Earlier this week some eyebrows were raised over an article by Dan Hodges which quotes a “Tory analyst” saying he re-ran Lord Ashcroft’s poll of ultra-marginal Conservative seats and claiming “We reran it in the seats we hold […] but included the name of the sitting MP. We were ahead by 2 per cent” as evidence of the Conservative party’s belief in the power of incumbency.

Now, I’ve written about political parties’ private polls and the strange mystique they seem to hold over the commentariat here before. Essentially, if you see media claims that party’s private polling shows some wonderful picture that contrasts with the public polling it’s best ignored unless they actually cough up some numbers and tables so you can see what they are up to. Your response should always be “give us the tables or they don’t exist”. Part of the British Polling Council’s disclosure rules were intended to stamp out this sort of thing: if a poll is published, the company that did it must release the figures. It does, however, only apply to companies that are members of the British Polling Council – if parties use companies like CrosbyTextor or GreenbergQuinlanRosner then even if their numbers are leaked, the companies wouldn’t be obliged to release numbers. Lord Ashcroft here writes about it being a bad sign if the Tories are resorting to comfort polling, but I think that’s rather off the mark. Back in the day the then Tory Chairman Lord Saatchi himself used to come out with dubious morale boosting figures, this is a reference from an unnamed “Tory analyst” – I suspect, like Andrew Cooper suggests here that Dan’s source was exaggerating or doesn’t know what they are talking about.

But putting the mystery “private polling” aside, what about the substantive issue, what about the incumbency effect? This is supposedly the bonus that sitting MPs get – the benefit they’ll have from people who aren’t voting for the party they represent, but because of name recognition, or because people think the MP is hard working or decent, or helped the voter with a problem they contacted them with, what is sometimes called the “personal vote”.

Let’s start with Ashcroft’s August poll. In contrast to the implications of what Dan’s source said, Ashcroft’s poll already included an attempt to get at the incumbency factor. Rather than just asking straight voting intention, it double-asked the question, first using the normal poll wording, and then asking people to think specifically about their own constituency and the candidates standing there. The intention of this – something I first came up with for a PoliticsHome poll of marginal seats back in 2008 – is to try and get at tactical considerations and personal votes. The idea is that some people may not give their *actual* voting intention in the main question, they’ll give the party they support nationally, even if at a local level they might vote tactically or might vote for the local MP they like.

This approach appears to work – or at least, some people do give different answers, especially in seats where the Liberal Democrats are players. In Con-LD seats Ashcroft found standard voting intentions of CON 33%, LAB 24%, LDEM 18%, UKIP 14%, but when he prompted to get people to think about their own constituency it became CON 32%, LAB 18%, LDEM 29%, UKIP 12%. That the difference is concentrated in Lib Dem seats does imply that it is picking up people’s tactical voting considerations, and perhaps personal vote considerations (Ashcroft wasn’t polling Lib Dem held seats, so he obviously wasn’t, but I’ve done the same in Lib Dem held seats in the past and the two-question approach makes a huge difference). In Ashcroft’s August poll in Con-Lab marginals though the two stage question did not produce any drop in Labour’s lead in the second, more “locally prompted” question. No sign of an incumbency vote there.

By definition, any incumbency bonus should be the most obvious in seats with new incumbents. In seats where the MP was already there at the previous election any personal vote should already be taken into account, in a seat with a new incumbent any personal vote should be above and beyond what the party got last time, so if there was an incumbency effect we would expect to see a party doing better than average in seats with new incumbents like the ones Ashcroft polled. Again, this was not the case – in Ashcroft’s August poll the swing to Labour was about 2 points higher in the marginals than the GB polls at the time were showing.

That bit of evidence seems clear then. The problem is, the incumbency effect is not a vague theory, the evidence for it happening at past elections is pretty damn solid. In 2010 Labour lost an additional 2.2 percentage points in seats where an incumbent MP stood down compared to seats where the incumbent contested the seat. The Conservatives vote rose by 2.9 percentage points in seats where an incumbent stood down and they lost the incumbency effect. In seats with an existing incumbent it rose by 3.8%, in seats with a new incumbent first elected in 2005 the Conservatives increased their vote by 5.6%. The same happened in 2005, the Conservatives did 1% worse where an MP retired, 2.5% better where there was a new incumbent.

