The Lib Dems have been out and about briefing journalists about what their polling shows. This morning the Guardian, May 2015 and The Spectator have all written about it.

Private polling always has a certain allure when spoken of in the media, there is that whiff of forbidden, insider knowledge. It really shouldn’t – beyond asking whether such private polling actually exists, the first major caveat to any claims that private polling shows something different to publicly available stuff is “why should it?”. Political polling doesn’t really make much money, it’s normally done as a shop window to get a polling company’s name known and to create a reputation for accurate research. It is in polling companies’ interest for their voting intention polls to be as accurate as possible, so the publicly available stuff really is the best we can do, there is no more accurate version of the data held back for private clients. Therefore, most of the time when political parties claim their private polling shows them doing better than the public polls it suggests they are making it up, or they have been commissioning stuff that asks things in a skewed way for propaganda purposes (what Lord Ashcroft has called in the past “comfort polling”).

Even if the full details of private polls are released, with all the methodology and tables available for scrutiny, you should still view them sceptically. Parties decide which polls to release or brief journalists on, if any. One thing you never see is a political party releasing a poll that is not helpful to them, so even if the polling itself is above board, there is a strong publication bias; only the stuff that helps the party is published.

To illustrate that, cast your mind back to the polling of Lib Dem seats conducted by Lord Ashcroft. One of the most obvious findings was how much the Lib Dem performance varied – in some seats like Eastborne, Birmingham Yardley or Sutton & Cheam the party is doing very well indeed. In other seats like Somerton and Frome, Chippenham and Brent Central they are doing atrociously. Imagine the very different narratives that could be created by selectively releasing polls from those first three seats, as opposed to selectively releasing polls from the latter three.

So what should we make of the Liberal Democrat claims? Well, the polling does genuinely exist – Survation are a proper company and while the newspaper reports don’t include specifics, several journalists have assured me they were shown the actual figures. For once, there is also a legitimate reason why the Liberal Democrat polling might show them in a better position than the published polling – the articles suggest they prompted using candidate names. We know that a lot of Lib Dem support is reliant upon tactical voting and personal votes, so it seems reasonable that polls that include the candidate names in Lib Dem held seats might show the Lib Dems doing better. Until we see tables we can’t tell what other methodological factors may have been at play.

The articles claim that the Lib Dems have done about 100 constituency polls, while it seems journalists were shown results from about a dozen or so, so it is impossible to know how representative this group were, or whether they were cherry-picked to create a good impression of the Lib Dem performance.

Even if you take the claims that the Liberal Democrats make at face value, they don’t actually show much that contrasts with existing publically available data that much. According to the Guardian the party “is on course to remain “competitive” in seats that would fall if there was landslide against the Lib Dems, such as Cheltenham, St Ives, Cardiff Central, Eastbourne, Solihull, Cheadle, Leeds North West, Cambridge and Bermondsey.” From talking to several other journalists who were there, I’m told they were also shown figures from St Austell and some other Labour facing seats, so perhaps a dozen in total.

The word “competitive is vague” – it could mean both a little ahead… or a little behind. As it happens, Lord Ashcroft has conducted polls in nine of those seats, and in most of them the Lib Dems are indeed “competitive”. In three of them (Cheltenham, Cheadle, Eastborne) Ashcroft found clear Lib Dem leads, in two others (Bermondsey and St Ives) he found the Lib Dems just ahead (though I’m told the Lib Dem polling shows them doing better than that). In Cambridge Lord Ashcroft he found them a point behind… but that counts as “competitive” in my book. The other three are St Austell & Newquay, Solihull and Cardiff Central, where Ashcroft found the Lib Dems trailing. If the Lib Dem data was kosher, then it may well show the Lib Dems doing better in those seats… but polls vary, and perhaps there are other, unmentioned, polls that show the Lib Dems doing worse than in Ashcroft’s polling.

87 Responses to “Lib Dem private polling”

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  1. Ashcroft tweeted this yesterday, is it true that there is now effectively no more internal polling allowed due to their cost/spending limits?

    Lord Ashcroft @LordAshcroft · Feb 19
    Treat with caution “internal polling” in marginal seats as any cost now counts towards the constituency limits so none done #comfortpolling

  2. Nice little spat developing between Daily Telegraph and Guardian over corporate advertising pressure. I might need to get some more popcorn in!

