YouGov have some polling for the Times on attitudes to terrorism and Syria following the attack on Paris. The full results are here, and the Times’s write up is here.

There are two important findings in there. One is attitudes towards Syrian refugees. Back in September YouGov found 36% thought we should accept more Syrian refugees, 24% keep the numbers about the same, 27% that we should admit fewer or none. That support has dropped sharply, now only 20% think Britain should accept more (down 16), 24% the same number (no change), 49% fewer or none (up 22).

It would be wrong to assume this is necessarily connected to the attack upon Paris. The previous poll was conducted at the start of September, a week after the photos of the body of Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach and amid sympathetic media coverage of refugees trudging across Hungary seeking a route to Germany. At the time there was evidence that the public had become more favourable towards the idea of accepting more Syrian refugees. However time has passed, the media coverage of sinking boats and desperate refugees has faded away again, and I expect a significant chunk of the change in public opinion is because of that – some heartbreaking photos and coverage did provoke a temporary change in opinion, but it was only temporary.

The other interesting finding is on sending British and US troops back into Iraq to fight Islamic State/ISIS. 43% of people now support sending in ground troops, 37% of people are opposed. The change since the last time YouGov asked is barely significant, but it’s part of a longer and much more clearer trend. Back in August 2014 when YouGov started asking this question the British public were strongly opposed to sending troops back into Iraq, but since then opinion has steadily moved in favour of intervention. We are now at the point where there are significantly more people in favour than opposed.


On other matters, the monthly ICM poll for the Guardian came out yesterday, with topline voting intention figures of CON 39%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 12%, GRN 3% (tabs here. Their weekly EU referendum poll has figures of REMAIN 43%, LEAVE 38%. Survation have also put out some new figures, voting intentions are CON 37%, LAB 30%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 16%, GRN 3% and EU referendum intentions are REMAIN 42%, LEAVE 40% (tabs here.

A quick note on two EU referendum polls from the end of last week. One was by Survation, conducted for the Leave.EU campaign – tables are here. Topline figures there were Remain 47%, Leave 53%. This is interesting mostly because it shows a lead for Leave when the overwhelming majority of polling shows Remain with a narrow lead (the last poll to put leave ahead was YouGov in September). All the polls so far using the referendum question are here.

The other data was from the British Election Study face-to-face survey. This is not new data by any means, the fieldwork was conducted between May and September (mostly in May, June and July). It found referendum voting intentions of Remain 61%, Leave 39%. On the face of it this looks interesting – as discussed last week the face-to-face BES sample avoided some of the problems of the pre-election polls and got the recalled Conservative lead over the Labour party about right. Is this potentially a sign that the mainsteam polling on the EU referendum could also be getting it wrong, and be understating the Remain lead? I would be very cautious before drawing any such conclusions, not least because of the timing of the fieldwork – polls now may be showing only small leads for Remain, but back in May to July when most of the BES fieldwork was done there were some bigger leads, especially from MORI and ComRes telephone polls, which had Remain at 63%, 65% and 75% in polls at the time.


With the window for taking part in Labour leadership election closing and ballot papers going out there were several polls over the weekend asking about the leadership candidates, though no fresh polling of people voting in the actual contest. ComRes, Opinium and Survation all had polls asking about the general public’s perception of the candidates. While the polls weren’t presented that way, I’ve seen various people writing about them as evidence of which candidate would actually do better as leader. In particular the Survation poll had Jeremy Corbyn ahead among the public after they were shown video clips, so was taken as a sign that he may not be as damaging electorally as the commentariat widely assume.

Questions about how well different leadership candidates would do in a general election are always popular and sought after, but extremely difficult if not impossible to make meaningful. Asking the general public who they think would do better or worse is perfectly reasonable, but is a different question. Who people think would do better is not the same as who would do better, it’s just asking the public to answer the question for you and a poll is not a Magic 8 Ball. Asking the general public who they prefer doesn’t answer the question either, it contains the views of lots of committed Labour and Conservative voters who aren’t going to change their vote anyway, and preferring is not necessarily the same as changing your vote.

If you ask how people would vote with x, y or z as leader, or if people would be more or less likely to vote Labour with each candidate as leader then you are getting a little closer, but the problem is still that people are expected to answer a question about how they would vote with the candidates as leader when the general public know hardly anything about them. A fair old chunk won’t even know the candidates names or what they look like, the majority will have little real idea what policies they will put forward. None of us really know how they will work out as leader, what the public, press and political reaction will be, how they will really operate. How can respondents really judge how they would vote in a hypothetical situation with so little information? They can’t.

