I thought it a good opportunity to provide a round up of the available evidence we have about what the public think of airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria… and to give a reminder to people of what is NOT good evidence. First, here’s the recent polling evidence:

  • Survation/Mirror polled after Cameron’s statement this week, and found 48% agreed with Britain beginning airstrikes against Islamic State alongside France and the US, 30% of people disagreed (tabs here)
  • YouGov earlier this week asked if people would approve or disapprove of the RAF taking part in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. 59% would approve, 20% would disapprove (tabs here).
  • ComRes for the Indy on Sunday asked a question on whether people would support Britain taking part in airstrikes against ISIS without UN approval (there wasn’t a parallel version with UN approval). 46% would support airstrikes without UN approval, 32% would not. Tabs are here. A slightly earlier ComRes poll for the Daily Mail asked if people would back British military air strikes against Syria – 60% would, 24% would oppose (tabs here)
  • BMG for the Standard asked a question on whether Britain should extend it’s current airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq to cover Syria as well. This found an even split – 50% thought they should, 50% thought they should not (tabs here)
  • I don’t think ICM have asked a direct support/oppose bombing question, but last week they asked a question about Parliamentary consent. It found 46% supported airstrikes if Parliament agreed, 23% supported airstrikes without Parliamentary consent, 12% opposed airstrikes regardless, 19% didn’t know (tabs here)

The precise levels of support differ from poll to poll as they are all asking slightly different questions using slightly different wordings. However the overall picture is pretty clearly one where the balance of public support is in favour of airstrikes – even the most sceptical finding, from BMG, has people evenly divided. That’s not to say British public opinion is gung-ho enthusiasm for conflict, if you look through the rest of those surveys there is plenty of doubt (for example, several polls have found that people think intervening will increase the risk of terrorism here in Britain). On balance, however, public opinion seems to be in favour.

On twitter and other social media there is lots of sharing of a “poll” by ITV that apparently shows a large majority against Britain taking part. The reason this “poll” gives such sharply different answers is because it is not representative and has no controls upon it. I have written about this many, many times (and for many decades before I was writing the great Bob Worcester dutifully fought that same long fight). The sort of open access polls that used to be on Ceefax, and for people to phone in to newspapers, and these days pop up at the bottom of newspaper stories and the sidebar of websites are completely useless as a way of accurately measuring public opinion.

Opinion polls are meaningful for one reason and one reason alone, because the sample is representative. It has the right number of young people and old people as Britain as a whole, the same number of rich people and poor people as Britain as a whole, the same numbers of left-wing and right-wing people… and therefore, it should have the same proportion of people who are anti-bombing and pro-bombing as there are in Britain as a whole. An open-access poll on a website has no such controls.

When a poll is properly done the researcher will use some sort of sampling method that produces a sample that is demographically representative of the country as a whole. Then when it’s finished, they’ll fine tune it using weighting to make sure it is representative (e.g. if the proportion of women in the sample is lower than 51% they’ll weight the female respondents up). The people answering the poll will be invited and contacted by the researcher, preventing people or organised campaigns skewing a poll by deliberately directing lots of people who share their views to fill it in.

Numbers alone do not make a poll representative. A common error is to see a professionally conducted poll of a 1000 people and a bigger open-access “poll” of 10,000 people and think that the latter is therefore more meaningful. This is wrong – it’s how representative the sample is that matters, not how big it is. The classic example of this is the 1936 US Presidential race, the one that made the reputation of George Gallup. Back then the Literary Digest conducted a mail-in poll with a sample size of 2.3 million people, Gallup conducted a normal sized professional poll. The Digest’s poll predicted that Alf Landon would easily win the election, Gallup correctly predicted that Roosevelt would win a crushing landslide. The problem was that while the Literary Digest’s poll had a vast sample (probably the biggest sample of any opinion poll, ever) it wasn’t representative, it was skewed towards richer people who were more likely to vote Republican. Gallup’s sample was tiny compared to his competitor, but it had proper controls and was properly representative.

