Tomorrow’s Sun has a Survation poll of Newark, ahead of the by-election next week. Topline figures with changes since the general election are CON 36%(-18), LAB 27%(+5), LD 5%(-15), UKIP 28%(+24). This is the first poll we’ve had of Newark, and unless Lord Ashcroft also has one in the works it’s probably the only one.

A swing of 21 points from the Conservatives to UKIP would be a storming great swing, but the fact remains that Patrick Mercer had a pretty hefty majority at the last election, so even a swing of that size leaves the Conservatives 8 points ahead. Still a week to go though…


Yesterday we had a selection of ICM polls in Liberal Democrat seats, initially released anonymously but eventually confirmed as having been commissioned by Lord Oakeshott. Oakeshott has now resigned, but left saying that Cable knew about the polls. The political row rolls on, but I’m just going to look at the polls.

Lord Oakeshott commissioned 6 constituency polls. The first was in Twickenham, and only asked about current voting intention. The other five were in Sheffield Hallam, Redcar, Wells, Cambridge and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey and also asked about voting intention with alternate leaders. The tables are here, here and here.

All six showed the Lib Dems losing (to the Conservatives, Labour or SNP respectively). However, I’m always slightly wary of constituency polls in Liberal Democrat held seats – the effect of incumbency and tactical voting is far higher for Lib Dem MPs, and when you ask a generic voting intention I think many people give their national preference, rather than how they would actually vote in their own constituency. In most seats this is only a marginal difference – in Lib Dem held seats it can be substantial, as repeatedly shown in polls of Lib Dem marginal seats using a two-stage national-then-constituency voting intention questions (see here by Lord Ashcroft, and here by YouGov). It’s also worth noting that ICM didn’t do their usual reallocation of don’t knows according to the party they voted for the last election, and given there are a lot of past Lib Dems now saying don’t know that makes a difference. ICM specifically provided the data necessary to do the calculation ourselves in their tables, and with normal reallocation the Lib Dems would have been ahead in Twickenham and only one point behind in Sheffield Hallam.

The second part of Oakeshott’s polling was to ask how people in those seats would vote with different party leaders, which in these seats suggested they would do better with Vince Cable as leader. This is in contrast to a YouGov poll in the Times today which asked a nationwide sample how people would vote with Vince Cable as leader – in YouGov’s control question asking how people would vote with the existing party leaders the Lib Dems were on 8%, if the leaders were Cameron, Miliband and Cable the Lib Dems would still be on 8%. No change.

That aside, how would you vote if X was leader are incredibly crude tools. When a would-be leader is little known to the public they are as good as useless. Even when the would-be leader is relatively well known to the public, like Gordon Brown was pre-2007 or Vince Cable is now, they are of dubious use.

Essentially, an ordinary poll respondent who doesn’t closely follow politics might know what the would-be leader looks and sounds like, might have a pre-existing positive or negative view, they might have a vague perception of competence or incompetence. What they don’t know is what policies that new leader would announce, what direction they’d take the party, how the media would react to them and so on.

If the Liberal Democrats change leader it probably won’t be the personality and image of the new leader that makes the difference… it will be everything else that comes with it. Would it mean them leaving the coalition? Would it mean them repudiating the coalition and their role in it? Would it mean them opposing some of the policies they supported until now? And what would be the impact of that – would it win back supporters they’ve lost, or risk alienating their pro-coalition supporters too? While the departure of Nick Clegg may be a requirement for a change of direction, the big strategic question for the Lib Dems is really what attitude they take to their record in government – not which politician is voicing it.


I’ve been laid low with a stomach bug all day so haven’t had time to really write about today’s polling. For the record though here are the two new polls from Lord Ashcroft and Populus.

Lord Ashcroft’s poll has topline figures of CON 29%, LAB 31%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 17% – a nice post-local election boost for UKIP and the highest they’ve recorded in a telephone poll to date. Tabs are here.

In contrast Populus have figures of CON 34%, LAB 36%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%. Their fourteen point figure for UKIP is just the same as last week. Tabs here


Time for a post-mortem of the European election polling. I’m not a fan of the sort of horse-race approach to these things – just because they are the final poll of the race, they still have normal margins of error, so if one pollster is a fraction more accurate than another it is often just the luck of the draw. Realistically the best a pollster can ever hope to do is get all the results within the margin of error. Better than that is luck. However away from the public “who won” stuff, comparing poll predictions to actual election results is an absolutely critical tool for pollsters – it’s our chance to compare our figures with reality, to improve and finesse our methods.

