Polls often give contrasting results. Sometimes this is because they were done at different times and public opinion has actually changed, but most of time that’s not the reason. A large part of the difference between polls showing different results is often simple random variation, good old margin of error. We’ve spoken about that a lot, but today’s post is about the other reason, systemic differences between pollsters (or “house effects”).

Pollsters use different methods, and sometimes those different choices result in consistent differences between the results they produce. One company’s polls, because of the methodological choices they make, may consistently show a higher Labour score, or a lower UKIP score, or whatever. This is not a case of deliberate bias – unlike in the USA there are not Conservative pollsters or Labour pollsters, every company is non-partisan, but the effect of their methodological decisions mean some companies do have a tendency to produce figures that are better or worse for each political party – we call these “house effects”.

2014houseffects

The graph above shows these house effects for each company, based upon all the polls published in 2014 (I’ve treated ComRes telephone and ComRes online polls as if they are separate companies, as they use different methods and have some consistent differences). To avoid any risk of bias from pollsters carrying more or less polls when a party is doing well or badly I work out the house effects by using a rolling average of the daily YouGov poll as a reference point – I see how much each poll departs from the YouGov average on the day when its fieldwork finished and take an average of those deviations over the year. Then I take the average of all those deviations and graph them relative to that (just so YouGov aren’t automatically in the middle). It’s important to note that the pollsters in the middle of the graph are not necessarily more correct, these differences are relative to one another. We can’t tell what the deviations are from the “true” figure, as we don’t know what the “true” figure is.

As you can see, the difference between the Labour and Conservative leads each company show are relatively modest. Leaving aside TNS, who tended to show substantially higher Labour leads than other companies, everyone else is within 2 points of each other. Opinium and ComRes phone polls tend to show Labour leads that are a point higher than average, MORI and ICM tend to show Labour leads that are a point lower than average. Ashcroft, YouGov, ComRes online and Populus tend to be about average. Note I’m comparing the Conservative-v-Labour gap between different pollsters, not the figures for each one. Populus, for example, consistently give Labour a higher score than Lord Ashcroft’s polls do… but they do exactly the same for the Conservatives, so when it comes to the party lead the two sets of polls tend to show much the same.

There is a much, much bigger difference when it comes to measuring the level of UKIP support. The most “UKIP friendly” pollster, Survation, tends to produce a UKIP figure that is almost 8 points higher than the most “UKIP unfriendly” pollster, ICM.

What causes the differences?

There are a lot of methodological differences between pollsters that make a difference to their end results. Some are very easy to measure and quantify, others are very difficult. Some contradict each other, so a pollster may do something that is more Tory than other pollsters, something that is less Tory than other pollsters, and end up in exactly the same place. They may interact with each other, so weighting by turnout might have a different effect on a phone poll from a telephone poll. Understanding the methodological differences is often impossibly complicated, but here are some of the key factors:

Phone or online? Whether polls get their sample from randomly dialling telephone numbers (which gives you a sample made up of the sort of people who answer cold calls and agree to take part) or from an internet panel (which gives you a sample made up of the sort of people who join internet panels) has an effect on sample make up, and sometimes that has an effect on the end result. It isn’t always the case – for example, raw phone samples tend to be more Labour inclined… but this can be corrected by weighting, so phone samples don’t necessarily produce results that are better for Labour. Where there is a very clear pattern is on UKIP support – for one reason or another, online polls show more support for UKIP than phone polls. Is this because people are happier to admit supporting UKIP when there isn’t a human interviewer? Or it is because online samples include more UKIP inclined people? We don’t know

Weighting. Pollsters weight their samples to make sure they are representative of the British population and iron out any skews and biases resulting from their sampling. All companies weight by simple demographics like age and gender, but more controversial is political weighting – using past vote or party identification to make sure the sample is politically representative of Britain. The rights and wrongs of this deserve an article in their own right, but in terms of comparing pollsters most companies weight by past vote from May 2010, YouGov weight by party ID from May 2010, Populus by current party ID, MORI and Opinium don’t use political weighting at all. This means MORI’s samples are sometimes a bit more Laboury than other phone companies (but see their likelihood to vote filter below), Opinium have speculated that their comparatively high level of UKIP support may be because they don’t weight politically and Populus tend to heavily weight down UKIP and the Greens.