Unlike the polls by ComRes, ICM, Survation and YouGov the ITV “poll” won’t have controls to make sure the sample is representative of the British public – indeed, they don’t even collect any demographics to see whether it is or not. There is nothing stopping organised campaigns seeking to influence an open poll – for example, StoptheWar could’ve sent an email out to their mailing list encouraging them all to fill it in. There is nothing stopping anyone with the wherewithal to delete a cookie from their computer voting many, many times. It is, in short, meaningless.

Following May the properly conducted polls got something wrong too of course – but that’s a reason to be wary of even properly conducted polls, not a reason to suddenly put trust in “polls” that don’t even attempt to do things properly.

“Polls” like this, which Bob Worcester christened “Voodoo polls”, are a blight on journalism and opinion research. Because to the casual observer they can’t be easily distinguished from a properly conducted poll they mislead readers into thinking they are meaningful. I assume newspaper websites use them because they drive traffic, but serving up “news” that any journalist with a basic grasp of stats should know is meaningless – or in this case, actively wrong – is doing a disservice to their readers and listeners. At least when the BBC do things like this caveats are normally added saying the “poll” was self-selecting and isn’t representative. ITV don’t caveat it at all, so who can blame all the excited anti-airstrikes people on social media for thinking it means something and jumping upon it? I’m sorry, but it doesn’t – properly conducted polling suggests the public split broadly in favour.

Of course, none of this means that it is necessarily correct for Britain to take part in airstrikes. Polls are not a magic 8 ball where you ask the public and they spit out the “correct” answer. Public opinion can be wrong, and often is. The evidence is that public opinion favours bombing ISIS in Syria, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the government or opposition should do so.


340 Responses to “Syria polling round up and a reminder about voodoo polls”

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  1. Have you written anything on this? On the face of it it seems to have been very misleading if it didn’t point out the two proposed bombing campaigns were on different targets, but I’ve not see the actual wording.

    https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/11/27/regret-over-opposition-2013-syria-vote-beginning-s/

  2. Nope, as I think that issue makes it too hard to interpret. My view is always that you shouldn’t give respondents information as you make them unrepresentative. So, if the public don’t understand that the target has changed you shouldn’t tell them in a question or you render them unrepresentative! My guess is that many people don’t really appreciate the difference – it’s just bombing the bad guys.

    For example, look up in the start of this post. One of the questions asked not about bombing ISIS, but bombing Syria. What does that mean? The Syrian government? Who knows, people still supported it.

    However, in hindsight when it came to write about it it rendered the question almost meaningless. Are the people who say we should have bombed then thinking we should have bombed ISIS then? Or are they people who think if we’d bombed Assad then he could have been got rid of before ISIS got so entrenched. We can’t tell. The only interesting bit to my eyes was that on balance people still think it was right not too.

  3. How do these polls compare with pre Iraq invasion polling? Didn’t polls just tip in favour on the eve of war but very soon tip the other way? Should politicians be wary of fickle opinion?

  4. How do these polls compare with pre Iraq invasion polling? Didn’t polls just tip in favour on the eve of war but very soon tip the other way? Should politicians be wary of fickle opinion?

  5. Hmm….I wonder how many people would vote in favour of nuking the lot of them, Assad, ISIS, and FSA alike?

    This might also give some context to the replies to these rather confused questions.

    Let’s all agree once again that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. Doesn’t matter too much what……

  6. Great post AW. Asking whether people support or oppose the “bombing of Syria” is a binary output quite remote from the specific issues. For example, two years ago the allegation was that Assad used chemical weapons on his own citizens. I’m guessing if you ask the question “Should leaders who use chemical weapons against their own citizens be left alone to do it again, or, attacked to stop them doing it again?” you will get a vastly different response to the question, “In light of Iraq, should the UK use military force against a sovereign nation that is no immediate threat to the UK?”. Because the practical outcome of each question is still “Should we (have) bomb(ed) Syria?” On issues of war, would it make sense to have pre-agreed polling questions – along the lines of how referendum wording questions are settled, so that the responses are more informed, consistent and less able to be manipulated by pacifists / warmongers for their own ends? Or does that already happen?

  7. Polly – you remember Iraq polling correctly. People were against, moved in favour and then turned against again afterwards.

