The position in the polls remains much the same as the last time I updated – the Conservatives still have a substantial lead, though one that varies from pollster to pollster due to methodological differences. The figures also remain somewhat artificial given we know that a major event with the potential to transform the political weather (either Brexit going ahead, or Brexit being delayed) is looming upon the horizon. Perhaps the more interesting question is, therefore, what impact is that likely to have on the polls? Or perhaps more to the point, can polls tell us *anything* useful about what impact it would have on the polls?

Most of the polling that has set foot in this rather difficult territory has attempted to shed some light on what will happen if Boris Johnson ends up seeking a delay to Brexit.

Several polls have asked who people would blame if Brexit ended up being delayed, and as a rule they’ve tended to show that people wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson or, at least, that he would not be widely blamed by Conservative supporters or Brexiteers – the voters he needs to keep hold of. YouGov found 39% of people think a delay would be Boris Johnson’s fault to a large or moderate extent, 46% think it would bear little or none of the fault. Among Leave voters only 18% thought Johnson would bear significant blame. A ComRes poll found 34% think Johnson would bear much responsibility for a delay, 33% some responsibility and 22% no responsibility at all. Among leave voters only 19% thought he would bear much responsibility, 35% some, 37% none.

However, polls that have asked how people would vote if there was an election after a further delay to Brexit have invariably shown the Conservative party losing support and the Brexit party gaining it (for example, this ComRes poll from last month). A naive reading of that might be these two approaches are contradictory (the ones asking about blame suggest most people wouldn’t blame Boris, the ones asking hypothetical voting intention imply he would pay a heavy cost) – in reality they don’t. Even if most of his supporters wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson for an extension, if 1 in 5 Tories voters blamed him enough to defect to the Brexit party it severely damage the Conservatives’ electoral hopes.

I would urge some degree of caution on both these approaches though. We are asking people to imagine a rather vague hypothetical situation. A delay in Brexit could cover all sorts of different scenarios. Maybe Boris Johnson will apply for an extension, maybe he’ll resign and someone else will. Maybe he’d have done it willingly, maybe he’d have been forced into it by the Courts. More recently it’s been floated that he could even end up seeking an technical extension in order to deliver a deal. People’s reactions may be extremely different depending on the different circumstances. For now these uncertainties should put a question mark over any polls asking hypothetical questions about how the public think they would react to a delay – if political circumstances become clearer in the next week then perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll be in a better position to do useful polling on the issue.

In the meantime we are left to speculate. The questions I ask myself when trying to predict what the impact on public opinion are these. Can I imagine Boris Johnson seeking an extension and it NOT damaging him? Well, in certain circumstances I suppose I can, yes. On the other hand, can I imagine Boris Johnson having to seek an extension and it NOT giving Nigel Farage a boost?


Prorogation polling

Three polling companies – YouGov, Ipsos MORI and Survation – have so far released polling on the government’s decision to prorogue Parliament in mid-September.

YouGov polled on the issue twice – a snap poll on the day of the announcement itself, with the same question repeated overnight. The on-the-day figures were 27% acceptable, 47% unacceptable, 26% don’t know. The follow-up poll had a similar split, but with the number of don’t knows dropping off as people became aware of the story – 31% said it was acceptable, 53% unacceptable, 16% don’t know. Tabs are here)

Ipsos MORI did an unusual online poll (almost alone among pollsters these days, most of their polling is done by phone). They found 30% thought the decision to prorogue Parliament was right, 46% thought it was wrong. Tables are here.

Finally there was a Survation poll for today’s Daily Mail. This found a closer result, with the public fairly evenly split – 39% were supportive, 40% opposed (note this is rounding the totals for support/oppose after they’ve been summed, hence the apparent discrepancy with the tables). Tables are here.

Overall it looks as if the public are opposed to the prorogation decision – though it is unclear to what degree. Whether that really matters or will make any dent in the government’s support is a different matter. Opposition to prorogation is concentrated among Remainers (in YouGov 82% of Remainers think the move is unacceptable, but only 24% of Leavers, in MORI’s poll 74% of Remainers think it was wrong, only 20% of Leavers, in Survation 74% Remainers, 14% leavers). If most of the opposition to the move comes from people who are opposed to the government’s policy anyway (and I expect the more fervent opposition comes from those who were most fervently opposed already) the government are hardly likely to worry too much over losing the crucial “people who hated us anyway” vote.