Prompting. Doesn’t actually seem to make a whole lot of difference, but was endlessly accused of doing so! This is the list of options pollsters give when asking who people vote for – obviously, it doesn’t include every single party – there are hundreds – but companies draw the line in different places. The specific controversy in recent years has been UKIP and whether or not they should be prompted for in the main question. For most of this Parliament only Survation prompted for UKIP, and it was seen as a potential reason for the higher level of UKIP support that Survation found. More recently YouGov, Ashcroft and ComRes have also started including UKIP in their main prompt, but with no significant effect upon the level of UKIP support they report. Given that in the past testing found prompting was making a difference, it suggests that UKIP are now well enough established in the public mind that whether the pollster prompts for them or not no longer makes much difference.

Likelihood to vote. Most companies factor in respondents likelihood to vote somehow, but using sharply varying methods. Most of the time Conservative voters say they are more likely to vote than Labour voters, so if a pollster puts a lot of emphasis on how likely people are to actually vote it normally helps the Tories. Currently YouGov put the least emphasis on likelihood to vote (they just include everyone who gives an intention), companies like Survation, ICM and Populus weight according to likelihood to vote which is a sort of mid-way point, Ipsos MORI have a very harsh filter, taking only those people who are 10/10 certain to vote (this probably helps the Tories, but MORI’s weighting is probably quite friendly to Labour, so it evens out).

Don’t knows. Another cause of the differences between companies is how they treat people who say don’t know. YouGov and Populus just ignore those people completely. MORI and ComRes ask those people “squeeze questions”, probing to see if they’ll say who they are most likely to vote for. ICM, Lord Ashcroft and Survation go further and make some estimates about those people based on their other answers, generally assuming that a proportion of people who say don’t know will actually end up voting for the party they did last time. How this approach impacts on voting intention numbers depends on the political circumstances at the time, it tends to help any party that has lost lots of support. When ICM first pioneered it in the 1990s it helped the Tories (and was known as the “shy Tory adjustment”), these days it helps the Lib Dems, and goes a long way to explain why ICM tend to show the highest level of support for the Lib Dems.

And these are just the obvious things, there will be lots of other subtle or unusual differences (ICM weight down people who didn’t vote last time, Survation ask people to imagine all parties are standing in the seat, ComRes have a harsher turnout filter for smaller parties in their online polls, etc, etc)

Are they constant?

No. The house effects of different pollsters change over time. Part of this is because political circumstances change and the different methods have different impacts. I mentioned above that MORI have the harshest turnout filter and that most of the time this helps the Tories, but that isn’t set in stone – if Tory voters became disillusioned and less likely to vote and Labour voters became more fired up it could reverse.

It also isn’t consistent because pollsters change methodology. In 2014 TNS tended to show bigger Labour leads than other companies, but in their last poll they changed their weighting in a way that may well have stopped that. In February last year Populus changed their weights in a way that reduced Lib Dem support and increased UKIP support (and changed even more radically in 2013 when they moved from using the telephone to online). So don’t assume that because a pollster’s methods last year had a particular skew it will always be that way.

So who is right?

At the end of the day, what most people asking the question “why are those polls so different” really want to know is which one is right. Which one should they believe? There is rarely an easy answer – if there was, the pollsters who were getting it wrong would correct their methods and the differences would vanish. All pollsters are trying to get things right.

Personally speaking I obviously I think YouGov polls are right, but all the other pollsters out there will think the same thing about the polling decisions they’ve made and I’ve always tried to make UKPollingReport about explaining the differences so people can judge for themselves, rather than championing my own polls.

Occasionally you get an election when there is a really big spread across the pollsters, when some companies clearly get it right and others get it wrong, and those who are wrong change their methods or fade away. 1997 was one of those elections – ICM clearly got it right when others didn’t, and other companies mostly adopted methods like those of ICM or dropped out of political polling. These instances are rare though. Most of the time all the pollsters show about the same thing, are all within the margin of error of each other, so we never really find out who is “right” or “wrong” (as it happens, the contrast between the level of support for UKIP shown by different pollsters is so great that this may be an election where some polls end up being obviously wrong… or come the election the polls may end up converging and all showing much the same. We shall see).

