With the window for taking part in Labour leadership election closing and ballot papers going out there were several polls over the weekend asking about the leadership candidates, though no fresh polling of people voting in the actual contest. ComRes, Opinium and Survation all had polls asking about the general public’s perception of the candidates. While the polls weren’t presented that way, I’ve seen various people writing about them as evidence of which candidate would actually do better as leader. In particular the Survation poll had Jeremy Corbyn ahead among the public after they were shown video clips, so was taken as a sign that he may not be as damaging electorally as the commentariat widely assume.

Questions about how well different leadership candidates would do in a general election are always popular and sought after, but extremely difficult if not impossible to make meaningful. Asking the general public who they think would do better or worse is perfectly reasonable, but is a different question. Who people think would do better is not the same as who would do better, it’s just asking the public to answer the question for you and a poll is not a Magic 8 Ball. Asking the general public who they prefer doesn’t answer the question either, it contains the views of lots of committed Labour and Conservative voters who aren’t going to change their vote anyway, and preferring is not necessarily the same as changing your vote.

If you ask how people would vote with x, y or z as leader, or if people would be more or less likely to vote Labour with each candidate as leader then you are getting a little closer, but the problem is still that people are expected to answer a question about how they would vote with the candidates as leader when the general public know hardly anything about them. A fair old chunk won’t even know the candidates names or what they look like, the majority will have little real idea what policies they will put forward. None of us really know how they will work out as leader, what the public, press and political reaction will be, how they will really operate. How can respondents really judge how they would vote in a hypothetical situation with so little information? They can’t.

Some polls try to get round that by giving respondents a little more information about each candidate: a run down of their main policy positions perhaps, or in the case of the Survation poll a little video clip of each respondent so people could see what they looked and sounded like. This is better, but it’s still a long way from reality. It’s like the famous market research failure of New Coke – in market research tests people liked the taste, but release it out into the real world and people wanted their old Coke back. A video clip or a list of policies won’t factor in the way the media react, the way the new leader is reported, how they actually handle leading, the way their party and their opponents react. There is no really good way of answering the question because you’re asking respondents something they don’t actually know yet.

Is there anything polls can really tell us about how the leadership contenders would do? Well, firstly I think we can be reasonably confident in saying the polls don’t suggest any of the four candidates is any sort of electoral panacea, the most positive net rating in the ComRes poll is Andy Burnham and just 19% think he would improve Labour’s chances, 14% that he’d damage them (Corbyn gets more people saying he’d have a positive effect (21%) but much more saying he’d have a negative effect (31%). None of them have obvious election-winning magic like, say, Blair did in 1994.

They can also tell us some things about people’s first impressions of the candidates, something that shouldn’t be underestimated (people probably made their minds up pretty quickly that Ed Miliband didn’t look Prime Ministerial, for example, or that there was “something of the night” about Michael Howard. Those early impressions are hard to shift.). On that front the Survation poll is pretty positive about Jeremy Corbyn with people saying he came across as more trustworthy and in touch than his rivals (though such polls are always a bit tricky because of the choice of clips – Survation tried to iron out any potential biasing effect by having clips from each candidate being interviewed on the Marr show, so they were all interviews, all the same setting and same interviewer… but even then you ended up with two candidates defending their position on the welfare bill, one talking about the EU referendum and one talking about rail nationalisation. It’s almost impossible to do such things and have a truly level ground).

