Ipsos MORI have re-asked their questions on the junior doctors’ dispute ahead of the second strike today. The overall level of support remains the same, with two-thirds backing the strike, but underneath that opinions appear to be polarising. While the 66% of people supporting the strike is the same percentage as last month, within that the proportion saying “strongly support” has risen, those saying “tend to support” has fallen. Among the other third of the population the proportion of people saying they don’t know or have no feelings either way has fallen (from 19% to 12%), the proportion of people saying they oppose the strike has risen (from 15% to 22%).

Asked who is to blame for the dispute continuing this long 64% blamed the government, 13% the doctors and 18% both equally. Full details of the poll is here, and my write-up of the January figures is here.

As well as the quality polling by MORI, there is also sadly a new outbreak of newspaper reporting of voodoo polls on the issue. The Indy and Mirror are reporting a “poll” apparently showing 90% of junior doctors would resign if the contract was imposed. We’ve already had one outbreak of voodoo polling in this dispute, that one claiming 70% of junior doctors would resign… which turned out to be a “survey” conducted among the members of a Facebook group campaigning against the contract. This time the two papers reporting it are very tight lipped about where it was conducted, so I don’t know if it’s the same forum – the only clue is that it was organised by Dr Ben White, who is campaigning against the contract. From the Mirror’s write up Dr White did at least ensure respondents were real doctors, but false or multiple responses is far from the only thing that stops voodoo polls being meaningful, it’s also where you do it, whether you recruit respondents in a manner that gets a representative and unbiased survey. You would, for example, get a very different result on foxhunting in a survey conducted on a Countryside Alliance Forum or a League Against Cruel Sports Forum, even if you took measures to ensure all participants were genuine countryside dwellers.

Questions along the lines of “If thing you oppose happens, will you do x?” are extremely dicey anyway – people pick the answers that will best express their anger and opposition (Dr White himself seems to take that perfectly sensible angle in his quote to the Mirror, presenting his findings as an expression of anger). To quote what I wrote last time…

From a respondent’s point of view, if you are filling in a survey about something you oppose, you’re are likely to give the answers that most effectively express your opposition. Faced with a question like this, it’s far more effective to say you might leave your job if your contract is changed than say you’d meekly accept it and carry on as usual.

We see this again and again in polls seeking to measure the impact of policies. For example, before tuition fees were increased there were lots of polls claiming to show how many young people would be put off going to university by increased fees (such as here and here). After the rise, they miraculously continued to apply anyway. Nobody wants to tell a pollster that they would just swallow the thing they oppose.

I don’t doubt that many or most junior doctors are unhappy with the new contract […but…] you shouldn’t necessarily believe people telling pollsters about the awful consequences that will happen if something they don’t like happens. It’s a lot easier to make a threat to a pollster that you’ll resign from your job than it is to actually do it.

And that’s before we get to fact that “considering resigning” is very different to “resigning”. I consider taking up jogging every January, yet the people of Dartford are yet to be subjected to even the briefest glimpse of me in jogging gear.)

112 Responses to “Latest junior doctors polling and an update from voodoo corner”

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  1. @ AC

    Perhaps the reference to Romanians was a bit too strong …

    Anyway, all East European countries have labour shortage in the health service, so attracting them would inevitably improve England’s standing in international comparison (as their results would go down). One the other hand, considering the working conditions, they would be very willing to come over (there are GPs both in England and Wales from there) – in a Budapest hospital a whole department had to be closed as all doctors gave in their notice. In a Slovakian hospital there was no hot water for four days, etc, etc. Wages in both Hungary and Poland have been so depressed in the health service that doctors can make ends meet only by doing an extreme amount of overtime (but not all doctors: in both countries parasolvency (gifting the doctors by the patients – so their health care system is free only on paper) is common, but not all branches of the medical profession gets it).

  2. Because of the outflow of medical professionals many East European countries contemplate (or has already done) the introduction of a version of the olden practice in which graduates would have spent the first two years after qualification at a job (including which town) determined by the Ministry of Health.

  3. The trouble with the weekend death rate is that, as far as I know, there has not been a large analysis of the micro data (namely admission diagnosis and ranking of the seriousness).

    Without such data causes and necessary actions remain doubtful and, as it is about life, dangerous. Of course, I don’t know how reliable these diagnoses and classifications are.

    It may affect certain illnesses and not others – which then affect the measures necessary to be implemented.