    Support for airstrikes now seems more stable, a lot of polls over the last few years have shown people in favour, so I don’t think it’s a new thing… though that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t move against if it happened.

    Oh, and don’t assume that because pollsters make their living measuring public opinion we will necessarily think politicians should automatically heed it. I really don’t – they are indeed often fickle, often wrong and politicians should sometimes ignore them and do what they think right.

  8. Yes, that all makes a lot of sense.

  9. @AW

    There certainly appears to be support for airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria (insofar as these can be identified) That’s as much, I think, as we can say.

  10. On a completely separate issue, there’s a suggestion that a Tory MP may resign later today.

  11. Before by-election fans get excited that’s Grant Shapps as a minister, not anyone as an MP.

  12. @AW My view is always that you shouldn’t give respondents information as you make them unrepresentative

    Presumably it depends on what you want them to be representative of. In one sense simply asking a question makes them unrepresentative as it forces them to come to a decision when most of the population face no such necessity,

    In addition it may force the person to answer the question in a way that he or she would prefer not to do. To give a trivial example a pollster asked me how may things I had left in the back of my car over the past year (heaven knows why). I asked him for clarification (is a a case one thing or a lot of things as it has a lot of items in it). and all he would do is repeat the question,

    Less trivially I would not want to give an answer to a question about bombing Syria without knowing a lot more about the conditions under which I would be approving it.

  13. …and yet just look at what Corbyn has just tweeted

    https://twitter.com/JeremyCorbyn4PM/status/670568415120261120

    Disreputable !!

  14. Rob Sheffield,

    That’s not his official account, although nobody seems to know who runs it.

  15. @Polly

    I think it’s common for opinion to move behind any action that “our boys and girls” are actually engaged in, at least initially. Casualties generally chip away at that opinion. I don’t think it’s a modern, or a British phenomenon. It’s just the human way – solidarity.

  16. Matthew

    The actual wording of the question (on page 13/14 on YouGov linked above) was:

    In 2013, MPs voted against Britain taking any part in military action against Syria. In hindsight, do you think that was the right or wrong decision?

    Right decision – Britain was right to keep out of any military attack on Syria 42% (2103* 74%)

    Wrong decision – we should have been willing to act alongside the United States 34% (12%)

    Don’t know 23% (14%)

    *2013 question was “Last week, MPs voted against Britain taking any part in military action against Syria. Do you think that was the right or wrong decision?”

    I can see why YouGov asked the question the way they did – if you don’t alter things, the questions are supposed to be compatible. The trouble is that time can alter context and many people, familiar with the circumstances of the 2013 vote at the time, will have forgotten it two years later. So people may well have though that debate was about attacking ISIS rather than Syrian troops. The high number of DKs also suggest uncertainty about what was meant.

    There are two other factors that could have distorted things. This was asked right at the end of all the other questions this time and it may be that the previous responses people gave meant they felt they should agree with this one. Also the wording about acting alongside the US is ambiguous and could suggest that they were already taking action in 2013, which was not the case.

    So like it or not this will be picked on as a biased question, especially as the YouGov chose to highlight it in their article (yes it’s Will Dahlgreen again). This is particularly so as the ambiguities reflect the row earlier in the week about the Sun’s distortion of the Survation poll of British Muslims, so people will be aware of the problem.

  17. @ Rob Sheffield, Mr Nameless

    When you click on the twitter profile of #JeremyCorbyn4PM it says:
    Team behind #JezWeCan. No one thought we could, but #JezWeDid. Now we’re campaigning to win in 2020. Please note, we don’t speak for @jeremycorbyn or @UKLabour

  18. I’ll just pick up on another quote from the YouGov article:

    David Cameron is narrowly more trusted (47%) than distrusted (43%) on Syria and ISIS, but Jeremy Corbyn is trusted by only 21% of the public. 68% say that they do not trust Corbyn to make the right decisions about Syria and ISIS, exactly the same percentage who distrust Russian president Vladimir Putin.

