1) Labour’s lead continued to fall

For the main horse race – who is in the position to win the next general election – the key point is always the lead in the polls, and throughout 2014 Labour’s lead over the Conservatives continued to fade away. In 2013 it fell from around ten points to around six points. This year the trend continued, with Labour’s lead fading from six points to just under two points. Given the complexities of the Lib Dem collapse, the rise of UKIP, a large number of new incumbents and the separate race in Scotland it is dangerous to rely upon on uniform national swing, but include all those factors and I think we are now into hung Parliament territory.

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Labour’s lead has almost wholly been down to falling Labour support rather than increasing Tory support. The Conservative share of the vote started the year at around 32% and ended the year in roughly the same place, Labour supported started the year at around about 38% and finished the year at around 34%. While there is always some churn between different political parties and there will be some people who have moved from Labour to Conservative, it’s certainly not the main factor – rather what we’re seeing is an anti-government vote that had previously been going to the Labour party by default is now finding many homes and showing itself in rise of the Green party, the SNP and UKIP. The public’s lack of confidence in Ed Miliband and Labour isn’t manifesting itself in them running back to the Conservative party for safety… it’s manifesting itself in them going off to find more attractive oppositions to vote for.

This has in many ways been the pattern of the 2010-2015 Parliament. The Conservative party’s vote fell to around 32% early in the Parliament and has stayed there, seemingly immune to events, announcements, people or policies. Labour inherited a substantial lead early on thanks to the Liberal Democrat collapse and have watched it be nibbled away by rivals.

2) The Greens finally woke up

So to those rivals. The rise of UKIP has been covered by everyone, the most remarkable story of the Parliament. The increase in support for the Greens is a newer development. Earlier on this Parliament I was frankly surprised that the Greens were not doing better. They had elected their first MP, the government were implementing unpopular austerity policies and Labour were constrained in their opposition to cuts by a desire to establish their own economic credibility. Elsewhere in Europe radical left-wing parties were benefiting from an anti-austerity vote, yet here it wasn’t happening. The Greens were marooned on around 2%.

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This year it finally did, and looking at the charts it appears to be the European elections – with the coverage and campaigning that it implies – that sparked the Greens into life. The European elections pushed them up to 4% or so, and since them other polls have shown them building on that, in many cases getting their highest levels of support since their first breakthrough back in the late 80s. What impact that will have at the election beyond providing a home for some people who might otherwise have voted Labour or Liberal Democrat is a different question – in 2010 the Greens managed to breakthrough and win a seat despite having a derisory national share of the vote. There has been an Ashcroft poll in one of their most viable targets (Norwich South), but it showed Labour well ahead, so it is possible that the increase in Green support may not translate into any extra seats.

UKIP meanwhile have managed to keep the bandwagon rolling onwards through 2014. There was an expectation that their support would peak after the European elections and then go into decline, but things were thrown off course by the defections and by-elections of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless which kept the party at the forefront of politics through the autumn and allowed them to finish the year with higher support than in January. I would still expect their support to be squeezed as we get closer to the election, as the race focuses more upon the binary choice between a Conservative and Labour led government but events, such as further defections now a by-election is no longer unavoidable, could easily push that off course.

3) Economic confidence began to stall

We started 2014 with people being increasingly positive about the state of the economy, but still pessimistic about their own finances, and pondered whether the improving economy would filter through to people feeling more positive about their own finances. What actually happened in 2014 was that perceptions of the improvement in the economy peaked over the summer and have now started to falter – the economic statistics, GDP growth and unemployment, may have remained strong, but public perceptions have started to go back down again. In August YouGov found 50% of people thought the economy was showing signs of recovery or on it’s way to recovery, by December that had fallen to 40%.

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The impact of this is difficult to call as the economy is something of a two edged sword. Improving perceptions of the economy have gone hand in hand with a growing Conservative lead on the economy and that has remained steady… so far. If falling perceptions of the economy eat into the Conservatives lead on economic competence it will damage them. On the other hand, as the economy has improved it has fallen down the list of issues people consider important and become a less salient issue; if people worry more about the economy and it dominates their thinking more it may help the Conservatives…

4) Concern over immigration overtook the economy

Between 2007 and 2013 polls were consistent in showing that the public thought the economy was the number one problem facing the country. This year we saw it overtaken by immigration, and in the most recent few MORI polls it has been fighting with health for second place.

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These top three issues are each strongly associated with a party – the public invariably trust Labour more on the issue of the NHS, over the course of last couple of years the Conservatives have built up a solid lead on managing the economy and UKIP generally lead the other parties on the issue of immigration. It is in the clear electoral interests of the Conservatives to have an election dominated by the economy, for Labour to have an election dominated by the NHS, for UKIP to have an election dominated by the issue of immigration. Over the last year things the issue agenda has clearly been moving in UKIP’s favour.

