Survation have a new poll out in Sheffield Hallam which gives a ten point lead to Labour. Naturally this has produced a lot of crowing from people who don’t much like Nick Clegg and some possibly unwise comments from Nick Clegg about the poll being “bilge”, commissioned by the Labour affiliated Unite (which is was, but it shouldn’t make any difference to the voting intention figures). Tabs are here.

The poll has been compared to Lord Ashcroft’s one last year which showed Nick Clegg ahead in his seat, albeit, only narrowly. The reason for the difference is nothing at all to do with who commissioned the polls though, and everything to do with differences between the methodology Ashcroft uses and the methodology Survation use for all their clients (Unite, and anyone else).

One difference that people commented on yesteday is that Lord Ashcroft uses political weighting in his constituency polls, but Survation do not. This has the potential to make a sizeable difference in the results, but I don’t think it is the case here – looking at the recalled vote in Survation’s poll it looks fairly close to what actually happened, weighting by past vote would probably have bumped up the Lib Dems a little, but the reason the Lib Dems are so far behind is not because of the weighting, it’s because more than half of the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 aren’t currently planning on doing so again.

However, there are other methodology differences that probably do explain the gap between the Ashcroft poll and the Survation one. If we start off with the basic figures each company found we get this:

In Survation’s poll the basic figures, weighted by likelihood to vote, were CON 22, LAB 33, LD 23, UKIP 9
In Ashcroft’s poll the basic figures, weighted for likelihood to vote, were CON 23, LAB 33, LD 17, UKIP 14

Both had a chunky Labour lead, in fact, Ashcroft’s was slightly bigger than Survation’s. Ashcroft however did two things that Survation did not do. He asked a two stage question, asking people their general voting intention and then their constituency question, and he reallocated don’t knows.

When Lord Ashcroft does constituency polls he asks a standard voting intention question, then asks people to think about their own constituency. This makes a minimal difference in most seats, where people’s “real” support is normally the same as how they actually vote. In seats with Lib Dem MPs it often makes a massive difference, presumably because tactical voting and incumbency are so much more important for Lib Dem MPs than those from any other party.

This is a large part of the difference between Survation and Ashcroft. In Ashcroft’s second question, asking people to think about their own constituency, he found figures of CON 18%, LAB 32%, LD 26%, UKIP 14% – so the two-stage-constituency-question added 9 percentage points to the Lib Dems. Survation actually asked people to think about their constiuency in their question, probably explaining why they had the Lib Dems 6 points higher than Ashcroft in their first question, but I think the constituency prompt has more effect when it is asked as a second question, and respondents are given a chance to register their “national choice” first.

The other significant methodological difference is how Survation and Ashcroft treat people who say don’t know. In their local constituency polls Survation just ignore don’t knows, while Ashcroft reallocates them based on how they voted at the previous election, reallocating a proportion of them back to the party they previously voted for. Currently this helps the Liberal Democrats (something we also see in ICM’s national polls), as there a lot of former Lib Dems out there telling pollsters they don’t know how they will vote.

In this particular case the reallocation of don’t knows changed Ashcroft’s final figures to CON 19, LAB 28, LD 31, UKIP 11, pushing the Lib Dems up into a narrow first place. Technically I think there was an error in Ashcroft’s table – they seem to have reallocated all don’t knows, rather than the proportion they normally do. Done correctly the Lib Dems and Labour would probably have been closer together, or Labour a smidgin ahead, but the fact remains that Ashcroft’s method produces a tight race, Survation’s a healthy looking Labour lead.

So which one is right?

The short answer is we don’t know for sure.

Personally I have confidence in the two-stage constituency question. It’s something I originally used in marginal polling for PoliticsHome back in 2008 and 2009, to address the problem that any polling of Lib Dem seats always seems to show a big jump for Labour and a collapse for the Lib Dems. This would look completely normal these days of course, but you used to find the same thing in polls when Labour were doing badly nationally and the Lib Dems well. My theory was that when people were asked about their voting intention they did not factor in any tactical decisions they might actually make – that is, if you were a Labour supporter in a LD-v-Con seat you might tell a pollster you’d vote Labour because they were the party you really supported, but actually vote Lib Dem as a tactical anti-Tory vote. The way that it only has a significant effect in Lib Dem seats has always given me some confidence it is working, and people aren’t just feeling obliged to give as different answer – the overwhelming majority of people answer the same to both questions.