The argument against Corbyn isn’t about his personal image and manner though, it’s that he’d put the Labour party in a ideological and policy position that wouldn’t win votes, that the Labour party itself would risk ripping itself apart under a leader with little support among the Parliamentary party and a long history of rebellion. On individual policies I’ve seen Corbyn supporters taking succour from polls showing, for example, that a majority of the public support rail nationalisation or much higher taxes on the rich and drawing the conclusion that there is a public appetite for much more left wing policies. Be careful – look at this YouGov poll which shows a majority of people would support renationalisation of the utilities, increasing the minimum wage to £10 and the top rate of tax to 60%… but also a total ban on immigration and benefits for anyone who turns down a job, making life mean life with no parole in prison sentences and stopping all international aid. There are some policies to the left of mainstream public debate that are popular and some to the right that are popular, it no more means that the public are aching for a far-left political party than for a far-right one. Essentially you can pick a list of appealing sounding policies from almost any ideological stance, from far-left to far-right, and find the public agree with them. In reality though policies require trade-offs, they need to be paid for, they are attacked by opponents and the press. They are judged as a package. In terms of how well the Labour party would hang together under Jeremy Corbyn, polling of the public can’t really tell us – a poll of Labour MPs perhaps!

Bottom line? There is no way of doing a simple poll that will give you a ready packaged answer as to how well or badly a potential party leader will do, and the things that Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors worry about are not things that are easily tested in a poll anyway. My own guess is that those who think Jeremy Corbyn would struggle electorally are correct, though it does depend on whether the Conservatives also pull themselves to shreds after the EU referendum. I am a little wary about arguments about parties not winning because they are too left or too right. While putting yourself broadly where most voters are is sensible enough, those voters themselves don’t necessarily see things as ideologically left and right and specific policies aren’t really that important in driving votes. However, broad perceptions of a party, its perceived competence and the public’s views on how suitable its leader is to be Prime Minister are incredibly important. It will be an extremely hard task for Labour to succeed if it is seem as taking up a risky and radical route, if it’s trying to rebuild a lack of public confidence by selling an approach that is radically different from what a normally risk-averse public are used to, if it is seen as being riven by internal dissent and splits, if their leadership patently doesn’t have the support of its own MPs. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but I wouldn’t count on it.

On other matters, the ComRes poll also had voting intention, their first online VI figures since the election (rather to my surprise. Their online polls for the Independent on Sunday dried up during the election campaign itself and I’d wrongly assumed they’d come to halt as part of ComRes moving their phone contract from the Independent to the Daily Mail. I’m pleased to see I was wrong, and the ComRes/Indy on Sunday relationship continues!). Topline figures are CON 40%, LAB 29%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%, and ComRes have adopted the same socio-economic based turnout model for their online polls that they have started using in their telephone polls.


922 Responses to “Can polls tell us how well Corbyn would do in a general election?”

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  1. @Hawthorn

    “That is not true of Keynesian models. Indeed, since the last crash, I am not sure that many academic economists would defend rational expectations, (as opposed to those being paid by City interests).”

    Well it’s mostly not true of Keynesian models (technically there aren’t any Keynesian models, there are New Keynesian models but this would be a spectacularly anal discussion to get into).

    I agree that I don’t think there are many people who would openly defend rational expectations anymore, but the point I was making was that the assumptions behind RE still inform the DSGE models that people use to forecast, and that these models are still the ones in use and mostly unchanged.

  2. CANDY

    Re your penultimate sentence :-

    I’ve been wondering whether there will be difficulties in DC providingf JC with the sort of Security briefings that Harman & her predecessors get.

    A number of his on the record statements might give pause for thought amongst the Spooks-and what about intel with a US source ?-will they have things to say?

    And I read recently that JC said he would refuse membership of the Privy Council !

  3. ANARCHISTS UNITE

    Fair point about New Keynesianism,

    Older neo-Keynesianism (ISLM etc) are models which rely on non-rational expectations.

  4. @Colin

    It’s definitely an issue as he seems to have an irrational hatred of the Americans. If the Americans raise concerns, I would think Cameron would withhold info from Corbyn or facing losing American intel.

    Basically Corbyn’s leadership is going to be dominated by foreign policy, nothing else will be discussed. Every time some soldier is killed, he’s going to be asked to condemn the killers, and every time he equivocates the public will wonder “Why is the Islamism agenda more important to him than what happens in Britain.”

    Lab should go for Corbyn only if the islamism agenda is more important to them than the economic stuff. If the economic stuff is more important, pick someone else. Anyone else! Nobody is going to talk about the economy at all while Corbyn is leader – but the others might be able to get the public to focus on their policies, because no other distractions.