In the meantime, with an impartial hat on all I can recommend is to look at a broad average of the polls. Sure, some polls may be wrong (and it’s not necessarily the outlying pollster showing something different to the rest – sometimes they’ve turned out to be the only one getting it right!) but it will at least help you steer clear of the common fallacy of assuming that the pollster showing results you like the most is the one that is most trustworthy.


231 Responses to “All about house effects”

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  1. Richard

    That seems also to confirm that the concept of UNS should be consigned to history, along with the black and white (pun intended) TV programmes where David Butler brought it to our attention.

  2. @AC

    Con + Lab higher than in 2010. Probably means the Scottish crossbreak shows an SNP lead of around 10%.

  3. @Martyn

    Yes, I got at them. There’s the option to “show” on each year. When I saw the collapsed version, I assumed only the section header had been created.

    As it is, I still have to hit every YG poll in that 18 month period for the CBs. Never mind. 98 down, 249 to go.

  4. Very interesting article – thank you Anthony.

    A couple of observations –

    Firstly, if the number of pollsters constitutes a crowd, then Francis Galton’s theory of the wisdom of crowds would suggest that Ashcroft is likely to be the most accurate.

    Secondly, it’s interesting that on-line polling tends to produce results more favourable to UKIP, because conventional wisdom according to ‘Revolt on the Right’ is that UKIP voters are older and more poorly educated than supporters of other parties. Not the sort of people you would expect to be on the Internet at all, let alone answering surveys.

  5. Interesting. Maybe the start of a return to dominance for the big two? Dead air from UKIP in the last few weeks and after Natalie Bennett tripped up on Sunday Politics we’ve not had much from the Greens either. Clegg continues to wear the same scarf day after day (seriously you wouldn’t notice it unless you’re me but watch the recent PPB, the Sky News piece on the constituency and the Guardian article – same scarf).

  6. RAF @AC

    ” Probably means the Scottish crossbreak shows an SNP lead of around 10%.”

    Might be (I’ll tell you in the morning!)

    Alternatively, it could just be a rounding effect.

  7. @ Alec

    The NHS needs reform: it would need about 4 times as many managers as it has today, and declare what criteria it would use to decide between two treatments (which customer it would serve to speak business) with its limited resources.

    I would argue that these conditions of reforms are non-starters in general let alone in an election year.

    Anyone who says everybody and alike should think about dealing with statistical fluctuation, margins of error through capacity. It would be an astronomical figure.

  8. Mr N
    How many scarves do you think a person should own? Bearing in mind how infrequently they are needed, I would have thought that one was quite adequate.

  9. RAF
    @AC
    Con + Lab higher than in 2010. Probably means the Scottish crossbreak shows an SNP lead of around 10%
    ________

    It could but we saw this before only for an actual BIG poll to come out and showed the SNP on a 20% lead.

  10. @OldNat

    The total neatly always adds up to 95% last night was unusual not tonight

  11. Pete B,

    I own two. If I was the leader of a national political party I’d chuck another one or two in there for variety.

  12. Mr N
    It looks as though we’re starting ‘scarfgate’! :-)

    If a party leader appears wearing several different scarves in quick succession, doesn’t that reaffirm the impression of how elite and out of touch they are?

    I probably own 2 or 3, but there’s only one hanging near the door so that’s the one I occasionally wear. Appearing in different scarves is almost as morally reprehensible as supporting fracking!

  13. Mr N

    “I own two”

    I’m distressed to hear a Lab activist boasting of his material possessions. For shame, sir!

  14. Frankly I would think alternating between two would be sufficient. But then it’s probably just one of those things you notice when you see a lot of a candidate.

  15. I don’t own a scarf at all.
    In line with good socialist principles I call upon Mr N to surrender one of his.
    It’s when we have confirmation that a party leader wears the same socks all week that there will be areal scandal.

  16. Guymonde

    While we are engaged in stereotyping, if it was a Green politician would it be a real sandal?

  17. Oldnat,

    It would be a sign that they’ve already lost their soles.