    In any case, I doubt that opinion polls would turn against the junior doctors in the short term (on the other hand the imposition of the contract – if it remains – will drag on until the autumn and for some till 2017).

  4. @AC

    It’s a good thing that we’re not in the middle of renegotiating our commitment to Europe then. The Junior Doctors would certainly have a strong position against such threats of shipping doctors in from Europe if that supply was cut off.

  5. Sorry but those doctors will not go anywhere. Before the 2004 election in the US Democrats were saying if Bush wins again I am going to move to Canada. Nobody went anywhere.During Obama’s first term Republicans were talking about moving to where ever, they still are, yet they have not gone anywhere.

    Angry people making empty threats. Heard it all before. Made me chuckle all week these kids on the news with their weak bluffs. You can even hear it in their voice that they are lying.

    90% are going to resign. LOL. Expected of the Mirror. Sad for the Indy to have such incompetent/dishonest staff.

    When they close down their printers will we no longer see their stories discussed on the newspaper review programs on Sky and BBC News in the evenings I wonder?

  6. @Jimmy The Greek

    I think you strongly under-estimate how much of a “brain drain” we already face with our trained Doctors. There’s more money for less work in the US, because the private medical system keeps it’s doctors happy at the expense of the public. And it’s a lot easier for a British doctor to work in the US than an Indian doctor to work here.

  7. Every time a BMA spokesperson says its better in Australia so we are going there, it screams for a DoH minister to say-no-wait-we’ll implement the Australian Health system here.

    They would have to tear up their “No Privatisation” placards then.

  8. @ Allan Christie: “Now that many junior doctors have threatened to quit the NHS and move abroad Hunt should pick up the phone to his Eastern European counterparts (not the Romanians, they will pinch the copper from patients artificial legs) and start a recruitment drive to bring medical trained people over to England.”

    Unusually, I have some personal insight into this as a family member is involved in the recruitment and allocation of doctors in one of the NHS regions. She regularly interviews doctors from Eastern Europe, and indeed has travelled there to do this. So we are already directly recruiting there for the NHS, no doubt to the detriment of those countries which paid for the training of those doctors. One insight that emerged from role-playing exercises was that she found doctors trained in the former communist countries tended to have a ‘doctor knows best’ attitude, with patients expected to passively accept whatever was doled out. This often prevented them seeing beyond the symptoms presented to the underlying problem (for instance, undisclosed alcoholism).

  9. @ Somerjohn

    Yes, there are doctors with undisclosed alcohol problems and it obstructs them from setting up the right diagnosis. Unless I misunderstood something.

    I taught economics to medical students in the second half of the 1980s in Hungary and do not recognise the problem you mentioned. They were – students.

    Anecdote alert. In my 3 visits to the NHS since 1993, all but one of the GPs were Eastern European (Czech and Croat). All of them listened to me carefully and asked my advice what I thought the best medication would be for me …

    On the other hand, when a relative got ill, and I had to ring the consultant, using my academic title in the conversation created a magic change in the attitude of the consultant …

  10. via Number Cruncher

    ComRes/Indy on Sunday/Sunday Mirror:

    CON 41 (+1)
    LAB 27 (-2)
    LIB 9 (+2)
    UKIP 15 (-1)
    GRN 3 (=)
    SNP 5 (+1)

  11. To say that Labour have done a poor job of capitalising on the doctors’ plot… Er, strikes, would be putting it mildly. Tax credits, migration crisis… What exactly are Labour waiting for?

  12. The thing is everyone knows labour are in favour of strikes so despite the British perhaps approving of the doctors action it comes as little surprise that so do labour

  13. Bill Patrick

    God – oh!

  14. This ComRes poll is a tad shocking. Someone on the Twitter said if that was an election result, 27% would be Labour’s lowest voteshare since 1918.

    I’ve been wondering for a while if we’re heading towards another realignment, like the demise of the Liberals after WW1. Not because of Corbyn as such, more due to fundamental changes in British society. Decline of union membership and the traditional working class, the different structure of the economy. It would be accelerated by recent effects like the decline in public sector employment. Having someone like Corbyn in charge of an ostensibly mainstream party would accelerate matters.

    Of course, both Labour and the Tories have come back from the brink. Labour are certainly capable of doing so.

    But it strikes me that you can’t go far below 27% before our old friend FPTP starts culling everyone. Labour do seem more resilient to this than other parties. Compare:

    Labour 2015:
    30.4% = 232 seats

    Conservatives 2001:
    31.7% = 166 seats

    That’s a huge strength for Labour, it means one very bad election result might not kill them off.