The final polls from each company are here. Note that I haven’t included Populus – they did conduct one European poll, but it was a fortnight before the election when just a week is a long time in politics! While I’ve included it in the comparison, one should allow some leeway for ICM for the same reason; their poll’s fieldwork finished a week before the actual election.

CON LAB LD UKIP GRN Average Error
ACTUAL RESULT 23.9 25.4 6.9 27.5 7.9
YouGov 22 26 9 27 10 1.4
(-1.9) (+0.6) (+2.1) (-0.5) (+2.1)
ICM 26 29 7 25 6 2.0
(+2.1) (+3.6) (+0.1) (-2.5) (-1.9)
Opinium 21 25 6 32 6 2.1
(-2.9) (-0.4) (-0.9) (+4.5) (-1.9)
TNS 21 28 7 31 6 2.2
(-2.9) (+2.4) (+0.1) (+3.5) (-1.9)
ComRes 20 27 7 33 6 2.6
(-3.9) (+1.4) (+0.1) (+5.5) (-1.9)
Survation 23 27 9 32 4 2.6
(-0.9) (+1.4) (+2.1) (+4.5) (-3.9)

The most obvious current difference between Westminster polls is the reported levels of UKIP – there is a big gulf between the levels of UKIP support report recorded by companies like ICM, MORI, YouGov and ComRes’s phone polls and polls from newer companies like Opinium, Survation and ComRes’s online polls. We don’t know what the reasons for this are – there are a couple of things like prompting and re-allocating don’t knows that we can account for, but mostly the difference is not easily explained. It may be something to do with interviewer effect, or the representativeness of different companies samples. We can’t tell.

The European elections were obviously an opportunity to check figures against reality. I half expected the polls to all converge together in the run up to the election, as they have a tendency to do before general elections, but in reality we got the same sort of contrast as we do in Westminster polls. Higher figures for UKIP amongst newer online companies, lower figures from YouGov, lowest from ICM… and when the votes were counted the YouGov figure was the closest.

Of course, European elections aren’t general elections. On the issue of prompting, for example, every company prompted for UKIP in their European polling, whereas only Survation do it for general elections. There were no telephone polls for the European election, so it can tell us nothing of them. European elections are low turnout elections, so some of the errors may have been down to too strict turnout filters (ComRes used a very strict turnout filter for Euros and would probably have been better if they’d used the method they use for general election polling. There was the issue of the Independence from Europe spoiler party on the ballot paper and so on. At a purely personal level though, getting UKIP right at the next election is the biggest challenge currently facing pollsters, so I’m relieved that in the first real proper national test we got it right. Phew!


Sunday polls

There were three polls in the Sunday papers today. Opinium in the Observer had topline figures of CON 32%. LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 19%.

The weekly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times also had only a one point lead for the Labour party: CON 34%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%. Tabs here. YouGov also had a couple of tracking questions seeking to measure what effect the heavy criticism of UKIP on things like racism over the last couple of weeks has had. YouGov repeated two questions from earlier in the campaign – a week ago 41% of people thought UKIP were racist, 40% did not. Now 46% think they are racist (up 5), 39% they are not (down 1). A fortnight ago 27% thought Nigel Farage himself was a racist, 50% said he wasn’t. This week that has narrowed to 38% racist (up 9), 43% not racist (down 7).

Together those two make it look pretty conclusive that the attacks on UKIP did damage perceptions of the party. More people think the party and Farage are racist. However, it does NOT necessarily follow that it damaged their vote – it could just have served to further entrench negative views amongst people who didn’t like UKIP anyway. It could even have both helped and harmed them – making their opponents more negative towards them, but also bolstering their anti-establishment credentials amongst their supporters. The results tonight won’t really tell us – if UKIP do well, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done better without all the negative coverage. If UKIP do less well than expected, it doesn’t mean they weren’t headed that way anyway.

Finally there was a new Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday. The fieldwork for the Survation poll didn’t start until late on Friday, so unlike the YouGov and Opinium polls most respondents will have had a chance to see the local election results. Topline figures there, with changes since Survations last pre-election poll, are CON 27%(-1), LAB 32%(-3), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 23%(+2). Survation show some of the highest UKIP scores anyway, but the 23% is a record high for UKIP even by their standards – the first in what I’d expect to be many polls showing a post-election boost for UKIP.

While not a poll, the Sunday Times also had the Rallings and Thrasher Equivalent National Vote calculation for the local elections. This is essentially a very similar exercise to the BBC’s projected national share, but calculated by a different team using different key wards – Rallings and Thrasher’s figures are Conservatives 30%, Labour 31%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 18%. Slightly different from the BBC’s, but it essentially tells the same story – Labour with only a tiny lead over the Tories, UKIP doing worse than in 2013 when R&T had them on 22%.