  18. Another interesting bit from that new migration report. Not sure if you remember but at least one of the parties mentioned scrapping benefits for EU nationals that were not British citizens a few months ago.

    first the numbers – lots of them, who can’t vote yet

    “1.5 million migrant residents in Britain hail from six large EU countries with low naturalisation rates (Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Italy and France). Their low rates of citizenship acquisition, however, mean that these 1.1 million adult migrant residents currently contribute just over 80,000 potential voters”

    BUT

    “Some of the more radical actions proposed to restrict migration, such as curtailment of welfare or mobility rights, or exit from the EU, could stimulate this by encouraging migrants to seek British citizenship to protect their interests. Even without such a stimulus, the share of migrants from all backgrounds who naturalise tends to rise steadily over time as they put down roots, and in coming years the British-born children of second wave EU nationals could also have a significant electoral presence.”

    Some Poles mentioned they would seek naturalisation when that policy was announced, so watch those naturalisation numbers closely – we could soon have a million new voters with the ‘right’ policies.

  19. Guymonde

    Or (shudder) underpants…

    I’ll get me coat.

  20. Pete B

    What are underpants? (continuing the stereotyping meme)

  21. Actually the whole NHS thing is very relevant for UKPR not only because of politics, but because of methodology.

    Let’s assume that there are normally a 100 stroke patients in a year in the UK. The confidence level is 95%. However, we don’t really want to transport stroke patients around the country, so we need a number of regional units. These are the cross-breaks: the confidence level drops let’s say to 80%. So how many bands do we need if we promise that we treat all stroke victims? Let’s say we opt for a 100 bed + 10 to be safe. However, we distribute it to regional levels, so in some hospitals there are too many in some too few. We decide that we increase the beds in Yorkshire (this is adjustment in polls) by 5. However, a ward is 10 beds, so we need to make the decision of 5 too few beds or 5 too many. Not only that, but if you have a ward, you need nurses whether there are patients or not.

    So, any political debate about the NHS will always be ideological (the commoners and the upper class will both die, but the former without seeing a doctor versus everybody should get all the medical help available and within the target numbers), and none of the main or marginal parties would put it to the voters the reality: we haven’t got a clue if your tax paid for the NHS would be wasted or not, and we don’t have clear criteria for this spending (the NHS does waste money but it’s a different issue).

    The complexities of modern medical science is dependent on reciprocal relationships between different departments and individuals: a lot of time has to be spent on meetings, and meetings have to be managed (facilitated). As politicians consider meetings (other than their own) waste, and so does the public, the necessary co-ordination takes place on an ad-hoc way instead of evaluating each case on its on merits. It also results in the situation when nobody is responsible for the patient (only the hospital).

  22. Thank you AW for a fascinating insight into ‘errors’ in polling.
    Many years ago I had the task of investigating a method for the rapid measurement of thermal conductivity, which the literature assigned an accuracy of +/- about 5%, with the aim of improving that.
    I found several sources of systematic errors, but some pushed the results upwards, some down, and unless their sources were pushed to extremes, their sizes were normally within the range of random errors, so that eliminating them didn’t help much. The overall effect was that I was unable to increase the accuracy of the method beyond the +/- 5% under normal circumstances, but I was able to avoid some previously unrecognised sources of error which could produce results well away from the correct values (as measured by much slower but more accurate methods). But to achieve that much it was necessary to study how the method worked (or failed to work) in regions in which I expected it to produce results quite a long way from the accepted values. I suspect that their may be enough data from the whole set of polls to allow that to be done.
    For example, the ration of sample thickness to sample diameter mattered, but only produced results greatly in error for very thin test pieces.
    I suspect the situation is similar if the different practices of the various pollsters are regarded as generators of systematic errors in an overall method of ‘POLLING’ incorporating results from all pollsters. This is already attempted by those who take arithmetic averages over polls from several sources. I suggest that a careful comparison of results from all pollsters with and without their various weighting factors might well tell you which ones to avoid, and why.
    A test method which might be applied to this would be to increase the sample size of one poll sufficiently for the results to be treated as a single poll and as n separate polls by taking a variety of reduced sample sizes from the same set, so that the random error due to sample size alone is no greater than present polls.
    But then I may be lecturing on egg-sucking?

