Straight after the Greek referendum was announced actual polling evidence seemed quite light, but there has now been the expected rush in polling. Polls from a handful of different companies are all painting a consistent picture of YES and NO being neck and neck. In fieldwork conducted on Monday and Tuesday there was still a small lead for NO, but across all the polls conducted in the last couple of days the position has been almost a dead heat.

The most recent polls are below:

Metron/Parapolitik (Thurs-Fri) – YES 46%, NO 47% (No ahead by 1%)
GPO/Mega TV (Wed-Fri) – YES 44.1%, NO 43.7% (Yes ahead by 0.4%)
Alco/Proto Thema (Wed-Fri) – YES 41.7%, NO 41.1% (Yes ahead by 0.6%)
Ipsos (Tues-Fri) – YES 44%, NO 43% (Yes ahead by 1%)
Uni of Macedonia/Bloomberg (Thurs) – YES 42.5%, NO 43% (No ahead by 0.5%)

In the week we also had the monthly ComRes/Daily Mail poll. Latest voting intention figures are CON 41%, LAB 29%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 10%, GRN 5%. Tabs are here.

UPDATE: And the actual Greek result (with just over a third of the votes counted) looks like a solid victory for NO, absolutely miles away from what the Greek polls were showing. Ouch! I don’t know enough about Greek politics or Greek polling to hazard any guesses as to what they got wrong, but I imagine a country in economic turmoil is not the easiest to poll correctly in terms of contacting people, or to getting any firm demographic figures to weight or sample by – and that’s before you get to whether people feel able to answer the question honestly. As it happens most of the Greek polls were pretty good at their general election earlier this year, but clearly not this time.


Grexit polls

On Sunday there is a referendum in Greece on whether to accept the deal that was put to the Greek government before negotiations broke down (or at least, there was as I write, who knows what the position will be by the time you read this). What can the polling tell is about the likely result? There have not been any polls since the referendum announcement yet – though I don’t think there is anything preventing any (Greece previously had a ban on polls in the last fortnight of election campaigns, but this was repealed before the election earlier this year. I don’t know about referendums or any subsequent legal changes.)

There were, however, two Greek polls conducted in the three days before the referendum announcement that have been widely reported. A Kapa Research poll conducted between Wednesday and Friday actually asked how people would vote in a then hypothetical referendum, with 47% saying they would vote yes, 33% that they would vote no. Of course the poll was conducted prior to the referendum announcement so may not reflect current Greek opinion at all – people taking it as a sign Greece is about to vote yes should probably hold on a sec. Respondents may have been imagining a referendum on a deal that had the support of the Greek government, rather than a referendum where the government are opposed and backing a No vote.

The rest of the Kapa poll found 72% of Greeks wanted the country to remain within the EU and 68% wanted them to keep the Euro. There was a pretty even split over the government’s strategy – 49% had a positive opinion, 50% a negative opinion.

A second poll by Alco found negative opinions about the proposals on the table, but continuing goodwill towards Syriza. People didn’t think the proposals met their pre-election promises, but by 53% to 34% thought this was because Syriza hadn’t realised how difficult it would be rather than an attempt to mislead the people. By 61% to 33% respondents rejected the idea that the last Greek government would have done any better. Syriza continue to hold a robust lead in voting intention. Again, this is sometimes being reported as showing Greeks will vote Yes, but I’d be wary. It found people would, in principle, prefer a deal to default… but that’s not the same as saying they will vote YES in a referendum on a specific offer that the Greek government doesn’t support.

Turning to the attitude in other countries in Europe, YouGov polled the countries it has panels in a week ago and in most countries the public expected Greece to leave the Euro, and would prefer it if they did. In Britain people would prefer Greece to leave by 35% to 26%, Denmark by 44% to 24%, Sweden 35% to 26%, Finland 47% to 26%. France was the only country polled where people would prefer Greece to stay within the Euro, though only by 36% to 33%. In Germany 53% of the public thought Greece should leave the Eurozone, only 29% would prefer Greece to remain. Note, of course, that the countries YouGov operate in are largely Northern Europe… the public in Southern and Eastern European countries may have different views.

