Last year I wrote an article on How Not To Report Opinion Polls. It included advice on ignoring small cross breaks, margins of error and not cherry-picking. That is, if there is a long data series with lots of noise and random error, don’t pick out the one random outlier than supports your case and ignore the rest.

There is a classic example in the Guardian today. John Harris writes about polling of young people and says they are voting Tory. He writes: “One recent YouGov poll put support for the Tories among the 18-24s at 31%, with Labour trailing at 27%. By way of a contrast, Tory support among those aged 40-59 was at 29%, with Labour on 40%. In other words, the time-worn wisdom about politics and the young may be in the process of being turned on its head.”

Well, yes, one recent YouGov poll showed that. This one. However, other YouGov poll this month have tended to show Labour leads amongst young people and the Conservatives doing better amongst older people, a far more normal pattern. The poll the Guardian linked to was not typical of recent polling. On average YouGov’s daily sample contains around about 150 people under 25, about a third of which say don’t know or that they wouldn’t vote. This means the daily voting break for under 25s is based on about a hundred people, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 10 points. In other words, if a party actually had a lead of around about 8 points amongst young people, then random error alone will spit out polls showing leads of between plus 28 and minus 12. You can’t just take one out of context that happens to show figures you like.

Taking an average across the whole of June so far YouGov’s crossbreak for under 25s has the Conservatives on 31%, Labour on 38% – a significantly higher level of Labour support. Even that needs some caveating though. Opinion polls are weighted to be representative of the country as a whole, they are not necessary weighted so that the crossbreaks are internally representative. For example, overall there will be the correct number of people with a C2 social class, but there may be too few old people who are C2 and too few young people, or whatever. In theory this should even out over time, but there are no guarantees.

If you really want to know about the views of a particular sub-sample of the British population you need polling specificially aimed at them. Luckily enough, the Sun commissioned a specific YouGov poll of young people earlier this month, which was specificially weighted on things like education and employment status and level of educational qualification. It didn’t ask voting intention, but it did ask young people which party they thought best reflected their views – the results were 23% Labour, 12% Conservative, 7% Lib Dem, 7% Green, 6% UKIP, 39% none or don’t know.

In short, all the other findings that John Harris writes about on social and economic issues are fine (and are largely drawn from MORI’s generational data based on very large aggregate samples), but the idea that the Conservatives are suddenly the leading party amongst young people is really not true.

276 Responses to “Young people are NOT suddenly all Conservatives”

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  1. @ bcrombie

    Agree with your comments on Cameron, but I expect that your post will be removed by Anthony, so people who view later won’t know what I am agreeing with. This site does not allow partisan comments, particularly about PMQ’s.

    As to the issue of how any Prime Minister answers questions at PMQ’s, it my opinion it should never become personal and they need to behave like statesman.

    I don’t like the way statistics are traded across the despatch box, because they are very selective and the person asking the question cannot expect the person answering to respond directly to the statistic within the time constraint of PMQ’s.

  2. As ever, can we NOT have discussion of PMQs here. It never rises above a partisan back and forth (either comments on it, or the wretched thing itself!)

  3. @CL1945 (FPT) – “Agreed, that 40% is a minimum figure for Labour, but they should be at 45%…”

    Er no – they ‘should’ be about 1 or 2% ahead of the Tories when the votes are counted, and that will guarantee them a majority.

    On youth and Thatcherism, Toby Young has picked up on this in classic style –

    He doesn’t make the mistake of singling out a cross break, and does confined himself to comments on the Mori poll, so we can’t criticise him in that regard.

    What I do find quite amusing is his notion that the classic response of the left is to ask someone else to help them (the ‘government’) while it’s right wing and Conservative to help yourself.

    This is a perception, and perhaps something of a modern reality, that Labour really needs to tackle if they are to win hearts and minds in the long term. The Big Society (remember that?) was a symptom of Labour having lost it’s roots, in my view.