  3. Had a voter today who was convinced the country would be under Shariah law within five years and wanted immigration stopped. He’ll be voting for the Green Party.

    Politics is not always as simple as we think.

  4. @Shevii

    If that’s all the Telegraph can find, it’s not a ‘spat’ it’s just a tantrum.

    The DT is giving a world-class demonstration of whataboutery, though. It’s extremely funny watching them loudly shred their reputation, although not so funny if you’re one of their many loyal readers who now, justly, wonder if the paper has told them a pack of lies for years.

  5. As AW advises I would take the LD polling with a dose of scepticism, not because it would be inaccurate, but because the dozen or so seats “shared” with journalists is probably highly selective – if things are so dandy for them then why not let us see polls for all 57 defended seats….why not?….because the majority are probably ghastly for them at this stage. However, LDs historically have climbed in seats where they are “competitive” in the past – but that was when they were an insurgent party, not a defensive party – so we will just have to wait and see……

    Viz the Tories turning off potential Tory voting women who might slide to LD – I have a distinct feeling that Lynton Crosby has an instinctive feel for the sort of Australian voter who will swing to the right on dog-whistle issues. However, if one looks at the social origin of the population of Australia it is skewed by being drawn overwhelmingly from a social group in British society which accounts for a minority, albeit a large minority, here – namely those of working class origin who have become artisan middle class during the Thatcher era.

    Their instincts match those of many Conservative Party members (and UKIP supporters for that matter), Daily Mail/Daily Express readers – and they all may be making the fatal mistake of assuming the so-called “Nasty Party” “benefits resentment”/”tax cuts whatever” type of appeal is held by a greater proportion of British voters than is actually the case. What is certain is that it definitaley puts of many women because it is so masculinely knee jerk and simple in message – it lacks female subtly when judging issues.

    I suspect the decision makers in both right-wing newspapers and the Conservative campaign are overwhelmingly male, and will find it hard not to choose to use dog-whistle and attack-dog type campaiging, thus alienating women?

    Again we will have to wait and see who is right…..!

  6. sorry! accidental typo/spelling mistake alert!

    “…definitaley puts of many women because it is so masculinely….”

    definitely puts off many women because it is so masculinely…”

  7. @Shevii – “it costs about £10k for a proper constituency poll”

    Yes, but these ones are being done by Survation, who are “a well-known but relatively new polling firm”, to quote Lord Ashcroft.

  8. @ Postageincluded

    Wow! I’m blown away.

    I don’t know any Welsh translation of the Bards of Wales (by János Arany, 1857), but there is a reasonable English one.

    It’s a good (and brave) ballad.

  9. I wonder if Clegg had seen any Hallam polling last Saturday morning?

    I saw him in a park in Sheffield with his daughter and some minders on Saturday afternoon. He looked haunted. Like death warmed up.

    I don’t have much sympathy for him, but it’s no life.

  10. While I suppose it’s consistent with the political acumen the Lib Dems have demonstrated thus far to commission 100 constituency polls, the idea that they have a chance of picking up 43 seats in the next election seems naive even for them. Doing the 57 possibly makes sense so they can decide how to allocate resources, although in their place I would have trusted Lord Ashcroft’s results on Redcar and saved the money, but splurging out for seats they’re not even defending is mad.

  11. @ Tony Dean

    If you carefully selected 12 of the last 100 YouGov polls you could make things look very good for the Tories- not a Labour lead in sight!

  12. Ah, I see from Page 1 that our working theory is that they’ve polled each seat multiple times. Nevermind.

  13. Last Saturday afternoon, while Mr. Clegg was in the park, we were out canvassing in Totley – and if anyone ever talks about how rich Hallam is, be aware that there are pockets of real need and poverty in that seat.

    I think what’s hurt Nick Clegg, not politically, but personally, has been not only his fall from grace – Churchillian popularity to a man at worst detested and at best ignored – but that so much of it has been of his own making.

    It must be painful being a man so derided – albeit not as painful as the lives of some of his constituents who I meet fairly regularly – and if Labour win on May 7th my personal joy at the victory will be tinged a little with regret at having so deeply wounded someone who, whatever their political failings, is human.