Going further back the record is more patchy (while the Conservatives did worse where MPs stood down in 1997 and 2001, they didn’t do better in seats with new incumbents), but there is a strong and consistent effect in elections following on from an election where a party gained many seats. It is even clearer in the seats that a party gained at the previous election (the so-called double incumbency bonus), so in 2010 Conservative MPs who gained seats from opposing parties in 2005 did 1.9% better than average, in 2001 Labour MPs who gained their seats in the 1997 landslide did 2% better, in 1997 Labour MPs who gained a seat in 1993 got a bonus of 4.3%, in 1992 Labour candidates who gained seats in 1987 got a bonus of 2.7%, in 1987 Conservatives who gained seats in 1983 enjoyed an extra boost of 3.9%. For Liberal Democrats, incidentally, the figures are even bigger. (*)

There is no reason to think the same will not happen next time. New incumbent MPs will do better than average, seats where an MP retires will see the party of the retiring MP do worse. It will affect all parties, but because most of the battleground seats between Labour and the Conservatives are ones with new incumbent Conservative MPs who gained the seat in 2010, on this occassion it will favour the Conservatives.

If that is the case though, why didn’t the Ashcroft polling pick it up?

Well, there are a couple of potential reasons. One is obviously that the incumbent effect has vanished for some reason. Personally I think this unlikely – the general trend has been for MPs to devote ever more of their time to constituency matters and their “social worker” type role – but it is certainly possible. Alternatively it could be that it’s there, but that the polls don’t pick it up. Perhaps such things don’t really emerge until the election campaign itself, or perhaps the big differences the “two-stage question” approach produces in Lib Dem seats are just tactical considerations and there isn’t really a good way we can get at incumbency effects. Alternatively, you need to remember that the August Ashcroft poll is just one poll – the previous Ashcroft poll of marginal seats in January 2013 (the bigger one that did lots of different groups of marginal seats) did actually show a very small pro-Conservative incumbent effect from the two-stage question in Con-Lab seats, and did show the Conservatives doing slightly better in the marginals they were defending than in the country as a whole, the patten we would expect to find given the past history of incumbency effects.

And that brings us back to the original question and the orginal polling that whoever was talking to Dan thought they had seen. If there is an incumbency effect, then on past experience it will be a couple of percentage points. If asking a question a different way changes a 14 point deficit into a 2 point lead, then that’s not an incumbency effect, that’s a shonky question.(**)

I expect there to be an incumbency effect, but it’s going to make a couple of points of difference, not 16 points. It’s one of the reasons I think the Conservatives could probably get a majority with a 7 or 8 point lead rather than 11 point lead they need on paper, why the Labour party need a slightly bigger lead than what a uniform swing suggests. It’ll be a small effect at the margins though, not something that transforms the election. It makes the election a bit harder for Labour to win than uniform swing suggests, but not much. It makes seats a little easier for the Conservatives to defend, but they still have a mountain to climb.

(*) The 2010 figures are from Curtice, Ford and Fisher in Cowley & Kavanagh’s British General Election 2010, the figures for 1983 to 2005 are from a research note by Tim Hallam Smith here, alas behind an expensive academic paywall.

(**) At least, it is with a Tory 14 point deficit. As we’ve seen from the two-stage questions above, in Lib Dem seats it’s a bit of a different story, but that will be tactical considerations as well as incumbency

150 Responses to “On Private polling and incumbency effects”

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  1. “If he avoids any middle-of-the-road stuff, and selects several Simply Red tracks, and perhaps a little bit a Billy Bragg, my gut feeling is that it would firm up the Labour VI.

    Anyone else care to comment?”

    I’ll take a stab at:

    ‘Brother, Where You Bound’ – Supertramp

    ‘If It Wisnae for the Union’ – Matt McGinn

    ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ – Funkadelic (for groove, see ‘rut’)

    ‘Take a chance on me’ – Abba (prospective politicians’ top secret anthem)

    ‘Money for Nothing’ – Dire Straits (elected politicians’ top secret anthem)

    Any of those will do really. I must have a think about other leaders’ songs.

  2. @Chatterclass

    I don’t personally believe that money wins elections if the candidates are worthy of election. IMHO, it wins elections where the electorate have not connected with anyone in particular.

  3. Allan Christie

    Not sure that your exert from the Scottish elections really makes the point.

    At the start of the 2011 campaign the SNP were just keen to brief that they were still in the running against a prevailing press view that Labour were well ahead. They had no interest in suggesting they were ahead and Salmond’s remarks are well judged.

    The “Labour will walk it” view is well represented by Severin Carrell, who is notoriously anti-nat in a way which would not be tolerated in proper Guardian journalism south of the border.

    The fact that Carrell and so many others made complete fools of themselves is only of interest in that they might do it all over again by believing that the referendum is a done deal.

  4. Cloudspotter,

    You are right if the national VI is changed to the %ages after the second question.

    Good piece Anthony.

    As per BB and me on earlier thread did not Ashcroft himself anticipate an unwind of some of the the effect of his millions, it can only work once idea?

    Slightly off track
    I support ER but any alternative system must increase the number of votes that count as the IB demonstrates constituents by and large get a better service from their MPs in marginal seats.