    I’ve posted in the past about how it was the epitome of the left wing approach to help ourselves – not so much through cut throat individualism, but through cooperative action that helped lift whole communities up. Unions used to pay subscriptions to build libraries and sports pavilions, there were (still are) funds for education for young people, and the campaigns for social betterment were often supported by collective financing of all manner of positive activities designed to give people better chances in life.

    There are 8m TUC members (and rising, for the first time in years) and I’ve often mused that if they could donate 25p each every week into a community fund, we could see £100m pa spent on social and economic development programmes. If we were ever to return to this kind of collective action for the communal good, Labourites could justifiable turn to Toby Young and tell him to shove his patronising drivel right up his Thatcherite @rse, because they know all about helping people get on in life.

    As it stands, Toby has a point – the left has largely retreated to a position where the state takes on the functions of funding such actions, and there really is a need for communities to latch on to a much more independent minded approach to getting what they need.

  4. I kind of scanned that Guardian article earlier in the day and didn’t really bother reading it in detail as I suspected it was a bit dodgy so nice to have this confirmed!

    However, despite all of this the YouGov polling must be pretty disappointing for Lab and disappointing for the future of politics generally with the 39% don’t know.:

    23% Labour, 12% Conservative, 7% Lib Dem, 7% Green, 6% UKIP, 39% none or don’t know.

    I guess the fact that it isn’t specifically voting intention makes it difficult to compare. Personally Greens represent my views the best of any parties (and I voted for them throughout the Blair years) but I am currently very likely to vote Labour therefore my response to that question wouldn’t give accurate polling results for me.

    Are there any comparative polls done 20 or 30 years ago?

  5. Thanks for this post Anthony.

    So if we look at trends using the cross breaks, so for example:

    “Taking an average across the whole of June so far YouGov’s crossbreak for under 25s has the Conservatives on 31%, Labour on 38%”

    and if we look at that average in July and see that the Conservatives are now 25% and Labour now 43%, would it then be valid to make a conclusion that Labour is winning the under 25 vote.

    Or would that conclusion be invalidated by this as someone mentioned in a reply to one of my recent posts:

    “Opinion polls are weighted to be representative of the country as a whole, they are not necessary weighted so that the crossbreaks are internally representative”

    Also- why show crossbreaks if they are inaccurate and can lead to people making the wrong conclusions?

    And – if one demographic is very pro labour, and a different demographic is very pro Tory, if the polls are not weighted properly to those demographics, does that not make a poll result looking at voting intention less accurate?

  6. alec

    I thought the reason the Economy is in trouble was because the Banks did help themselves, to our money.

  7. Good Rainbow Joke from EB.

  8. There are 8m TUC members (and rising, for the first time in years) and I’ve often mused that if they could donate 25p each every week into a community fund, we could see £100m pa spent on social and economic development programmes.

    -Most trade unions do run substantial support and benevolent funds the RCN Benevolent Fund which I am familiar with raises Millions by voluntary donations from its members every year.

    Other Trade Unions have similar schemes such as Unison Welfare ,all voluntary with no state funding.

    Please recall these in the case of Health Workers are the same people who have been faced already with an effective pay cut of 10% since 2010 another 6% pay cut by 2016 and increases of 2% of pay on Pension contributions into a fund which already is a net beneficiary to the treasury of £2 Billion a Year

  9. What’s wrong with that One AW? [Nothing, if something goes into moderation immediately it means its triggered the automatic filter and I’ll release it later. It’s not always obvious what the filter objected to! – AW]


    @” why show crossbreaks if they are inaccurate and can lead to people making the wrong conclusions?”

    A question which has puzzled me , ever since coming to UKPR & reading AW’s crossbreak caveats.

    OPs would be cheaper to publish, simpler to read, less prone to prompting conclusions like the one AW corrects in this thread-and less demanding of AW’s time in writing such corrections.

    The whole thing seems like an exercise in pointless mis-communication .

