Newsnight has made a bold attempt at actually commissioning some polling to try and shed some light on whether there will be substantial immigration to Britain from Bulgaria and Romania once restrictions are lifted at the end of this year, commissioning polls from Vitosha in Bulgaria and Gallup in Romania to find out what proportion of Bulgarian and Romanian people actually are likely to move to Britain.

Let’s start with the Bulgarian survey. 37% of Bulgarians said that in the last 5 years they had considered moving to live and work abroad. “Consider” is a fairly low bar to begin with though, does sitting back and pondering whether it would be quite nice to live in the south of France count as “considering moving to live abroad”, or does it require serious consideration? To put this in context, in 2012 YouGov found 6% of British people are actively considering moving abroad and 42% would seriously consider doing so. Have half the British population actually upped sticks and left? Of course not, for most of those people it was an idle whim or a pipe dream. No doubt it is the same for most of those Romanians and Bulgarians surveyed.

To try and set the bar a bit higher, therefore, Vitosha and Gallup asked people whether they had any actual plans to move aboard, 31% said they intended to go and work abroad in either 2013 or 2014. 19% said they are looking for work abroad, 15% they have actually started to prepare plans to work abroad.

The next consideration is whether those people are looking to move to Britain – there are, after all, several other countries in the EU! Asked where they are planning to go, just under of third of those intending to go to seek work abroad in 2013 or 2014 said Britain (it looks as though they could say more than one place) – equating to 9% of the total sample.

This is still largely just measuring aspiration though, so the poll then asked if they have made any concrete preparations for the move, 52% said they had, 47% had not (in terms of what this meant, a majority said they made been in contact with someone working in Britain, half said they had looked for a job there through a recruiting agency, 16% that they’d looked for somewhere to live). What it boils down to is that just under 3% of Bulgarians say they have looked for a job in the UK through a recruitment agency, just over 1% without.

The working age population of Bulgaria is just under 5 million, so in the unlikely event that all those Bulgarians who have enquired about job opportunities in Britain find one (and the majority of respondents said they were only interested in moving if there was a firm job offer, hardly anyone said they were planning on moving speculatively), it would equate to something under 200,000 Bulgarians.

The Romanian survey was structured in much the same way, though there was less interest there in moving to the UK (the most popular destinations for would-be Romanian emmigrants were Italy and Germany) and those that did mention the UK as their favoured location were less likely to have actually made any concrete plans. Only just over 1% of Romanians had made any attempt to enquire about job opportunities in the UK. The working age population of Romania is about 15 million, so in the equally unlikely event that all those Romanians who have enquired about job opportunities in Britain found one, it would equate to something under 150,000 Romanians moving to the UK.

I would still urge a lot of caution with even these figures. The margin of error on a normal poll of 1000 is plus or minus 3%, so one should hardly read too much into figures of about 4% and about 1%. Equally people will naturally overestimate their likelihood of taking major life changing decisions – it is far easier to ring up a recruitment agency and ask if they have any jobs going in Britain than it is to actually uproot your life and move to a foreign country, far easier to look for a job than it is to find one. What we can say with some certainly is that bonkers claims about half the entire population of Bulgaria and Romania moving to the UK are, indeed, still bonkers.

I haven’t had chance to do my normal round of the YouGov/Sunday Times poll today. For the record the topline figures are CON 32%, LAB 40%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 10%, so another single digit Labour lead following those earlier in the week.

Also out this weekend were Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings’s projections for the local elections next month (based on a model using the data from the various local by-elections held around the country each week). They are expecting Labour to gain 350 seats, Conservatives to lose 310, the Liberal Democrats to lose 130 and UKIP to win 40. Their prediction for the national equivalent vote (the estimate of what the shares of the vote would have been if the whole country had local elections, rather than just the shires – similar to the BBC’s projected national share) is CON 29, LAB 38, LD 16, UKIP 11.


The fortnightly Opinium poll for the Observer has topline figures of CON 29%(+1), LAB 35%(-3), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 17(+1). I am always extremely cautious about reading movements into polls – more often than not they turn out to be no more than the result of random movement within the normal margin of error – however we do seem to be seeing a consistent trend. YouGov’s dailing polling for the Sun which normally shows Labour leads of around 10 points has produced leads of 7, 8, 11 and 7 this week, Ipsos MORI showed Labour’s lead dropping by four points, ICM by two points and now Opinium by four points.

Just as I’d advise caution in deciding whether or not there is a change in the polls, one should be equally cautious in assuming what the cause might be. Don’t just leap at the most apparent story in the news! Clearly one obvious explanation would be the coverage of the Thatcher funeral, but it doesn’t follow that this is automatically the cause (if it is, of course, then I would expect any narrowing to be very short lived. A bit of positive TV coverage of a leader from long ago is probably not going to lead to any long term shift).

