New design

As you’ll have noticed if you are reading this on the site (if you’ve got it in an RSS feed you’ll just have to come here, dammit!) I’ve overhauled the site design – this should be the design that graces the site for the next General Election campaign. Amongst other things it now includes a polling average and current seat projection on the front page of the blog, along with a list of the most recent polls. The candidate lists have been expanded to include Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Greens (and will include the SNP once it’s done). There’s also some new FAQs on things like weighting, likelihood to vote and sampling.

Some of the links won’t be working yet, some of the parties still need logos on their comments over on the constituency guide part of the site and there are a few other things that still to be finished off, but I should be ironing them out in the next few weeks.

UKPR Polling Average

Very soon I am going to launch a weighted average of the polls, the UKPR polling average. I’ve thought long and hard about this because generally speaking I don’t like polling averages. There is no statistical justification for a polling average – the different companies do slightly different things, they weight differently, ask different questions and include people who are more or less likely to vote and more or less certain for whom. Averaging them together isn’t the equivalent of one big poll with a smaller margin of error, it’s just mishmash of different methodologies. Neither does an average get you the better results – the true picture isn’t normally the average of the polls, in fact, when compared to elections the poll that’s worst for Labour tends to be the best.

So, with all that in mind why am I doing it? Two reasons: the first is that there is demand for it, and if I don’t provide it other people will, and will do it less well. My firm belief is that the best way to follow the polls is to look at individual pollsters, see what their trends are and understand the differences in approach that result in the differences between them. I hope that regular readers here will always judge polls in this manner. The reality is that, especially as we approach the next election, is that many people (and newspapers!) can’t be bothered to do that, and just want one nice figure that shows them what “the polls” show. Since someone will provide it, I thought I’d better do it properly.

A second reason is that it allows me to put up a running projection of what the current polls would translate into on a uniform swing. At the end of the day, the one question a lot of people want to know the answer too when they look for polls is “if there was an election now, what would the result be?” To do that, we need a figure representing what “the polls” show.

In the past there have been a couple of different approaches to polling averages. The first is a straight rolling average of the last five polls – what the graph on my voting intention page shows. That is vulnerable, however, to being skewed by having a lot of polls from a particular pollster in it. Secondly you can take the average of the latest poll from each company. That has the downside of what you do with companies who poll irregularly, or what happens if they miss a poll. You also miss out on good quality data from pollsters who produce lots of polls, while include aging stuff from pollsters who produce data less regularly (as Nate Silver, who produces the US averages on said when he justified including data from more than one poll from the same pollster in his averages “getting SurveyUSA’s sloppy seconds may be as good as getting virgin results from a lot of pollsters”). Another quite common approach is to weight data according to sample size, something I particularly dislike since in the past the polls with the largest sample sizes have certainly not been the most accurate (ICM, for example, who have one of the most enviable records, normally have the smallest sample size).

What the UKPR Polling average will do is weight the polls that go in according to how recent they are and the track record of the polling company. They will also factor in some methodological and transparency issues and whether there are other polls of the same company in the average (as a compromise to stop mulitiple polls from the same company having too much effect). I’m never going to like polling averages, but given they are going to exist, I can at least provide the very best one I can.


I’ve been busy for the last couple of days, so here’s a catch up of various poll findings from the last couple of days. Firstly since it’s Prince Charles’s 60th birthday, a YouGov poll in the Telegraph showed a majority of people thinking Charles is doing a very good or pretty good job as Prince of Wales, and 68% think he is right to air his views on potentially controversial subjects like the environment and GM food. In contrast to earlier polls, more people want him to succeed the Queen as monarch rather than the crown pass directly to Prince William. He will presumably be less pleased to find a drop in the proportion of people who want to see the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen upon Charles’s accession. Only 17% wanted Camilla to become Queen, compared to 28% in July 2007.

Moving on, as well as their headline voting intention figures Populus also asked about views of the USA following Barack Obama’s victory, reasing some questions they first asked in June 2006. Back then 44% of people thought that America was a force for good in the world, that has now risen to 54%. In 2006 58% thought that it was important for Britain’s long-term security that we have a close and special relationship with the USA – that has now risen to 80%.

The same poll suggested that Gordon Brown had won the first round in the battle to cash in on being seen as close to Obama. Brown was seen as closer to Obama in terms of beliefs and policies than David Cameron by 35% to 25%; he was seen as more likely to build a strong working relationship with Obama than David Cameron is by 42% to 35%. On the other hand David Cameron was seen as better representing “the kind of change and progress in Britain that Barack Obama says he represents in America” by 34% to 30%.