  11. People find the polls that back their opinion…

  12. As Alec (on the ball as usual) points out, Harris isn’t the only commentator picking up that particular stick and running wildly around with it. Between him and Toby Young a meme is in the making, for all your Canute-like efforts, Mr Wells.

    Like many succesful memes it has more than one type of appeal. It appeals to Toby Young because he wants to make Conservatism look fashionable and attractive to the young (a tall order given the average age of Tory party members).

    It appeals to Harris for less honourable reasons. He’s deluded by nostalgia. Aging student radicals like to think that they were the vanguard and today’s youth don’t match up – and aging Leftists are as much prey to this illusion as aging Rightists are. . He only remembers his friends and their enthusiasm, and their successes. He’s forgetting how few young people were ever involved in politics, left or right, and how many, even among the “committed” minority, were there for the parties or the opportunity to get off or whatever.

    That Harris, an intelligent commentator by-and-large, has succumbed to this sort of sentimentality at such an early age can perhaps be attributed to the general mood of near-suicidal fatalism prevalent in the Guardian following their disastrous attempt to create a Lib-Lab pact at the last election.

    Anyway, good luck with your efforts to educate, Mr Wells. I’ve given up shouting at the tide a long time ago.

  13. Kevin Rudd has ousted Prime Minister Julia Gillard as leader of Australia’s Labor Party.

    He won by 57 votes to 45, in a leadership ballot of Labor lawmakers.

    The change comes ahead of a general election due in September, which polls suggest Labor is set to lose.

    This is the latest twist in a long and bitter rivalry between the two politicians – but it could be the last as Ms Gillard has said she will now leave politics.

    “I will not re-contest the federal electorate… at the forthcoming election,” said Ms Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister.

  14. @Postageincluded – I think your summary of Harris and his ilk is a tad unfair. I think that there is something in what he says, although as my last post indicates, I think both he and Young are being grossly oversimplistic is saying young people are no longer left wing.

    I think the problem of understanding this really means looking at what we think of as being left wing. I’m not very good at the deep, philosophical stuff about political origins and levels of theory, so now I’m probably talking out of my metaphorical @rse, but it seems to me that the historical view of what being left wing taken today is not the same as the historical reality.

    As far as I can gather, the left was always about work, ethics and making your own conditions better. This is classic ‘Thatcherism’ in many ways. The difference is that the left saw this as being enabled by controls of aggressive capitalism, redistribution of wealth to aid the process, and protection for those who suffer from ill health, unemployment or other forms of distress.

    The welfare state was initiated on the basis of full employment and a strong contributory. The only real difference with Thatcherism, and I really do see this as a very big difference, is that it envisaged the pooling of risk, with higher earners paying more in as part of that risk pooling process.

    Over the years (decades) labour has allowed itself to become trapped in a cul de sac of ‘protecting the poor’, which usually means fiddling with the welfare system.

    The general public are moving steadily away from this position, not, I believe, because they are getting more right wing or less left wing, but for the simple reason that it’s not a very good way to deal with the problems, and there has always been a recognition that people have to work their own way out of difficulties. The level and type of assistance that is given to them is really the key area up for debate, and where the left/right element comes into play.

    Indeed, my own personal philosophy is that parties of the left have generally carried a far stronger notion of personal morality and responsibility than those on the right. That they have surrendered this is a long term mistake, and something that I feel Ed M has recognised and is trying to rectify.

  15. Does anybody have the actual average membership ages for the Con/Lab/Lib parties, I have membership numbers although no party seems to keep very accurate totals, as a combined number it’s about 1% of the voting public with Con and Lab on about 0.4% each.

    But I have not been able to find any official figures re average membership ages,

  16. Alec,

    To me socialism is/was about maximising the individual through collective action where appropriate.

    Sadly – collective action for it’s own sake took over for a while or it you like the left did not recognise that some of the collective frameworks in place no longer worked; and, then arguably Blair over re-balanced.

    Like you I hope Ed can find the right balance.

  17. The last thread was replaced so quickly I wanted to ask if anyone has access to a summary of deficit and debt (both recent history and planned in future years as a result of this Review) to hand. I am sure we would be all interested to see what trend has been / will be.