    Corbyn’s figures are indeed low, though it’s possible that he suffers from being to only one asked about[1] who doesn’t have to power to order in the jets. The fact he doesn’t even do that well among those disapprove of airstrikes (Trust 46% (+3)) might suggest this. It’s a usual problem for opposition politicians, they can never benefit from the ‘Best PM we have’ factor, never mind from rallying round the flag.

    But what is really interesting is, though Corbyn’s figures uncannily echo Putin’s, they are not from the same people. While Corbyn is best ranked by Labour (40%) and Lib Dem (20%) voters, Putin fans are the Tories (23%) and especially UKIP (38%)[2]. We’ve seen this Russophilia from UKIP before, they were the group least concerned about Ukraine for example.

    I’m not really sure why this is. I can only assume they are attracted by the smack of firm government and the social conservatism. Maybe they see him as anti-EU and so ‘my enemy’s enemy’. It’s odd.

    [1] Obama (Trust 54% (+18)) and Hollande (Trust 45% (+10)) were also asked about. For some reason both get negative ratings from the Scots (both -12). So much for the Auld Alliance.

    [2] There are still more UKIP voters who don’t trust him (50%), but his figures with them are nearly as good as Cameron’s (41% – 50%)

  19. @Rob Sheffield
    I remember a Daily Mirror poll which produced something like 78% support for UKIP!
    I don’t remember the question, and an hour or two later the % was well down. No clue then or now how many responded. 7 out of 9 is 78%
    Voodoo is the word.

  20. @Roger Mexico – the admiration for Putin in those quarters isn’t that odd when you think about it. Putin is fiercely independent, a Russian nationalist, and has a reputation for being tough and uncompromising. These are qualities that have an obvious appeal for UKIPers, in particular.

  21. I really appreciate the polls on this, and Anthony Wells’s and Roger Mexico’s commentaries as I genuinely don’t meet people who support the intervention in Syria, which does make me think of confirmation bias, and hence these are pretty good antidotes.

  22. If I was a cynic I would say that TPTB don’t want the ‘voodoo polls ‘ interfering with the message of the ‘push polls’

    Politicians should lead opinion not follow it, it is a pity that there is no Scottish cross-break in the Survation poll now the SNP is moving from ‘listening’ to ‘opposing’

  23. I think public opinion has shifted in favour of air strikes in Syria for two reasons:-

    1) Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere.
    2) The British intelligence service has foiled numerous terrorist attacks in the UK over the past 9 months. This is despite the Uk voting against and rejecting air strikes a couple of years ago. To many people, this may seem as though the risk of terrorism is extreme and will remain with us these daydelegated less of what action the Uk government chooses to take or not to take.

    Personally, I don’t really see either option stopping ISIS completely. They will not negotitiate, but at the same time air strikes and putting in ground troops has its limitations too.

  24. *and will remain with us regardless of whether of what action…*

  25. ROGER MEXICO, WATCHIT & LASZLO

    Isn’t the real issue re Russia in general and Putin in particular the dilemma posed by changing the recipients of the putative air strikes from the Syrian regime to ISIS?

    I haven’t seen a list of all the poll questions, but I’d have thought that easing the pressure on Assad and/or negotiating a deal with Putin re Assad’s opponents counted as “good guys” at the time of the previous vote would be pertinent.

    If questions re negotiating with Putin and/or Assad as pre-conditions of bombing have been asked, can anyone point me at the polls which asked them? If they have not been asked then one is entitled to take one’s own view of the sense or otherwise of supporting what currently seems to be proposed by Cameron.

  26. PS to my previous post, Tom Lehrer, as always, is relevant. See https://youtu.be/t-WGG4zDbCI

  27. I don’t think public opinion is moving in favour of airstrikes, the latest Survation poll suggests the opposite. Approve from 59% in YouGov to 48% in Survation Disapprove from 20% in YouGov to 30% in Survation. I know it is different polling companies but result is drastically different +38 in YouGov to +18 in Survation.

    My hunch is opinion is moving against bombing, many Labour MPs are against, estimated as about half the PLP, Plaid have come out against, Unite has come out against, SNP listening but will vote against on the argument so far. The Daily Mail of all papers is against and several right wing commentators for example Peter Hitchens

    Listening to the BBC and establishment media you would think Corbyn was isolated on this instead of the head of a substantial coalition against bombing.