Both YouGov and Survation included voting intention in their surveys:

YouGov’s topline figures were CON 33%(-1), LAB 22%(nc), LDEM 21%(+4), BREX 12%(-1), GRN 7%(-1)
Survation’s topline figures were CON 31%(+3), LAB 24%(nc), LD 21%(nc), BREX 14%(-2), GRN 3%(nc)

Changes in the YouGov poll are from a poll earlier this week, before the announcement. In Survation changes are from a poll three weeks ago. There is a little movement up and down, but certainly nothing that suggests the announcement has done immediate damage to Conservative support.


-->

On Saturday YouGov released a new poll of Tory party members for the Times, timed to coincide with ballot papers going out and members actually starting to cast their votes. If the race was to be in any way close it would really need to have shown a substantial drop in Boris Johnson’s lead. It did not show any drop at all – Boris Johnson continued to have a 48 point lead over Jeremy Hunt, 74% to 26%.

Boris Johnson’s private life was seen as irrelevant, members would be happier with him as leader, trusted him more, thought he would be a better Prime Minister. In terms of the race itself, the poll was very much cut and dried. With that in mind, perhaps the more interesting thing to look at is members’ expectations. Despite Boris Johnson’s stated aim, only 45% of party members think he will actually be able to negotiate a better deal. His attraction seems more because 90% of members think he would be prepared to leave without one. Even then, only 54% of party members think a Johnson led party would actually end up leaving without a deal by Oct 31st (26% think he will leave with a deal, 13% that we won’t have left by then). Even so, most party members don’t seem to be in the mood to set red lines – only 34% think that it would be a resigning offence if the new leader failed to deliver Brexit by October 31st.

Full tables are here.

Since I’ve been asked about it by a lot of journalists over the last week or so, I should probably also explain a bit more about how polling party members works. First up, it is hard. If you think about the traditional approaches towards polling, they simply aren’t plausible for polling members of political parties. The Conservative party themselves are not likely to provide polling companies with a list of party members’s contact details to randomly select people from. Given far less than 1% of the population are Conservative party members it is certainly not feasible to randomly ring people up in the hope of finding Conservative party members, neither do members live in geographically concentrated areas that would make the sort of clustered face-to-face sampling that is sometimes used for BME polling feasible. Apart from an academic study in the 1990s that had the co-operation of the party itself, polling of party members was simply impossible before the advent of internet polling.

The only way that it is possible these days is to use an internet panel, either a small, specially recruited one like ConHome’s mailing list, or the way YouGov do it – by having a panel of the general public that is so large that you can draw very niche samples like party members from within it. YouGov identify Conservative members as part of the general process of collecting demographic information about respondents – as well as age, gender, occupation and so on panellists are asked if they are a member of organisations such as the National Trust, WI, RSPB, English Heritage, Conservative party, Labour party and so on. The parties are asked alongside other organisations, at neutral times (and the occasional clever bugger who claims to be a member of every party to get into all the surveys is excluded from them all). Party membership is asked again during the survey to check answers are consistent.

It remains tricky however because of a lack of demographic targets. For normal polling of the British public quotas and weights will be set based on known demographics of the target population. For example, we know from the census and ONS population estimates that around 49% of the adult population in Britain are male, 51% female, so polling companies will ensure samples reflect that. The Conservative party does not publish any such targets, so polling companies are flying a little blind. YouGov estimate targets based on the demographics of party members on our wider panel and known skews within it, but it poses an additional difficulty.

So polls of party members pose particular challenges, but in this case Boris Johnson’s lead is so large and, more importantly, so consistent across groups that he is likely to win regardless. He leads among different age groups, men and women, working class and middle class, and every region – so in the event that the balance of those groups were a bit off, it wouldn’t change the victor. The only group Jeremy Hunt leads amongst is those party members who voted to Remain.

For whats worth, YouGov’s record of polling party leadership contests has been extremely good in the past. If anything, the problems that have bedevilled polls in recent decades and companies have spent so much time and money addressing – getting respondents who are too interested in politics – have been a positive in recruiting respondents to polls of party members.


I am a little cautious of the value of voting intention polls at this point, we can expect the appointment of a new Prime Minister to have a significant impact on political support, so voting intention polls right now seem a trifle redundant. However, for what they are worth there have been two new VI polls this week so far.

YouGov for the Times had topline figures of CON 22%(+2), LAB 20%(nc), LDEM 19%(-2), BREX 22%(-1), GRN 10%(+1). Fieldwork was Monday to Tuesday, and changes are from mid-June. Tabs are here.

