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. Bootle cross break

    Con (5%), Lab (85%), Lib Dem (5%), Other (5%)

    Swing from Con to Lab since 1950: 45%

    I hope we can have a few jokes, provided we don’t end up like Smithson’s madhouse.

    May I add my admiration for Unicorn’s diligence.

  2. I’d hazard as guess that what we might be seeing besides the big story in Scotland of the reversal between Labour and the SNP’s shares, is not so much churn as people responding to the changes with tactical voting intentions.

    Non SNP voters faced with a new challenge may well be deciding to vote tactically.

    Might Tories who voted LibDem to beat Labour now be seeing the SNP as a better bet, or go back to voting Tory as the think the LibDems now have as little chance as the Tories.

    I couldn’t quantify it but I wouldn’t rule out part of a Tory rise being down to Tories who previously “lent” their vote to the LibDems coming home.

    Where we might find evidence of that is where people who Identify themselves as Tory are saying they will vote Tory in May but who voted LibDem in 2010.


  3. Statgeek

    The Conservatives (in Scotland) have regained their losses from the referendum period.

    Perhaps we’re seeing a tad of UKIP to Con and even the rarest of movers; Scottish Lab to Con movement. Or that’s what the chart seems to suggest. It might be churn.

    I’m not really convinced. Both your figures and NC’s are derived from YouGov’s daily Scottish crossbreaks and these have a long record of showing the Conservatives too high. We’ve actually had a ‘proper’ YouGov Scottish poll in the period you discuss (f/w 29 Jan – 2 Feb):

    and this had them on 15%, actually down a point and nowhere near the 20-ish that the crossbreaks suggest. The Survation and Panelbase polls earlier in the month were both 14% (and MORI only 12%). There’s only evidence of a small decline in the Ashcroft seats too, though they’re very unrepresentative.

    I hoped that that the methodology changes introduced at the start of the year might have corrected this, but if they did the effect seems to be fading. Until we see a Conservative rise in national polls any movement may be more an artifact of YouGov’s methods than anything else.

    It’s also worth pointing out that UKIP to Con is a less likely movement than in other parts of GB, simply because most UKIP voters in Scotland don’t seem to be ex-Con in the same way. In the tiny sample in the poll above they come from all over. There are various plausible reasons for this – Scottish Tories may simply be too posh to vote UKIP (London shows a less extreme version of this).

  4. It seems to me that with both major parties low in the polls and unpopular with the voters, that a song may be appropriate.

    The song you will remember is Delaney’s Donkey. Here are a few of the lines from the song.

    Delaney had a donkey that everyone admired,
    Temporarily lazy and permanently tired…

    The Whigs, the Conservatives,
    Radical superlatives,
    Liberals and Tories,
    They hurried to the place…

    Hagan, Fagan were students of psychology,
    Swore they’d shift it with some dynamite.
    They bought it, brought it, then without apology,
    The donkey gave sneeze and blew the darn stuff out of sight….

    They seized it and harried it.
    They picked it up and carried it
    Cheered it, steered it to the winning place.
    Then the Bookies drew aside.
    They all committed suicide.
    Well, the day Delaney’s donkey won the half mile race

    Of course it was Val Doonican who sung the song, you remember perhaps.

  5. OLDNAT,

    Hard to say as with the LibDems in free fall and Labour and the SNP backing it it probably won’t be an election issue.

    In theory it’s the kind of thing that should play well for the LibDems in rural Scotland but in terms of national politics for years particularly in the Highlands the LibDems have been home for ambitious Tories who want to get elected but wouldn’t stand a chance as aTory.

    At the grass roots (and you currently need to dig pretty deep these days) LibDem supporters probably like it but higher up the Party I think enthusiasm dips.

    Similarly at any one time I’d say at least a third of Highland Councils “Independents” are actually Tories and until recently a least two of the dozen or so LibDem Councillors were.


  6. There is a ‘poll’ out on how GP’s intend to vote. Obviously not representative or a proper poll, but interesting because the results pretty much mirror the real polls

    I note especially the large rise in the number of undecided/ plan to stay at home.

    “Some of those who may not vote said they could not trust any party. ‘Politicians seem divorced from ordinary people and appear to have little understanding of the real world,’

    That mirrors what the womens hour poll was saying

    “Additional analysis was prepared by TNS for Woman’s Hour on standard questions on the same TNS Phonebus. This polling also suggests that women are significantly less certain than men on whether they will vote: 65 percent of men say they will definitely vote, compared with 55 percent of women. Over a third of women (35 percent) don’t know who they will vote for in the general election, which is 10 percentage points higher than men (25 percent). Women under 34 were found to be the least certain about how they will vote, with more than four in ten saying they don’t know.”

    And we see large numbers of undecided women in most national polls.