  5. @JIm, Roger

    Yes, that’s what happened. It isn’t the fault of the dreaded foreigners per se, it’s the issue of making large changes to a sector, making it hard to raise funds and then not overseeing how they do make funds effectively enough.

    The Tories prefer light touch regulation, which is fine, but it’s not really worked well here.

  6. Of course, incumbency can be a two-edged sword and there have been examples of a negative incumbency factor. Jacqui Smith in Redditch would be one such case where she suffered an above average swing against her, almost certainly down to her expenses shenanigans. A different Labour candidate would have undoubtedly done better.

    High profile and symbolic sitting MPs can also be victims of “decapitation” campaigns where opposition candidates and their party organisations make particular efforts to unseat them. Think Chris Patten in Bath in 1992 and, to some extent, Ed Balls in 2010. That said, it usually helps that high profile politicians tend to have fairly safe seats with gargantuan majorities!

    Maybe we should call what I’ve just described the Encumberance Factor!

  7. Just an observation about incumbency (and encumberance)…isn’t this to some extent a counterpoise to the idea that people vote for a party ‘leader’?


    Absolutely agree with your post and as ever I’m rubbish at trying to get my point across.

    I trying to say is that if Salmond/SNP let it be known their own polling suggested that they were behind then it might give an extra boost to the Labour campaign but mind you I think the SNP kept it close to their chests when later on their polling suggested they were pulling ahead.

    I still remember on election night someone posted an exit poll on Political Betting from the Daily Mail and it was then I knew the SNP were going to romp it in some style.

  9. My private polling suggests the SNP are ahead of Labour in Scotland for Westminster which also appears to be backed up by several other polling companies.

    The results of the combined samples with changes from the 2010 Westminster election results in brackets were as follows:

    SNP 34% (+14%)
    Labour 32% (-10%)
    Tory 19% (+2%)
    LibDem 8% (-11%)
    Other 9%

    Two weeks’ worth of UK polls by six different polling companies. Total sample for Scotland of 742

    The polls with fieldwork dates are:

    TNS-BMRB: 7th – 11th November 2013
    ICM/Guardian: 8th – 10th November 2013
    Ipsos-MORI: 9th – 11th November 2013
    ComRes/Independent: 13th – 15th November 2013
    Populus: 15th – 17th November 2013
    YouGov/Sun: 20th – 21st November 2013


  10. Phil Haines (FPT yesterday morning) (& also James E 09:42 above)

    “I don’t think that the second question is any less valid that the first”.
    I’ll grant you that, if you’re also saying that you don’t think that the first question is any [less] valid than the second. However, many other comments on the Ashcroft poll that I’ve seen previously have been along the lines that the second question is the one that is likely to matter more, and I’d take issue with that.

    Regarding Mrs Doyle, my impression of Father Ted was that he consistently expressed support for the “No Cup of Tea” party as opposed to the “Can’t Make Up My Mind About the Cup of Tea” party but was often persuaded to switch sides to the “Lovely Cup of Tea” party as the question was repeatedly repeated, usually with a begrudging “oh go on then”. The pattern in that 2nd question isn’t just down to “don’t knows” expressing a preference.

    I think what we’re really talking about here is a philosophical question – what are polls supposed to be measuring. Some pollsters (such as YouGov) are basically looking at public opinion as it is at the moment. So the fact that some people are undecided is part of that and they don’t use filters such as likelihood to vote until polling day is in sight. The first question represents this viewpoint.

    Others pollsters (most of them actually) are interested in trying to predict what will happen at the next election. They know that many of those undecideds will actually vote, so they ask extra questions to try to firm this up. They may even make adjustments (as ICM do) to the poll to allow for expected behaviour. The second question is similar to this in asking people to consider their constituency and candidates as they would be doing after a campaign. YouGov sometimes does something similar mentioning Party leaders.

    The point is neither is ‘better’ they are looking at the same thing in different ways. And the differences between the two can also be illuminating as they are here showing how people’s views change depending on the situation.

    I mainly regard the Mrs Doyle Effect as something which makes voters more likely to make a choice by simply asking them again in a slightly different way. But some may also decide to alter what they say, not from whim (which in any case would probably balance out) but because of particular circumstances (“Anything to get rid of that b*gger”) in the same way that they would in a general election campaign. After all Father Ted usually did have that cuppa.

  11. @ Statgeek

    ‘If It Wisnae for the Union’ – Matt McGinn

    Any of those will do really. I must have a think about other leaders’ songs.
    That’ll do for Alex Salmond. Because ‘If it Wisnae for the Union’, Scotland would be the most prosperous social democracy ever, allegedly.

