Last week I wrote about the unusual YouGov poll showing a four point Conservative lead and said I personally thought it was more likely to be statistical noise than the first sign of the Conservatives opening up a lead in voting intention.

However, at the weekend we also had a new poll from Opinium that had topline figures of CON 42%(+2), LAB 39%(-1), LDEM 7%(+1). Fieldwork was Tues-Thursday and changes were from mid-January (tabs). This morning’s Independent reported partial figures from a new BMG poll that apparently had Labour and Conservative equal on 40% each – this would be an increase of three points in the level of Tory support since the last BMG poll in December.

The government have done little to endear themselves to the public in the last few weeks, nor have Labour done much to lose support. There is no obvious reason for movement in the polls, so I’m still a little sceptical (in themselves the changes are within the margin of error, and it’s perfectly possible for random chance to spit out a couple of polls that just happen to show movement in the same direction). Nevertheless, it’s possible we’re seeing some movement in the government’s direction. If we are, what should we make of it?

This far from the next timetabled general election voting intention polls have very little predictive value, all the more so when we have a known unknown as large as Brexit looming ahead of us and at least a fair chance of a change of Conservative leader before the next election. However for better or worse, mid-term voting intention is the barometer that we tend to use to measure how well the government and opposition are doing against each other, and that is reflected in the morale of the political parties and media perceptions of how well or badly they are doing. If it turns out to be genuine it may bolster Theresa May’s position a little, and may put Labour on the back foot, but we shall see.


There are two new voting intention polls in Sunday’s papers – ICM for the Sun on Sunday and Opinium for the Observer.

ICM in the Sun on Sunday have topline figures of CON 41%(-1), LAB 42%(+2), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 4%(-1). Fieldwork was Tuesday to Thursday, and changes are from the ICM/Guardian poll a few days before. Changes are within the margin of error, but unlike ICM’s last poll it’s now Labour who are marginally ahead. Every single poll ICM have published since the general election has had Labour and the Conservatives within two points of each other.

Amongst other things ICM also asked about the Tory leadership. Only 23% of respondents think Theresa May should step down now, but only 35% think she should fight the next general election. A further 26% think she should go at some later later, either after Brexit (15%) or just before the election (11%). As with other polls, the public don’t seem to have much appetite for any particular successor as Tory lead – Boris Johnson leads, but on only 11%, ahead of Ruth Davidson on 6%. No tabs yet, but the Sun report is here

Secondly there is a new Opinium poll for the Observer. They too have a small Labour lead, with topline figures of CON 39%(-1), LAB 41%(-1), LDEM 7%(+1), UKIP 6%(+1). Changes are once again insignificant – the Tory leads in YouGov and ICM straight after the Brexit deal aren’t reflected in the latest polls, and were either just co-incidence, or a brief blip on the back of good publicity. The underlying trend remains one of stability, with Labour a tad ahead of the Conservatives and no obvious movement in support.

The full tabs for the Opinium poll are here and contain a lot of background questions. The Conservative party are seen as the most divided party – 47% think they are divided, 38% united. The Labour party are seen as united by 42% and divided by 40% – so while stories of Labour infighting are no longer constantly in the media in the way they were before the general election, the party are still seen as divided by much of the public (if not as divided as the Tories!). On the Tory leadership Opinium show a similar picture to ICM – 27% think she should go now, 28% think should should fight the next election, 23% think she should go later (either post-Brexit, or pre-election).

On the EU, Opinium found a negative reaction to Theresa May’s negotiations so far (though not as negative as in YouGov’s tracker – possibly because Opinium ask about May personally rather than the government as a whole, possibly because Opinium ask about approval rather than doing well or badly). 30% approve of how May has handled the negotiations so far, 45% of people disapprove. Opinium found 37% support for a second referendum once the terms had been agreed, 49% were opposed. For the type of Brexit, 39% of respondents would rather Britain remained in the single market (even if it meant freedom of movement continued), 33% would rather Britain stopped freedom of movement (even if it meant leaving the single market).

Finally, the Independent reports a BMG poll that has Remain with a ten point lead over Leave in a referendum vote tomorrow. This has, as ever, caused some over-excitement on social media.

My normal caveat on unusual and interesting polls is to wait and see if it is reflected in other polls. In this case we don’t have to wait, the BMG poll was actually conducted over a week ago (5th-8th Dec), meaning that we have already seen the results of other polls conducted after this one, and they don’t show any large movement towards Remain. The ICM/Guardian poll released earlier this week was conducted 8th-10th December, and had results of Remain 46%, Leave 43% – a Remain lead, but a far smaller one. YouGov’s regular tracker on whether people think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave was asked on 10th-11th Dec, and showed 44% think we are right to leave, 45% wrong to leave… again, typical of recent results.