  5. CANDY

    @”Basically Corbyn’s leadership is going to be dominated by foreign policy, nothing else will be discussed.”

    Couldn’t agree more-I said so here a while back.

    @”Lab should go for Corbyn only if the islamism agenda is more important to them than the economic stuff.”

    But who is “Lab” in this respect?-Its not the MPs-or Labour’ss 2015 voters. Its a 600,000 electorate -for a large majority of whom NOTHING seems “more important” than a JC victory

  6. LIZH

    Aren’t you forgetting the string of Labour worthies -past & present-who have & are doing so?

    If you don’t like reading thoughts here on how a JC leadership might impact UK politics-just ignore them.

  7. Colin

    I would not want to campaign on foreign policy if I were Cameron.

    In any case, if the economy does re-enter recession, that will be the number one issue, no matter what the Government wants.

  8. @Candy

    “Every time some soldier is killed, he’s going to be asked to condemn the killers, and every time he equivocates the public will wonder “Why is the Islamism agenda more important to him than what happens in Britain.””

    I’m pretty sure his strategy would just be to:

    1) Condemn the killings

    2) Maintain that the reason why the killers are becoming killers has something to do with previous foreign policy disasters

    One can, after all, believe that killing is wrong and our foreign policy is atrocious – they’re not mutually exclusive positions.

  9. @ALLAN CHRISTIE

    Hey Corbyn didn’t cause this economic mess, it is the neoliberals. Ask GO to wave his magic wand.

  10. @Allan Christie

    “Gloating over falling oil prices and the dip in the stock market!! Oh yes please lets see other people’s lives turn miserable for our own political gains.”

    I don’t think any of us are gloating, merely analyzing ways in which it could turn out and impacts this could have. I mean, should this all blow up, I will admit that I’ll get a certain sense of pleasure in watching Osborne’s smirk morph into a rictus grin, but no more so than Conservative supports got watching Browns downfall ;)

    As for ‘people’s lives turning miserable for our own political gains’ – isn’t that what IDS has been doing these last five years?

  11. if the banksters aren’t stopped they’ll destroy the world

  12. Just a word of warning on rational choice theory and rational expectations: these are two totally different things-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_expectations

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_choice_theory

  13. LIZH

    I’m no GO fan (although I do like his choice of suit brand farfetch which I also wear ) anyway enough mantra as I said I’m no GO fan but that doesn’t mean I want him to do badly as chancellor of the exchequer.

    “Hey Corbyn didn’t cause this economic mess, it is the neoliberals”
    __

    The neoliberals are the Illuminati, scourge of all mankind.

  14. @ALLAN CHRISTIE

    When it is the poor taking the hit then they are told that’s life just get on with it. The same message goes to the rich specially as they supported this economic regime.

  15. I think the last page or so shows how partisanship allows/encourages repackaging perfectly reasonable arguments (on both sides) with the result of losing the content of the argument. Sad, because if you put together various bits from this page, you would get a really coherent view that would be refreshingly new for any newspaper.

    Trying to keep out by red boot from it. Fortunately, the dog demands his walk, so hopefully …

  16. By = my

    Apple is a conspirator. I read that when some people mistype I love you, it becomes I love Tito (now that should offend everyone).

  17. ANARCHISTS UNITE
    @Allan Christie

    “I don’t think any of us are gloating, merely analyzing ways in which it could turn out and impacts this could have. I mean, should this all blow up, I will admit that I’ll get a certain sense of pleasure in watching Osborne’s smirk morph into a rictus grin, but no more so than Conservative supports got watching Browns downfall ;)”

    “As for ‘people’s lives turning miserable for our own political gains’ – isn’t that what IDS has been doing these last five years?”
    ——–

    Gordon Brown’s downfall? He saved the World!! And it was his own party who repeatably stabbed him in the back. I know when things go belly up opposition parties tend to gloat but I can’t see what GO can do with regards to China going pop? Does he bail out their construction industries?..of course not.