  15. The Online Comres poll has since May 2015 been consistently the best poll for the Tories and the poorest for Labour. Even so the figures are prima facie somewhat counterintuitive – there is little or nothing in recent local election by election results which suggests that the Tories are performing better than last May.

  16. Graham

    “there is little or nothing in recent local election by election results which suggests that the Tories are performing better than last May.”

    Could that be because the occurrence of local govt by elections is somewhat random, have an extremely low turnout, and are a poor guide to current VI among the huge number of voters who don’t have an opportunity to vote in a by election?

  17. Oldnat

    Local by elections are fairly random , but over a period of weeks quite a range of areas have been covered and I would have expected some sign of an increase in Tory support in some of them. That has not really been apparent -other than when an Independent who polled well last time did not contest the by election – or when UKIP fails to put up a candidate. Last week they lost seats in Hexham and Shropshire – to the Greens! – and this week saw some quite big pro-Labour swings albeit in strong Labour areas. Over the years I have always found ComRes to be a bit ‘hit and miss’ and this one does not smell quite right to me. But I could be wrong! Doubtless we will have a few more polls over the next week by which we can judge it.

  18. Graham

    “Over the years I have always found ComRes to be a bit ‘hit and miss’ and this one does not smell quite right to me”

    Not the most scientific measure, perhaps, but probably right anyway! :-)

    From a quick look at their tables, their Turnout Model seems to add a chunk to the Con lead.

  19. O/T Antonin Scalia has just died – he was the most Conservative justice on the US Supreme Court.

    Obama has appointed two justices in his presidency, but both replaced liberals (the justices took the opportunity to retire while a Dem was in the White House). So this is his first chance to change the balance of the court by replacing a conservative with a liberal.

    Already people like Ted Cruz are saying that they’ll try to block any appointment till after the election. Normally justices get confirmed in about 2-3 months – the republicans in the senate are going to try to string this out till next Jan when the new president gets sworn in.

    Also complicating things is that the Dems at present look like they might lose Senate seats in Nov. So November’s elections now become super important for both the senate and the presidency.

    Also, lots of the remaining justices are very old – there are two justices in their late 70’s and one who is 82. They try not to retire if the opposite party to them is in the White House, but of course the grim reaper may have other ideas as it did for Scalia. The next president will shape the court for about thirty years, especially if the appointees are in their fifties. Super exciting stuff!

  20. @Candy: I really don’t know where you are getting your information from, but Democrats right now are certainly not expected to lose but to gain senate seats.

    Wisconsin and Illinois are pretty much shoe ins.

    New Hampshire, Ohio and Florida are about 50:50 for a democratic win.

    There is an outside chance for a democratic win in Pennsylvania.

    On the other hand democrats are defending seats in Nevada and Colorado. The latter one might actually be in play, but Nevada has trended blue for the last few presidential election cycles.

  21. My view tends to be that even if an “extreme” poll is likely to be an outlier and doesn’t reflect the true position, you can still gauge something from them.

    At a time when Labour were on average 5 points ahead, a poll showing the Tories 3 points ahead would be “an extreme outlier”.

    For a 14 point Tory lead to be possible, even at the extreme edge of the range, tells you that the underlying position is probably not great for their opponents.

  22. @Marc kersten

    Candy has her own special sources of information.


    I’m in complete agreement with your last two posts.

  24. I note that Sir Simon Jenkins on the Marr show is suggesting what I posted here a week or so ago – a ‘Leave’ vote followed by a ‘Remain’ vote after a proper renegotiation.

    Many people are going to vote ‘Leave’ to have a pop at the establishment, which is the reason why Graham is right in pointing out that local by-election results are poorer for the Tories than the Comres poll.

    ‘Leave’ can win with a combination of genuine Europhobes and the anti-establishment brigade – much depends on the degree to which these two significant groupings overlap.

    Changing the subject – a slightly more encouraging poll for the LibDems. I think they might be about to enjoy a period of modest recovery.

  25. Just cast my Democrats Abroad primary ballot for Bernie Sanders. I wasn’t minded to do so until 1) Martin O’Malley dropped out, and 2) I had a peek at Hillary Clinton’s popularity ratings.

    If I thought she had a better chance at beating the Republicans I would have voted for her, but honestly I’m not sure she does. And assuming there’s a Democratic President, they’ll have a hostile Congress and get hardly anything done anyway, so they might as well make what they can push through a bit more radical.