Finally, generously splashing out on all of one question (the money they are saving on Jonathan Ross’s salary they could afford some proper, thorough polling) an ICM poll for the BBC found that 68% of people thought that the UK should withdraw troops from Afghanistan within a year.

Populus’s monthly poll in the Times is out and has voting intention figures – with changes from their last poll – of CON 41%(-4), LAB 35%(+5), LDEM 16%(+1). The poll was conducted between the 7th and 9th November, so is the first to be carried out after the Glenrothes by-election and the interest rate cut.

The Conservative level of support is at the lower end of the support they’ve registered in recent polls, but is not particularly out of line. More notable is the big increase in Labour support, the five point boost to 35% gives them their highest level of support in any poll since March and the highest from Populus since November last year. On a uniform swing it would produce a very hung Parliament indeed – even the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together would only scrape a majority.

There will be plenty of speculation about what has caused the sharp narrowing of the gap. The by-election and the interest rate cut are the obvious candidates, though actually rather a lot has gone on since the previous Populus poll. Their last survey was at the beginning of October, way back before the bailout of the banks and the fuss over George Osborne, Peter Mandleson and the luxury yacht. My guess is that this is actually a result of either Glenrothes or the rate cut – while strictly speaking one should only ever compare one pollster’s figures to figures from the same company, ICM and Populus’s methodology have relatively minor differences and immediately prior to Glenrothes ICM were showing a 13 point lead.

As to which – who knows? A high profile by-election win can have a surprisingly large effect on polling figures (look for example at the effect Brent East had on the Lib Dems). One wouldn’t normally expect interest rates to have a big effect, but in this case the highly personalised intervention of Gordon Brown to make banks pass on rates could have had an effect. There’s another reason to think that may be the cause which I’ll come back to at the end of this post.

Looking at other questions in the poll, we still find the contrast between preferences now and in the longer term future. Gordon Brown has a large lead over David Cameron as the “right leader to deal with Britain’s economy in a recession” (52% to 32%). However, David Cameron beats Brown when people are asked who is “better able to lead Britain forward after the next general election” (42% to 35%).

On the leader ratings Gordon Brown receives higher ratings than David Cameron for the first time, albeit narrowly, scoring 5.04 to Cameron’s 4.94. Nick Clegg scores 4.08, the lowest recorded by any Lib Dem leader to date.

Turning specifically to the economy Populus also asked about how effective various solutions would be in helping the economy. The route that met with the most public support was that which has actally happened – a big cut in interest rates – which 77% of people thought would be effective. Almost as popular was increased public spending on construction projects and house building (73%). A slightly smaller, but still solid majority (63%) thought “tax cuts even if it boosts government borrowing” would be effective. When the consequences of borrowing are mentioned in the question though enthusiasm starts to falter. Asked about “increased public borrowing now to boost the economy in the short term even if it means higher taxes and slower spending growth in the long term” only 40% think it would be effective, with 49% disagreeing.

Finally, while economic optimism for the country as a whole remains low – 66% think the country will fare baly next year, the second lowest Populus have recorded in five years, economic optimism for people’s personal financial position has become positive. 51% think them and their family will do well financially in the next year with 44% thinking they will do badly. In contrast people’s expectations for their own financial future back in July was strongly negative and this switch could be a big factor in the government’s recovery.

It does, however, also highlight a vulnerability. What if Labour’s recovery is based on people’s expectation that they themselves won’t suffer in the downturn… but then they do? That gap between expections and what is actually likely to happen in an economic downturn raises the question of what will happen when people’s expectations hit reality…

ICM have a new poll out in the Sunday Telegraph. The topline figures, with changes from the previous ICM poll, are CON 43%(+1), LAB 30%(nc), LDEM 18%(-3).

The poll shows no significant change in Labour and Conservative support from the previous ICM poll, conducted a fortnight or so ago for the Guardian. The Liberal Democrats are down, and in hindsight the sudden 4 point Lib Dem boost we saw in that previous poll looks like a rogue; it has not been reflected in any other poll.

While there is no significant change here (ICM only briefly showed the Tory lead falling into single figures in the first place), by being both above the psychologically important points of a double figure lead and a lead that on a uniform swing would give the Conservatives a very solid majority, it will act to give a dampen down the narrative of a Labour recovery, indeed the Sunday Telegraph are reporting it as a “reality check”.

The report on the Telegraph website doesn’t give the dates of the research, but if it is in line with when ICM normally carry out Sunday Telegraph polls it would have been done on Wednesday and Thursday – in other words, prior to the Glenrothes result and any boost Labour receive from it. If that is the case, then we’ll have to wait for later polls to see if there is a “Glenrothes effect” on Labour support.

UPDATE: The poll was conducted on the 5th and 6th of November, Wednesday and Thursday, so was indeed before the Glenrothes result.