    Maybe there will be some polls tonight and we will known the direction of public opinion.

  28. I would have thought the public would always have been more likely to favour bombing ISIS than bombing Assad. ISIS makes a point of its Barbarism while Assad is simply barbaric. In addition ISIS regards the West as its enemy which Assad has no particular wish to do.

    The consequence of taking out ISIS would presumably be that we would strengthen Assad leastways in the short run. The public does not appear to want Assad to stay. Is it prepared to run the risk of making this more likely?

  29. I live in an area with lots of Labour MPs, and from my social media feeds, I think they will have received plenty of contact from constituents this weekend.

    Of course, my own feeds are almost certainly not representative. However, if they receive a lot of lobbying to vote against, they have an interesting decision to make.

    My own MP strongly supported action against Assad, and has spoken in a way that suggests she will vote for the air strikes. If she does, it will likely not be the decision of her CLP would make (I know the people quite well), and will probably be at odds with the significant ethnic minority electorate in the area that traditionally votes Labour strongly.

  30. @Roger Mexico – Obviously this is anecdotal, so may not be representative, but comments I have seen from those on the right who support Putin is that they are doing so because they think that he is ‘doing something about ISIS’.

    This is echoed by Farage yesterday saying that we should “work with” Putin and “possibly” Assad on Syria. A couple of other prominent ukip figures have also made supportive/ positive comments about Putin in the past (not necessarily in regards to Syria). For example Ukip MEP, Diane James, has said she admires Russian President Vladimir Putin because he is a “very nationalist” leader who was “standing up for his country”. Both Suzanne Evans and Farage have said that they admire Putin “as a leader”.

    In reality of course Russia is mainly in Syria supporting Assad/SAA and bombing mostly in areas where there is no ISIS presence, reportedly causing significant civilian casualties while doing so.

    The complexity of the situation in Syria must mean that any polling will almost inevitably be asking a significant number of those polled to make a choice about something with which they are perhaps not particularly well informed. (Which is perfectly understandable, many people in general are not likely to be sufficiently interested in the topic to invest the time needed to understand more about it). But that does mean that perhaps some people (particularly with the Paris attacks still very much in mind, may be more likely to support bombing as it “is doing something about ISIS”/responding to Paris. Or simply because it seems ‘the right thing to do’ or that you ‘cannot do nothing’, or because it is seen as ‘patriotic’ perhaps?

    Again anecdotal evidence, but I have been surprised both by those on the right not being aware that Russia was mainly targeting non ISIS held areas and by those on the left who thought that recent French bombing of Raqqa was something new in response to the Paris attacks when the French have in fact been bombing in Syria for some time as part of the US led coalition.

  31. The problem with your “representative” polls is that they ask a lot of people who don’t really have a view….but those folk give one anyway and often it’s the view that they think is more popular in the “right thinking person” sense.

    The polls that you dismiss are actually representative, they are just representing the views of a different group. That group consists of those who can be bothered to seek out and respond rather than those who are unexpectedly questioned.

    That second group are likely to hold those views more strongly.

  32. I reckon Grant Shapps resignation has scuppered any chance of a pro bombing vote.
    Jezza now has a double halo!

  33. Really? What’s Shapps got to do with Syria?

  34. @Mark

    Spot on.

    Russia began bombing Syria on 30th Sept, and it was nothing to do with ISIS. It was to do with propping up Assad, plus getting into a proxy fight with Saudi, because Saudi was encroaching on it’s oil customers.

    Here’s an article from 15th Oct regarding the oil bit:

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/10/15/uk-russia-saudi-oil-idUKKCN0S90DF20151015

    Quote:

    “Riyadh traditionally focussed on the U.S. and Asian markets, leaving Moscow as a major supplier to Europe, especially the eastern countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc.

    “But Russia’s most powerful oil executive, Rosneft (ROSN.MM) chief Igor Sechin, said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia had started supplying ex-communist Poland at “dumping” prices. Then on Wednesday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak described the Saudi entry into eastern European markets was the “toughest competition”.