    As you know, I follow Dutch politics (among others).They are debating how to get down to 3% deficit next year as the EZ / EU has demanded. In fairness the word ‘demanded’ is the wrong way around as the Dutch promised to deliver this and are a bit hoist by their petard, as the economy is not producing the growth needed. All countries, including ours, are faced with this this conundrum, as is often on here debated.

    Anyway, if anyone has some nice graphs, let’s see them, or a link, most grateful.

  18. @Alec
    You’re right to say that II was being a little unfair. I like to season my posts with a little excess – “pour épater les jeunes” in this case, though “les bourgeoises”, “les hétéros”, “les écossaise” are also good targets. “Les Verts” are more difficult because, don’t be offended, they are less cohesive.

    And I’d also say that you’re substantively correct in your comments on the Workers Movement. My problem with Harris’s piece is reconciling my personal experience with it.

    Yes, young people from my generation (the generation before Harris!) supported the Welfare State. But a lot of my co-evals thought of themselves as Conservative, and voted Tory without any great cognitive dissonance (and in sufficient numbers to stymie Harold Wilson’s hope of dishing the Tories by lowering the age of majority). And his generation, despite his recollection, quite often did the same, So apart from selecting an unusual poll result and a some anecdotage from his trip to Warrington, JH’s analysis boils down to little more than “it wasn’t like this in my day”. I feel he’s wrong. It was like that. He just didn’t notice.

  19. I don’t wish to bash Harris, but one of his previous Graun projects, the excreble ‘Graduate Without a Future’ series, did exactly the same thing of taking a handful of isolated stats that vindicated some pre-held beliefs and ignoring the large mass of other data that showed that the central premise of the series was very flimsy.

    I think he’s got a bit of an MO now and I’d urge statistically-literate readers to be very cautious about him.

  20. @Howard

    Try these:

    * h ttp://
    * h ttp://


  21. I’ve heard this tiresome meme a few times lately about we’ve suposedly raised a generation of rugged individualists who eschew all state help, yet there’s remarkably little evidence to back it up.

    Ashcroft conducted this survey last year- a very large one, with substantial subsamples that we can actually infer something from. Look at the attitudinal questions from p192 onwards and it finds younger generations leaning left on virtually every questions. The only question my generation leaned slightly right on was taxing the rich much more, but even there the difference was only slight.

    That’s backed up by other polling evidence I’ve seen. My generation seems to lean a little right on taxation and curbing high pay, but even there the difference seems to be balanced by a strong emphasis on public services, meaning support for redistribution overall isn’t that different from other generations.

    I quite like John Harris, but his article smells of the innate pessimism that has always afflicted parts of the left, or perhaps as another poster pointed out, a misplaced nostalgia for some golden era of lefty activism that never existed.

  22. HOWARD

    The Comprehensive Spending Review Document ( Green Book) is here :-

    In terms of the numbers you are interested in-Deficit & Debt-they are unchanged from the 2013 Budget Red Book numbers -here :-

    ht tp s://

    The CSR just fills in the detail ( well DA will tomorrow) for FY 15/16.

    The numbers for Deficit & Debt during this Parliament & from Budget 2013 are broadly as follows :-

    Format-Deficit-£BN -% GDP

    2009/10 £157bn-11% actual
    2010/11 £139 bn-9% actual
    2011/12 £119 bn-8% actual
    2012/13 £119 bn -8% actual
    2013/14 £120 bn-7% budget
    2014/15 £ 108 bn -6% budget

    ( all actuals from ONS Public Finances Bulletin 21/6/2013-all budgets from Red Book 2013. All numbers quoted excluding Royal Mail Pension tfr. and APF ( QE) coupon repatriation. )

    Format-Debt £ BN-% GDP

    2009/10 £ 828 bn-57% actual
    2010/11 £1005 bn-67% actual
    2011/12 £ 1106 bn 72% actual
    2012/13 £ 1181 bn -75% actual
    2013/14 £ 1286 bn -80% budget
    2014/15 £ 1398 bn -84% budget

    ( all actuals from ONS Public Finances Bulletin 21/6/2013-all budgets from Red Book 2013.)