UPDATE: We finally have a poll on the referendum conducted after it was announced. Prorata for Efsyn found 51% of Greeks intending to vote no in the referendum. The fieldwork appears to have straddled the announcement to close the banks – before the announcement NO led by 57% to 30%, after the announcement NO led by only 46% to 37%. On the face of it that looks like No leading, but in a very fluid situation, but I don’t know what the sample size was before and after the bank closure (and indeed, whether the early and late respondents to the poll were comparable) so cannot tell if that apparently shrinking lead is meaningful.


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I hope most of my regular readers would assume a Daily Express headline about a “poll” showing 80% of people want to leave the EU was nonsense anyway, but it’s a new year, a new election campaign, and it’s probably worth writing again about why these things are worthless and misleading as measures of public opinion. If nothing else, it will give people an explanation to point rather overexcited people on Twitter towards.

The Express headline is “80% want to quit the EU, Biggest poll in 40 years boosts Daily Express crusade”. This doesn’t actually refer to a sampled and weighted opinion poll, but to a campaign run by two Tory MPs (Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone) and a Tory candidate (Thomas Pursglove) consisting of them delivering their own ballot papers to houses in their constituencies. They apparently got about 14,000 responses, which is impressive as a campaigning exercise, but doesn’t suddenly make it a meaningful measure of public opinion.

Polls are meaningful only to the extent that they are representative of the wider public – if they contain the correct proportions of people of different ages, of men and women, of different social classes and incomes and from different parts of the country as the population as a whole then we hope they should also hold the same views of the population as a whole. Just getting a lot of people to take part does not in any way guarantee that the balance of people who end up taking the poll will be representative.

I expect lots of people who aren’t familiar with how polling works will see a claim like this, see that 14,000 took part, and think it must therefore be meaningful (in the same way, a naive criticism of polls is often that they only interview 1000 people). The best example of why this doesn’t work was the polling for the 1936 Presidential election in the USA, which heralded modern polling and tested big sample sizes to destruction. Back then the most well known poll was that done by a magazine, the Literary Digest. The Literary Digest too sent out ballot papers to as many people as it could – it sent them to its subscribers, to other subscription lists, to everyone in the phone directory, to everyone with a car, etc, etc. In 1936 it sent out 10 million ballot papers and received two point four million responses. Based on these replies, they confidently predicted that the Republican candidate Alf Landon would win the election. Meanwhile the then little known George Gallup interviewed just a few thousand people, but using proper demographic quotas to get a sample that was representative of the American public. Gallup’s data predicted a landslide win for the Democrat candidate Franklin D Roosevelt. Gallup was of course right, the Literary Digest embarrassingly wrong. The reason was that the Literary Digest’s huge sample of 2.4 million was drawn from the sort of people who had telephones, cars and magazine subscriptions and, in depression era America, these people voted Republican.

Coming back to the Express’s “poll”, a campaign about leaving Europe run by three Tory election candidates in the East Midlands is likely to largely be responded to by Conservative sympathisers with strong views about Europe, hence the result. Luckily we have lots of properly conducted polls that are sampled and weighted to be representative of whole British public and they consistently show a different picture. There are some differences between different companies – YouGov ask it a couple of time a month and find support for leaving the EU varying between 37% and 44%, Survation asked a couple of months ago and found support for leaving at 47%, Opinium have shown it as high as 48%. For those still entranced by large sample sizes, Lord Ashcroft did a poll of 20,000 people on the subject of Europe last year (strangely larger than the Express’s “largest poll for 40 years”!) and found people splitting down the middle 41% stay – 41% leave.

And that’s about where we are – there’s some difference between different pollsters, but the broad picture is that the British public are NOT overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU, they are pretty evenly divided over whether to stay in the European Union or not.


