The Guardian today has the results of a Populus poll for Best for Britain, apparently leaked without their permission. It found “almost a third” of respondents who would less likely to vote Labour if the party was committed to stopping Brexit, compared to 25% who said it would make them more likely – presumably the opposite of the headline finding the client was hoping for.

As regular readers will know, I think “would policy X make you more likely to vote Y” questions are of little or no worth anyway. Many respondents use them to indicate their support or opposition to the policy in question, regardless of whether it would actually change their vote, and you typically find a substantial proportion of people who say it would make them more likely to vote for a party already do so (and many of those saying less likely would never do so anyway).

This means the response from Best for Britain in the Guardian write up about the picture being skewed by Conservative and UKIP voters, while it may sound like special pleading, is probably quite right. I expect the third of people saying they’d the less likely to vote Labour are indeed probably largely Conservative and UKIP voters who wouldn’t vote Labour anyway. On the other hand, the people saying more likely are probably largely Labour voters who are already voting Labour – it’s why it is such a poor approach to the question.

In the meantime, it’s a reminder of why one needs to be a little cautious about polls commissioned by campaigns. You can never tell what other polls they did that they never released. It is the job of pollsters to make sure the actual questions are fair and balanced, but ultimately it’s often up to clients whether they keep a poll private, or stick it in a press release.


The weekend papers have the first two polls with fieldwork conducted after the New Year – BMG in the Independent and Survation for yesterday’s Mail. Voting intention in the two polls is:

Survation: CON 38%(-1), LAB 41%(+1), LDEM 10%(+2), UKIP 4%(nc)
BMG: CON 36%(-1), LAB 36%(-2), LDEM 12%(nc), UKIP 6%(+2)

Survation’s poll was conducted on Thursday and Friday, changes are from their big Channel4 poll at the end of October. BMG was conducted between Tuesday and Friday and changes are from last month. Neither poll shows any real significant movement. As you would probably expect, the bulk of both polls focused on the looming issue of Brexit.

On the Brexit deal itself BMG found that 29% of people think MPs should approve the deal (up 3 points from December), 37% think it should be rejected (down 6 points). Survation found 36% of people wanted MPs to approve the deal (up 5), 40% wanted it rejected (down 6). Both polls show some movement in favour of passing the deal, but still more opposition than support.

BMG asked whether people would support or oppose various alternative Brexit options. By 46% to 28% people would support a second referendum. By 45% to 39% people would support reversing Brexit and just remaining. Further negotiations were supported by 45% to 34%. A “Norway-style deal” was supported by 40% to 36%. Leaving without a deal was opposed by 45% to 35%.

Survation’s poll included questions on how people would vote in various referendum scenarios – in a deal vs no deal referendum, 41% would prefer the deal, 32% no deal. In a referendum between no deal Brexit and remain, people prefer remain by 46% to 41%. A deal vs referendum vote would be neck-and-neck: 40% deal, 40% remain.

Tabs for Survation are here, BMG aren’t up yet.


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A brief update on the state of the polls as we head towards Christmas. First let look at voting intention. The six voting intention polls we’ve seen published so far in December have all shown the two main parties essentially neck and neck – two have shown tiny Labour leads, two have shown tiny Conservative leads, two have had them equal (the YouGov poll for the People’s Vote campaign in the Sunday papers today may have had a slighter larger lead, but it shouldn’t upset the average).

Opinium (14th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 39%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 6%
YouGov (7th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 37%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 3%
Kantar (6th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 5%
Ipsos MORI (5th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
YouGov (4th Dec) – CON 40%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
ComRes (2nd Dec) – CON 37%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 6%

Despite the incredibly turbulent situation in British politics, there has been relatively little change in voting intention since the general election. Through late 2017 there was a very small Labour lead, for most of 2018 there was a very small Conservative lead (with a few periods of Labour ahead – most significantly the weeks following the Johnson/Davis resignations). At no point has either party really pulled away. Politics may have been chaos, but voting intention have been steady.

This itself is remarkable given the state of the government at present. If you look at any other measure, they are in a dire situation. The government’s net satisfaction rating in the MORI poll last week was minus 45 (24% satisfied, 69% dissatisfaction). That is comparable to the sort of figures that the Brown government was getting in 2008 or the Thatcher government in 1990… both periods when the opposition had a clear lead in voting intention. Any question asking about the government’s main policy – the delivery of Brexit – shows that a solid majority of people think they are doing badly at implementing it. Today’s poll from Opinium found people thought the party was divided by 69% to 18% (and quite what those 18% of people were thinking I do not know!). And yet, the Conservatives remain pretty much neck-and-neck in the polls.