  23. Pete B,

    I have a collection of scarves in different colours. This allows me to match them with each suit / coat as appropriate. Likewise hats.

    Several hats & scarves have been relegated to the back of the wardrobe since I stopped skiing, but they are testimony to sensibly wearing the right gear for the occasion.

    Perhaps Mr Clegg only keeps one scarf in his constituency while maintaining a full wardrobe in London.

  24. Old Nat,

    Do be careful, in some areas you could be kilt for stereotyping like that.

    :-)

  25. I suspect that Anthony is doing a series of these articles for the benefits of the new readers that this site will undoubtedly attract over the next month or so. And also so that he can direct the more idiotic media pronouncers on politics to them when they make particular fools of themselves. Whereupon they will go “tl;dr” and carry on regardless. But I suppose you have to try.

    I’m not sure that TNS should have include in the chart, given their sporadic appearance till recently and the recent methodology change. I’ve a horrible feeling that the next roughly equal TNS will be greeted with ‘experts’ proclaiming that as TNS are the most pro-Labour pollster, the Tories ‘must be’ 3 points ahead.

    What is interesting though is that, if you ignore TNS, how narrow the house effects are for the Lab-Con difference, between -1 and +1. Not so for UKIP which has a range -4 to +4. This is a real mystery, we ought to see this spread closing as pollsters get used to the rise of UKIP and UKIP voters become more fixed in their commitment and so more easily identifiable. Instead the problem is as great as ever.

  26. Lazlo

    “the necessary co-ordination takes place on an ad-hoc way instead of evaluating each case on its on merits. It also results in the situation when nobody is responsible for the patient (only the hospital).”

    While I know of cases where the generalised symptoms take some time to get to the correct specialist, I don’t recognise your description of NHS care.

    In my own case, my GP referred my condition to the local hospital, where the consultant discovered the aneurysm, and passed me on to the surgical team.

    They identified that the position required greater expertise than they had and referred me (and electronically all the test results) to the national expertise vascular team in Edinburgh.

    After a single meeting by that vascular team, when they decided that they could fix the problem, I was admitted and the op done.

    When I had sufficiently recovered, I was transferred back to my GP’s care.

    Responsibility for my care was never not there – simply transferred to the most appropriate professional.

    In terms of funding, all of my local care was part of the local Health Board provision. The care in the Lothian Health Board was paid for through the additional funding they get from the Scottish Government to support national expertise centres to cater for patients from all of Scotland.

    Had my condition required even more specialist treatment, then NHS Scotland could have paid for it to be delivered in specialist units elsewhere in the UK or EU.

  27. Syzygy (fpt)

    That certainly fits the case in my LD-Con marginal constituency. Lord Ashcroft’s polling showed that in Lewes, Norman Baker takes tactical Labour votes which bump him up from several % points behind the Tory candidate to being comfortably ahead … IIRC from about 27% to 35%.

    Actually that’s not quite true. If you look at the Ashcroft figures for Lewes:

    http://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Lewes-poll-November-2014.pdf

    (standard VI / Constituency VI / Difference)[1]

    Con 32% / 28% / -4

    Lab 15% / 9% / -6

    Lib Dem 24% / 37% / +13

    UKIP 20% / 16% / -4

    Green 8% / 7% / -1

    Other 1% / 2% / +1

    So Labour ‘tactical voting’ is only responsible for a minority of Baker’s boost. Indeed before LTV there’s more Conservatives switching than Labour (partly balanced by UKIP to Con movement).

    I think UKPR people tend to over-estimate tactical voting purely based on the position of the Parties – simply because it’s the sort of thing people who know a lot about politics like ourselves would do.

    Most of the movement in this situation comes from voters who like Baker or support the Lib Dems locally or some other specific reason. They are voting positively for him rather than negatively to stop another Party. Otherwise why would so many Conservatives switch to prevent their own Party getting in?

    You actually see this pattern in a lot of the LD-Con marginals, it’s not specific to Baker. In many cases the extra support comes pretty much pro-rata from all the other Parties. Baker may have attracted a few more Labour votes than normal because he has been one of the less-conforming Lib Dem ministers. And of course he’s mad enough for Lewes.

    [1] Figures are before the Ashcroft reallocation, though it doesn’t change things much. As with the Survation poll CVI is also the VI for the GE rather than ‘tomorrow’.