Time for a post-mortem of the European election polling. I’m not a fan of the sort of horse-race approach to these things – just because they are the final poll of the race, they still have normal margins of error, so if one pollster is a fraction more accurate than another it is often just the luck of the draw. Realistically the best a pollster can ever hope to do is get all the results within the margin of error. Better than that is luck. However away from the public “who won” stuff, comparing poll predictions to actual election results is an absolutely critical tool for pollsters – it’s our chance to compare our figures with reality, to improve and finesse our methods.

The final polls from each company are here. Note that I haven’t included Populus – they did conduct one European poll, but it was a fortnight before the election when just a week is a long time in politics! While I’ve included it in the comparison, one should allow some leeway for ICM for the same reason; their poll’s fieldwork finished a week before the actual election.

CON LAB LD UKIP GRN Average Error
ACTUAL RESULT 23.9 25.4 6.9 27.5 7.9
YouGov 22 26 9 27 10 1.4
(-1.9) (+0.6) (+2.1) (-0.5) (+2.1)
ICM 26 29 7 25 6 2.0
(+2.1) (+3.6) (+0.1) (-2.5) (-1.9)
Opinium 21 25 6 32 6 2.1
(-2.9) (-0.4) (-0.9) (+4.5) (-1.9)
TNS 21 28 7 31 6 2.2
(-2.9) (+2.4) (+0.1) (+3.5) (-1.9)
ComRes 20 27 7 33 6 2.6
(-3.9) (+1.4) (+0.1) (+5.5) (-1.9)
Survation 23 27 9 32 4 2.6
(-0.9) (+1.4) (+2.1) (+4.5) (-3.9)

The most obvious current difference between Westminster polls is the reported levels of UKIP – there is a big gulf between the levels of UKIP support report recorded by companies like ICM, MORI, YouGov and ComRes’s phone polls and polls from newer companies like Opinium, Survation and ComRes’s online polls. We don’t know what the reasons for this are – there are a couple of things like prompting and re-allocating don’t knows that we can account for, but mostly the difference is not easily explained. It may be something to do with interviewer effect, or the representativeness of different companies samples. We can’t tell.

The European elections were obviously an opportunity to check figures against reality. I half expected the polls to all converge together in the run up to the election, as they have a tendency to do before general elections, but in reality we got the same sort of contrast as we do in Westminster polls. Higher figures for UKIP amongst newer online companies, lower figures from YouGov, lowest from ICM… and when the votes were counted the YouGov figure was the closest.

Of course, European elections aren’t general elections. On the issue of prompting, for example, every company prompted for UKIP in their European polling, whereas only Survation do it for general elections. There were no telephone polls for the European election, so it can tell us nothing of them. European elections are low turnout elections, so some of the errors may have been down to too strict turnout filters (ComRes used a very strict turnout filter for Euros and would probably have been better if they’d used the method they use for general election polling. There was the issue of the Independence from Europe spoiler party on the ballot paper and so on. At a purely personal level though, getting UKIP right at the next election is the biggest challenge currently facing pollsters, so I’m relieved that in the first real proper national test we got it right. Phew!


Looking at the search terms people are arriving at the site using there are already fewer people looking for candidate information, and more people searching for exit polls. Straight answer is that there are none, and there won’t be any.

These days the only real exit poll done is the BBC/ITV shared exit poll for general elections. They are extremely expensive and difficult to do, so they simply don’t get done for any other type of election (as Nick Moon of NOP, who along with MORI normally organise the general election exit poll, puts it they are an extremely expensive way of finding out something a couple of hours early).

It’s also illegal to publish any form of exit poll before the polls are all closed. For European elections that doesn’t just mean the polls need to be closed in Britain, they need to be closed across the whole of the European Union. This means it would be illegal to publish an exit poll before 10pm on Sunday (and given that the returning officers are allowed to start counting earlier in the day on Sunday, so long as they don’t announce the results until 10pm, any exit poll would be useful for even less time than usual!).

That means you’ll have to wait for proper results. For local councils, counting starts in about half the councils tonight, with results in the early hours of the morning. The other half will start counting tomorrow morning with results in the afternoon. For the European elections the counting of the votes can start during the day on Sunday, but actual results won’t be released until 10pm.