Saturday round up

Yesterday saw a cracking example of poor newspaper reporting of polls and a worthy recipient of the much sought after “UKPR crap media reporting of polls award”. Regular readers will recall Ipsos MORI’s monthly poll for the Standard, which showed topline figures of CON 29%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 15%. This was a nine point Labour lead and if repeated at a general election then a uniform swing would give Labour an overall majority of 94 seats.

While in the context of all the other polling we’ve seen lately it wasn’t a fantastic poll for Labour (the lead was pretty typical and there were some less than positive finding on whether people thought Miliband was ready to be PM), on the whole it was still a poll showing the Labour party with a steady lead over the Conservatives which if maintained would give them very substantial gains and put them back in government with a healthy majority.

And how did the Daily Star report this poll? As “Ed Miliband Facing Election Wipeout“. The Star went on to say “The latest Ipsos MORI survey said just 40% [sic] of voters now supported Labour, the party’s lowest ratings in a year. Only a quarter of people think he is ready to lead the country.”

Now, I do try to be charitable to journalists – it’s a hard job with tight deadlines. They are not responsible for the headlines put above their work, and often I’ve seen a sensible and nuanced poll write up with a wrong-headed and simplistic headline. The rest of the article suggests that the “warnings of wipeout” at the next election was probably referring to the apparent criticism that Miliband had faced from Tony Blair and David Blunkett, not the poll. Nevertheless, the overall impression the article leaves, and the failure to point out that while Labour had dropped in the polls, they were still leader by a substantial and potentially election winning amount really does create the false impression that the polls are showing Labour heading for defeat.

Meanwhil the YouGov poll on Friday morning had topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 11%. I’ve been very wary over the last week or so about claims that the YouGov poll was showing Labour’s lead falling, but this is now the third single digit lead in a week, so perhaps there is something there. Keep an eye out for the YouGov/Sunday Times poll later on tonight or tomorrow morning to see if the trend continues. We should also be due the fortnightly Opinium poll for the Observer.

Finally Lord Ashcroft released some new polling of ethnic minority voters on Friday. Most of the poll doesn’t tell us much new, merely underlining the difficulties the Conservatives face with ethnic minority voters, but that these difficulties are not the same across the board (Hindu voters in particular seem to be far more well disposed towards the Conservatives than voters from other ethnic minority groups).

There was an interesting question towards the end though. A question and problem for the Conservatives to tackle is why they do so badly amongst ethnic minority voters. One the strongest predictors of NOT voting Conservative is to be a member of an ethnic minority. Some of this is due to socio-economic factors, or due to ethnic minority voters being more likely to work in the public sector, but even accounting for these factors ethnic minority voters are less likely to vote Tory. The obvious explanation for this is that the Conservatives are still associated with anti-immigrant language and policies and that ethnic minority voters assume that the Tories are “not for them”. I was being interviewed about this by the BBC a few months back and menioned Enoch Powell when talking about that historical legacy and the interviewer asked, reasonably enough, whether people really did still remember and were influenced by a speech given 40 years ago. Well, Lord Ashcroft asked that – 58% of voters said they had heard of Enoch Powell and knew what he said, rising to 64% of the black carribean community.

The monthly Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard is out today and has topline voting intention figures of CON 29%(+2), LAB 38%(-2), LDEM 10%(-1), UKIP 15%(+2). Full tabs are here.

The poll also repeated some questions on whether Ed Miliband was ready to be PM, and the Labour party ready to return to government. 66% of people thought Miliband was NOT ready to be PM compared to 24% who thought he was (an improvement from 2011 when MORI last asked the question and only 17% thought he was ready). In comparison 29% think Labour are ready to form a government, 58% think they are not.

There is a temptation to look at questions like this and think “Oh Labour have 38% support but only 24% think Miliband is ready to be PM, so more than a third of Labour voters don’t think he is ready”. It doesn’t necessarily work like that, though in this case it isn’t far off. Voting intention figures exclude don’t knows and won’t vote, so are not comparable in this way. You need to look at the detailed tables here. For what it’s worth, and obviously there is a long time to go and these figures have tended to improve over time, 50% of Labour voters think Miliband is ready, 37% disagree.

In the meantime, how good or bad are those figures? Here is MORI’s historical results for the question for leaders and parties. Looking at mid-term figures (rather than when the question has been asked in election campaigns) in 2008 43% thought David Cameron was ready to be PM, in 2003 30% of people thought Michael Howard was ready, in 2003 just 16% thought IDS was, in 2000 18% thought Hague was. The figures for Tony Blair were much higher – in 1994 59% of people thought he was ready to be PM.

Yesterday there was also a new Angus Reid poll, which had topline figures of CON 27%(-3), LAB 39%(nc), LDEM 8%(-2), UKIP 16%(+4). Changes are from the Angus Reid poll in the Sunday Express at the end of January (note that the Angus Reid website instead gives changes from their poll in early January, hence the mismatch).

Finally this morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 30%, LAB 41%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 12%… so back to normal after that seven point figure yesterday. I hate to say I told you so, but…