    Is this normal at this stage, or could we be seeing the rise of the non voter as a new feature of this election?

  7. @ADGE3

    I always thought it was Hague and Fagan. Perhaps if Hague had studied psychology more assiduously….

  8. Just seen a Facebook invoice showing the Tories spending £924 on Facebook advertising in Clacton. Seems a bit strange given the low chance of retaking it. Norbold, your thoughts on the likely outcome there?

  9. Peter Cairns (SNP)

    I’d hazard as guess that what we might be seeing besides the big story in Scotland of the reversal between Labour and the SNP’s shares, is not so much churn as people responding to the changes with tactical voting intentions.

    Non SNP voters faced with a new challenge may well be deciding to vote tactically.

    There’s some evidence of it in Ashcroft’s tables but it’s not big and it’s not all one-way. For example in his combined Labour seats, where Conservatives are mostly polling sub-10% anyway, they do lose a quarter of their vote on the constituency question. But while 10% goes to Labour, 8% goes to the SNP. It’s a nett gain of 0.1% of the electorate – 12 votes out of 14000 potential ones. That’s not going to save many seats. The same thing happens to their 2010 vote, so it’s not based on the standard question including that factor.

    And while the Lib Dem vote has collapsed to nothing in these seats (even in Glasgow North where they got 31% last time, they’re down to 4%[1]), their 2010 voters have gone to the SNP by more than two to one. And when their few remaining voters are squeezed for CVI, they split 50-50.

    The trouble with a ‘tactical unionist’ is that people aren’t just unionists they have other political opinions and prejudices as well. And these might preclude then from switching to another Party.

    [1] There’s a big Lib Dem to Green movement there, enough to put them in third.

  10. Mr N

    “Just seen a Facebook invoice showing the Tories spending £924 on Facebook advertising in Clacton. Seems a bit strange given the low chance of retaking it. Norbold, your thoughts on the likely outcome there?”

    We’ve received three leaflets through the door from the Tories this week! Two deliverd by workers, one by paid distributors.

    As I said a few days ago, I have been talking to a number of people I know who are normally Conservative but voted UKIP in the by-election. The general view amongst them was that they will revert to the Conservatives in the GE. The main reason being that, “this time we’re voting for a government.”

    I still think Carswell wil win, but it might not be the shoo in I once thought it would be.

  11. Roger,

    ” There’s a big Lib Dem to Green movement there, enough to put them in third.”

    I could actually see the LibDems in Scotland slip from third ahead of the SNP to a remarkable sixth behind the Greens and even UKIP.


  12. @CB11

    “Speculation sprinkled with some wishful thinking, perhaps? :-)

    Not on my part. I just report the data.


    It’s an interesting point. I can’t really go for it or against it. The data is conflicting. Perhaps YG’s sampling is an issue. The London and Scottish samples have dropped considerably since the turn of the year. Perhaps YG’s base of polled people is part of the problem.

  13. Roger

    “That’s not going to save many seats.”

    I don’t think anyone is even speculating that any change in tactical voting will affect the result in many seats.

    Of course, you are right about the superiority of full national polls vis a vis crossbreaks (even the somewhat improved YG ones) but if we are to accept that YG’s full poll measure at 15% is more accurate then logically SNP at 48% and Labour at 27% are too.

    You raise an interesting point about YG consistently showing higher Con VI than others in Scotland. However, I’m puzzled as to why the effect of their adjustment in Jan “seems to be fading” since then, as opposed to any other reason.

    I doubt that the current tranche of Ashcroft polling tells us much about the Con vote across the country. Solid ex-Lab heartland seats don’t have many Tories to begin with, and the squeeze on other parties by the incumbent LDs and the SNP is what you would expect.

    If there is a slight rise in the Con VI vote, I’d expect it to materialise in the Forfars and Lockerbies of the country.

  14. New Greek Government seems to be getting nowhere in its attempt to get a better deal in Europe. There appears to be general support for the hard line German approach.

  15. TOH

    I don’t underestimate the ECB’s ability to be incompetent.

  16. Hawthorn,

    What exactly is wrong with the ECB saying, “We’re not lending you more money unless we’re sure you can pay back what you already owe”….

    That’s what all banks do!


  17. Aye, but when they are in trouble the banks themselves say “Give us some money or we’ll wreck the economy”.


    We’ve been through this already.

    Everyone knows they cannot pay back what they owe, even if they were not having their economy crippled by the bailout conditions! And the ECB are a lender of last resort, not a normal bank.

    By the way, this is why currency union would be risky for Scotland if things went wrong there.