  28. @ ROGER MEXICO

    Thanks for a more informed appraisal of the Lewes results than my memory allowed. The only piece of local knowledge that I could add, is that the Labour tactical vote is largely ABT not a belief that Norman Baker is ‘mad’ enough :)

  29. @ OldNat

    I’m really glad that it worked in your case. It’s great.

    I don’t think it’s national or down to individuals. It is systemic and it’s good.

    But it has implications when accidents, expectations create decision-making situations. I tried to write about the political implications and also the underlying statistical ones.

    I would like a health service that looks after everyone and there’s personal responsibility. But it has a cost, resource requirements which is not subject to democratic scrutiny, and the professional scrutiny is compromised. It allows health service to be weaponised, or just the opposite neutralised.

    I’m arguing that disclosing the complexities of Heath service in England, Wales, Scotland whatever would be a massive democratic learning to the public.

    The other point I tried to bring out was that confidence levels, MoE, statistical fluctuations, churn are not just for palls, they are with us in our everyday life, including the health service and it’s not a argument there, but a question of life or death.

  30. Palls = polls

  31. Pete B

    […] it’s interesting that on-line polling tends to produce results more favourable to UKIP, because conventional wisdom according to ‘Revolt on the Right’ is that UKIP voters are older and more poorly educated than supporters of other parties. Not the sort of people you would expect to be on the Internet at all, let alone answering surveys.

    You are making the classic mistake of confusing a tendency with a stereotype (I recommend a career in journalism). UKIP voters are more likely to be older – in the latest YouGov, 18% of over-60s (including DKs) are UKIP voters and opposed to 13% generally. But the over-60s only make up 40% of all UKIP voters, so 60% are younger.

    It’s also worth pointing out that having fewer educational qualifications is highly linked to being older (think how few people went to university 50 years ago compared to today), which, once you take that into account, reduces the link for that – though not completely. Though if you think being well-educated is a condition for getting on the internet, you clearly haven’t had much experience of it. :D

    In actual fact older people tend to be over-represented in surveys (though not the very old) because they have more time to fill them in

  32. Allen Christie
    “If Labour do win the election then Peter Hain would make a great foreign secretary but I’m getting way way carried away”

    Won’t ever happen because he’s standing down at the GE.

  33. OLD NAT
    “I’m distressed to hear a Lab activist boasting of his material possessions. For shame, sir!”

    Come now. Neither Knoxian protestant ethics nor ideologies apply. Scarf possession is a representation of gift giving and similar in social function to the kula exchange of conch shells among the Tobriand Islanders and the potlatch of the Tlingit and Hadza, and form associations which are meaningful to the possessor or to the giftee, often replenished at rites of passage, so that the knitted six foot length multi-coloured one at the back of the hall cupboard may be never worn (thus not representing an economic transaction) but deeply significant of a phase in one’s teenage daughter’s pre-Eleanor Rigby departure from the home.

  34. Today’s YG Scottish crossbreak

    SNP 43% : Lab 25% : Con 17% : LD 4% : UKIP 6% : Grn 4%

    Mean of last 20 YG Scottish crossbreaks

    SNP 42% : Lab 27% : Con 18% : LD 5% : UKIP 5% : Grn 4%

    (Sorry, RAF. – 18 point SNP lead today)

  35. John Pilgrim

    Trotting out the old conch shell heresy of Evald Vasilyevich Ilyenkov I see. The Gulags await you!

  36. So, only one solitary poll this whole week has given Labour a lead (of 1 point)). When was the last time that happened? Not for a long time methinks

  37. @John Pilgrim

    Surely given MrNameless’ undisputed status as the “Big Man” of Sheffield Hallam the exchange process is more reminiscent of the individual centred Moka exchange system of the highlands of New Guinea than the more communitarian Kula system of the Trobriands.

    From now on I shall imagine MrNameless and John Pilgrim as penis gourd wearing, big haired, pig swappers in the ilk of the classic Onka’s Big Moka.

  38. The owner of a major political party should own 6 scarves. I have no statistical information or polling data to back up that assertion, but it is fact, nonetheless.