  12. @Allan Christie

    If there’s a 6% net swing to the Tories in Scotland (although perhaps traditional Butler swing isn’t a very good measure in this case) then for the GB-wide polls to add up, it means the swing in England & Wales, where the marginals are, must be 20% more.

    Therefore if the polls are showing a GB-wide swing of 6%, the swing in England & Wales would be about 7% or a touch more. That could flip 15 or so seats.

  13. With regards to this so-called ‘poll’, let’s consult Occam’s Razor.

    Occam’s Razor stipulates that where there are competing hypotheses for how a situation has come about, the theory that requires the fewest assumptions should be selected.

    In this case I think that means we should assume Hodges simply made it up, and no such conversation with any Tory aide ever took place.

    I’ve heard whisperings before that he has a penchant for inventing quotes. Maybe now it will bite him.

    Poor Glenda must be so embarrassed.

  14. @Allan Christie

    “SNP 34% (+14%)
    Labour 32% (-10%)”

    Do your calcs include potential ‘vote for Labour to avoid Conservative UK government’ factors?

    Two or three seats probably won’t make a difference, but it’s all interesting.

  15. Don’t think it was a very good idea for Dominic Grieve to talk about corruption issues within certain minority communities. As the Attorney General, he has a responsibility to look neutral to avoid being seen as compromised, when he performs his important role.

    If there was a case that affected someone from a minority community, where the Attorney General made an application for a sentence review for example, these recent comments may come back on him.


    In my view the Attorney General should be someone who is not in the frontline of politics. Probably better if it were someone seated in the House of Lords.

  16. “SNP 34% (+14%)
    Labour 32% (-10%)”

    An interesting post Allan, thank you.

    Does anyone have any informed comments as to the size of sample, 742 over six polls?

  17. I find AW’s discussion of the incumbency effect scholarly and convincing. Presumably, however, there could be other complementary explanations that would not replace the ‘visibility’, ‘ability to do good turns’ type of explanation.

    For example, it could be that new incumbents had more active local parties that had either helped them get elected or been energised by their election; or people might stand down where they thought they would not win or were in trouble; or change of party might represent a changing trend in population (gentrification, for example) which continued over time; or the fact of a win (particularly by a liberal democat might persuade people that a vote for them might stop someone more toxic and not be wasted. Or ….

    Some of these explanations seem to me, in theory testable, but it would clear;take someone of a peculiarly painstaking temperament to be able to do this (one or two people on this site seem to be wonderful at doing this). In general such explanations seem to me unlikely to replace AW’s one but they might reduce estimates of the actual size of the personal effect.For the moment, all I would guess is that the personal effect exists as AW says but is probably less on average than 2%.

  18. @Roger Mexico

    The main problem with ‘forced squeeze second question’ polling is the basic assumption that people who said “Don’t Know” but also said “Are certain to vote” are actually going to vote. But the reality may be that when it comes to the real ‘forced squeeze’ of election day, choosing to stay at home *is* an option. Yet that is rarely an option presented in ‘forced squeeze’ questions.

  19. @MikeN

    “Just an observation about incumbency (and encumberance)…isn’t this to some extent a counterpoise to the idea that people vote for a party ‘leader’?”

    To some extent you may be right and even in General Elections, local factors can play a part, be it issues like HS2 or matters relating to local candidates. However, in elections where there’s nothing as irresistible as an idea whose time has come, then it doesn’t much matter how popular or not the sitting MP may be, they’ll be swept aside like flotsam by the political tide that will be sweeping against them. Indeed, many party leaders bemoan the loss of good MPs swept aside by powerful nationwide political tides because, when all’s said and done, electorates tend to vote for governments at General Elections.

  20. So, now I’ve had time to dwell on it, what to make of Collins’ article? Is Collins right that Labour will suffer in VI according to his analysis? Well that depends on how much of his analysis is correct.

    So, taking each point in turn… is he right about 2008? Yes and no. Obviously it’s true it created a budgetary problem, but it is also true it showed up problems with the neolib thing, problems which indeed rather helped cause the budgetary problem.

    Do Labour have insufficient policy on public sector reform? Well others are better placed to talk the details of Labour policy than me, but Labour haven’t publicised all that much policy, so let’s assume he’s right. Is this a big deal for VI?

    Well, I don’t suppose we have had much polling on how exercised voters are by public sector reform… maybe we should. But if we consider issue trackers, more inspectors in schools does not seem to come high up on the list. Cost of living is a big issue, meanwhile.

    Did Blair get elected on a campaign of targets and “competing for custom”, or was it simply more and upgraded schools and hospitals?

    He’s right people do care about services. But whether Labour should be selling policy on it right now is something else. We know the old maxim that the rivals will nick the good stuff and trash the bad.