  19. Just a brief word regarding Unicorn’s efforts:
    Unlike many here I have absolutely no idea what he’s on about half the time, – no, three quarters of the time, actually – but I assume that if he were talking nonsense someone who understood degree level maths would come on and tell us. Until that happens we watch in awe and wonder as Unicorn does whatever it is he is doing, and trust that, when he does say something we understand, then it’s worth listening to!

    On a more pedantic note: Statgeek 3.30 – ‘data’ ARE. ‘Datum’ IS. Data, like media, is a plural.

  20. Hawthorn

    Even more risky for Scotland if things went badly wrong south of the Border!

  21. John B

    That is correct as well.

    I am not trying to talk down Scotland. It would just be bad for them all-round.

  22. JOHNB

    My feelings entirely. Its 100% of the time for me.

    I suffer terribly since I care less about what is under my car’s bonnet, than that it will make the car move when I want it to.

  23. @ Syzygz, @OldNat & @ Hawthorn


    @GuyMonde & @ TheSheep


  24. Election Forecast UK tweet

    “Latest forecast update: Lab 283, Con 282, SNP 37, LD 24, DUP 7, UKIP 2.”

    Also interesting tweet from Number Cruncher which he might expand on her.

  25. @JohnB

    “Data” is indeed strictly plural, but this is a battle lost and we might as well accept that “data is” has taken over though common usage – much as we may regret it.

  26. @John B

    Hark at you. Prostrating yourself at one, and correcting another. :-p

  27. Seems ON is on carry on polling oo er missus

    Also interesting tweet from Number Cruncher which he might expand on her

  28. Poundland have made a bid for the 99p Shop…..that will add 1% to inflation!


  29. Anyway, this site can’t last much longer.

    Once Anthony stops doing these corrupted polls and banks his millions, he’ll be off to the Seychelles without a moment’s concern for our suffering (says Lord Ffoulkes)

  30. Jim Jam


    I have no knowledge of Number Cruncher’s predilections!

  31. John B

    I can assure you Unicorns postings are completely reasonable, some of his choices of measurements are his personal choices but they aren’t totally mad and pretty informative.

    One could have chosen a different metric to his sum of seven squares quite reasonably, (such as taking into account the sampling errors increase with size of VI (up to 50%)) but the answer would be the same. Equally one might have only been interested in the top two parties (getting the minor party who polled 3% right is of less significance than getting who might actually win the seat right).

    It’s a question of taste although it’s unlikely to change his findings.

    It’s good his work is appreciated here, it certainly helps in terms of comparing non-UNS seat predictions.

    It’ll be interesting how the next set of Ashcroft Scottish polls match up given this information and see who uses this information the best.

  32. Does Electionforecast have an archive of their previous predictions? I can only find the 6th Feb one.

  33. Hawthorn,

    But the Greeks aren’t being asked to pay it back, mostly just the interest at reduced rates in return for continued lending.

    But that continued lending is conditional on addressing the underlying causes not running away from them.

    If Greece is yet again allowed to run away from the deep rooted issues that have blighted it for decades, spending too much earning too little, we’ll just be back here again sooner or later and probably sooner.

    This didn’t just happen it comes from living beyond their means since close to WW2 so it was going to either catch up with them at some point or dog them forever.

    The Euro didn’t cause the problem it just brought it to a head.

    The Euro has it’s weakness as it was build in nice weather when they weren’t thinking of winter, but you can say the same for our “No More Boom & Bust, Light Touch, Tripartate Regulatory System for the Financial & Banking Sector”


  34. Peter

    Syriza would do reforms, but not the ones expected. If the troika ever thought that ND or Pasok would do reforms which would help growth and hurt their sponsors, it would be yet further evidence of their stupidity.

  35. @Unicorn,

    You’re using the words “Euclidean distance” to describe the Root Mean Square Error ( ). It is a valid way to measure the distance between a prediction and the result, but it is not the only way. I myself prefer Mean Absolute Error ( ) because it is simpler.

    From memory, pollsters prefer MAE and modellers prefer RMSE.

    Both metrics have disadvantages, for example “the minimum score is zero but what is the maximum”?

  36. @peter Cairns – “The Euro didn’t cause the problem it just brought it to a head.”

    That isn’t completely true. I would agree that Greeks themselves have made a hash of governance – the new government is admitting this, and for the first time they seem to be intent on tackling the rampant tax avoidance. Pretty much by definition, the richest will avoid the greatest amount of tax, so the new governments objective is to cease the previous solutions of targeting the more vulnerable for spending cuts and selling off cheap of state assets, and instead go after the rich who have evaded tax for so long.

    Back to the point. The Euro did cause a significant part of the problems. It did this by allowing the systemic problems to be hidden.

    Under the drachma, the economic pressures would have been far more prone to trigger market pressures far earlier. The currency would have fallen, leading international lenders to add higher risk premiums as their investments lost relative value. It would have become harder to borrow.