However the fact is the two-stage-constituency question is only theoretical – it hasn’t been well tested. Going back to it’s original use for the PoliticsHome marginal poll back in 2009, polling in Lib Dem seats using the normal question found vote shares of CON 41, LAB 17, LDEM 28. Using the locally prompted second question the figures became CON 37, LAB 12, LDEM 38. In really those seats ended up voting CON 39, LAB 9, LDEM 45. Clearly in that sense the prompted question gave a better steer to how well the Lib Dems were doing in their marginals… but the caveats are very heavy (it was 9 months before the election, so people could just have change their minds, and it’s only one data point anyway.) I trust the constituency prompted figures more, but that’s a personal opinion, the evidence isn’t there for us to be sure.

As to the reallocation of don’t knows, I’ve always said it is more a philosophical decision that a right or wrong one. Should pollsters only report how respondents say they would vote in an election tomorrow, or should they try and measure how they think people actually would vote in an election tomorrow? Is it better to only include those people who give an opinion, even if you know that those undecideds you’re ignoring appear more likely to favour one party than other, or is it better to make some educated guesses about how those don’t knows might split based on past behaviour?

Bottom line, if you ask people in Sheffield Hallam how they would vote in a general election tomorrow, Labour have a lead, varying in size depending on how you ask. However, there are lots of people who voted for Nick Clegg in 2010 who currently tell pollsters they don’t know how they would vote, and if a decent proportion of those people in fact end up backing Nick Clegg (as Ashcroft’s polling assumes they will) the race would be much closer.


287 Responses to “Polling in Sheffield Hallam”

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  1. Thanks for the information re Electionforecast. Just interested in tracking it.

  2. @LeftyLampton

    “…Varoufakis is playing an interesting game by hinting that Greece may just let go if the ECB hit its fingers hard enough. He’s asking Germany to prove that its relaxed attitude to a disorderly Grexit isn’t just a bluff. Scary times….”

    How old is Voroufakis, six? If he thinks leaving the Euro is good for Greece, then he should leave the Euro – he’s FinMin for pity’s sake. Is this really how Greek politicians comport themselves? “I’ll just futz around flying round Europe, then when they get fed up, I’ll say it’s the nasty Germans’ fault?” Is nobody in Greece capable of acting like an adult?

  3. Sure the Greeks may beacting like kids but haven’t the troika been treating them like very naughty children. There’s been a lot of finger-wagging going on.

  4. @Valerie

    We are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars. No matter how harshly they believe themselves to be treated, the sums demand seriousness, sobriety and plain speaking. If they are going to pay their debts, they should pay their debts. If they are not going to pay their debts, they should say so. Either way, they should accept the consequences. Acting like children is not acceptable.

  5. Martyn,

    I think the Greek government are prepared to be booted out of the euro but not leave voluntarily. That way the dislocation involved becomes someone else’s fault.

    It all comes down to the opinion polls that show a majority of Greeks would rather stay in the euro (and also get the bailout conditions eased – positions that may turn out to be incompatible).

  6. Martyn

    With respect, their position is very reasonable and has many precedents, not least West Germany. Sadly they appear to be dealing with fools.

    The best solution is a properly constituted currency bloc, rather than the mess that currently exists. It has to be worth a go. The Drachma is a fallback position.

  7. @ Unicorn,

    Congratulations on hitting the big time! Also, thanks for the running evaluations of the forecast models- always a fascinating read.

  8. @ Martyn,

    [] Varoufakis isn’t just an economist, he’s a politician, and his constituency isn’t economists (among whom support for Grexit is probably ~90%), it’s the Greek people, who despite everything want to keep the Euro.

    So even if he wants to leave the Euro he can’t just flounce Greece out of it, he needs to make it look like they tried to stay in but were forced out by the unreasonable and tyrannical Troika.