    “Trading sources said at least one cargo reached the Polish port of Gdansk in September and two more could come in October, to be processed by refiners PKN Orlen and Lotos.

    “Two trading sources said Saudi Arabia was looking at storing crude in Gdansk so that it can supply eastern European customers more quickly, just as it has done for years for western European clients from ports in the Netherlands or Belgium.

    “One trader said supplies from Gdansk could be sent to Germany to compete with Russian crude sent down the Soviet-built Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline.”

    End Quote

    The Eastern Europeans are determined to reduce their oil dependence on Russia, and they are turning to Saudi because Britain and Norway don’t produce enough (and would never sell at a deep discount), and the Americans are not allowed to export at all apart from oil from Alaska, which goes to the far east because nearest.

    There are so many different strands to what is going on in Syria, it’s getting hard work out what all the hidden motives are.

    As far as I can tell, ourselves and France are the only ones who think ISIS is the main enemy. Everyone else has other fish to fry.

  35. Is Michael Green still in government? (boom boom).

  36. @Mark

    “Obviously this is anecdotal, so may not be representative, but comments I have seen from those on the right who support Putin is that they are doing so because they think that he is ‘doing something about ISIS’.”

    Those ‘on the right’ amongst Joe Public, the rank and file supporters of right-wing parties, probably do admire Putin because he’s seen to be ‘doing something about ISIS’ – the fact the Russian strikes are most likely lacking in target discrimination to an even greater extent than those of Western powers engaged in the conflict, or the fact they may actually be targetting people other than ISIS for strategic reasons, is a subtlety they are probably missing, if they happen to care at all (and some don’t, given the calls to carpet bomb / nuke the middle east that I see expressed all too often in BTL-land)

    However, among what I’ll describe as the ‘inner circle’ of contemporary right-wing political support – the ones who actually fully understand the intended political end game of ‘free market’ economics – there are entirely different reasons for admiring Putin. These are, I’m sure, the reasons for Nigel Farage’s admiration.

    I’ll offer some anecdotal evidence of my own. A friend of mine is an absolutely staunch Conservative party supporter, and supporter of the Republican party in the U.S. Donates significant sums to these parties. Has worked in many senior executive positions around the world, including Russia.

    His judgement on Putin? He thinks he’s a great guy, a remarkable, admirable leader who is very pro-business. He has said that Russia is the best place in the world to do business.

    Russia has a flat tax rate of 13%. No wonder my very Conservative friend loves the place. Now do you see why Farage is so pro-Putin?

    “Oh but democracy!?” some will say to this. One of the strangest myths that I often encounter is the idea that the free market and social democracy go hand in hand. True free market ideologues can’t stand democracy because it lets the public ‘vote themselves benefits’ and ‘vote in controls over business’. They’d prefer a police-state dictator who just enforces contract and property law and some basic individual rights. Democracy means laws can change and that means business risk.

  37. Dave (fpt 9:52am)

    With regard to the Labour leadership rules, the New Statesman article that was linked to before covered the legal case pretty comprehensively and anyone would really have to twist things hard to make out any sort of case otherwise. Of course a clever lawyer[1] can always con a gullible client in believing they have a case, but it’s not going to impress the NEC and even if they managed to ram it through politically, the Courts could intervene[2] and would make the obvious interpretation that there was no need to nominate someone for the post they already held[3]

    Incidentally it would be 47 MPs required for nomination (assuming the number stays at 232[3]) as 46 would be under the 20%. In the situation of a vacancy the number is 15% (not 12.5%), which is 35.

    I looked at the Labour constitution when this first came up as the ‘moderates’ were announcing that they would get rid of Corbyn within weeks (even before he had even been elected). It seemed clear then that they couldn’t and that there would be no need to re-nominate the current leader if challenged and unwilling to go. Eventually the fact that they couldn’t do anything for a year seemed to get through even to the headbangers, but they seem to dreamt up another Cunning Plan that clearly isn’t going to work.