  23. @alec,

    Thanks for the link. That article was very good! :-)

  24. Certainly it is not very long ago that Generation Y was being viewed, amongst employers, as one that was big on social responsibility, green issues and generally somewhat left-leaning and a whole cottage industry has grown up around the idea that this a group with a different perspective than those business is used to.

    Now, personally, I think a lot of the so-called generational differences are a nonsense – young people often held these kinds of views – but much of the mass of social research backed this sort of thing up to an extent – feed ‘Generation Y’ into Google Scholar and you’ll get a pile of interesting ideas back. Here’s Time Magazine on Gen Y (paywalled, unfortunately, but the first para gives you the gist):,9171,1640395,00.html

    It is not at all clear that this group of young people have had a sudden volte-face, and I would imagine that the general impact of Harris’ article in business (and policy) circles will be that it doesn’t fly, Toby Young’s juvenilia notwithstanding

  25. Martyn and Colin
    Most kind and appreciated. I’ll do some studying but you gather I have a (political) point to make on all this later.

    It’s about the effect on the 2015 GE campaign.

  26. There was something abt John Wittingdale’s bro on the news, but l missed it. Any ideas anyone?

  27. I am actually taken up with Federer vs Stokhovsky
    and neither yelp nor scream so I can watch it, so finance politics for later.

    Did anyone see Matt cartoon with the female tennis player saying to the crowd could they stop munching their strawberries so loudly as she could not hear herself scream?.

  28. STEVE

    Kevin Rudd has ousted Prime Minister Julia Gillard as leader of Australia’s Labor Party.

    He won by 57 votes to 45, in a leadership ballot of Labor lawmakers.

    Did she blubber like Mrs T.

  29. I am not sure that today’s Spending Review statement will have much short term effect on the polls but have to say [… erm, if you are posting in the spirit of non-partisanship you really don’t – AW]

  30. Just for fun, I pumped yesterday’s Scottish splits from ComRes into Baxter’s Scottish seats calculator. The result would be glee for the SNP and Scottish Tories, mild pleasure for Scottish Labour, and horrific pain for the Scottish Lib Dems.

    The findings were roughly in line with what I suspect will happen in the event of a ‘No’ vote in the referendum (strong odds-on Fav at the moment): a modest increase in the SNP’s Westminster vote, a small decrease in the Labour vote (their leader is not a Scot this time round), a small slip in the Tory vote (nearly entirely due to UKIP slippage), and catastrophe (yet again) for the SLDs.

    But despite a slight decline in the Tory vote, they could be in line to triple the number of seats they win.

    ComRes Scottish sub-sample – Westminster VI
    +/- change on UK GE 2010

    Lab 41% (-1)
    SNP 26% (+6)
    Con 15% (-2)
    LD 7% (-12)

    Giving seat distribution of:

    Lab 43 (+2)
    SNP 10 (+4)
    Con 3 (+2)
    LD 3 (-8)

    Lab Gains from LD:
    Dunbartonshire East
    Edinburgh West

    SNP Gains from LD:
    Argyll and Bute
    Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
    Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

    Con Gain from LD:
    Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine
    Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

  31. The current Ladbrokes odds on an SNP Gain in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey: 3/1

    As far as I can see that is the only Scottish Westminster seat being priced this far out.

  32. Howard,so sad,you just know this bloke will be knocked out in the next round.
    Wimbledon to Murray by default,just like the Amercan Open.

  33. Ewen

    He was arrested under Operation Fairbanks which is investigating claims of child sexual abuse at Elm House Guest house.

    There is a wiki page about it here:

    I’m sure Anthony will remind us all not to speculate on the guilt or innocence of the accused.

  34. @Howard

    You’re welcome.