    This is perfectly sensible political positioning and I honestly can’t see what else you’d expect him to be doing. Everyone is posturing; the only difference is Varoufakis is posturing to try to reach a position that makes some economic sense.

  9. Graham – “Ah – but when did he get his 2.2? In the UK a 2.2 from the 1960s and 1970s would certainly be worth a 2.1 today!”

    I think it was in the late 1980’s from the University of Essex. Wiki says he spent a year as a fellow at Cambridge after that. The crucial thing is that he was in Britain at the time of John Major’s ERM debacle, which shaped his thinking (he was against Greece joining the euro) as much as it did William Hague’s and Ed Balls’ who also learnt their politics during that crucial period.

    Regarding whether Greece should stay in the euro or go – it would be better for them to leave, but it might not be better for the eurozone. Once a precedent is set that a member can leave the markets will start to pick off the weaker members one by one. From the eurozone’s point of view it’s cheaper for them to allow Greece to stay, not that they appear to realize it.

    The eurozone appears to think they can get the Greeks to back down but the Greek voters staged a huge rally yesterday in Athens in support of their govt (the first ever spontaneous pro-govt rally?) I guess to help stiffen their govt’s resolve should they wobble when confronted by the eurozone.

    I understand the Americans are sufficiently worried to have sent a debt negotiation team to “help”.

  10. @ JohnB and @ Colin

    I think you will have seen by the subsequent comments made by @Alan and @ Martyn that there are contributors who are well qualified to monitor observations of this kind and also to express scepticism when it is due. There are lots of others who have done the same in the past and I hope my responses have shown that I am always happy to be challenged and corrected, and to defend any statement I have made.

    If most of my comments are ‘impenetrable’ then the failure is mine. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time displaying my credentials to the likes of @Alan and @Martyn and others. When it comes down to it incomprehensible comments are not much use to anyone..and I am more than happy to cut away from the jargon.

    In my post earlier today, what I was saying was pretty straightforward. I think we place more reliance on the various models than many people acknowledge. Polling numbers themselves don’t tell us a great deal about what is going to happen in the election. Everyone on UKPR knows that Ukip will get many more votes than the SNP (say) but will almost certainly end up with far fewer seats. We know this because we have looked under the bonnet, to use your expression. The competing models offer different scenarios about how things will unfold over the next thirteen weeks, and each of us needs to decide whether we believe Electoral Calculus (which puts Labour 33 seats ahead of the Tories) or Electionsetc (which puts them a little behind) or some completely different account. In light of this my post was simply pointing out that the Ashcroft polls offer an opportunity to assess the relative accuracy of (some of) the different models and therefore how seriously we should take their competing predictions.

  11. @Martyn – “Acting like children is not acceptable.”

    [snip]

    I think Varoufakis has been extremely level headed and sensible. He has pledged to honour all debts – he isn’t asking for a further write off, although I think he should. He has also pledged to crack down on tax avoidance – he’s a left winger who believes in the state, not a friend of the super wealthy who don’t like paying tax.

    He is asking for a sensible agreement that would allow this to happen. This means a reduction in measures forced upon Greece that have shrunk their economy, and linking repayments to growth. As others said, this is what we gave Germany in ’53, but the Germans have short memories it seems.

    [snip]

  12. @Martyn

    You might be interested in the following article about what precipitated the Long Depression of the late 19th century which lasted 20 years and saw lots of Germans emigrate to Britain (they anglicized their names on the eve of WW1) as well as go to America.

    http://blog.mpettis.com/2015/02/syriza-and-the-french-indemnity-of-1871-73/

    That depression got triggered by the Germans demanding reparations from France for losing a war, which amounted to 20% of French GDP. The biggest reparations in history by % of GDP, bigger even than the reparations the Germans had to pay after WW1 (which they defaulted on).

    The French paid up and indeed paid it early. But the Germans who had a similar sized economy to France couldn’t handle the inflow of money – they had a spectacular boom for 3 years and then a bust for 20 years – and in those 20 years you got the seeds that led to WW1, anti-semitism (blame the other politics) and WW2.