The other caveat to consider is that the poll does not actually show any great shift in opinion directly from Leave to Remain, most of those voters are unchanged. The large Remain lead is almost wholly down to people who did not vote in the 2016 referendum. Many polls show those who did not vote in 2016 now saying they would vote remain, but the divide in this one is extreme. I am somewhat sceptical about leads that rely upon people who didn’t vote last time suddenly turning out to vote one way or another (particularly in polls that aren’t weighted by likelihood to vote!). While I am sure that there are some people who didn’t vote in 2016 who would now (those who have turned 18 and those who didn’t realise how close it would be), I suspect the sort of “non-voters” who turn up in opinion polls are rather more likely to vote than actual non-voters. The full tabs (and a measured write up from BMG) are here.

On any subject you feel strongly about it is easy to convince yourself that the polls showing what you’d like to see are somehow more accurate, and that polls showing less positive things are wrong. That would be an error. As ever, the best way of looking at a finding like this is look at all the polls, and consider the long term trend, rather than get overexcited about individual polls that put out unusual results. My opinion on whether Britain is changing its mind on Brexit is unchanged since I wrote about it here – if you look at the referendum VI questions from Survation and BMG, or the right/wrong decision question from YouGov, there does appear to be a genuine movement towards Remain since last year… but as yet it is only small, and the country remains quite finely divided between Remain and Leave.


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Yesterday I got a few questions about a new BMG poll in the Independent that had voting intentions in a hypothetical EU referendum tomorrow at 52% remain, 48% leave. The Indy wrote this up with a pretty hyperbolic “Majority want to stay!!!”. The full results – along with a fair more reasonable and caveated write-up by BMG themselves – are here.

So, what is the bigger picture in terms of attitudes to Brexit, and is there any sign of people changing their minds?

I should start by pointing out that how people would vote in a hypothetical referendum tomorrow is not necessarily the same question as what people think should happen now (perhaps surprisingly!). If you ask people what should happen now, a clear majority say Britain should leave the EU. If you ask people how they’d vote in a referendum now, they are split down the middle between Remain and Leave. The difference appears to be because there is a chunk of people who personally favour remain, but think the government has a duty to leave following the referendum. Neither of these is necessarily a “better” measure of public opinion, opinion is best understood by looking at both: that is, the public are split equally on what they’d prefer, but some remainers think that the referendum means Brexit should go ahead anyway.

If we do look specifically at how people would vote in a referendum tomorrow, there is comparatively little change since 2016. Most Remain voters would still vote Remain, most Leave voters would still vote Leave. People who did not vote at all in 2016 tend to split in favour of Remain, meaning that the overall figure tends to be around a 50-50 split. Polls, of course, typically have a margin of error of around 2 or 3 points. This means if the actual position is a 50-50 split, then normal sample variation will inevitably spit out some results that are 52-48, or 48-52, or whatever. This is the unavoidable result of normal statistical variance, however, it does mean that now and again there will be a poll showing Remain with a small lead, which pro-Remain sorts will get wrongly overexcited about.

In terms of a trend, my impression is that there is some small degree of movement against Brexit… but it is very small. It is hard to discern a trend from questions asking the referendum question because they are infrequent, different companies use different methods and there may be different “house effects”. BMG have probably asked it more regularly than any other company, and looking at just their figures (in the link above) there is a slight trend towards Remain.

YouGov regularly ask a question about whether Britain was right or wrong to vote to Leave the EU (below), which also shows a very tight race, but a slight trend towards Remain. Last year it tended to show slightly more people thought it was the right decision than the wrong decision, now it tends to hover around neck-and-neck.

In summary, there hasn’t been any vast sea-change in attitudes towards Brexit. Most people who voted Remain would do so again, most people who voted Leave would do so again. There is some movement back and forth, but it mostly cancels itself out. If you look at the two most frequently repeated questions, the BMG question on referendum VI and the YouGov question on whether the decision was right or wrong, then there does appear to be movement towards Remain… but it is as yet pretty small and pretty slow. In short, there are some “bregrets”, but not enough to really get excited about. If there is going to be a big change, I still wouldn’t expect to see it until the leaving deal (and the consequences of it) become a bit clearer.


Sunday polls

Opinium’s latest voting intention figures are CON 41%(+2), LAB 43%(-2), LDEM 5%(nc), UKIP 5%(nc). Theresa May’s net job approval stands at minus 21, Jeremy Corbyn’s at plus 4 (though May has regained a small lead on who people think would make the better Prime Minister, 36% to Corbyn’s 33%).

Asked about Theresa May’s future, a third of people think she should resign straight away, 16% think she should go after Brexit negotiations are complete, 8% just before the next general election and 22% that she should remain and fight the next general election. Answers to this are heavily partisan, as you might expect: a hefty majority of Labour voters would like May to go now, only 9% of Tory voters. 62% of Tory voters would like her to remain PM until either shortly before the election (14%) or to fight the election (48%). Tabs for the Opinium poll are here.

