Last weekend the Sunday Telegraph published an ICM poll conducted in Glasgow East showing Labour ahead by 14 points. It’s a good lead, but a lot of people seem unconvinced by the poll. Let’s look at the reasons.

Firstly, the weighting of the poll. Some people have flagged up that on the unweighted figures Labour are only 4 points ahead of the SNP. This is irrelevant – the unweighted figures are skewed, even before we get to the politics they contained far too many people in social classes AB, and far too few people in social class D.

A few people have raised the question of the political weighting. ICM base their target weights on the last general election result, from back in 2005. Some people have worried whether respondents might have actually answered with how they voted in the Scottish elections in 2007, when the SNP did better. If that were the case, ICM should have weighted past SNP voters to a higher point. Confusion between the two past elections is a possible cause of a higher level of false recall than is usual, but ICM do specify in their question that they want to know how people voted at “the last General Election in May 2005”, they don’t just say last election, and they do assume some level of false recall anyway. There’s no way to rule out this factor, but neither is there any evidence to suggest it is affecting the result.

What the weighting does flag up is how unrepresentative the raw sample was. The proportion of people who owned their homes outright was twice what it should have been, the proportion of ABs in the sample was well over twice the proportion there really is in Glasgow East. At the most extreme extent, only 1% of the original sample voted Lib Dem in 2005 and they needed to be weighted up by a factor of 6 to get to the correct proportion.

None of this is a great surprise – the levels of severe social deprivation is some parts of Glasgow East are going to make them very difficult indeed to accurately poll. The more a sample relies upon weighting to make it representative though, the less robust the results are, and they weren’t actually very robust to start with: the sample size of the poll was 516, but once non-voters and some of the don’t knows were taken out, the final figures were based on 373 respondents, so we have a margin of error of 5% or so anyway.

There is also the issue of ICM’s reallocation of don’t knows, which boosted Labour’s lead from 11 points to 14 points. Normally this is a sound adjustment based on how people have behaved at past general elections. We cannot, however, have the same confidence that they behave that way in by-elections, and at Crewe and Nantwich it made ICM’s figures less accurate, not more so.

So, should we trust ICM’s figures? Well, there isn’t anything wrong with what ICM have done, it is just a very difficult contest to poll, as evidenced by the small sample size and the extreme weighting ICM were forced to resort to. While the large margin of error and sample problems should make us slightly wary, a 14 point lead is very substantial. The biggest caveat is probably the least technical – a poll is only a snapshot, and it was conducted with two weeks of the campaign still to go. Even if Labour were 14 points ahead a week ago, it doesn’t follow that they’ll still be there next week.

Today’s Guardian reports an ICM poll from last week that showed that British voters would overwhelmingly prefer to see Barack Obama as the next President of the USA, by 55% to 11% for John McCain.

I’ve seen a couple of polls ask about this (it’s also tracked on the Phi5000 figures on PoliticsHome) and the pattern is pretty consistent. To some extent is will be a result of hostility towards the Republican President Bush, but British people do tend to be considerably less right right than Americans, so it should be no surprise that a majority back the Democrat candidate.

Back in March YouGov did a big parallel study of opinion of people in the UK and the USA, which showed the differences and similarities between public opinion in the two countries. Some of the similarities were actually more surprising than the differences. Despite the USA being a nation of immigrants, there was no particular contrast in attitudes towards immigration – Americans don’t seem to be anymore welcoming to other countries’ tired, poor or huddled masses than British people are: 26% of Brits thought immigration had helped the economy, 25% of Americans did; 70% of Brits thought immigrants had taken jobs that should be being done by British people, 64% of Americans thought similar.

On the environment, the image of the USA as a nation of climate change deniers seems largely unfounded. American respondents were more likely to think that there was no global warming at all (18% compared to 7% of Brits), but British people were more likely to think it was nothing to do with mankind (25% to 19%) so the proportions of people believing in manmade global warming were not vastly different (55% in the UK, 49% in the USA). Asked about environmental policies attitudes toward subsidies for environmentally friendly energy, nuclear power or (amazingly, given the American love of big cars) increased petrol taxes were almost identical – only on airline taxes were the US far more hostile.

The biggest surprise similarity though was the death penalty, which proved only marginally more popular in the USA than the UK. 74% of British people supported the death penalty for some (53%) or all (21%) murders. 76% of Americans supported the death penalty for some (50%) or all (26%) murders.

If those are the similarities, where are we different? Attitudes towards withdrawing troops from Iraq were much the same: 35% of British people wanted troops out this year, 36% of Americans wanted troops out this year. This similarity though masks far more hawkish foriegn policies attitudes in the USA in general. In Afghanistan 42% of Brits wanted withdrawal this year, but only 28% of Americans did. On Iran, 26% of British people would countenance military action to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons, 46% of Americans would.

