Eleven weeks to go

Here are this week’s polls

YouGov/S Times (13/2/15) – CON 32%, LAB 35%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 7%
Populus (14/2/15) – CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 15%, GRN 5%
ICM/Guardian (15/2/15) – CON 36%, LAB 32%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 9%, GRN 7%
Ashcroft (15/2/15) – CON 30%, LAB 31%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 16%, GRN 8%
TNS BMRB (16/2/15) – CON 28%, LAB 35%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 18%, GRN 7%
YouGov/Sun (16/2/15) – CON 32%, LAB 32%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 16%, GRN 8%
YouGov/Sun (17/2/15) – CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 15%, GRN 7%
YouGov/Sun (18/2/15) – CON 32%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 14%, GRN 6%
YouGov/Sun (19/2/15) – CON 32%, LAB 33%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%
Populus (19/2/15) – CON 31%, LAB 32%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 17%, GRN 6%

With the exceptions of the rather anomalous looking ICM poll with its four point Tory lead and the TNS poll showing its typically larger Labour lead (two outliers I discussed here), the polls have returned to the same picture we’ve had for the whole year so far – a very close race with Labour just ahead. The UKPR polling average stands at CON 32%(nc), LAB 33%(-1), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 15%(+1), GRN 6%(-1) – none of those figures has moved more than one point away from that so far this year. The race is pretty much static.

Scottish and Constituency polls

Survation put out their monthly Scottish poll for the Daily Record this week, giving the SNP a slightly reduced but still very healthy 17 point lead over Labour. Lord Ashcroft released four polls of Conservative held UKIP target seats, showing UKIP just a point behind in Castle Point and only three points behind in Boston and Skegness. I wrote about both here.

Week 7

  • The Conservatives started the week promising to cut sickness benefits for fat people or addicts who refuse treatment. This is an interesting example of policy and how to look at public reaction to them. At one level such policies are popular – by 57% to 28% people support stopping sickness benefits for overweight people who don’t seek weightless treatment, by 64% to 23% people support stopping sickness benefits for addicts who don’t seek treatment. However, the potential downside for such policies, especially for the Conservatives, is if it reinforces the party’s image problems of being seen as heartless or unconcerned for the less well off. The same polling found 40% also thought the policy was uncaring and heartless.
  • Labour started the week talking about economic policy and had their policies endorsed by Lord Mandelson, the former business Secretary. There was a YouGov poll in the week asking if the endorsement of various retired politicians was an asset or a liability – 52% thought Mandelson’s backing a liability, only 7% an asset. Tony Blair’s endorsement was seen as little better – 14% an asset, 61% a liability. The reason for both is the same – most other politicians were seen an asset by supportwes of their own party, a liability by their opponents. Blair and Mandelson (and Michael Howard) were seen as liabilities by both their opponents’ supporters and their own parties’ supporters. According to today’s news Peter Mandelson is now warning Labour against their tuition fees policy, so perhaps his criticism will be an asset!
  • On Thursday party donations for the end of 2014 were announced. The Conservatives received just over £8million, Labour just over £7m, the Liberal Democrats £3m (the party had a record year of donations, despite their precipitous drop in support since 2010), UKIP £1.5m and the Greens a quarter of a million. There was some polling on party donations last weekend, showing people pretty cynical about both main parties – by 48% to 30% people think Labour should try and reduce Union funding, by 52% to 25% people think the Conservatives should try and reduce their business funding. Around two thirds of people would support a cap on business and trade union donations, 51% would support a cap on individual donations to political parties, only 19% would support taxpayer funding.

Projections

The latest forecasts from Election Forecast, May 2015 and Elections Etc are below. Elections Etc and Election Forecast both have Labour and the Conservatives pretty much equal in predicted seat numbers, May 2015 are projecting Labour to have more seats, but not by very many.

Elections Etc – Hung Parliament, CON 281(nc), LAB 282(+1), LD 23(nc), SNP 40(-1), UKIP 3(nc)
Election Forecast – Hung Parliament, CON 282(+2), LAB 280(-3), LD 25(-2), SNP 40(+3), UKIP 2(nc)
May 2015 – Hung Parliament, CON 266(-3), LAB 275(+1), LD 26(+2), SNP 56(nc), UKIP 4(nc)


The Lib Dems have been out and about briefing journalists about what their polling shows. This morning the Guardian, May 2015 and The Spectator have all written about it.

