility that the polls could get it wrong again in the future. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to suggest it. Atul’s other point – whether a ten point Labour lead now translates into one in three years time, however, is an entirely different question. All polls can do is measure what people think now, not what they’ll think in three years time.”

    Very, very true. People forget that when they analyze politics. A poll today may be accurate. That doesn’t mean public opinion will remain static for the next two to three years (or even months or weeks).

  30. Anthony – this article compares Westminster voting intention in London to the actual vote for the London Assembly. Were there any polling figures for the actual London Assembly (and not just mayor)?

    If we’re going to compare polls vs results, we ideally need to compare Assembly VI vs Assembly results rather than Westerminster VI vs Assembly results.

  31. Chris – um, yes. Look at the post above (my one, not the Labour Uncut one)

  32. R HUCKLE………….Ooooooh, you are awful, but I like you ! :-)

    You are on the right lines as far as risk management is concerned, computer programmes do encourage a sort of swashbuckling approach. A good example you may be interested in , is the Black Scholes mathematical model of financial markets, it provides formulae for pricing derivatives and most hedgies rely on it, the idea is that you eliminate your risk, the fact that someone else is then exposed is neither here nor there. There are of course high speed transactional systems and models, in use, that people claim give you control, but I have my doubts about some of the stuff being touted around. :-)

  33. R HUCKLE……..To add to my previous post, there is a school of thought that places responsibility for the crash, firmly on the Black Scholes doorstep……….derivatives are the devil’s work. :-)

  34. Nice piece here about Black-Scholes:


    It was originally a story on the excellent ‘More or Less’ programme and there should be links to the broadcast and/or podcast

  35. The big question is, will we see Con under 30 and Lab at 45 or more on YouGov this week? Tonight?

    The March of the Eds…

  36. Anyone who is interested in crashes should of course read Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929..

  37. Sorry, serves me right for skim-reading.

    If I can be bothered, I’ll put that poll in Wikipedia, which is generally a good resource for obscure election results, especially the foreign ones.

  38. @Paul Croft (previous thread)

    If you are not of the left you have my apologies.

    Mind you I have been called a lefty once on this site which I have to say came as a bit of a surprise. I do not take the Tory blue because I have issues with some Tory policies under Cameron.

  39. I find it quite interesting that the Tory line about the last Labour government being responsible for the 2008 financial crash is wearing off, as people become more informed about economics. When I have looked back at the deficits run by various governments over say the last 30 years, I find that it is more to do with economic cycles, than deliberate overspending at the time. Of course it is great if a government is able to run a surplus or balance the books, but often this is affected by many factors outside of a governments control.


    When Labour left office the deficit was almost 12%, as they had lost a large amount of revenues from the financial services sector. When the coalition came into power, of course they had to cancel some government spending and make different spending choices. But the deficit has not really been eaten into too much, as the economy is not growing, so the tax revenues are not as high as planned.

    The coalition have started to realise that unless they get some growth in the economy, they are unlikely to be in good position leading up to the GE. The ratings agencies may downgrade the UK to AA and the cost of borrowing may rise as a result.

    I would therefore suggest that the Labour lead of around 10% could be extended further and that they could win with a decent majority at the GE, if they can put forward a convincing alternative manifesto. Given the negative outlook, I find it difficult to believe that the Tories can hope to turn their fortunes around enough to secure a majority at the GE.

  40. @Roger Mexico

    Many thanks for the link to Black-Scholes, most interesting. Thanks.

  41. “The big question is, will we see Con under 30 and Lab at 45 or more on YouGov this week? Tonight?”
    I’m going to randomly (since I can’t be bothered to look at how much difference the royal wedding or previous jubilees made to polling) predict that Tories will see a Jubilee boost and it’ll be Con 35, Lab 41.

  42. I don’t see the Tories receiving a jubilee boost. Why should they ?

    Prediction for tonights YG

    Labour 43%
    Tory 32%
    LD 9%
    UKIP 7%

    Labours shadow frontbench team have been a bit quiet recently, so perhaps they are just enjoying the Tories getting kicked by the media. Nobody is looking at Labour at the moment, so no need to appear on the media, where they would be asked about their own policies or issues.

  43. Myron Scholes, ( Of the now notorious Black-Scholes model ) was awarded a Nobel prize……..as of course were Paul Krugman, and Tony Blair. My question here is, is the Nobel prize a reflection of anything other than subjective judgement and flawed thinking ? :-) The more I see of it the more I am convinced that it is some sort of Swedish intellectual game, or ironic art form, based on the Emperor’s new clothes. :-)

  44. @Nick P
    “It’s clear to me that Angus Reid has the best methodology and henceforth should be recognised as the “gold standard” for voting intention polls.”

    Totally agree. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that they overestimated the Con lead by a net 5% in 2010. So that’s a 21% Labour lead then.

  45. I think you are right, Phil.

    21 point lead, already!

  46. @Phil, Nick – “Angus Reid has the best methodology”

    The main problem was overestimating LD support by 6%. So that should be LDs currently on 3%.

    Joking aside, they did spectacularly fall foul of Cleggmania, however, the five polls they conducted before the first leaders’ debate were remarkably consistent, and did accurately predict the GE result.

  47. Another good article. But one key question needs to be addressed: ICM? Are they (still) the gold standard? How do we interpret a distribution in which they are an outlier?

  48. My perdition is based on the AngusReid and Survation polls putting the Tories on 29% and the YG downward trend for the Tories slowly trending towards 29%. Plus the fact that the news is still against them. Labour have had a couple of polls on 45% recently and have continued to poll above 42% fairly constantly. The LibDems seem to flucuate between 8% or 9% with UKIP not far behind.

    Tories 29%, Labour 33%, LD 8%, UKIP 7%


    @”My perdition is based on the AngusReid and Survation polls”

    Mine too :-)

  50. Gary

    Labour 33% ? I think you meant 43%

    I think like me that when you type in Labours figure, you must be physiologically thinking that they should be polling in the 30’s.

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