Some polls try to get round that by giving respondents a little more information about each candidate: a run down of their main policy positions perhaps, or in the case of the Survation poll a little video clip of each respondent so people could see what they looked and sounded like. This is better, but it’s still a long way from reality. It’s like the famous market research failure of New Coke – in market research tests people liked the taste, but release it out into the real world and people wanted their old Coke back. A video clip or a list of policies won’t factor in the way the media react, the way the new leader is reported, how they actually handle leading, the way their party and their opponents react. There is no really good way of answering the question because you’re asking respondents something they don’t actually know yet.

Is there anything polls can really tell us about how the leadership contenders would do? Well, firstly I think we can be reasonably confident in saying the polls don’t suggest any of the four candidates is any sort of electoral panacea, the most positive net rating in the ComRes poll is Andy Burnham and just 19% think he would improve Labour’s chances, 14% that he’d damage them (Corbyn gets more people saying he’d have a positive effect (21%) but much more saying he’d have a negative effect (31%). None of them have obvious election-winning magic like, say, Blair did in 1994.

They can also tell us some things about people’s first impressions of the candidates, something that shouldn’t be underestimated (people probably made their minds up pretty quickly that Ed Miliband didn’t look Prime Ministerial, for example, or that there was “something of the night” about Michael Howard. Those early impressions are hard to shift.). On that front the Survation poll is pretty positive about Jeremy Corbyn with people saying he came across as more trustworthy and in touch than his rivals (though such polls are always a bit tricky because of the choice of clips – Survation tried to iron out any potential biasing effect by having clips from each candidate being interviewed on the Marr show, so they were all interviews, all the same setting and same interviewer… but even then you ended up with two candidates defending their position on the welfare bill, one talking about the EU referendum and one talking about rail nationalisation. It’s almost impossible to do such things and have a truly level ground).

The argument against Corbyn isn’t about his personal image and manner though, it’s that he’d put the Labour party in a ideological and policy position that wouldn’t win votes, that the Labour party itself would risk ripping itself apart under a leader with little support among the Parliamentary party and a long history of rebellion. On individual policies I’ve seen Corbyn supporters taking succour from polls showing, for example, that a majority of the public support rail nationalisation or much higher taxes on the rich and drawing the conclusion that there is a public appetite for much more left wing policies. Be careful – look at this YouGov poll which shows a majority of people would support renationalisation of the utilities, increasing the minimum wage to £10 and the top rate of tax to 60%… but also a total ban on immigration and benefits for anyone who turns down a job, making life mean life with no parole in prison sentences and stopping all international aid. There are some policies to the left of mainstream public debate that are popular and some to the right that are popular, it no more means that the public are aching for a far-left political party than for a far-right one. Essentially you can pick a list of appealing sounding policies from almost any ideological stance, from far-left to far-right, and find the public agree with them. In reality though policies require trade-offs, they need to be paid for, they are attacked by opponents and the press. They are judged as a package. In terms of how well the Labour party would hang together under Jeremy Corbyn, polling of the public can’t really tell us – a poll of Labour MPs perhaps!

Bottom line? There is no way of doing a simple poll that will give you a ready packaged answer as to how well or badly a potential party leader will do, and the things that Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors worry about are not things that are easily tested in a poll anyway. My own guess is that those who think Jeremy Corbyn would struggle electorally are correct, though it does depend on whether the Conservatives also pull themselves to shreds after the EU referendum. I am a little wary about arguments about parties not winning because they are too left or too right. While putting yourself broadly where most voters are is sensible enough, those voters themselves don’t necessarily see things as ideologically left and right and specific policies aren’t really that important in driving votes. However, broad perceptions of a party, its perceived competence and the public’s views on how suitable its leader is to be Prime Minister are incredibly important. It will be an extremely hard task for Labour to succeed if it is seem as taking up a risky and radical route, if it’s trying to rebuild a lack of public confidence by selling an approach that is radically different from what a normally risk-averse public are used to, if it is seen as being riven by internal dissent and splits, if their leadership patently doesn’t have the support of its own MPs. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but I wouldn’t count on it.

On other matters, the ComRes poll also had voting intention, their first online VI figures since the election (rather to my surprise. Their online polls for the Independent on Sunday dried up during the election campaign itself and I’d wrongly assumed they’d come to halt as part of ComRes moving their phone contract from the Independent to the Daily Mail. I’m pleased to see I was wrong, and the ComRes/Indy on Sunday relationship continues!). Topline figures are CON 40%, LAB 29%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%, and ComRes have adopted the same socio-economic based turnout model for their online polls that they have started using in their telephone polls.

The best estimates of how Britain’s ethnic minorities voted in the 2010 election, taken from the Ethnic Minority British Election Study, are CON 16%, LAB 68%. Last month British Future released a report, based on Survation polling, that suggested that ethnic minority voters in 2015 split CON 33%, LAB 52%.

