A brief election post-mortem before I get some rest – hopefully we will have an actual London result by the time I finish writing! It is almost exactly a year since the polling error at the last general election. Yesterday’s elections were the first real test of the polls since then (there was accurate polling for the Labour leadership election, but polling party members really is a completely different exercise).

Scotland

Taking Scotland first, all the polls obviously had the SNP winning, but that was hardly a challenge. Perhaps the bigger challenge was second place. In the event Labour narrowly held onto second place in the constituency vote but were pushed into third in the regional vote – the polls conducted in the last few days of the campaign did get this right, but all the Scottish polls did underestimate the level of Conservative support, and apart from YouGov’s final poll there was an overestimate of SNP support in the regional vote (though many of the polls finished some time before the election – the TNS face-to-face poll in particular – so it may be that SNP regional support dropped in the final week.)

Constituency . Regional
Pollster CON LAB LD SNP CON LAB LD SNP GRN
FINAL RESULT (5th May) 22 23 8 47 23 19 5 42 7
YouGov (2nd-4th May) 19 22 7 48 20 19 6 41 9
Survation (1st-2nd May) 19 21 7 49 20 19 6 44 7
Panelbase (23rd-28th Apr) 17 23 6 49 19 22 4 44 6
Ipsos MORI (18th-25th Apr) 18 19 6 51 19 17 7 45 10
TNS (1st-24th Apr) 17 22 7 52 18 22 5 45 8

Wales

YouGov was the only company to poll in Wales, and thei final poll held up very well, with Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Plaid all well within the margin of error. The only fault was an overstatement of UKIP support.

London

As I write, the mayoral results STILL haven’t been announced, and given how late they were in 2012 I’m not waiting up to write about them. Based on the live count of the first 90% of ballots the polls seem to be roughly in line with the expected result, and projections of the second round score suggest the polls are going to be close to it. You’ll apparently find out around midnight so you can compare to the polls below… but I intend to be asleep.

First round . Second Round
Pollster Goldsmith Khan Pidgeon Whittle Berry Others Goldsmith Khan
YouGov (2nd-4th May) 32 43 6 7 7 5 43 57
ComRes (28th Apr-3rd May) 36 45 6 4 6 3 44 56
TNS (26th Apr-3rd May) 33 45 7 5 4 5 43 57
Opinium (26th Apr-1st May) 35 48 4 5 5 3 43 57
Survation (21st-25th Apr) 34 49 3 5 3 6 40 60

All in all, the performance of the polls was far more credible than last year, though it looks like there may still have been some issues with the Tories in Scotland (and to be fair, most of the polling companies have been very explicit in saying they are still addressing their issues and developing their methods – the problems of last year are not going to be addressed overnight).

On a personal note – I’m most relieved the broad narrative was right. After the general election there were plenty of people saying how they knew the Tories would win, their instincts told them they would, how could those silly pollsters not spot it? Well, many of us silly pollsters thought the Tories would end ahead of Labour too: questions on leadership and the economy favoured them, we expected the polls to move towards the Tories… but the data just kept on showing the parties neck-and-neck, and ultimately a pollster’s job is to measure the answers the public give us, not report what we think they should say. We trusted the data, but it turned out to be wrong.

This time round it was the other way round. I never quite believed that the Conservatives could come second in Scotland. Yes, Scottish Labour was a mess, but Scotland would surely never vote for the hated Tories. My instincts said it wouldn’t happen in the end. A few months ago when YouGov were the only company showing Labour and the Tories neck and neck in Scotland I worried whether we’d get egg on our faces, but the data said it was happening, and I had to have confidence in the methodology corrections we’d made and in what the data was telling me… and this time, the data was telling the right story and the Tories really did come in second. Phew!


Oldham by-election

One day I’m going to write a generic post by-election post labelled (insert constituency name here) that I can repost after every by-election. Until that day, here’s my traditional answer to what last night’s by-election tells us about the national political picture: not much.