    In parallel, normal currency market functions would have squeezed Greek spending through inflation, and boosted their export trade etc , etc. The adjustment would already be underway, but kicked off at a far lower risk threshold, with the currency also being part of the solution.

    The Euro was both part of the cause, and now hinders the solution, so it should take a large chunk of the blame.

    Poorly designed systems can allow abuse to take hold and reach unsustainable levels – it doesn’t necessarily cause the abuse, but enables it.

  37. I don’t understand the SNP’s currency fear. Croatia is more wee than Scotland and has the Kuna.

  38. @ Hawthorn

    Does Electionforecast have an archive of their previous predictions? I can only find the 6th Feb one.

    Unfortunately, no…or at least not in full detail. The tabs on the right of their home page give a graphical summary of their headline predictions (“Vote forecasts” and “Seat forecasts”). But the contents of the constituency lists are changed on a daily basis and as far as I know are not archived in any place accessible to the public.

    Because of this, I make a point of taking a new download whenever there is word that a new batch of constituency polls are about to appear.

  39. @Old Nat 4.51

    Though Jim Jam got their first…..

    “Also interesting tweet from Number Cruncher which he might expand on her.”

    ? Sounds rather dubious morally! Or is it some form of culinary delight?

    @Ernie 4.55
    “NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!” as someone once suggested in a gentle rebuke to those wanted to go along with the easy option. OK, not quite, but you get my drift!


    I’m sure you’re right….. although what you said is as impenetrable (and therefore as awe inspiring) as Unicorn’s stuff. But if I memorised it and put it judiciously into a conversation, I’m sure others would be impressed – until I was asked to expand the point further, of course…..

    @Peter Cairns
    You are right, of course. But how can the situation in Greece be changed without a complete social upheaval? The situation is slightly better in Italy, but if things there go belly-up it will be even worse for the European economy.

  40. @Unicorn

    You can get a partial archive of Election Forecast by looking back thru their twitter feed. You might also want to try Mike Smithson’s twitter feed (he of politicalbetting dot com). You can try pulling past versions off archive dot org.

    Incidentally, instead of getting downloads, you can archive their site manually using archive dot today

  41. @ Martyn

    Yes – as @Alan has pointed out – there is no question at all that other discrepancy measures could have been used for the task. Your preferred measure would have picked up the same patterns.

    The point of my post was – whatever the precise details of the methods used – some models can be shown to demonstrate a higher level of accuracy than others and I think it is useful for people to know this because it affects the degree of confidence that can be placed in their (sometimes quite disparate) projections.

  42. PC

    The Euro and the Banks eh?

    Is that the Ghost of Salmond Policies Past I hear clanking its chains in the distance?

  43. Margaret Hodges criticises Labour over taking £540K from PWC, who help firms dodge tax. Conservatives being slated over NHS reform. Clegg had his event ruined by the “bilge” poll. Farage had to cancel an event.
    Another 48 hrs in British politics, oh and the polls are as static as ever.

    Postal votes go out on 11th April I am told, so the leaders to get a move on if the debates are to be held before the postal votes are already sent back, and some say up to 50% of people will postal vote.

  44. @Unicorn

    S’okay: I wasn’t critiquing your fine work, I was adding data. Did you consider any other metrics? Both RMSE and MAE have problems.

  45. @Alec, @John B et al

    The question is not whether Greece should leave the Euro, the question is how to break their fingers sufficiently to make them let go. They don’t wanna go voluntarily.

  46. @ Martyn

    It depends on exactly what @ Hawthorn wants to do, and I am sure s/he can follow your advice. (I think it was probably you who provided a number of leads to follow when I asked exactly the same question a few months ago.)

    For my own purposes I wanted a set of constituency VIs to compare with Ashcroft polls, and detail of this kind is not normally captured in tweets. So I just take my own copies as and when I need them.

  47. 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.

    But leavened with inadvertent humour. The Telegraph this week was sniffily commenting on the fact that Varoufakis only got a 2:2 in economics. I guess it didn’t dawn on them that there are examples of Finance Ministers closer to home who have never studied economics in their lives.

  48. The polls 12-16th, when peole are filling out their postal votes will be very important to know the final result.

  49. @LeftyLampton

    There is a case for saying politicians should not be experts (“on tap but not on top” as Churchill said). In the specific case of economists, both Vince Cable and Alex Salmond are ex-professional economists…

    …the joke just writes itself…:-)

    (It’s a long-running sore. The OBR get paid stacks and are always wrong…)

  50. @Leftylampton
    ‘But leavened with inadvertent humour. The Telegraph this week was sniffily commenting on the fact that Varoufakis only got a 2:2 in economics. I guess it didn’t dawn on them that there are examples of Finance Ministers closer to home who have never studied economics in their lives’

    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!

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