    Please don’t mention IDS, I have put a self imposed embargo on my comments regarding him.

  18. LIZH
    @ALLAN CHRISTIE
    When it is the poor taking the hit then they are told that’s life just get on with it. The same message goes to the rich specially as they supported this economic regime
    _________

    I’ve no doubt the poorest in society are being disproportionality hurt by the austerity we are facing and at the opposite extreme the very wealthy are not weathering the storm proportionally as the poor.

    However it’s the lot in the middle and the small business job and wealth creators who are the backbone of our economy who I think sometimes Labour pass off as being excessively rich.

  19. @ALLAN CHRISTIE

    Why the China crisis maybe the turning point:
    http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2015/08/24/sometimes-things-happen-sooner-than-you-expect/

  20. Alan Christie
    “I know when things go belly up opposition parties tend to gloat but I can’t see what GO can do with regards to China going pop? Does he bail out their construction industries?..of course not”

    This hasn’t stopped the Tories from claiming that it was the last Labour governments spending plans that caused the global financial crisis….

  21. @Allan Christie
    “However it’s the lot in the middle and the small business job”

    Corbyn is all for the small business. http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/better_business

  22. @Allan Christie

    “I know when things go belly up opposition parties tend to gloat but I can’t see what GO can do with regards to China going pop?”

    Well, he could have engaged in a counter-cyclical economic policy and diversified the economy more which would help insulate us from any fallout…

    In truth, of course, there isn’t a great deal Chancellors can do – economies are interconnected and their often pray to events outside their control (they have a few tools at their disposal, such as fiscal policy, but he has a prior ideological commitment to not using that so…); oil prices falling, which greatly helped out on the cost of living front, is an obvious example of something happening outwith control that proved, in this case, beneficial.

    But if they’re willing to claim credit for the good stuff happening, I don’t see why they should get to duck the blame for the bad stuff happening.

    And, after all, somewhere out there there is an alternate universe where Labour won the 2015 general election and people on here are now blaming the fall in the FTSE100 on the markets lack of confidence in Ed Miliband and his anti-buisness policies ;)

  23. Since our economy is thriving under GO’s stewardship, and since all the signs show growth in excess of expectation, we’ve got over 4 years of Tory rule to look forward to, by 2020 Corbyn will be forgotten, the protagonists, IMO, at the election will be Umunna and Osborne.
    So relax and enjoy, folks, soak up the vibe, even the brothers on the tube have realised the error of their ways, and called off their idiotic protest. :-)

  24. @Ken

    George Osborne does not seem to share your optimism.

    “Speaking in Helsinki, Finland, this afternoon, George Osborne admitted he was ‘concerned’ about the stock market collapse and admitted Britain would not be ‘immune’ from the fallout. “

  25. @Ken
    “Since our economy is thriving under GO’s stewardship, and since all the signs show growth in excess of expectation,”

    Maybe you spoke too soon. Not everything is under GO’s control as it wasn’t under GB. What goes around ….

  26. LIZH……You live in hope….! :-)

  27. Ken

    “Since our economy is thriving under GO’s stewardship, and since all the signs show growth in excess of expectation”

    Importing millions more people isn’t growth; it’s an illusion of growth.

    Underneath that illusion we’re in a deflationary death spiral like everyone else.

  28. MRJONES……..Blimey, I hadn’t thought of that. :-)

  29. Mr Jones
    Not to mention a house price bubble and quantative easing….but all is well in the land of the Tory voter.

  30. MrJones

    The one thing I have consistently dismissed from the plethora of concerns that accompany my impending retirement is a ‘deflationary death spiral’.

    Thanks.

  31. I hadn’t realised that London property firms were such keen Labour supporters!

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/mayor/revealed-labour-mayoral-hopefuls-accepting-tens-of-thousands-in-donations-from-property-tycoons-a2919631.html

    The place sounds just like Glasgow.