There was also a Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday with topline figures of CON 39%(nc), LAB 41%(-4), LD 8%(+1), UKIP 6%(+2). Changes are since Survation’s last online poll in mid-June, rather than their last telephone poll which showed a small Tory lead. Theresa May also still leads as best PM here, 43% to Corbyn’s 35%.

Survation also asked questions about Theresa May’s future, though their’s was a simpler should she stay or go question.45% would like her to resign, 40% would like her to stay. Again, responses are overwhelmingly split down partisan lines: 77% of Lab voters would like her to go, 78% of Tory voters would like her to stay). Asked about who should succeed her if she did go, Boris Johnson leads on 22% ahead of David Davis on 15%. 46% of people say don’t know. Questions like this don’t give us that much insight because of low public awareness of the options. The most interesting ones there asked who people would prefer in run offs between two potential leaders – between Davis and Johnson Davis wins by 36% to Johnson’s 30%. Paired against Philip Hammond Johnson only just wins, 34% to 33%, though he beats Amber Rudd by 38% to 27%. There are still lots of don’t knows, but I’m conscious that a few years ago Johnson’s popularity and celebrity would probably have seen him easily winning all three questions at a trot. The shine looks as if it may have come off Boris Johnson. Tabs for the Survation poll are here.

Finally there was a BMG poll in the Independent asking about the public sector pay cap. Questions like this are tricky – most people have huge sympathy for “frontline” public sector workers like nurses and firefighters, so the social desirability bias towards saying you’d pay a little more to give them a rise is huge (it’s what we tend to call a “drowning puppy” question in the office, as in “would you pay more tax to save this drowning puppy?”). If anything, I’m surprised only 56% said they’d be willing to pay more in tax to fund a pay rise above 1% for only occupations like firefighters, police officers, paramedics and nurses. More generally, 69% of people said the public sector pay cap should end, but asked if they’d be willing to pay more tax to give a rise to “non-emergency” occupations the split was pretty even, 42% said they would, 41% would not..

Opinium also asked about the public sector pay cap in their poll. 53% of people support ending it, 21% of people would be opposed. They also asked about it on specific jobs. Questions like this are, to some degree, just reflections of how popular or valued a role is (as well as how well paid people think it currently is). Almost 70% of people wanted the pay cap ended for nurses, 60% or more for the armed forces, police and fire service. Teachers was 56%, followed by doctors on 53%. For dentists it was only 38%. I’m intrigued about what Opinium would have found if they’d asked about less obviously sympathetic public sector jobs: local government planning officers perhaps, benefit assessors, immigration officers, refuse collectors, traffic engineers, taxmen…


Nicola Sturgeon today announced she would seek a second Indyref. Some of the comments on this have suggested that there is widescale opposition to this from the Scottish public. This polling evidence is far less clear-cut. A variety of polls have asked a variety of questions about when or if there should be another referendum on Scottish independence. Some have given multiple options on whether there should be should be a second referendum, others have asked if there should be a referendum in a specifc timeframe, such as the next year, before the UK leaves the EU or (subtly but importantly different) before negotiations over Brexit are concluded.

As far as I can recall, there have been four polls so far this year asking about a second referendum:

  • A Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times in January asked when there should be a second referendum, giving options of during the Brexit negotiations (27%), after the negotiations (23%) or not in the next few years (51%). (tabs).
  • A Panelbase poll for Wings Over Scotland in February asked a very similar question, but with slightly different options. They split “not in the next few years” into not in the next twenty years and never, but found a similar total (25% and 24%). Rather that splitting the options for a more immediate referendum by whether negotiations were complete, they split it by whether Britain had actually left yet. 32% wanted a referendum before the UK leaves the EU, 19% a referendum after the UK leaves the EU. (tabs)
  • A BMG poll for the Herald at the end of January asked about a referendum “prior to Brexit negotiations being concluded between the UK and EU”. 38% of respondents said yes, 48% no. (tabs).
  • BMG repeated the question at the end of February and found virtually no change – 39% said yes, 49% said no (on what appears to be the same poll they asked an agree/disagree statement about whether people agreed with the statement “A referendum on Scottish independence should not be triggered until the UK & EU have completed their Brexit negotiations” – 51% agreed with this, 25% disagreed. I am generally wary about agree/disagree statements, which tend to produce answers skewed in the direction of the statement. I would put a lot more weight on the neutally worded version of the question) (tabs)

Bringing all these together, I can only assume those saying Scotland is opposed to a second referendum are looking at the BMG polls. These do indeed show broad public opposition to a second referendum, but both asked specifically about a referendum before Brexit negotiations were concluded. If you look at the two Panelbase polls, they showed only minority support for a second referendum during negotiations/before Britain leaves, but that a further group of Scots would support a referendum after the conclusion of negotiations/after Britain leaves.

Look at the Panelbase polls asking a broad question about a second referendum, rather than those asking about a specific timeframe, and the split looks pretty even. About half of Scottish adults want a referendum in the next few years, either before or after Brexit; about half of Scottish adults don’t want a referendum in the next few years.