5) We found out where the Lib Dems were doing well and badly

In previous round ups like this I’ve always ended up saying how Lib Dem national support is in a dire state, but their MPs may or may not survive due to their personal votes and tactical voting. Through 2014 though we have got a lot more data on where the Lib Dems are doing well and badly and where they may be able to withstand the tide against them. At the last election the Liberal Democrats won 57 seats. Thirty-three of these are English and Welsh seats with the Conservatives in second place, and twenty-six of those we have Ashcroft polls for. Twelve are English and Welsh seats with Labour in second place, and we have Ashcroft polls for eleven of those (all but Bristol West). A further eleven are in Scotland, where the impact of surging SNP support remains to be seen and where we will hopefully have some Ashcroft polling later this year. Finally there is the unique Lib Dem vs Plaid seat of Ceredigion.

The average swing in the LD-v-Con seats is a modest 2.2 points from LD to Con, enough for the Conservatives to take seven seats. However, because the majorities and the swings aren’t evenly distributed there were actually ten seats where Ashcroft found the Conservatives ahead and three more (St Ives, North Cornwall and Torbay) where it’s too close to call). The line on the chart below is the swing needed for each Lib Dem seat to fall, the bars the swings recorded in the Ashcroft polling (when Ashcroft has done more than one poll in the same seat I’ve averaged them)

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In the LD-v-Lab seats it is a different story, the average swing is a towering 12 points from LD to Lab, enough to win all the seats at a trot. Again, there is some variation from seat to seat, but this is only enough to save two of these seats – the once unassailable Old Southwark and Bermondsey, and Birmingham Yardley where John Hemming seems to be bucking the trend.

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While national polls are never going to tell us too much about Lib Dem seat numbers, based on the Ashcroft polling The Lib Dems look set to loose around twenty seats in England and Wales, plus however many in Scotland (and given their dire performance in Scottish polls and the 2011 Holyrood elections that’s unlikely to be pretty). I think a fair assessment is that the Lib Dems start 2015 looking set to loose about half their seats at the election.

6) The SNP lost the war, but are winning the peace

Which brings us to Scotland. The aftermath of the referendum has been stark in terms of Westminster voting intention, with all polls since mid-October showing substantial SNP leads, ranging between 16 and 29 points. Thanks to the electoral system, if anything even nearly approaching this happens at the general election it will have a huge effect on seat numbers.

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For the last thirty years the electoral system in Scotland has worked heavily in Labour’s favour – they have enjoyed around 40% of the vote in Scotland, the rest being split between the SNP, Lib Dems and Conservatives, who have all struggled to get more than a quarter of the vote. That has translated into a consistent block of forty-plus seats for Labour. If that flips round in other direction, with a large lead for the SNP, we can expect the electoral system to deliver a similar boon for the SNP. There are still many unknowns about the Scottish vote – the post-referendum SNP is a new development, we don’t know if it will last, nor do we really know how the vote will be distributed and how the SNP surge in support is distributed. The Ashcroft Scottish polling will at least tell us more on that front, at present we can only say that things looks very good for the SNP in Scotland, and very worrying for Labour.


Since the Scottish referendum we’ve had Scottish polls from MORI, Panelbase, YouGov and Survation and they’ve been consistent in showing large leads for the SNP over Labour in Westminster voting intentions. ICM now have a new Scottish poll out and it shows the same as other companies – topline Westminster voting intentions are CON 13%, LAB 26%, LDEM 6%, SNP 43%, UKIP 7%, GRN 4%.

The 17 point SNP lead is smaller than the 24 point lead that Survation recorded at the start of the week (and without tables yet we can’t really speculate why) but would still produce a landslide win for the SNP if repeated in the general election next year. In the Guardian write up they mention some analysis by John Curtice suggesting that Labour may do even worse than uniform swing suggests – looking at responses from areas where Labour was over 25% ahead of the SNP in 2010 shows the Labour vote dropping more there than average. I’d be wary of reading too much into sub-samples of voting intention in a poll that’s only 1000 people to begin with, but nevertheless this seems perfectly plausible for the reasons I mentioned here – when there is a huge drop in support for a political party a uniform swing does start to become untenable due to a floor effect… there are simply too many seats where a party doesn’t have enough support to begin with to lose that much, so they have to lose more votes in places they had more votes.

UPDATE: Full tabs are here, and reallocation of don’t knows did happen and did help Labour – it would have been a nineteen point lead otherwise.