    Basically countries struggle to handle big inflows of cash, and Greece in the 2000’s was no different to Germany in the 1870’s.

    And the money flooded into Greece because the ECB kept interest rates too low (they were trying to help Germany, which was in the doldrums and ignoring the problems building up in Ireland, Spain, Greece and Italy due to a monetary policy that was too lax). If the problem is caused by low interest rates you don’t blame the ordinary Joe who has no control over them, you blame the central bank – but common sense seems to have gone by the wayside as people search for scapegoats.

  13. Candy
    ‘I think it was in the late 1980’s from the University of Essex. Wiki says he spent a year as a fellow at Cambridge after that. The crucial thing is that he was in Britain at the time of John Major’s ERM debacle, which shaped his thinking ‘

    Well there has been significant grade inflation re-degree classifications even since the late -1980s. Puzzled though as to how such a person would end up as a Cambridge fellow.

  14. @ Unicorn

    My concern with the models that take greater account of constituency polling is that most of these polls are carried out by a single pollster (or more accurately, whatever pollster Ashcroft decides to carry out his polls), and that the locations selected by Ashcroft for these polls are chosen for political purposes. This isn’t to cast any doubt on the credibility of the polls, but that the results tell us very little about the overall national picture.

  15. @ Spearmint

    Thanks. I didn’t quite get the “mysterious poster” bit, though. Most of us here are wearing Venetian masks and some – like Hawthorn/Lurker – are transmogrifying before our very eyes.

  16. @Graham

    Maybe because his time at Essex wasn’t his first degree? According to wiki he got a doctorate from Essex, before that was at University of Birmingham, and went to a private school in Greece.

  17. Candy,

    If interest rates are low and people are borrowing to much you raise taxes like vat to make things more expensive cool the economy and use the revenue to pay off government debt.

    Greece could have done so but their tax system was a mess, Ireland should have raised property taxes but instead they abolished them.

    Domestic politicians making short term domestically Populus choices and then when it all goes pear shaped pointing the figure at the ECB.

    I took out a big loan, blew it on a holiday and now can’t pay it back, but of course it’s not my fault it’s the banks!

    Peter

  18. Peter Cairns – “If interest rates are low and people are borrowing to much you raise taxes like vat to make things more expensive cool the economy and use the revenue to pay off government debt.”

    Didn’t that thinking – that you can cool an economy with fiscal policy rather than monetary policy get discredited in the 1970’s when all western economies tried it? Paul Volcker proved that only monetary policy can slow an economy and curb inflation.

    Think about it – does a VAT increase stop you buying a house (VAT free), or does an interest rate rise do it?

    You’ve even got some examples from the last Labour govt. Poor old Gordon Brown did try to slow house prices by hiking stamp duty, by introducing HIPs and all the rest. Those things slowed things down for all of six months after they were introduced and then prices surged again.

    Interest rates are the only things that work.

  19. @ RAF

    I think you put your finger on an important issue. I don’t think I agree that these polls are chosen only for political purposes. I get the impression that Lord Ashcroft is genuinely fascinated by many of the issues we discuss at length here. He is fortunate that he has the means to satisfy his curiosity from time to time. By the time the campaign itself starts I think we’ll have far more information than has been available in any previous election and in theory that should improve projection accuracy.

    That said, I don’t expect we’ll see a large future batch of polls in Ukip target seats (unless currently held by Labour). He probably won’t want to help the Ukip campaign managers to direct their resources to where they can do most damage.

  20. P.S. I forgot to add – the last Labour govt even abolished MIRAS tax relief to slow the housing market and that didn’t work. So they tried three things – abolished a tax relief, increased the transaction tax (stamp duty) and introduced punitive moving fees, to scare people into slowing down and none of it worked.

    That stuff doesn’t work – only interest rate rises do.

  21. Unicorn

    Just wait until I transmogrify into Colin Baker.

  22. Martyn

    It’s called “negotiation”.

    If Varoufakis ambled into Berlin saying “we’re staying in the Euro not matter what”, THAT would be acting like a six year old.