Private polling always has a certain allure when spoken of in the media, there is that whiff of forbidden, insider knowledge. It really shouldn’t – beyond asking whether such private polling actually exists, the first major caveat to any claims that private polling shows something different to publicly available stuff is “why should it?”. Political polling doesn’t really make much money, it’s normally done as a shop window to get a polling company’s name known and to create a reputation for accurate research. It is in polling companies’ interest for their voting intention polls to be as accurate as possible, so the publicly available stuff really is the best we can do, there is no more accurate version of the data held back for private clients. Therefore, most of the time when political parties claim their private polling shows them doing better than the public polls it suggests they are making it up, or they have been commissioning stuff that asks things in a skewed way for propaganda purposes (what Lord Ashcroft has called in the past “comfort polling”).

Even if the full details of private polls are released, with all the methodology and tables available for scrutiny, you should still view them sceptically. Parties decide which polls to release or brief journalists on, if any. One thing you never see is a political party releasing a poll that is not helpful to them, so even if the polling itself is above board, there is a strong publication bias; only the stuff that helps the party is published.

To illustrate that, cast your mind back to the polling of Lib Dem seats conducted by Lord Ashcroft. One of the most obvious findings was how much the Lib Dem performance varied – in some seats like Eastborne, Birmingham Yardley or Sutton & Cheam the party is doing very well indeed. In other seats like Somerton and Frome, Chippenham and Brent Central they are doing atrociously. Imagine the very different narratives that could be created by selectively releasing polls from those first three seats, as opposed to selectively releasing polls from the latter three.

So what should we make of the Liberal Democrat claims? Well, the polling does genuinely exist – Survation are a proper company and while the newspaper reports don’t include specifics, several journalists have assured me they were shown the actual figures. For once, there is also a legitimate reason why the Liberal Democrat polling might show them in a better position than the published polling – the articles suggest they prompted using candidate names. We know that a lot of Lib Dem support is reliant upon tactical voting and personal votes, so it seems reasonable that polls that include the candidate names in Lib Dem held seats might show the Lib Dems doing better. Until we see tables we can’t tell what other methodological factors may have been at play.

The articles claim that the Lib Dems have done about 100 constituency polls, while it seems journalists were shown results from about a dozen or so, so it is impossible to know how representative this group were, or whether they were cherry-picked to create a good impression of the Lib Dem performance.

Even if you take the claims that the Liberal Democrats make at face value, they don’t actually show much that contrasts with existing publically available data that much. According to the Guardian the party “is on course to remain “competitive” in seats that would fall if there was landslide against the Lib Dems, such as Cheltenham, St Ives, Cardiff Central, Eastbourne, Solihull, Cheadle, Leeds North West, Cambridge and Bermondsey.” From talking to several other journalists who were there, I’m told they were also shown figures from St Austell and some other Labour facing seats, so perhaps a dozen in total.

The word “competitive is vague” – it could mean both a little ahead… or a little behind. As it happens, Lord Ashcroft has conducted polls in nine of those seats, and in most of them the Lib Dems are indeed “competitive”. In three of them (Cheltenham, Cheadle, Eastborne) Ashcroft found clear Lib Dem leads, in two others (Bermondsey and St Ives) he found the Lib Dems just ahead (though I’m told the Lib Dem polling shows them doing better than that). In Cambridge Lord Ashcroft he found them a point behind… but that counts as “competitive” in my book. The other three are St Austell & Newquay, Solihull and Cardiff Central, where Ashcroft found the Lib Dems trailing. If the Lib Dem data was kosher, then it may well show the Lib Dems doing better in those seats… but polls vary, and perhaps there are other, unmentioned, polls that show the Lib Dems doing worse than in Ashcroft’s polling.


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Some interesting non-GB polls today. First up Lord Ashcroft has released four constituency polls in Conservative held seats targeted by UKIP. The four seats are Boston and Skegness, Castle Point, South Basildon and East Thurrock and North East Cambridgeshire.