    Big question over whether economic recovery will translate into improved living standards. The problem is that people have to buy essentials, there’s a lot of demand so business can keep upping the price. If people earn more, that allows charging more for essentials, thus eroding the gains. Competition is supposed to fix this, bearing down on prices, but business has numerous ways of thwarting competition.

  21. John Pilgrim and others who kindly replied.

    I did say my list was not exhaustive in what I recommended a new challenger in a marginal to do. As AW pointed out, a marginal seat may well be one where the incumbent is a relative newbie too (certainly Con /Lab ones).

    John wondered about social work to counteract the incumbent’s automatic opportunity to impress in that way with constituents’ complaints. Note the incumbent also gets free publicity by being invited to open things and chair ‘dissatisfaction with….’ meetings (usually with a free photo-opp in the local press). My problem with what is known as casework, (this applies to incumbent mainly) is that the applicant will rarely be satisfied with the outcome because of what I would imagine would be fairly obvious reasons, namely that had the problem been capable of being solved in the normal way, it would have been. The challenger is in the better position here as not so much will be expected perhaps by the complainer. In fact casework is a no-no. All the MP can do is write a letter to someone or, rarely, get a splash via a PMQ question. Many complainers are life’s trouble makers and they often do not vote, as nobody could possibly meet their expectations.

    A different form of ‘casework’ is the local action group for something. Here the foot soldiers do the job for you, organising the banner parade outside the town hall with the challenger merely having to plonk himself in the middle of the photo or glad-hand the victims of the council’s mendacity.

    It will be noted that not much of what I covered demanded any expense – just effort. Of course we are talking ‘marginals’ but any challenger who wants to get a safer seat opportunity can do no harm than to drive a big dent in the incumbent’s majority.

    These are my thoughts on how the stats in AW’s interesting article can be locally confounded and they be as much by the incumbent as the challenger. Indeed I would say easier, except the incumbent can’t spend the time on the doorstep by virtue of having the ill luck to have won last time!!

  22. ‘May be’ not ‘be’ in last para.

  23. @jayblanc

    Wouldn’t ‘definitely will vote’ people who stay at home be negligible in number?

    I’m pretty much a certain to vote, but DK category (I wait until election day to decide). The only thing stopping me would be forgetting there’s an election happening (unlikely), or being incapacitated.

  24. You will gather from my correction post that the real one languishes in the WordPress slough of despond.

  25. Don’t refer to ‘pee-em-queue’, spelt properly, in a posting, even if you weren’t actually writing about that event – I think that may land you where mine landed.

  26. @R Huckle

    unless he has evidence ( south Yorkshire and Luton allegedly would be good places to start ) it’s a smear.. Asking why the Co-op Bank allowed large loans to the Labour Party and GMB union which it has no hope of recovering might be more effective.

  27. @ Wolf

    If you go down the track of asking all bank to disclose loans to political parties, then that would be fair. Just asking the Coop is a different matter.

    Governments when they launch inquiries or issue policies should never do so, purely out of political interest.

    Personally I am in favour of political parties being funded by the tax payer, as a top up to membership subscriptions. I don’t like these large loans or donations.

  28. @Wolf

    Surely as long as a bank isn’t lending illegally (whatever that might be) or to organisations such as terrorist ones, it is no business of the Government who a bank lends to.

    That is simply a matter for the bank owners. As the Government doesn’t own the Coop, they would no right to ask.

    I think the way the Coop bank issue is being handled by politicians confirms to most of the public why politicians are despised.

    All I see is a partisan mud sling exercise. Perhaps the Government should focus on the 999 more important problems facing the lives of ordinary people.

  29. This is an excellent article, but there is much more to be said about it.
    For instance, does the incumbency effect vary between parties. I suspect many people think that it is greater for LibDem, Nationalist and Independent MPs. In realtion to the Liberals, Eric Lubbock in Orpington was one example of an MP who was repeatedly expected to lose, but hung on, And the LibDems are nowhere in Orpington now.
    Is the incumbency effect at the election following a change of MP due to an increase in popularity for the new MP, or the loss of support for the previous MP? For instance, I recollect figure in the 1980s, I think published in a Fabian Society book, that suggested that after a Labour candidate was defeated, votes at the next election were lost by Labour in particular to the Liberals/SDP. Clearly this would have little to do with the influence of a new Conservative MP.
    What effect does the prominence of a new MP, or previous MP, have on the size of the incumbency effect/ For instance where the previous MP has held Cabinet office.
    In general, we would like to know more about the processes underlying the incumbency efect. For instance, does it relate to the success of an MP in generating local or national media coverage. Does it relate to the diligence of the MP in holding surgeries and otherwise helping constitutents?
    Are there geographical differences in incumbency effects. Having lived in Wales and Scotland, I would hypothesise that incumbency effects are larger there than in much of England. I would also expect incumbency effects to be larger in rural areas and town/cities compared to large cities, particularly parts of London, where many voters may not be aware of who their MP is.