  39. Ahem.

    To get back onto “what might shift the polls” this looks like co-operative based municipalisation of bus services. It’s very Blue Labour and it’s what the grassroots want, but can the leadership sell it effectively enough to move VI?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-plans-transport-overhaul-with-notforprofit-licenses-for-local-bus-operators-10011650.html

  40. It’s not a bad idea, but like many such things the outcome will probably disappoint. Being “not-for-profit” may enable a company to run some of the slightly marginal services that capitalists might cut (although that’s dependent on the not-for-profit running as efficiently as other companies). But being “not-for-profit” is not the same as “for-a-loss” and this is not going to resurrect loss-making routes. Part of the reason the for-profit bus companies make healthy profits is because they don’t operate loss-making routes.

    The only way to sustain poorly-used but vital-for-some routes is subsidy from the state. Taking the profit margin out of the question will only make a small difference in viability.

  41. very interesting development on the betting markets. the markets now think the tories are likely to get the most seats…. interesting article. in 2013, the most likely outcome seemed to be a labour majority…how miliband and labour squandered their advantages has got to be one of the most extraordinary developments this parliament. I actually can see a long term threat to labour’s capacity to govern as a single party again as a consequence of this.

    http://may2015.com/featured/general-election-2015-the-betting-markets-now-say-tories-will-win/

  42. Like the policy of public companies bidding for rail contracts, this has the air of dipping a toe about it. If they like this, they’ll like more, seems to be the thinking. But I agree – subsidy for loss-making but universally-supplied bus services could be a big vote winner in rural areas.

  43. Certainly the best bus service I’ve ever experienced is the community owned Lothian Buses in Edinburgh.

    Lothian is expanding and taking on some new routes as First withdraws some services in Mid and East Lothian. However Lothian does still run on a commercial basis and has not taken over all withdrawn services.

    People still complain about it locally and the council subsidised routes still have to go to tender and often fall to other operators losing the network benefits of operating them jointly.

    Lothian also starts from a dominant position with a large degree of goodwill. New start ups will find it more difficult.

    Overall it’s probably a step in the right direction but by no means a panacea.

  44. Obv the scottish crossbreak is one aspect of the unfolding battle.

    One other major aspect is the gender gaps.

    Very clear in this latest yougov.

    Tories 6/7ahead amongst men
    Labour 6/7 ahead amongst women
    Greens split 4/10 men women
    Ukip split the other way
    17 percent women dont know

    Will Labours womens manifesto impress ?

  45. Very interesting analysis.

    https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/01/29/three-trumps-could-win-labour-election/

    “Conventional wisdom says Labour should aim for the centre ahead of the general election. New polling suggests this might not be the winning approach”

    On a technical note, does anyone know how YouGov define Labour swing voters in the tables and if so could you share your wisdom please? (Well, obviously AW does)

  46. JP
    you state
    ”in 2013, the most likely outcome seemed to be a labour majority”

    But that was not the consensus of opinion on here where the question has been for a long time (even just after omni-shambles), who would end up wiith most seats in a hung parliament?

    Football (and indeed any sport) is a much easier game played from the stands.

  47. PHIL HAINES

    I think this is right. I am not a labour man in any way, but the fall in the labour VI in the last 10 months has been remarkable. they were averaging about 38% as late as March last year.

    I think, and it has been said here a number of times, that Miliband has failed to energise his base, while not attracting the centre in large numbers, hence labour’s apparently soft VI which has melted like snow in the past year.

    The Conservatives, through breeding or education I don’t know, manage to project power and competence. They seem to have an innate self-confidence that Labour lacks. As one Labour friend put it to me once, “at least Tony gave us that public school self-confidence”.

  48. The Conservatives project power and self-confidence, maybe not competence.

  49. Very interesting article.

    However, isn’t the real question what we mean by the ‘true’ figure? And whether we can ever know what it is?

    If pollsters ask ‘How would you vote in a General Election tomorrow?’, by definition, the only polls that may show the ‘true’ figure are those the day before the election.

    So if polls are proved ‘wrong’ when the election takes place, it may simply be that they were accurate when they were taken, but overtaken by events.

    This is why I think Lord Ashcroft’s assertion that polls should be seen as ‘snapshots’ is so sensible.

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