    He’s effectively saying to Germany, “We’ve followed the Troika demands to the letter. We were told we’d be growing strongly by 2013. Instead, we’ve had a Great Depression. We’ve lost a quarter of our economy. We’ve got near-30% unemployment. We’ve written off an entire generation of our young. How much worse can it be for us if we DID leave the Euro. We’ve got nowt to lose. But what about you? What have YOU got to lose?”

  23. @ Candy

    The long depression was much more complex and it’s not an analogy. There is a huge body of literature on it (from different ideological stances).

    The same argument is used for the decline of Spain (with more justification).

    The German economic rise was distinctly different from the English as it was the strongest in heavy industries, it didn’t break the alliance with the latifundia (junkern), it organised medium sized firms into cartels, and the firms had to create the banking system (each cartel created their own bank).

    As to the Greek debt. The obligations are nonexistent and unenforceable (hence the wrestling). The EU took over the private claims (lending of their own bank’s lending: nationalised (supranationalised) potential private loss.

    There is no economics here only politics. The debate is about the way in which historical losses are recognised in the books without loss of votes.

  24. RAF

    Part of the test is measuring the accuracy of any constituency prediction, they haven’t tuned their prediction model with secret nods from Ashcroft as to which seats will be polled next.

    The success of a model has to be measured in terms of “If a constituency at random was polled, who would be closest to the answer before the answer is released”. Accusations of the exact seats to be target being political has no effect on this test. Sheffield Hallam was polled for naked political reasons, doesn’t make it an unfair test for a seat predictor, although only one poll gives us far less information about who is performing better.

    Ashcroft is at least doing enough numbers such that the best seat predictor should win out.

  25. Candy,

    Anyone who thinks putting Vat on house sales at 20% wouldn’t stop house inflation in it’s tracks is an idiot.

    Browns (half) measures didn’t fail because they can’t work, they failed because, like his snap election, every time the property owning public that New Labour relied on protested he bottled it.

    If there is a property boom in London running at ten times inflation, curtailing it with a stiff hike in stamp duty will be more effective and do less damage than raising the cost of borrowing for every business and household in the Country.

    Cap and Tap, use a targeted tax rise selectively on that part of the economy that is overheating and invest the revenue raised in reducing debt or long term capital investment that the economy needs to grow.

    Instead of sitting back and watching the economy be distorted by people paying more and more for the same limited number of houses, tax the existing houses more to curb the price and use the proceeds to build more houses to address the supply side.

    Peter.

  26. @/Alan

    “if a constituency at random was polled, who would be closest to the answer before the answer is released”.

    The problem.with this claims is that it assumes the qualitative homogeneity of constituencies, which is clearly not the case. As a result, the predictive power of more data from different constituencies is flawed.

    Data on archetypal constituencies would give the higher predictive power, not more data.

    Sorry for bringing epistemology to methodology.

  27. People are discussing the Greek debt problem, and some have no sympathy with Greece

    I think that the problem will be settledd by lengthening the repayment period. That was the opinion of Thierry Breton, former French minster of economy and finance in an interview on BFM Business, a French radio station.

    On a more general point, has anybody here been in debt? I have, about eight or nine years ago, and I was n’t the only one. I would like to say how grateful I am for the help and guidance of a debt advisory service called The Consumer Credit Counselling Service which is now called StepChange.

    This organisation is wonderful. First they were able to contact the bank to which I owed the money, and to negotiate a repayment plan. The bank had refused before to do anything except claim all the money I owed at once. I had a loan and credit card debt and had fallen into arrears.

    In fact things went so well with the CCCS, now StepChange, that I paid all the money off before the term of the loan would have ended. In other words I had fallen behind with the payments, but the bank got its money back before time.

    I must recommend this organisation to anybody with debt problems. In fact it was the bank itself to which I owed the money which suggested to me that I use this organisation. It is a very efficient and wonderful organisation.

  28. ADGE3,

    I think we all have huge sympathy for both Greece but in particular the Greek people.