    After Burnham and Bernie, maybe I just have a thing for that phoneme.

  26. You think Bernie Sanders has a ‘better chance of beating’ Cruz, Rubio or Trump in a general election of all states than Clinton does???!!!

    Or for that matter of beating Bloomberg?

    You’ll be saying that a ‘leave’ vote or the ‘current crisis’ is good for Corbyn next.

    What nonsense.

  27. Mr N

    “Just cast my Democrats Abroad primary ballot ”

    Is this to even up the “disgraceful intervention by America in British domestic politics”, that has led to outraged screams from the Leavers? :-)

    Those same Leavers who were delighted when Obama intervened in the indyref.

    Sadly, the tactics, and reactions, in the euroref are turning out to be very similar to those in 2014.

    There may also be a similar result, and if the similarity continues, then the 2020 UK GE result will be interesting, as UKIP take almost every English seat on just under 50% of the vote.

  28. I think it’s understandable to be selectively worried about American influence on the Leavers of power.

  29. Rob Sheffield,

    No. To be honest, I’m a bit pessimistic and think they both have equally pretty bad chances. Of course VP picks will make some difference too but can’t predict those yet.

    And I’m well documented as not a Corbynite!

    Given that Democrats Abroad only elect 12 delegates, I suspect my vote will have little impact – and I’ll vote for whatever Democrat wins in November anyway.

  30. @Marc Kersten

    If there was any chance of the Dems retaking the Senate, the Republicans would confirm any moderate justice Obama proposes now.

    It’s actually worse for the Republicans to have just 8 justices for a long period, because if they tie 4-4 the verdict of the district courts stand. Obama has managed to appoint a great many liberal judges to the district courts.

    So they can only be holding out because their chances of taking the presidency and increasing their presence in the senate are good.

    Then add in the very lackluster engagement on the Dem side – turnout for Iowa and New Hampshire was down a good 20% on 2008. Turnout on the republican side was up. Just the differential turnout should kill the Dem chances – unless this whole supreme court thing lights a fire underneath them and drives them to the polls.

  31. Bill Patrick


  32. @Candy:

    Republicans are “optimistic” about a lot of things, like climate change not being real!

  33. Well, the polls give a higher chance for Sanders against any republican than for Clinton (but both has high chance).

    Warning: the US polling system works differently from the UK, and it only partially reflects the archaic US voting system.

  34. @Mark Kersten

    Yeah. But the Dems have a real problem with turnout. The main reason they lost the senate in 2014 was because their people didn’t bother to vote.

    For all Sanders’ claim to be forming a “revolution”, turnout for him is way down compared to turnout for Obama in 2008. That’s a lot of people signalling that they are quite indifferent to the Dems this time round.

  35. @ Candy

    Turnout for Sanders in New Hampshire was a record as far as I know …

  36. And the polls are too close to call in Nevada partially due to turnout.

  37. @Laszlo

    See the following:


    2008 Democrat turnout: 287,556
    2012 no contest for Dems as incumbent re-running
    2016 Dem turnout: 250,974

    2012 Republican turnout: 248,475
    2016 Republican turnout: 284,120

    I think Sanders was spinning that turnout was huuuge. But it wasn’t so…It was a 30,000+ drop. In a small state, that kind of turn-off is enough to give the race to your opponent.

  38. @ Candy

    Thanks, I stand corrected.

    You misspelt yuge :-).

  39. P.S Here’s the Iowa figures:

    2008 Dem turnout: 236,000
    2016 Dem turnout: 171,109

    2012 Republican turnout: 121,503
    2016 Republican turnout: 186,874

    The Dems are down sharply there too – all the excitement is with the Republicans.

  40. Seems to me it’s more of a victory for Reality Television than for the Republicans.

    Everywhere, celebrity is becoming the new religion and eating everything else in the process.

  41. @Neil A

    JFK was the prime reality star.

  42. I find it extraordinary that judges can be identified as liberal or conservative. In the UK I suppose the assumption (possibly incorrect) is that most senior judges are conservative by nature, but without any particular political connotations, but in the US it seems that justice is political. Can anyone with knowledge of their system explain?

  43. The NHS is a postcode lottery. I happened to live in Tower Hamlets and Greenwich and I can tell you that it lost that lottery!

    I have been to A&E after a squash racket to the face (by my wife) and they stitched it up really nicely and it was a perfectly acceptable experience.