I can think of three potential explanations (and they are by no means exclusive to one another). The first is that people have simply switched off. The ongoing chaos isn’t impacting people’s voting intention because they are not paying attention. The second is that voting intentions may still be being largely driven by Brexit and, regardless of how well the Conservatives are delivering Brexit, they are the main party that claims it is committed to doing so, and while support for Brexit has fallen, the split in the country is still normally around 47%-53%.

The third potential reason is that Labour are not a particularly attractive option to many voters either – one of the few clear changes in the polls this year is a sharp drop in Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings. At the end of last year his approval rating from MORI was minus 7, in the MORI poll last week it was minus 32. On YouGov’s Best Prime Minister question he continues to trail well behind Theresa May (and often both of them trail behind “Not sure”).

While it is interesting to ponder why the voting intention figures remain stable, it’s not necessary particularly meaningful. In the next four months Brexit will either go ahead with a deal that many will dislike, go ahead without any deal with whatever short or long term consequences that may bring, or be delayed or cancelled. Any of these has the potential to have massive impact on support for the parties.

On Brexit itself, public opinion on what should come next is not necessarily much clearer than opinion in Westminster. Throughout 2018 opinion has continued to drift slowly against Brexit – asked if we should remain or leave polls tend to find a modest lead for Remain – typically showing a swing of around 5 points since the referendum (They are helpfully collated by John Curtice here – his average of the last six polls to ask how people would vote now currently shows a Remain lead of 53% to 47%).

While the majority of people don’t support Brexit any longer, that does not necessarily translate into clear
support for stopping it, or indeed for most other courses of action. Poll after poll asks what the government should do next, and there is little clear support for anything. Theresa May’s proposed deal certainly does not have majority support (YouGov’s Sunday Times poll last week found 22% supported it, 51% opposed. MORI’s poll found 62% thought it was a bad thing, 25% good). When Opinium asked what should happen if the deal was defeated, 19% wanted to re-open negotiations, 20% said leave with no deal, 10% said have an election, 30% have a referendum, 11% cancel Brexit altogether. When MORI asked a similar question with slightly different options 16% said renegotiate, 25% said no deal, 10% an election and 30% a referendum.

When polls ask directly about a referendum they tend to find support (although, to be fair, most polls asking about referendums normally find support for then – it is essentially a question asking whether the respondent would like a say, or whether politicians should decide for them). However, a new referendum is obviously a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

And therein lies the problem – there is scant support for most plausible leave outcomes, but reversing Brexit in some way risks a significant minority of voters (and a majority of the government’s supporters) reacting extremely negatively indeed. In the YouGov Sunday Times poll last week they asked what people’s emotional response would be to the most plausible outcomes (current deal, no deal, soft Brexit, referendum and no Brexit). Would people feel delighted, pleased, relived, disappointed, angry, betrayed, or wouldn’t mind either way?

If Britain ended up leaving without a deal 23% would react positively, 53% negatively.
If Britain ended up leaving with the proposed deal, 20% would react positively, 51% negatively.
If Britain ended up with a softer Brexit, staying in the customs union and single market, 27% would react positively, 35% negatively.

Finally, if there was a referendum and Britain voted to stay, 42% would react positively, 39% would react negatively. This is the outcome that would have a positive reaction from the largest proportion of people, but it would also be by far the most divisive. When asked about their reaction to the deal or a soft Brexit, most people gave people towards the middle of the scale – they’d be disappointed, or relieved, or wouldn’t mind. Asked about reversing the decision to Leave, answers tended to the extremes – 26% would be delighted, but 23% would feel betrayed, including 51% of people who voted Brexit back in 2016.


There have been a flurry of polls following the announcement of the draft Brexit deal – all have tended to show a negative reaction. The most thorough were full length polls from YouGov for the Times and Survation for the Mail.

YouGov’s full length poll found that, based on what they had seen or heard about the deal, 15% of people supported it, 51% were opposed, 33% said don’t know (their snap poll earlier in the day had figures of 19% support, 42% opposed). Presenting people with a brief summary of what the deal actually entails makes little difference – by 50% to 19% people think it is a bad deal for Britain, by 45% to 28% people think it does not respect the result of the referendum. In Survation’s poll 61% said they had heard some details of the deal, and of those people who had heard at least something about the deal, 27% said they supported it, 49% were opposed.

YouGov asked people what should happen next – only 16% of people thought Britain should accept the deal as it is, 11% would prefer to reopen negotiations and seek a better deal, 19% to leave without a deal, 8% to have a referendum on the deal and 28% to just remain in the EU after all. In practice, of course, some of these options may not realistically be on the table. If people were forced to choose between the deal or leaving without one, 60% would choose the deal, 40% no deal. On the other hand, if the choice was between the deal and having a fresh referendum, people would prefer a new referendum by 56% to 44%.