  30. Phil Haines

    The link to AW’s article on the 2011 Scottish elections is here.

    What is striking to me is that in seats where the Lib Dems came 2nd but in a competitive position (the blue dots starting with 20%+ of the vote) their performance was far worse than any other. I do not share your view that something of this scale can be dismissed. The main joker in the pack in a UK GE is that residual tactical voting against the Conservatives could come into play in Con-Lib Dem seats, but it is still a huge ask to expect that to obviate trends of the scale that we saw in Scotland.

    A second interesting finding of that Scottish poll is that the proportional effect in the loss of the Lib Dem vote was so great that, where there was a Lib Dem incumbent, the incumbency bonus was not sufficient to stop a reduction in the Lib Dem vote share GREATER THAN THE UNS SWING across Scotland in all but one of the seats that the Lib Dems held. Not particularly relevant to the Ashcroft poll, but it does show the limits of incumbency

    I think you’re rather misinterpreting Anthony’s article though in doing so you raise another interesting question which is about swing – UNS versus some form of proportional swing. If you think about it proportional swing should be what applies as the combined result of individual decisions. If half of Lib Dem voters decide to stop supporting them then if they were previously polling 40% in a seat it should drop to 20%; if 10% to 5%. But the two swings would be -20 and -5, very far from uniform.

    As Anthony pointed out the problem with UNS in Scotland is that constituencies vary so widely. The Lib Dem constituency vote dropped by 8.25 points in 2011. But in a third of Scottish constituencies (24 out of 73) Lib Dems already polled under 8.25% in 2007 even though they got 16.18% across all of Scotland. So UNS could not apply and constituencies with a larger Lib Dem vote to start with would lose more votes than under UNS.

    To quote Anthony about the graph in the piece you link to:

    The green line is what we would expect to see if there was a uniform swing – the Lib Dem vote falling by 8% in each seat. The red line is what we’d get if the Lib Dem vote fell proportionally to their support in 2007 – basically if they lost half their support in each seat. The actual distribution of dots is clearly closer to the proportional line than the uniform swing. If this was repeated at a GB general election then the Liberal Democrats would do even worse than a uniform swing would predict.

    On the other hand, look at the distribution of the blue and gold dots – in seats where the Lib Dems had incumbency the Lib Dems did better than a proportional loss would have suggested (and they do worse than than this in seats without incumbency) – while the Lib Dems did end up losing all their mainland seats in Scotland, they did actually perform somewhat better in the seats they held… just not by enough to save them.

    So incumbency still has an effect – it just wasn’t enough to save all but the Orkney and Shetland MSPs[1]. In part this was because Lib Dems in scotland tended to win seats with a low percentage of the vote – often under 40%. So they didn’t have the cushion against losing half their votes.

    Whether we will see the same proportionate loss model in England and Wales seems unlikely. UNS seems to work better there, possible because constituencies are less disparate. In addition the Coalition meant that ABT tactical voters deserted the Lib Dems for the SNP who had a chance in all the Lib Dem seats. This is not an option south of the Border where they may need to stick with the Lib Dems as the least worst option where Labour is not in contention.

    On the other hand UKIP is not a factor in Scotland[2] and currently are holding on to most of their ex-Conservative voters elsewhere, which will probably help the Lib Dems

    [1] I’ve just spent ages trying to work out what the outlying yellow square at the top of the graph with the very low anti-LD swing. However as there are 11 other LD seats showing I assume it’s a mistake in colour probably for Midlothian South etc. If so, this is another incumbency factor as though the seat was nominally SNP on revised boundaries, the actual sitting MSP for most of it was a Lib Dem.

    [2] They registered Westminster VI of about 5% in Ashcroft’s Spring mega-poll, but this was down to 2% in October.

  31. Does anybody else think that Cammo and the Tories are trying to ‘get their retaliation in first’ , in the words of Carwyn James?

    First the OTT attack on Milliband ,Balls (and Meacher !) over Flowers and the Co-op and now this about corruption within the Pakistani community from the Attorney General…

    Is anything horrid for Dave due to come out from the Trial of the Century?

  32. @Ewen,

    Dunno about TotC, but today’s Guardian reported on questions being raised about arms exports to Sri Lanka in teh last year, and the apparent discrepancy with DC’s statements about SL’s human rights record. Blatant hypocracy never looks good.

  33. The recent few weeks have started to convince me that the run up to the next GE will see a very nasty, personal campaign.

    Oh joy.

  34. Does anyone actually enjoy the antics on programmes such as “This Week” in which journalists such as Kevin Maguire dress up as a soldier on an army assault course in order to discuss political “battles” ?