    I would hope that we’d all feel that way, and there are few politicians I truly despise – certainly almost none in functioning democracies – but that’s the life they put themselves forward for. I was offered the chance at a council candidacy recently and turned it down immediately. It takes a stronger conviction and self-belief than mine to be the name on the leaflets.

  14. ‘Ah, I see from Page 1 that our working theory is that they’ve polled each seat multiple times’

    Until they got the result they were looking for perhaps?

  15. @ Spearmint

    Ah, I see from Page 1 that our working theory is that they’ve polled each seat multiple times.

    Sheffield Hallam at least 10 times, hoping for something that they could give to the media?

  16. Mr N -this voter ,name of Cleggy ?

  17. Does anyone with some history in the Lib Dems know where the “Winning Here” slogan came from? It’s a curious little phrase and employed even in seats where they’ve absolutely no hope whatsoever and people know it.

  18. @ Mr Nameless

    I was speaking to a chap who grew up in Sheffield Hallam (his family still lives there). He was saying that the boundary changes put a chunk of nailed-on anti-Tories into the seat. The LibDems were chuffed about the tactical opportunity that this gave them to leverage an anti-Tory vote. Not so chuffed now, I’d think.

  19. Survation are saying they are to publish a batch of large sample seat polls next week. I assume these are the LibDem polls.

  20. Amber Star,

    It’s not quite so simple. The boundary changes added Stannington ward, which used to be part of the old Hillsborough constituency. While this is a fairly anti-Tory ward (has some UKIP tendencies now) the same boundary changes removed Broomhill, which in 2010 had a combined Lib/Lab/Grn vote of about 85%.

    The advantage the Lib Dems have from Stannington ward is that its population is much more permanent (Broomhill is 50% students) and that it contains the rural areas of Bradfield Parish.

    On balance, it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference, and might even slightly be in Clegg’s favour.

    The parts of the constituency which will throw up surprises for the Lib Dems are actually the more middle-class bits, in Fulwood and Ecclesall wards. The people there are quite likely to be public sector workers with kids who are at uni – precisely the sort to be turned off by Clegg.

  21. Mr N

    I like these details of seats that I have little or no knowledge of when, like your posts, they have all the hallmarks of objective analysis rather than partisan hopes.


  22. Tagging on… I wondered if our host had any thoughts on the story on to the effect that the Labour lead hasn’t slipped at all – it’s held up in E+W, and gone through the floor in Scotland. Are we getting to the point where Westminster seat projections need to be aggregated from individual country-specific UNS calculations?

  23. ON
    Far-away seats full of people of whom we know nothing…

  24. Phil – I think we passed that point some time ago. Indeed, the swing in Scotland has often been very different from that in England&Wales over recent decades.

    It’s always been better to do separate UNS swings in Scotland and E&W. The SNP surge renders it really absurd not to – hence the reason I scrapped the old UNS projection here and started using aggregated Scotland-specific and England&Wales-specific UNS calculations.

  25. I see Yougov did another one of those bulk extracts, this time on ethnicity earlier this week

    Looking at the 2010 figures and comparing to now, Lib Dems reflect the same collapse in support as nationally, but those ex-Lib Dems seem to be going mostly to Labour.

    As a result, Labour now has an even greater lead amongst BME voters than they did in 2010.

    I have seen tweets though where the Lib Dems are using the Labour immigration leaflet that they produced to target UKIP voters to some effect, and these tables only go up to the end of Jan, so that may have changed since then – example

    Lynne Featherstone [email protected] · Feb 10
    No surprises here – 85% of local survey respondents think the Labour immigration leaflet is unacceptable…

    Labour seemed to include that immigration message on their local campaign material as well – we got one through our door, and being immigrants ourselves, it means they lost our vote.

    Would be interesting to see some more recent polling on ethnicity to see what impact that leaflet has had on ethnic voters.

  26. I have been looking at the individual seat forecasts on the ElectionForecast site and am surprised at how much utter gibberish appears there. SNP to win Orkney & Shetland! Labour to win Carmarthen East! What a load of nonsense. Many of the predicted results for Wales are based entirely on the Assembly elections that took place in May 2011 – 4 years ago!