  32. @LizH,

    I shall leave this thread as the repetitive echo-chamber it is and accept your invitation not to express any view here.

    Perhaps life will get more interesting when Corbyn takes the leadership and the Popular Revolution begins.

    Good luck.

  33. LIZH

    Don’t get me wrong I have said on several occasions JC has a lot of qualities I like but his vision only appeals to Labour’s core vote and some others on the left. If that’s what the UK wants then fine but unfortunately one hat doesn’t fit all.

  34. RIVERS
    Alan Christie
    “This hasn’t stopped the Tories from claiming that it was the last Labour governments spending plans that caused the global financial crisis”
    _______

    I think the mantra was Labour spent spent spent then pop…Boom and bust and we never put anything aside for a rainy day.

  35. Allan Christie

    ” we never put anything aside for a rainy day.”

    In our climate, that’s a very inapt metaphor!

  36. ANARCHISTS UNITE
    @Allan Christie

    “And, after all, somewhere out there there is an alternate universe where Labour won the 2015 general election and people on here are now blaming the fall in the FTSE100 on the markets lack of confidence in Ed Miliband and his anti-buisness policies ;)
    __________

    It is a strange ole World right enough. We must be in the middle of a supernova with Labour’s lead in the polls still lingering about in space and that alone has spooked the markets. ;-)

  37. A draw between Arsenal and Liverpool but the reds jump up to 3rd. YNWA.

    OLDNAT

    From your link…

    “Ms Abbott said property firms were guilty of “grabbing” land for luxury developments marketed to foreign investors, while resisting building social housing and effectively “social cleansing”
    ____

    London is in an appalling state. Social housing in inner London is being decimated for the sake of gentrification and a quick buck.
    In Glasgow it’s not quite as bad but in the city center gap sites are left vacant for the spivs and speculators.

    When the old Goldberg’s store in Candleriggs was pulled down it was meant to be redeveloped into retail units but the company pulled out and sold the land on for a profit. Glasgow has always been a patchwork of empty gap sites but hopefully in 2016 when the current administration gets the boot then something will be done about firms grabbing land and doing nothing with it.

  38. Allan Christie

    “hopefully in 2016 when the current administration gets the boot”

    More hopefully, Andy Wightman is elected as an MSP in May with sufficient greens to pressure SNP on Land Reform.

    Unusually, I also like the rather right-wing Reform Scotland paper on local government finance as well.

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13621507.Calls_to_allow_Scottish_local_authorities_to_scrap_council_tax/

    Sadly, as with the idea of Local Income Tax [1], it’s likely that Whitehall will scupper any reform due to their making benefit rules based on what the system is in England.

    [1] Not that I liked LIT at all!

  39. OLDNAT

    The council tax is outdated and unfair. I’m for what Reform Scotland are proposing and if the Scottish parliament is to have real powers then reforming the local tax system shouldn’t be based on what happens south of the border.

  40. For those this following these things – the bookies have lengthened the odds on JC’s competitors (a bit):

    JC 1/3
    AB 7/2
    YC 11/1
    LK 150/1

    In the absence of daily polling, this is the best indicator we have of the state of the race.

    Of course as Renaud Lavillenie proved earlier today, favourites do not always win.

  41. @ RAF

    Indeed, though it is very indicative.

  42. I think that our social democratic friends will have a couple of hard years. I really have two minds about it. I do like JC’s approach to social issues (and his followers) and I would really like if he was better advised on economics. Now his various papers are coming together and it’s getting worse.

    Keynesianism is just as dead as monetarism was when Thatcher abandoned it at the end of 1981.

    Unfortunately the economic world doesn’t work along the heterodox neo-Keynesian lines. The quicker it is abandoned, the better it is.

    ESCRC, unbelievably, accumulated a huge amount of knowledge (look for the reports, and not the published articles in this case) about the way the UK economy actually works. It is fairly flexible. To make it even better, it is accessible for the government, but an institutional infrastructure is needed and not sound bites.