    Personally I turn it off at that point and I absolutely detest being treated like a child in this was.

    No idea why they think it necessary but it happens every bleedin’ week and will only get worse as the election approaches.

  35. R Huckle

    Don’t think it was a very good idea for Dominic Grieve to talk about corruption issues within certain minority communities. As the Attorney General, he has a responsibility to look neutral to avoid being seen as compromised, when he performs his important role.

    Well I think it’s bad too that we have people in public life who “come from societies where they have been brought up to believe you can only get certain things through a favour culture”. But enough about British public school boys.

    It certainly seems to have caused a kerfuffle, though it is difficult to work out exactly what he said from the Telegraph’s coverage. The article which makes most of the claims about what he said:


    links to an interview in which the topic is barely mentioned, giving quotes that aren’t there. Since both are by Benedict Brogan it’s poor journalism or very bad sub-editing.

    To give Grieve his due at least he’s not using to point the finger at Labour, as I suspect some of his colleagues might have done. Indeed the case he mentions involves a Conservative.

  36. I’ve thought of a tune that may appeal to Ed M on DID..

    ‘he ain’t heaveh, he’s ma bruvver’.

  37. Oh dear. Another HTML fail. Obviously only the first paragraph should be in italics as R Huckle’s quote


    If you only had people sitting around discussing politics on a political discussion programme then the public would wonder why they had to pay such large amounts of money for all those people with their names on the credits. So they have to be ‘creative’ or they might all be sacked and the streets would be filled with unemployed Oxford PPE graduates who might turn to crime or politics (assuming these are separate options) or get a job doing something useful.

  38. rog

    Their “acting” skills are atrocious – they’re not that great as reporters either.

    Me and the gurls could do better on both counts, so they deserve to be unemployed.

    Its like Dan Hodges –

    “I’ve written another great article saying Labour are corrupt, Ed is a weak coward and the other one is a fat ole bully. Cash would be nice, ta very much.”

    What IS the point of “journalism” like that??

    These people need to experience real life – being a retired layabout like me for example: its hard when you have no holidays to look forward to anymore.

  39. “War” – Edwin Starr.

    “99 Red Balloons” – Nena.

    “Hair” – The Cowsills (in honour of his ITV appearance).

  40. @R&D (5.26)

    “Does anyone actually enjoy the antics on programmes such as “This Week”….”

    In a word, NO. Over the last year I have watched “This Week” less and less and rarely see it now. I currently only make the effort if there has been a major political issue during the previous week. IMO Andrew Neil acts like a child. He thinks he is funny but in reality he is pathetic.

  41. Incumbancy Effect.

    Thank you AW for such an interesting introduction. I would like to add the following observations, and a little heresy for this site!

    Firstly, I suspect there is sometimes a “slow burn” incumbancy effect. A case in point is my own MP Theresa May. It took her time to build up one. She undoubtedly had one last time (even I considered voting for her!!!!), but the time before she hadn’t really had time to build it up in her first term as she was hampered by an unpopular Conservtive administration that wanted to demolish our beloved Town Hall (which when brand new was used as Sir Lancelot Spratt’s “Hospital” in one of the early “Carry On” films) and was then subsequently harried by a hostile LD council and a potent ex-LD mayor as her opponent – indeed, she nearly lost the seat! However, over the next two polls Theresa May recovered well and built up a real following in the constituency, even amongst those of us who would naturally be her opponents. I think the swing to her was well above average in 2010? So, it seems there is such a thing as “growing incumbency factor”?

    Now for the heresy. When we talk about the LibDems I have an observational (not tested!) theory that LD opinion poll ratings nationally are virtually irrelevant to how they will perform in terms of seats won. When we look back at LD performance the number of seats they win seems to depend on totally different criterea to that which applies to the two main parties where support swings between the two in constituencies which have a balanced social mix. Tip the social mix heavily one way or the other then in Blue/Red terms the seats usually conform in represenatation to the social make-up of the constituency in question. (There used to be exceptions to this in the old days when there was sectarian voting here and there, but this has largely died out except in NI). LDs simply do not win or lose constituencies on this basis. Their wins are by-and-large “exceptional incumbancy factors” – either brought about originally by almost “lunatic berserker” campaigning over many years (far outstripping anything Blue or Reds could bear to do!) , or potential electability (despite the inherant social mix of the area favouring Red or Blue) brought about by years of local election successes bit by bit, ward by ward, until the council goes yellow and gains a percieved competency bonus with the voters so that they risk voting for a LD MP at a GE.

    What does all this mean? Well, whether the LDs succeed in holding a seat depends on local campaigning alone. Whether there is a Cleggmania surge or a Clegg-collapse is virtually irrlevant because LD local campaigning has had the effect of insulating that constituency’s electorate from the wider UK political realities.