  • North East Cambridgeshire seems like a rather odd choice to begin with, it doesn’t look like an obvious place for UKIP success and while Ashcroft doesid find UKIP in second place, the poll gives the Conservatives a very solid 21 point lead. (detailled tabs)The polls in the other three seats were much closer though…
  • In South Basildon and East Thurrock Ashcroft found a clear, but not entirely comfortable, Tory lead of 6 points – Conservatives 35%, UKIP 29%. Labour were in an extremely close third place on 28%, so it’s a fairly even split between the three parties with plenty of potential for tactical voting to change the result (detailled tabs)
  • In Boston and Skegness Ashcroft found a close race, with the Conservatives just ahead. Topline figures are CON 38%, LAB 17%, LDEM 5%, UKIP 35%. (detailled tabs) Note that this was one of the seats that Survation had previously polled for Alan Bown, the UKIP donor, back in September. Ashcroft’s three point Tory lead is in complete contrast to the Survation poll which showed a twenty point UKIP lead.
  • Castle Point was closest of all, essentially neck and neck between the Conservatives and UKIP. Topline figures there were CON 37%, LAB 16%, LDEM 3%, UKIP 36% (detailled tabs)

Meanwhile the latest Survation poll of Scotland was in this morning’s Daily Record. Topline figures for Westminster voting intention are CON 15%(+1), LAB 28%(+2), LDEM 5%(-2), SNP 45%(-1), UKIP 3%(-1), GRN 3%(nc) (tabs here). Compared to Survation’s other post-referendum polls it suggests a slight narrowing in the SNP lead (their previous three polls had SNP leads of 22, 24 and 20 points) Looking across Scottish polls from other companies though there’s no obvious consensus on whether the lead is narrowing or not… and even if it is narrowing a bit, a seventeen point lead is still firmly in landslide territory.


Two types of outlier

This morning TNS released a new poll showing figures of CON 28%, LAB 35%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 18%, GRN 7% (tabs). The seven point Labour lead is striking, and out of line from the broader trend. Usual caveats apply, but for once I haven’t seen many people over-react to it. Most have sensibly enough seen it as the just the other side of the coin to the ICM poll earlier this week showing a solid Tory lead – two outliers in opposite directions. However, it is worth looking at the different reasons why these two polls went against the trend.

On average ICM produce figures that are slightly more Con/less Lab than average, but only by a tiny bit, generally they show Labour -v- Tory leads that are much the same as those from other companies. The reason that their poll on Monday showed a four point Tory lead when other companies are showing the race almost neck-and-neck is almost certainly just random sample error. Samples vary from day-to-day, month-to-month and sometimes you get one that’s a bit Laboury or a bit Conservativety in ways that weighting does not correct. I expect ICM’s next poll will be in line with those from other companies.

TNS is a different sort of outlier. The seven point Labour lead may be different from that shown by other pollsters, but its actually in line with TNS’s previous polls. In their previous four polls they showed Labour leads of 6 points, 0 points, 7 points and 7 points. Over on my chart of house effects TNS’s polls on average show a Labour lead three points larger than other companies (and if anything the gap is growing!) This isn’t random sample error, this is a consistent methodological difference between TNS and other companies, and unless they switch methods I expect their future polls will continue to show bigger Labour leads than other polls.

Two outliers, but one is probably just a random blip from a pollster who normally shows the same as other companies, one looks like a typical poll from a pollster who regularly produces polls that show a bigger Labour lead than the pack.


Monday polls

It’s Monday, so we have the usual rush of polls – the daily YouGov, twice-weekly Populus, weekly Ashcroft and monthly ICM. I’ll update this post as they come in, and do a round up at the end of the day.

Populus have topline figures of CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 15%, GRN 5%. Tables are here.

ICM for the Guardian have figures of CON 36%(+6), LAB 32%(-1), LDEM 10%(-1), UKIP 9%(-2), GRN 7%(-2). The six point jump for the Conservatives looks particularly sharp but usual caveats apply. While it tends to be the polls that show unusual results or big changes that get all the attention, they are actually the ones we should be most dubious about. If there has been a genuine surge in Conservative support, then we’ll see it across all the pollsters, and other polls so far this month have shown things pretty stable.

The weekly Ashcroft poll has topline figures of CON 30%(-4), LAB 31%(nc), LDEM 9%(nc), UKIP 16%(+2), GRN 8%(+2) (full details here). A one point Labour lead, and changes in the opposite direction to those in the ICM poll – I think we can be fairly confident that what we are seeing with these two is just random noise, the back and forth of normal sample error.

UPDATE: The last of today’s four polls, YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 32%, LD 6%, UKIP 16%, GRN 8%. After a couple of three point leads at the tail end of last week, it’s back to neck-and-neck from YouGov. Putting all four polls together I think it’s pretty much business as usual. One neck-and-neck, one Tory lead, two Labour leads. There is nothing here that’s incompatible with the steady picture we’ve had for the last six weeks: an extremely close race between Labour and Conservative, with Labour holding onto a tiny lead.