By-election are extremely strange beasts. They take place in a single constituency that may be completely untypical of the country as a whole, they normally have no impact at all upon who will be running the country the next day, they have far greater campaigning intensity than any other election. After every by-election I post the same conclusion – if they show much the same as the national polls suggest they tell us nothing new, if they show something different it’s probably to do with the unique and different circumstances of by-election. In this case the opposition party has held onto a safe seat. This is exactly what we should expect unless they are tanking in the national polls, and Labour aren’t: despite Corbyn’s poor ratings and the constant news stories of Labour infighting their level of support is still pootling along at around their general election share. There is no reason to expect UKIP surges either – in the last Parliament UKIP had soared from 3% to the mid-teens, so almost every by-election saw them surging, but now we are comparing their support to what they got in the 2015 general election, after their breakthrough. This is a good local result for Labour, but doesn’t tell us much new.

That’s not to say it’s not important. By-elections have a significant effect on the political narrative and in that sense this is a very good result for Labour (or, depending on your point of view, for Jeremy Corbyn). If this by-election had gone differently it would have been part of a different narrative, it would have been all about Labour in crisis, their traditional working class support fracturing to UKIP. It would still have been over interpreting a by-election, but it would almost certainly have happened and it’s been avoided. In that sense, it’s an important victory.

A final note about the polling – there wasn’t any (I don’t know whether to be amused or depressed by the handful of comments I’ve seen about it being a another polling failure. Nothing to do with us mate!). By election polling used to be very rare, then in the last Parliament we were suddenly spoilt, with Survation and Ashcroft polls for most By-elections. This time we are back to having no real evidence to go on, to relying on what commentators have been told by the campaigns, what it “feels like” on the doorstep and in vox pops and all that sort of nonsense. I suspect the collective commentariat have got carried away with what would have made an interesting narrative to report, rather than dull old “safe seat held”. It’s a reminder that without any proper polling By-elections can be pretty hard things to call.


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Just a quick line to point out that the Constituency guide part of the site has now been updated to reflect the general election results and the new MPs elected, including the target and defence lists for the parties (SNP and UKIP to follow). Before anyone points it out there’s still lots to do – including new swingometers and updating MPs profiles to reflect the reshuffles.


Last week Opinium’s Observer poll was conducted prior to the Paxman interview, so I wasn’t sure whether the poll from them tonight would be “post-debate” or not. In the event it is – conducted on Friday and late on Thursday night.

As with Survation’s poll yesterday there is no sign of any significant post-debate shift in voting intention, with topline figures of CON 33%(-1), LAB 33%(nc), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 14%(+1), GRN 7%(nc). Full tabs are here.

Asked who won they think won the debate 20% of people who claimed they saw at least some of it said Nicola Sturgeon won, followed by Cameron on 17% and Miliband on 15%. Leader ratings show some movement, but not quite as dramatic as those in Survation’s poll (that may be a result of question wording – Opinium ask a general question about how the leaders are doing, Survation ask specifically about how they’ve been doing in the last month). David Cameron’s rating here is unchanged on plus 1, Miliband is up six points on minus 15, Nick Clegg is up ten points on minus 30, Nigel Farage is up eleven on minus 13.


ComRes have a new poll of Rochester and Strood out tonight that shows UKIP with a solid lead. As far as I can recall it’s the first ComRes by-election poll this Parliament. Like all constituency polls it was done by telephone, and with a healthy sample size by constituency polling standards of 1500.

Topline figures are CON 30%, LAB 21%, LDEM 3%, UKIP 43%, GREEN 3%. The only previous Rochester & Strood poll was by Survation at the start of the month – that showed a nine point lead for UKIP. Obviously one has to be careful about direct comparisons between polls from different pollsters using different methodologies, so it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions about how opinion might have moved between the two polls (differences could be down to methods), but it certainly doesn’t show any obvious sign of the Conservatives eating into UKIP’s early lead.