  27. AW….”hence the reason I scrapped the old UNS projection here…”

    Anthony, I still use the simple UNS projector on here (top right of screen) however, even when I give the old 3 main parties lower UK wide scores to allow for the SNP surge, it still shows no change in the number of Others, whereas I thought from what you write that it should show 20 or 30 more Others to reflect your amendments of the Scottish UNS within the combined UK total?
    I cannot use your advanced projector as my computer is too old to accept the program needed. Is it just that that you have amended, and thus I am missing the amendment you are writing about?

  28. Anthony – I have just realised that your UNS projection and your Basic GB Swingometer is not the same thing at all. Any chance of applying your UNS rules to the Basic GB Swingometer programme please?

  29. Greece Eu can road kick

  30. @Richard – Can you give me a link to the Labour immigration leaflet? Or a sense of what it says. I am proposing to vote for them, but am increasingly disillusioned by what I experience as a spineless lack of principle (albeit fortunately not in our local MP)

  31. Crikey – I think the *only* internet browsers that don’t support SVG without any extra plugins now are IE8 and before. That’s some legacy computing you have :)

    I’d have to program a new one, to let people enter separate Scottish and GB (or England and Wales) figures as in the advanced one. Alas – I can’t promise I’ll get round to that (the reason it took so long to change the projection on the sidebar is that I’m a crappy programmer!)

  32. @Charles

    Well we are not supposed to be campaigning here, not that I would know who to campaign for, but it was covered here

    Went down like a lead balloon. Sent all over London, one of the most diverse areas of the country. Would be surprised if it doesn’t impact their results in a negative way.

  33. @ Graham; on those 2011 Welsh Assembly election results; those were Labour’s best ever results in devolved Welsh elections; they are way down in the polls on that level now – and they didn’t win Carmarthen East then so yes you’re right that one is gibberish. the Lib Dem retention of Orkney and Shetland has been discussed many time on here too

  34. Could anyone throw light on an article in Friday`s Independent (starting on the front page) that Labour canvassers are finding their vote holding up much better in fairly affluent parts of eastern Scotland, especially Edinburgh constituencies, than Glasgow.

    The article makes the fair comment that Lord Ashcroft`s polls concentrated on seats that had YES majorities.

  35. AW – thanks, I was behind the times. Is that where the difference between the “Latest UNS projection” and the output of the “Basic GB Swingometer” comes from? I’m guessing it must be, as the latter gives (a) a significantly better result for Labour and (b) an ‘Others’ total of 10 seats. Ten seats – it’d be a resigning matter for Sturgeon if the SNP only had ten MPs come May.

  36. @David Welch

    Labour is likely to do best in Scotland in areas where there are No voters who are either Labour voters or willing to switch to Labour.

    Things we know correlate to voting No include:
    Middle Class
    Older Voters
    Born in England

    Unfortunately for Labour in many areas these factors do not correlate so well with voting Labour, so they’re relying on swing from Cons to help them.

    In Edinburgh however Labour have a few things in their favour:
    Relatively large number of No voters
    lots of those No voters come from Labour support.
    Most of the left of centre opposition to Labour in Edinburgh historically was from Lib Dem so SNP have a relatively weak starting point.
    Greens are relatively strong and could split the Yes vote.
    Edinburgh conservatives may be easier to squeeze for Labour than rural Conservatives.

    You could imagine Labour holding 4/5 of the Edinburgh Seats (I expect SNP to take East unless the SNP fall back a long way in the Polls) even if they only scored 10-15 seats in Scotland.

    There are similar middle class suburban seats in the West (East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire) that you could imagine Labour holding/taking even in an SNP landslide.

  37. Not read all of this thread but it’s worth pointing out while polls by parties should be treated with caution (though i doubt they’d actually promote false figures, they simply won’t promote bad figures) why should we not believe them over an Ashcroft or UNITE instigated poll? I can’t think that UNITE would have promoted/parrotted that poll so much in Clegg’s Hallam seat had it shown Clegg in the lead. A lot of the usual slate of polls get promoted and parrotted more than others depending on the media outlet and their vested interest. Essentially all polls and especially their promotion and over promotion should come with a massive health warning.

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