This would represent a huge turnaround – a doubling of Conservative support amongst ethnic minorities and a drop of sixteen points for Labour. However, it is quite difficult to believe, or to tally with the actual election results we saw. A sixteen point swing from Lab to Con would be stunning (to put it in context, the 1997 swing from Con to Lab was ten points), movements of that scale can happen (look at Scotland), but they are hardly commonplace. And ethnic minority voters are highly concentrated geographically, if there had been such an outlandish movement from Lab to Con amongst BME voters we should have expected to see seats with a high proportion of ethnic minority voters swing disproportionately towards the Conservatives – we didn’t (it was the exact opposite). We would have expected the more ethnically diverse London to swing more towards the Conservatives – it didn’t, it swung much more heavily to Labour.

So what explains the difference? I expect it’s simply down to comparing apples to oranges. Polling ethnic minority voters is a hard challenge. Ethnic minority Britons are likely to be younger, less affluent and often live more transient lifestyles – all things that make groups harder to poll. Recent immigrants (and even some longer term residents) may speak English as a second language or not at all, which poses a problem for surveys. And of course, if a poll under-represents less affluent, less established, integrated and English-speaking minority communities and over-represents those who have been here for generations it may well misrepresent their voting intentions.

The 2010 Ethnic Minority BES (EMBES) was conducted using a proper stratified random sample. For reasons of cost it was limited to areas of comparatively high ethnic minority concentration, but the cut off was very low (it excluded areas with less than 2% ethnic minorities, where 12% of ethnic minorities in Britain lived). They contacted 31,000 randomly selected addresses in order to find 4224 eligible respondents and amongst them managed a response rate of 66%. Doorstep translation cards were available in Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati and Bengali, and other household members were allowed to act as translators if the person selected couldn’t speak English (there were translated versions of the survey available to assist). The British Future poll was done using an internet panel so would have covered ethnic minority voters living in all parts of Britain and all ethnic minority groups (the EMBES concentrated on Black African and Caribbean, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi) but only those integrated enough into British society to have joined internet panels doing surveys in English.

Any difference between the two polls therefore may just as likely be from the radically different ways the polls were conducted as from an actual shift in voting behaviour. What we need in order to be confident is to compare like-with-like, data from 2010 and 2015 that was collected in the same way. Over on the YouGov site they have some analysis by Rob Ford, Laurence Janta-Lipinski and Maria Sobolewska comparing YouGov’s ethnic minority vote in 2010 and 2015. As with Survation’s internet poll, YouGov’s internet poll found higher levels of Conservative support amongst ethnic minorities than in the EMBES… but crucially, if you compared their 2010 figures to their 2015 figures there was only modest movement towards the Tories, it suggests a swing from Lab to Con amongst ethnic minority voters of 2 percent, rather than 16 percent.

We can do a similar thing with Ipsos-MORI’s data – after every election they publish a big aggregate of their data from the campaign, so we can compare their breakdown amongst ethnic minority voters in 2015 with that in 2010. Similar to the comparison in YouGov data, it shows some movement towards the Conservatives amongst BME voters, but only a modest one – MORI data suggests a 1 percent swing.

So the Conservatives do seem to be making some progress amongst ethnic minority voters… but it’s probably only a modest advance, as yet the huge Labour advantage amongst BME voters remains almost as large as it was at previous elections.

Two days to go. The huge rush in final polls won’t be until tomorrow, but there are still a fair number of polls out today. I don’t think any of them are proper final calls yet – most companies will produce their eve-of-election numbers tomorrow or on election day itself (it’s illegal to publish an exit poll before polls close, but it’s fine to publish a poll conducted on the eve of election on the morning of polling day). All of today’s look as if they are penultimate polls…

  • Populus today had topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 34%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 13%, GRN 5%
    (tabs). According to the FT we still have another Populus poll to come before the election.
  • Lord Ashcroft’s weekly poll had topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 30%, LEM 11%, UKIP 12%, GRN 7%, coming into a much closer race than the rather incongruous six point Tory lead last week. Tabs are here). Ashcroft will have a final call poll on Thursday morning, so one more to come from him.
  • Survation for the Mirror have topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 16%, GRN 4% (tabs). Survation have said they’ve got new figures everyday before the election, so we’ll be getting some new figures from them tomorrow too.

UPDATE: We now have three more polls out:

  • A ComRes telephone poll for the Mail and ITV has topline figures of CON 35%, LAB 32%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%, GRN 4%. Again, this is their penultimate poll, with one more to come (presumably tomorrow). Tabs are here.
  • There is also a second BMG poll for May 2015 (which in their case DOES appear to be their final call poll) topline figures are CON 34%, LAB 34%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 12%, GRN 4%. Full details here.
  • Finally YouGov’s penultimate poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 34%, LD 9%, UKIP 12%, GRN 5% – still neck and neck. Their final call will follow tomorrow night.