    The real puzzle is why the media are constantly bigging up such implausible plans (this after all is the front page story on today’s Times). Especially when their main proponents are deeply ridiculous figures as McTernan (‘The only way to win is to do what I say’ says man who ran campaign that lost Scottish Labour 40 from 41 seats in Scotland)[5]. I have to assume that hatred for Corbyn is so visceral in 95% of the media that anything that attacks him will be seized upon without considering the actual effect. Look for example at the fuss over the Remembrance Day bow or the numerous indignant Guardian articles on McDonnell’s Mao joke.

    But the effect is already to shore up Corbyn’s position. We saw that in the membership polling and in comments that non-Corbynite Labour members have made on here. It’s rather like the endless attacks on the SNP – their supporters got so used to critical stories being exaggerated or made up or about something that would pass unnoticed when done by a member of another Party, that even harmful news items are ignored or minimised. They’ve heard the cry of “Wolf!” too many times.

    [1] As Amber pointed out, lawyers are even worse than plumbers for sucking in their teeth and saying “Oh dear! Who did this then?”.

    [2] Normally they would be unwilling to interfere in the internal matters of a political Party, but this would be such an egregious misinterpretation against the clear spirit of the rules as well as the obvious letter. They certainly have the power to order a constituted association to stick to its rules and in this case there is the added complication that the Leader of the Opposition is a post paid for by the taxpayer.

    [3] Not to mention that there would almost certainly be enough MPs indignant enough about the shenanigans and/or scared enough of their members to nominate Corbyn anyway.

    [4] Obviously there’s a vacancy after Meacher’s death, so there’s actually only 231.

    [5] They were going to get hammered anyway, but I suspect the way Murphy and McTernan ran things not only lost up to a dozen constituencies that could have just been held, but helped stoke-up the anti-SNP/Scottish paranoia that hit Labour so hard elsewhere. For some reason the revelation from Joe Pike’s ‘Project Fear’ that “McTernan, a Chelsea fan, plastered his office walls with photos of the club’s players celebrating goals, with Tony Blair’s head photoshopped onto them” sums up both why the campaign was such a disaster and why you could never explain to those responsible exactly why it was.

  38. There are people (supposedly) on the left such as the Living Marxism/Spiked people who are pro-Russian though goodness knows why anyone on the left should like him.

  39. @Hawthorn

    ‘Supposedly’ on the left is the correct description for Living Marxism…..

  40. AMBIVALENTSUPPORTER

    I think public opinion has shifted in favour of air strikes in Syria for two reasons:-
    1) Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere.
    2) The British intelligence service has foiled numerous terrorist attacks in the UK over the past 9 months.

    Except the trouble is that (as Anthony hinted) public opinion hasn’t shifted in favour of airstrikes. It’s remained constant for the whole year around 60%[1]. If anything it may have dropped a point or two recently. Paris has had no effect whatsoever.

    As far as the various terror plots go, I’m not sure that they’ve had much of an effect either. The most recent one was of that daft 16 year-old girl who ran off to fight against ISIS, which seemed a bit pointless – the government tends to send out rather mixed signals. And a lot of the more Islamist ones seem to have been little more than pub talk. I’m not sure either how much the intelligence services can take credit either – a lot of them seem to be picked up by the police, rather than anything more abstruse. Again the lack of change in polling means that these things aren’t registering.

    [1] It would be really nice if someone pulled all this together on the Syria tracker, as I’ve just spent a lot of time rummaging.

  41. @Hawthorn,

    I often get the feeling that parts of the left are so reflexively anti-American that they feel a sense of comradeship to just about anyone and anything that America doesn’t like.

    The ultimate root of that, I suppose, is the position of US politics on the international political spectrum – and her role as the greatest champion of capitalism on earth.

  42. Neil A

    You need to be careful throwing around these arguments. How many people would remain reflexivly pro-American if we had a President Trump?

    On the subject of Trump, “The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth is worth reading as it posits a scenario where right-wing eccentric Charles Lindbergh becomes POTUS in 1940.

  43. @ Neil A

    The ultimate root of that, I suppose, is the position of US politics on the international political spectrum – and her role as the greatest champion of capitalism on earth.