    Cutting the travel journey from Manchester to London by 20 minutes, won’t solve anything. It will create demand for imported goods.

    Social democrats in the last five years focused on criticising the government (rightly) on the economy, but their counter offer was largely pitiful (apart from some sparks). What is the goal? This is the only important question. There is enough knowledge to say if it is achievable and what are the means that deliver it.

    While I think JC is far the best candidate of the the four, I still think that many people who support him, are after him are pretty much mislead by the gap of their own desires and that of JP’s. I know I’m repeating myself, but why don’t we hear about the role of the people in this Corbynite revolution.

    It could turn out well, but I think, and my ideological convictions could play a major role in this thought, something major is missing in the worldview of our social democratic friends,

  43. @Ken
    “….and the presided over the biggest bust, ( apologies to Barbara Windsor ) …”

    I realise that it is perhaps inappropriate for this site but I have to relay this tale:

    Sid James caught a glimpse of Barbara’s chest backstage one day and remarked that she was smaller than he expected, and asked why did she appear so large on screen.

    The reply “It’s called acting, Sid!”

  44. LASZLO

    ” I would really like if he was better advised on economics”
    ______

    He needs to get back to basics. That’s the advice I’ll give him. ;-)

    http://www.tecmaths.com/AbacusNVedicsMaths/images/abacus.jpg

  45. @Allan Christie

    Good.

    But for example, John Weeks was among the signatures on that letter supporting JC. Now one can have ideological problems with his views, but really nothing is in the JC’s policies that corresponds to John Weeks’s excellent analysies.

    The same applies to Blanchflower, but this one is more obvious. Read very carefully what he says.

    And I also know the objective limitations, but if you do what JC does, well, you have to go for the whole lot, otherwise you will indeed inflict a massive damage.

    I really don’t want to write about it – it is out of respect for social democracy.

  46. LASZLO
    ” why don’t we hear about the role of the people in this Corbynite revolution.
    It could turn out well, but I think, and my ideological convictions could play a major role in this thought, something major is missing in the worldview of our social democratic friends,”

    Surely what is missing is the institutional status from which he might make a coherent statement of policy. He can’t make a speech at the Mansion House. What we might anticipate is a statement or series of statements from the TUC, public sector and rail unions and their economic and social policy advisors in the Autumn, indicating corporate interests and backing by those who represent “the people” in the labour market, and a response by representatives of industry, the City and the professions and by academics, which will set the scene for the political debate and an eventual manifesto.

  47. All Jeremy’s policies announced so far:
    http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/policy

  48. ComRes:

    CON 42%
    Lab 28%
    UKIP 9%
    LD 8

    I imagine this is all somehow the Blairites’ fault.

  49. Nice to read Janan Ganesh in FT on the Corbyn effect for Cons. I think he is correct-this is a fantastic opportunity for DC & his successor.

    ComRes have a Poll for DM with Corbyn & Burnham getting 22% VI as Lab leader ( if I have read it correctly). I think Rob Sheffield forecast 25%-he could be a touch optimistic.

    A while ago we discussed Richard Murphy’s “Peoples’ QE” idea-which JC has put into his offering. I said that JC would need to find a new Governor to implement it.
    Carney might be checking out his contractual rights this morning :- Murphy-never shy in coming forward -is out of the traps again on R4’s Today.

    Rebutting the CBI criticism of his money printing wheeze, he says :-
    “Bank of England Governors are responsible to democratically elected politicians. If we have governors who think they are over and above the rule of democratically elected politicians , then yes, they should be on the next plane.
    There is no such thing as BoE independence;there never has been;it’s a fiasco put together; a facade created to appease people to put forward a presentation of something that doesn’t exist”.

    After Corbyn is elected I am really looking forward to Richie’s interventions-next up a list of Zimbabwean economists to replace Carley ?

    :-)

  50. Well mr N -miliband had labour ahead by january 2011 so lets see how quick corbyn can do it.

    Meanwhile yesterday was the end of the world but today its happy days are here again as the ftse bounds back past 6000.

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