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Final polls of 2014

We now have the final YouGov and Populus polls of the year (possibly the last two polls of the year, unless something unexpected turns up). Topline figures are

Populus: CON 35%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%, GRN 4% (tabs)
YouGov/Sun: CON 32%, LAB 36%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 16%, GRN 5% (tabs)

The YouGov four point Labour lead is interesting, coming as it does after that odd looking five point lead last week – normally I’d write something along the lines of keeping an eye on the next few polls to see if YouGov are picking up some movement towards Labour…but of course, the next few polls aren’t until January. In contrast Populus aren’t showing any such move, with Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck.

Before signing off for the year, I also wanted to flag up some new British Election Study analysis from Phil Cowley here, looking at where people put the parties on the left-right spectrum in Scotland, something I don’t recall ever having seen before. Essentially it finds people put the two main parties in Scotland in the same place ideologically, on a 0-10 left right scale they rate Labour at 4.1, the SNP at 3.9. Of course, averages don’t tell the whole story as different people see the parties differently – looking at Labour’s Scottish voters, they rate themselves as 3.4 on the left-right scale, the Labour party as 3.4 and the SNP as off to the right on 4.9. For SNP voters, they rate themselves as 3.6 on the scale, their party as 3.8 and the Labour opposition as off to the right on 5.3. Both parties’ supporters see themselves as left-wingers supporting a left-wing party against a more right-wing opposition.

And that’s it – I may do an end of year round up… or may just put my feet up. Either way, have a good Christmas.


Survation have a new Scottish poll in this morning’s Daily Record. Topline voting intentions for the Westminster general election are CON 16%, LAB 24%, LDEM 5%, SNP 48%, UKIP 4%, GRN 1%. The poll was conducted between Monday and Thursday so wholly after Jim Murphy’s election as Scottish leader – it has clearly had no positive effect for the Labour party. Full tabs are here.

If these figures were repeated at the general election they would result in a crushing victory for the SNP. On a uniform national swing the SNP would win 54 of the 59 seats in Scotland. Of course, were these figures to be maintained and were the next election to be a complete sea-change in how people vote in Scotland, I wouldn’t expect uniform national swing to be a useful predictor anyway. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will over-state SNP performance: Labour are down 18 percent since the last election, the Lib Dems down 14 percent. There were eight seats where Labour got less than 18 percent at the last election, thirty-two seats where the Liberal Democrats got less than 14 percent – it is mathematically impossible for Labour and the Lib Dems to lose enough votes uniformly across the country.

We’ll have a better idea of how the surge in SNP support is distributed across individual seats once Lord Ashcroft carries out his long awaited constituency polling in Scotland early next year. In the meantime, the question for Scottish polling is to what extent, if at all, Labour can recover in Scotland in the five months we have left until the election.


We’ve almost arrived at the Christmas break. Today we have new polls from Opinium (their last of the year) and YouGov (their penultimate of the year – there is one more to come on Monday night). I’m not sure when Populus put out their final poll of the year, and Survation have a Scottish poll being published next week, but that should be it for the year.

Topline figures for today’s two polls are:

Opinium/Observer – CON 29%(nc), LAB 36%(+2), LDEM 6%(nc), UKIP 16%(-3), GRN 5% (tabs)
YouGov/Sunday Times – CON 32%, LAB 34%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 15%, GRN 8% (tabs)

The Observer write up of the poll, incidentally, is particularly poor, or at least, contains one particularly poor sentence. Toby Helm writes “It is the second poll in a week showing that the Tories have lost ground since chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement earlier this month”. Now, I have long whined about newspapers treating only their own poll as being meaningful and pretending others don’t exist, so well done for putting a poll in context… but it’s a rather extreme case of cherry-picking context to create a narrative that doesn’t exist.

The Opinium poll is the second one this week to show Labour’s lead growing, in fact it’s the third as there was also TNS. But there were also rather a lot of other polls that didn’t… there were another ten polls who the Observer has chosen not to mention. There was an Ipsos MORI poll this week (no change in lead), a ComRes phone poll this week (no change in lead), a ComRes online poll last weekend (shrinking Labour lead), two Populus polls (who have shown smaller Labour leads in their four post-Autumn Statement polls than their four before the statement) and five YouGov polls (whose post-Autumn statement polls have shown essentially the same Labour lead as those before). Lord Ashcroft hasn’t polled this week, he’s already finished for the year, but his post Autumn Statement poll had Labour’s lead down one point. As you can see, there as as many polls showing Labour’s lead falling post Autumn Statement as rising, and overall I expect what we’re seeing is a simple case of normal random sample variation. Taking a crude average of the Labour leads in November would give you an average lead of 1.6 points, take a crude average of the polls in December so far gives you an average Labour lead of 1.6 points.

There’s always a temptation to see narratives in polls, to ignore those showing no movement, latch onto those showing exciting looking changes and build an explanation and a story around them. It’s normally wrong to do so.