    If I am unhappy with anyone it is domestic politicians in democracies who make short term populist choices to gain vote and then who either shrug their responsibilities when it goes wrong or blame others like the EU to mask their own culpability.

    I think there will be a degree of compromise over Greece but at the end of the day if they want to be in a currency union with the Germans they will have to be as productive and competitive as the Germans and to do that they have a mountain to climb.

    We’ll help them to climb with support and encouragement but we can’t carry them or sympathise if they just quit!

    Peter.

  29. Peter Cairns – “If there is a property boom in London running at ten times inflation, curtailing it with a stiff hike in stamp duty will be more effective and do less damage than raising the cost of borrowing for every business and household in the Country.”

    But they tried that. It was a flat 1% on all properties above the exempt limit and they raised it to 3% on properties over £250k and 5% on properties over £1 million.

    It didn’t work because people simply absorb the costs if the rest of their life is looking hunky dory. Like the absorbed the cost of HIPs and the abolision of MIRAS

    It’s the effect of interest rates on businesses and jobs that makes people think twice about buying a house – in other words, you can’t target/fine-tune, you have to slow the whole economy down to get though to people.

    Also – property prices in London only started rising at ten times inflation AFTER 2008 when Greek money and Russian money and Chinese money all flooded in looking for a safe haven.

    You can argue that it wasn’t London property financed by cash that was the problem, but property inflation in the provinces which was financed by easy mortgages and low interest rates.

    Looking back interest rates were too low in the period 2001 to 2005. They started to rise in 2005 but that was probably too late.

    Why were they too low? Panic over 9/11 and London not wanting to get too far out of step with the USA which kept interest rates below 2% from 2001 to 2004.

  30. Candy
    ‘ the last Labour govt even abolished MIRAS tax relief to slow the housing market and that didn’t work. So they tried three things – abolished a tax relief, increased the transaction tax (stamp duty) and introduced punitive moving fees, to scare people into slowing down and none of it worked.

    That stuff doesn’t work – only interest rate rises do.’

    But interest rates in 2008/2009 were slashed to almost nothing and there was a major slump in house prices. Higher interest rates certainly did not cause that – whatever else did!

  31. I thought MIRAS was abolished by Lawson back in the late 1980s.

  32. The housing market is basically being propped up by low interest rates. It was falling faster than in 1989/1990 before then. I used to follow it very closely before I was able to buy.

  33. @Hawthorn

    According to wiki Lawson abolished double-Miras only – where two single people bought a house together and each claimed it.

    He changed it to one Miras per property and then Gordon Brown abolished it altogether.

    It was quite a hefty tax relief – your interest payment reduced by the amount of teh basic tax rate – so a 20% discount. If Peter Cairns was right, the abolition of it should have slowed houses prices to a crawl.

    But it didn’t do a thing.

    Which goes to prove that house prices are driven by job security and overall economic well being, not taxes or duties. If the entire economy slows due to a recession or interest rate hikes, the housing market will slow. Otherwise, animal spirits just take over.

    Which means policy makers had better be thinking how they’ll cope once the economy truly starts motoring like the American one is.

  34. Graham – “But interest rates in 2008/2009 were slashed to almost nothing and there was a major slump in house prices.”

    Well a Lehman brothers style Global Recession will do it too.

    Interest rate hikes are done to create an artificial recession, to slow an economy down. When a real recession arrives you don’t need them…

  35. New thread

  36. MIRAS was reduced to a token value by Kenneth Clarke in 93 or 94. I remember it well. He justified this by the fact that interest rates had collapsed in the aftermath of Black Wednesday, so mortgage holders were feeling a big benefit and it was only fair that they should pay more in tax to bring down the colossal deficit.

    I wasn’t amused. I’d bought my first house in August 92, and taken out a 10 year fixed mortgage at 10.5%, figuring that the Govt insisted that wild horses wouldn’t drag us out of the ERM, and a decade of high rates were going to be foisted on us to keep the pound up.

    When the Tories brought out those “Double Whammy” election posters, they elicited a grim laugh from me.

  37. Candy

    Thanks – I stand corrected.

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