    BUT there have also been multiple, really bad experiences on the NHS until I switched to Private. I “sprained” my ankle and waited 6 weeks to go to the NHS (knowing they would just tell me to wait before that). They set up an MRI scan (another 6 months wait for an appointment), 1 month more to wait for the results, doctor then tells me its just a sprain…

    1 month later I duck it up and go private, doctor says it seems bad, sends me for a an MRI on the SAME DAY, calls me back the SAME DAY and tells me I have shattered cartilage in the ankle and i need an OP. I had the OP 4 days later.

    The first step to fixing the NHS is admitting there is a problem…

  44. Err – “another 6 weeks wait” not 6 months…

  45. Pete B – in many US states judges are elected, and those elections are sometimes party partisan and have candidates standing on a party ticket. This differs from state to state, with different states electing judges at different levels and with different levels of partisanship (e.g. are party names listed on the ballot or not, are incumbents re-elected by a yes/no vote or face open election, etc.)

    The Supreme Court justices are not elected, they are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. When people talk about liberal and conservative justices, it is based upon analysis of their rulings (many decisions of the court are unanimous, but when there are majority decisions they have tended to split along a consistent fault line, with the same judges normally on the liberal and conservative side of the argument, with Justice Kennedy often the “swing voter” in the middle).

  46. Pete B,

    Probably the consequence of the power of the judiciary in the US system. Where there is power, there will be politicisation.

    I do wonder if we’ll go down the same route in time, if the Americanization of our judicial system begun by Blair continues.

  47. Roger Scully’s commentary on the Welsh political Barometer are here (top two articles in list)


    (Changes from Dec poll in brackets)

    Senedd Constituency

    Lab 34% (-1)
    Con 22% (-1)
    PC 19% (-1)
    UK 18% (+3)
    LD 5% (-)
    Oth (2% (-1)

    Senedd List

    Lab 31% (-3)
    Con 22% (-1)
    PC 19% (+1)
    UK 18% (+2)
    LD 4% (-)
    Grn 3% (-1)
    Oth 3% (+1)


    Lab 37% (-)
    Con 27% (-)
    PC 13% (+1)
    UK 18% (+1)
    LD 4% (-)
    Oth 2% (-1)

    EU Ref

    Remain 37% : Leave 45%

  48. @Pete B – most things in the US seem to be more political than here. I guess it harks back to the days when the constitution was written, with a combination of the desire to retain individual freedoms after British rule along with the dynamic of autonomous states wishing to retain their own rights and protections within an overarching federal system with a single head of government.

    My guess is that the supreme court system was conceived in order to uphold the constitution as part of this dynamic, so the idea that it sits in judgement on highly political matters should come as no surpirse.

    The real source of the politicization is the appointment process, which stems from the president, as it must do, in a nation without a split head of state and head of executive.

    One of the big issues with Scalia is that he was an ‘originalist’, which means he believes the constitution or it’s interpretation does not change with time. For a modern democracy, that’s an odd view, but the conservative judges in the US surpreme court have been active in blocking moves on things like climate change, gay rights and gun control. While the latter of these may be seen as a ‘belief issue’, the first two are surely examples where evidence and data should enable a system to change and adapt over time, but for proponents of originalism this becomes difficult.

    The US presidential elections will be of even greater significance in terms of court appointments this time around, as there are (I think) three more judges reaching a ripe old age who are likely to die in the next 4 – 8 years. The nature of the US system means that the Supreme Court matters to citizens in a much more direct way than it does in the UK, so these appoinments will be of great concern to many.

    Incidentally, the differences between the US and UK models are fascinating, with our primacy of Parliament and their primacy of the consttution. I can see good and bad in both. The US can be left unable to fulfill the democratic wishes of the people because of blocks imposed by politically appointed judges, whereas the UK can be subject to laws that the majority don’t support because of parliamentary arithmetic.

    For example, if we had had a US set up, I suspect a UK version of the supreme court would have struck down ‘ever closer union’ as unconstitutional very quickly. This remains one of the biggest decisions ‘we’ have ever made, without once being asked.

  49. Interesting news from Wales, with the leave lead increasing. This might have wider implications if it isn’t just England that heads for the exit.

  50. The Roger Scully Welsh Barometer poll is out, and it makes rather good reading for UKIP (despite the negative coverage they have had) http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2016/02/15/voting-intentions-for-westminster-and-the-eu-referendum/

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