Ipsos MORI‘s monthly political monitor in the Standard had topline figures of CON 26%(+1), LAB 24%(-3). LDEM 22%(+7), BREX 12%(-4), GRN 8%(-1). Fieldwork was over the weekend, and changes are from last month. Full details are here.

Both the polls have the Conservatives and Labour at similar levels of support, both have the Liberal Democrats close behind them and doing far better than in recent years.

There is a significant difference in levels of support for the Brexit party – 22% or 12%. Some of this may be down to one survey being online, one by telephone, with all the potential differences that leads to in terms of sample and interviewer effect. However at the European Parliament elections YouGov and MORI had the Brexit party at pretty similar levels to each other (YouGov had them 2 points higher than MORI), which doesn’t suggest that’s the main reason.

The more likely cause appears to be prompting. YouGov now include the Brexit party in their main prompt when they ask which party people will vote for, Ipsos MORI have not, so as not to upset their trend data. How much difference this makes is unclear… and indeed, it may have a different impact on online polls (where the answer options are there in front of people) and telephone polls (where people may be prompted with options, but can say what they like). MORI note in their write-up that it remains under review, and they may add the Brexit party to their main prompt in the future.


Polling in the weekend papers is dominated by the Conservative leadership race. The Mail on Sunday has a Survation poll, or more to the point, two Survation polls. A full one conducted on Wednesday and Thursday and then a second one conducted on Saturday after the news story of the police being called to Boris Johnson’s flat had broken.

I would always urge some caution with “Has X made you more or less likely to support Y” questions. Some people answer them in a way to register their approval or disapprove of the event or the candidate, rather than whether it has really changed their mind. Hence lots of people who really loathed Boris Johnson anyway will have said it has made their opinion worse, when actually they would probably never have supported him anyway. It also explain the rather perverse finding that 9% of people say the story makes them them more likely to support Boris Johnson – I expect those are actually just people trying to express their pro-Boris Johnson opinion, rather than it actually having improved their opinion.

The much more better way of measuring change is to compare before and after preferences. On Wed/Thurs Survation asked who would make the better Prime Minister, finding the public preferred Johnson to Hunt by 36% to 28%. They polled the same question again on Saturday and found the balance had shifted, with Johnson on 29%, Hunt 32%. Among Conservative voters Johnson continued to lead, but by a smaller margin – the break was Johnson 55%, Hunt 28% on Wed/Thurs, Johnson 45%, Hunt 34% on Saturday.

This gives an early indication that the story has shifted public opinion against Johnson a bit – though as ever, I would urge some caution. It was taken just as a story was breaking when it was all over the news. Whether it has any impact in a few weeks time is a completely different question. It is also important to remember that the views of Conservative voters are not necessarily a good guide to the views of Conservative party members.. Full tables for the Survation polls are here and here.

(A quick note for methodology geeks. On their main poll Survation are now including the Brexit party in the main prompt alongside the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Green party, UKIP and ChangeUK are in the secondary prompt. More interestingly, the Wed/Thurs poll was also weighted by recalled 2019 European election vote, which appears from the weighted/unweighted numbers to downweight 2019 Labour voters quite substantially and bump up the Lib Dems and Greens. I don’t know if that’s a permanent change they are adopting.)

There is also a ComRes poll in the Telegraph – it is headlined as a poll of “grass-roots Tories”, but it is in fact a poll of Conservative councillors, not of ordinary Conservative party members. The two things are really not interchangeable. For what it’s worth though, among Tory councillors Johnson leads Hunt by 61% to 39%. It was carried out on Friday and Saturday, so would have straddled the Johnson domestic row story. It not clear how much of the fieldwork was before and after the story breaking.

Finally we come to the people who actually do have a vote in this election. YouGov had a new poll of Conservative party members in yesterday’s Times. The fieldwork for this was between Wednesday and Friday, so was before the story about the police visiting Johnson’s flat had broken. However, it underlines the huge lead that Johnson had among members – he led Hunt by 68% to 23% (74% to 26% once don’t knows are excluded), with 80% of members saying they were already fairly certain who they would vote for. Johnson would really need to make a mess of things to throw away a lead that large. The other interesting pickings from that poll where that while Tory members were voting for Boris, many didn’t actually trust him – only 47% thought he could be trusted to tell the truth, 40% did not.

So, all in all, the Survation poll raises the possibility that the Johnson domestic had some impact, but it’s only one poll, done in the immediate aftermath. I’d wait to see if it lasts once the story is off the front pages. In the meantime, polling of the people who can actually vote in this contest suggest Johnson has such a large lead that it would take something major to throw it away.