  35. Chordata
    Thanks for that, l assumed he’d been arrested for fiddling expenses!

  36. Ann in Wales
    You may be correct but I like to see serve and volley making a comeback. I admire RF immensely but good to see changes and to see them happening on grass which is *the* surface.

  37. @Ann in Wales

    “Wimbledon to Murray by default,just like the Amercan Open.”

    I wouldn’t normally call having to beat the No. 1 player in the world, winning by default, but perhaps the definition has changed…

  38. I note that a former commenter on this website,Pamela Geller,has today been banned from entering the country. An extreme version of the naughty chair perhaps?

  39. @Sen5c

    At the risk of sounding stupid, why would an anti-islam Ayn Rand aficionado from New York wish to post on a GB polling site? Was she that interested in the Scottish crossbreaks?


  40. As far as I can remember the issue was some voodoo poll or other, presumably relating to one of her obsessions.(Don’t think I’ve dreamt this but am starting to worry).

    Anthony gave her his stock response on such polls,then had to emphasise that they were not a bit worthless or slightly useless,just worthless. I ‘heard’ it in the sort of voice I used to use for my 4 year old attempting a new task – in her case that would be ‘rational thought’ so pretty similar I suppose.

    The more I try to recall this the more bizarre it seems – maybe I have a problem…

  41. ALEC.

    I very much agree with your analysis of Left wing attitudes.

    In the field of education it was ‘lefties’ who drove us towards anti-standards attitudes in working class state schools.

  42. @Alec,

    I find myself completely agreeing with you. What is going on?

  43. I doubt if the spending review had any effect in VI – maybe just reinforcing the trenches or increasing the don’t knows, because Labour says rather similar things as the conservatives (the nuances will be lost to the public).

    @ Rogerrebel

    While the banks were pretty much helping themselves, but it was a recession of the real economy. The financial sector picked up the tab for the 2001 recession (hen e it never was) and couldn’t do it again in 2008. The British economy (excluding the financial sector has been in trouble since 2002 (but if you want since 1993, since productive sectors didn’t recover from the 1992 recession – the rest of the economy flourished on capital inflow (some actually from tax avoidance), pension funds and funny money).

  44. I am struggling with something in todays Spending statement and this tends to be a well infomed site, so maybe someone can help me……particularly maybe government supporters.

    What is the objective and/or what do claimants gain from JSA not being claimable for 7 days?

    I need some enlightenment.


  45. Confusing radicalism and left-wingness of the youth is an error. 1968 was not left wing, but radical.

  46. @Sen5c

    No, it’s OK: I just have this image of her hunched over and rocking back and forth, muttering “BUT I MUST KNOW THE OUTCOME OF THE WOLVERHAMPTON AND WALLASEY EAST BY-ELECTION! I MUST!”


  47. @Ronnie

    If I have understood the reports correctly:

    a) the government saves £350m
    b) each claimant loses £71 (less if young, more if has dependants)
    c) the government believes that the first 7 days of unemployment should be spent “looking for a job, not looking to sign on”.

  48. LASZLO

    @”because Labour says rather similar things as the conservatives (the nuances will be lost to the public).”

    I thought everyone understood that that was the objective-to flush out Labour on “inherited “Spending Plans.

    EM/EB duly obliged in advance by saying they accepted them as a “starting point”.

    GO turned the screw today when he asked the opposition front bench if they had an alternative.

    There was-predictably-no reply.

    You are right-none of this will affect VI immediately-that is not it’s purpose.

    It is for use in the GE Campaign.

  49. To add to what I have just said in reply to Ronnie – there will presumably be some people who will succeed in finding a job within the 7 days and who will therefore not sign on at all, saving some administration costs as well as JSA. I don’t know if an estimate of that is included in the £350 million.

  50. Laszlo
    “Confusing radicalism and left-wingness of the youth is an error. 1968 was not left wing, but radical.”

    What about Red Danny Cohn-Bendit? Wasn’t he a leftie, and one of the main agitators in 68?

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