    I think it was actually Vietnam that coloured ‘the left’s’ view of American intervention. An entirely bogus ‘justification’ to attack Vietnam was deliberately created. There was conscription of young black men & ‘poor white trash’ to fight against a country which was no threat to the USofA. And there seemed to be no effort whatsoever made to distinguish between Vietnamese civilians & combatants.

  44. I don’t think very many people are reflexively pro-American. It’s more a division between anti-American and not anti-American.

    The international political spectrum being what it is, most British conservatives are closer to Obama than any Republican.

  45. @Polly Toynbee

    We are in exalted company tonight! Assuming you are the real Polly, and not some imposter using your name as a pseudonym, welcome to UKPR. I’m certainly an admirer and enjoy your regular columns in the Guardian. I hope you keep posting.

    @Nicholas Elmslie

    “The problem with your “representative” polls is that they ask a lot of people who don’t really have a view….but those folk give one anyway and often it’s the view that they think is more popular in the “right thinking person” sense.”

    This has always been one of my worries about opinion polls in the sense that they can elicit weakly held views and then present them in simplistic and binary terms. This isn’t necessarily “push” questioning, and I’m not suggesting that the results are voodoo, but there is a real danger of exaggerating the strength of opinion on a variety of issues, particularly those where people have mixed and/or non-existent views. To bomb or not to bomb is a question that doesn’t lend itself to a telephone call arriving out of the blue, especially if X Factor is about to start.

    Corbyn is having a bad war as far as internal party management is concerned, but when you get an opportunity to read what he has to say about the wisdom or not of joining the coalition bombing campaign in Syria, there is logic and sense in his argument. Some centre right sceptics agree with him too, and Simon Jenkins regards his position as “unarguable”.

    This goes to the heart of Corbyn’s problem, ironically. There is the tabloid pastiche version and then the man himself. We see a lot of the former but very little of the latter and people are forming opinions of him based on the pastiche. My fear about this happening was my overriding reason for not voting for him in the Labour leadership campaign. He’s too easily defined by his many enemies and, therefore, struggles to get a hearing. The pastiche wins hands down and when he has serious and sensible things to say, like on Syria, the cartoon version of Corbyn will always get in the way.

    Sad but true and utterly predictable.

  46. @Amber

    I don’t think many people on the left were particularly keen on US involvement in Vietnam even at the very beginning under Kennedy.

    For what it’s worth, I think McCarthy coloured perceptions before Vietnam did.

    But ultimately I don’t think it’s really about foreign policy. It’s about economic policy – the public/private, free market/social provision debate. I think that some on the left can’t accept that anything good comes out of the US, in the same way that many (most) on the right couldn’t accept that anything good came out of the old Soviet bloc.

  47. People support attacks on Isis and don’t realise the govt are being deliberately vague because they’re going to try and finesse that support into an attack on Assad.

    This is even worse than Blair’s dossier.

  48. @ Neil A

    I don’t think many people on the left were particularly keen on US involvement in Vietnam even at the very beginning under Kennedy.

    They were certainly sick to their stomach by the end of it.

  49. Thanks for all the replies on UKIP voters comparative fondness for Putin. I don’t think the actions in Syria are the complete answer because the tendency dates before then as well. The devotion to free market capitalism/filling yer boots might please some, but most UKIP types tend to more state-minded (though it would explain some of those Tory fans).

    The attraction to a strong nationalist makes more sense, except that nationalists rarely admire other people’s versions of the same things. No doubt many UKIP types would be big Putin fans if they were in Russia, but they’re not. Maybe UKIP voters are just more internationalist than they give themselves credit for.

    On the related topic of Russian support for the Syrian government, one other strange thing is that there is a considerable fall in support for the idea that Britain should […] be prepared to cooperate with and work alongside the Assad government in Syria when combating Islamic State/ISIS?
    with a drop of 13 points (and a corresponding rise in those opposed – DKs remain at around 30%) since the question was last asked in September 2014. Given that there has been another year plus of ISIS horrors since and not much focus on the Assad regime it seems an odd movement.

  50. @ Roger Mexico

    Russia military weren’t overtly involved in Syria until September 2015. Perhaps some people do not like the idea of the UK being allies with Russia hence the fall in support for working with the Syrian government.

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