Survation’s poll included some similar choices (though unlike the YouGov ones, they didn’t force a choice, people were able to say don’t know). If there was as referendum between the deal or remaining, people said they would prefer remain by 43% to 34%. If there was a referendum between the deal or no deal, people would prefer no deal by 34% to 32%… but with 34% don’t knows, who were largely remainers (and, if push comes to shove, I suspect may prefer a deal over no deal).

Turning to May’s own future, YouGov found that 33% of people think she should stay, 47% think she should resign. The figures in the Survation poll were very similar – 33% thought she should stay, 50% that she should go. Naturally there was more support among Tory voters, but even many Tory supporters think May should go (43% in the YouGov poll, 30% in the Survation poll).

There is, however, little optimism that a change of leader would produce a better outcome. In YouGov’s poll only 27% of people thought that a different Tory Prime Minister would be able to get a better deal (and only 19% thought that a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn would get a better deal). They were a little more optimistic in the Survation poll, where 38% thought getting rid of May would increase the chances of a good deal.

In short, people don’t like the deal, but there is relatively optimism about the opportunities for anything better. If forced to choose, people would accept the deal rather than leave with no deal, but they’d also rather have a fresh referendum than accept this one. Whether public opinion really matters at this point is a different matter – this is one of those issues where Parliamentary arithmetic (and the internal politics of the Tory party) will be the actual deciding factors… they may be influenced by public opinion but, outside there being another referendum, public opinion is not going to be decisive.


While there hasn’t been a lot of voting intention polling in recent weeks, there has been quite a lot of Brexit polling – those organisations campaigning for or against it used the summer holidays to get a good bite of publicity. This included some large polls from YouGov for Hope Not Hate and the People’s Vote campaign showing Remain at 53% and Leave at 47% if there was a referendum now. Today there was a new NatCen poll that showed Remain at 59%, Leave at 41% (though do check the important caveat from John Curtice’s report that the sample itself had too many 2016 Remain voters, so it actually implied a position along the lines of Remain 53/54%, Leave 46/47%) and a Survation poll showing Remain at 50%, Leave at 50%.

In terms of what to make of this, I’d give the same advice on support or opposition to Brexit as I do on voting intention. There are an awful lot of polls asking about support for Brexit, and a lot of people inclined to cherry-pick those which they agree with. Don’t pay too much attention to individual polls (especially not “interesting” outliers), watch the broad trend instead.

There are four regular tracking polls that people should look to to judge whether or not the public have changed their minds (the data is all nicely collected on John Curtice’s WhatUKThinks website here. First there are polls that ask how pople would vote in a referendum now – regularly asked by both BMG Research and Survation using the original referendum question, and using a more generic version by YouGov in their Eurotrack series of polls. BMG have been asking this since late 2016, and where early polls tended to still show more people would still vote Leave, that has gradually changed and since 2017 they have consistently shown more people would now vote to stay. Their EU referendum polls this year have averaged at Remain 49%, Leave 44% (Remain 53%, Leave 47% without don’t knows)

instead.

The Survation series didn’t start until 2017 – since then their polls have varied between neck-and-neck and small leads for Remain. On average this year their referendum polls have shown Remain 48%, Leave 46% (51% Remain, 49% Leave without don’t knows). Unlike the other two referendum polls Survation weight their referendum question by likelihood to vote which, given that previous non-voters tend to split in favour of remain, probably explains the slightly lower remain lead.

The YouGov Eurotrack poll is part of a regular poll across several EU countries on how people would vote in a referendum on their country’s membership of the EU, so doesn’t use the British referendum wording. Nevertheless, the results show a similar pattern to the BMG polling – results late in 2016 continued to show Leave ahead, but since then Remain has been fairly consistently ahead. The average across their five polls in 2018 is Remain 45%, Leave 41% (52% Remain, 48% Leave without don’t knows)

The most regular comparable poll isn’t asked as referendum VI, but is YouGov’s tracker for the Times asking if people think Britain was right or wrong to vote to Leave the EU, normally asked weekly. The pattern should be familiar – in late 2016 the poll consistently showed people thought Britain was right to leave, in early 2017 it began to flip over, and it now consistently finds more people think Britain was wrong to vote to Leave. On average this year 46% of people have said Brexit was the wrong decision, 42% the right decision (without don’t knows, it would be 52% wrong, 48% right).

So while the movement across the polls has not been massive (was are generally talking about a swing of 3 to 5 points from the referendum result), given the closeness of the 2016 result that is enough to mean polls are consistently showing slightly more people opposed to Brexit than in support of it. There is one important caveat to add to this. If you look at the breakdown by 2016 referendum vote you will often find the number of Leave voters switching to Remain is that that much larger than the number of Remain voters switching to Leave (if it is larger at all!), this is because polls generally find those people who did not vote in the 2016 referendum tend to split in favour of Remain.