Amongst the public the special relationship between the UK and USA seems rather unrequited. British respondents are equivocal about it – 46% would like it to be fairly close or very close, 46% would like it to be not very close or not close at all. For American respondents 78% would like it to be close, only 9% not very close or not close at all.

There was not a huge contrast in attitudes towards the level of tax and spending (though the US was more polarised) but when asked who any tax cuts should benefit there was against a contrast – US respondents wanted to see then go to the middle classes rather than the poor (35% to 20%), UK respondents would rather they were concentrated on the poor (38% to 21%). On welfare too Americans tended to be more right wing. If people are made redundant British voters think it is the responsiblity of the government (38%) or the company (35%) to look after them, in the US, people tend to think it is the worker’s own responsibility (36%), with only 17% thinking the government should. Another contrast was free trade vs protectionism – British respondents favoured free trade by 52% to 30%, US respondents tended to think free trade was a bad thing, by 55% to 31%.

Some things were less predictable – people in the US seem to be *less* comfortable with big business and successful businessmen, when one might expect it to be the other way round. On the other hand, they were more likely to see the profit motive as a good thing – suggesting is particular businesses and the influence they wield on politics that they have problems with, not capitalism per se.

All the differences above, however, pale into insignificance compared to the biggest difference – attitudes towards religion and moral issues. Only 39% of British respondents believed in God, compared to 80% of American respondents. On top of that, those who are religious are MORE religious – only 21% of that 39% of Brits who believe in God said it was very important to their life, 53% of the 80% of believers in America did.

A paltry 5% of British people think sex outside marriage is a sin, 33% of Americans think so. 54% of Americans believe in hell, only 16% of British people do. 63% of British people accept the theory of evolution, 23% believe in creationism or intelligent design. Only 30% of Americans believe in evolution, 59% believe in creationism or intelligent design. 40% of Americans think homosexuality is a sin, only 26% think it is perfectly acceptable. In the UK the figures are 13% and 46% respectively.

On more political grounds, 76% of British people think abortion should be legal in all circumstances, or with only limited restrictions like a time limit. Only 48% of Americans agree, with 48% thinking it should be totally banned, or banned apart from extreme circumstances such as the life of the mother being in danger.

We shouldn’t be surprised the more left wing of the two candidates in the USA is preferred by British people, since in terms of things like welfare, foreign policy, taxation and, most of all, moral and religious issues, America is far to the right of the UK.


The monthly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has topline voting intention figures, with changes from YouGov’s last poll, of CON 47%(+1), LAB 25%(-3), LDEM 18%(+3). The poll was conducted on the 10th and 11th July.

It looks like a drop for Labour, but the comparisons above are from YouGov’s last Telegraph poll, which itself showed an increase for Labour and drop for the Lib Dems. These figures are identical to the YouGov poll before that, suggesting that the bigger picture for voting intention polls is one of no change.

UPDATE: The Sunday Times got the figures wrong! The actual voting intentions were CON 47%(+1), LAB 25%(-3), LDEM 16%(+1).

ICM’s poll in Glasgow East has voting intentions of CON 7%, LAB 47%, LDEM 9%, SNP 33%. The caveats I mentioned in the post below about the Crewe and Nantwich polls and the trickiness of polling in Glasgow East all apply – but the 14 point Labour lead seems pretty solid. These figures actually represent a huge swing from Labour to the SNP of 14.8%, but a seat as safely Labour as this would need far more than that to fall.

Rather to my surprise – I wasn’t expecting anyone to risk polling a by-election in area where social problems are going to make getting a good sample a bit tricky – there is due to be an ICM poll of Glasgow East in the Sunday Telegraph.

In the Crewe and Nantwich by-election the polls over-estimated the level of Labour support by some considerable extent (I think part of the reason may be that don’t knows don’t split in favour of their “usual party” in the way they do at general elections) so bear that in mind when interpreting the results – a small Labour lead, especially one reliant upon reallocation of don’t knows, could still be promising for the SNP.

Glasgow East is going to be somewhat tricky to poll anyway – the most excluded and marginal groups of society are likely to be the trickiest to poll, and they make up a very large proportion of the electorate here, it is mostly tenements, high unemployment and long-term sick, 37% of people in Glasgow East are social group E. I expect there are a high number of people who don’t actually have landline telephones to call! On the other hand, the same marginal groups are the least likely to vote so it may not matter if they are under-represented in the poll – just don’t be surprised if the proportion of people who tell ICM they will vote bears no relation at all to the actual turnout!

The figures should be available later on tonight, there should also be a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times.