    Where the national effect, does have some effect on the total LD score in seats won is solely dependent upon the amount of uniform strength their principal opponents have (largely the Tories). Thus whenever there is a swing away from the Tories nationally the Libs/LDs win more seats. Whenever there is a swing to the Tories the LDs win fewer seats.

    Lib/LD percentages per opposed candidates/or UK wide share of the poll are all all over the place and give no indication of how many seats will be won or lost. What matters is the direction of swing between the big two!

    If we look at the past 14 General Elections the only exception to this “rule” was 2005 when Kennedy managed to make inroads into Labour territory by the LDs for the first time.

    Given the above, how well the LDs do in 2015 will depend solely on how well or badly the Conservatives do nationally. If the Tories recover the LDs will be massacred. If Labour do well, so will the LDs – in seats, not necessarily votes!

  42. @R&D
    Must be that it appeals to my inner child….
    I can’t say I find it wonderful but mildly amusing. It’s actually Andrew Neil’s endless repeat of Chooo Chooo and Annabel’s ‘joke’ that I find grating

  43. Dan Hodges has been told by a Tory insider that tonight’s Yougov is showing a Tory lead of 43% ;-)

  44. More on Dominic Grieve and his worries about about electoral fraud. As it happens the Electoral commission produced a paper on the topic earlier this year:


    Appendix 3 lists “Significant cases of electoral fraud resulting in custodial sentences 1998-2011”. This comprises 17 cases over 14 years which doesn’t seem very many. It also enables a breakdown by which Party on whose behalf people were convicted. The league table is:

    Con 8

    Lib Dem 5

    Lab 3

    BNP 2

    Ind 1

    DUP 1

    (In some cases people from more than one Party were convicted which is why it adds to more than 17)

    However the Report also notes that “the high-profile case of alleged electoral fraud involving relating to the 2004 Birmingham City Council elections did not involve a prosecution” and presumably there may also be more recent cases such as the Woking one or where no custodial sentences were imposed.

    I have no idea as yet in how many of these the culprits were of Pakistani origin (presumably not the BNP ones) though in both the Birmingham[1] (Labour)and Woking (Lib Dem) ones this might have been the case judging by names.

    So it doesn’t look as if there is massive problem with electoral fraud, but that could well be because of difficulty detecting it, getting convictions or willingness to prosecute.

    [1] I note that the BBC reports “Judge Mawrey said that [Birmingham returning officer and chief executive Lin] Homer “threw the rule book out of the window” to deal with overwhelming numbers of postal vote application forms received”. You may be interested to know that she in now Chief Executive of HMRC and wonder what she will do with the rule books there.

  45. Apologies all for my spelling! For incumbancy please read incumbency!! (Back to skool for me!)

  46. Tony Dean

    “Apologies all for my spelling! For incumbancy please read incumbency!! (Back to skool for me!)”

    But your Akademy scores highly for other matters than spelling, in my book.

  47. Rog M
    You are probably right about Grieve not specifically attacking Labour ,however the linked story on t ‘BBC was Warsi ‘s allegations from 2010. We will need to await developments.
    Your scenario for the LD’s relies upon them having lots of busy activists like Howard, to get their nuanced message across. Objectively, in my neck of the woods, the LD presence is a shadow of its former self.

  48. @Peter Bell

    I share your annoyance. The likes of Neil, Paxman, Humphrys and the rest of the Baby Boomer rabble-rousers at the heart of the commentariat have had their day as far as I’m concerned.

    They were edgy & radical in the 80s & 90s, but nowadays all they do is contribute to the adversarial & tone-lowering nature of politics. They’re part of the problem, in short.

  49. HOWARD
    The case work issues in which I had experience both involved unfair anomalies in administration: that of a school child prevented from entering sixth form college ten miles away because of a quirky administrative ruling that he was not entitled to a seat on the school bus; that of a a neighbourhood group who were being charged an inordinate amount for a waste water reconstruction they had not been consulted on; and that of a constituent who was being prosecuted in his previous county for non-payment of a rate against which he had appeal he couldn’t pursue on his own behalf. A couple of phone calls and bingo!
    I agree with Tony’s suggestion that there is a slow and cumulative process of image building. And with his analysis of the LD effect, and would add that this is added to, IME, by the regionalism which LD are associated, both E.Anglian and notably the South West electorates really detesting the London and Home Counties dominance and paternalism, and so both the main parties with which they associate it. Paddy embodied that, and Laws has built on it at Yeovil, and Watson as MEP. Add some new leadership and I think LD campaigning will get them their seats and 15% at the GE.

  50. Anthony

    Any idea why my 16:27 post is in moderation? (Apart from it being long and boring, but that’s never been an obstacle before)

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