An update on the boundary review. Back in September I published notional figures for the proposed boundaries in England & Wales. I’ve now updated those to include Scotland as well (this is partly because the Scottish boundary Commission published later, but it also took much longer to do – the Scottish Commission are much happier to split wards between constituencies, which probably leads to constituencies that better follow communities… but it makes it trickier to work out notional figures.)

Notional figures for new boundaries for England, Wales and Scotland

The partisan effects in Scotland are no great surprise. The SNP won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in 2015, so it was inevitable that most of the losses will be SNP. That aside, on the new boundaries they will be even more dominant. Orkney & Shetland is a protected seat so the sole Liberal Democrat constituency is retained, but Labour and the Conservatives will both see their single Scottish constituency disappear on the new boundaries.

Edinburgh South, the lone Labour seat in Scotland, is split between the new Edinburgh East and Edinburgh South West & Central seats. Both will notionally have an SNP majority of over 4000 – Edinburgh East will be a SNP-Lab marginal, with a SNP majority of 7.9%, Edinburgh SW&C will be a three-way marginal with the SNP in first place, the Conservatives in second place and Labour close behind them.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale, the lone Tory seat in Scotland, mostly goes into Clydesdale & Eskdale, with the rest of the seat split into several much smaller parts. The new Clydesdale & Eskdale seat will have a notional SNP majority of about 5000. On paper the best seat for the Tories will be the new Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk seat, with a notional SNP majority of only 1.3% (though that’s an increase from 2015).

Now we have notional figures for the whole of Great Britain we can work out national totals and what sort of swings would be needed for parties to win a general election on these boundaries.

The 2015 general election had results of CON 330, LAB 232, LDEM 8, SNP 56, Others 24.
On the proposed boundaries the 2015 general election would have been CON 319, LAB 203, LD 4, SNP 52, Others 22. The Conservatives lose 11 seats, Labour lose 29, the Lib Dems 4 and the SNP 4.
Note that on the boundaries proposed for the abandoned review in the last Parliament the results would have been Con 322, Lab 204, LD 4 and SNP 50 – so this new boundary review is actually marginally worse for the Tories than the one that was blocked before the election.

I should add my normal caveat that these notionals are an accounting exercise – projecting how people voted in each ward, moving them into their new seats and totting up the votes. It does not take into account that some people might have voted differently in 2015 if they’d lived in different seats, for that reason I suspect it may slightly underestimate the Liberal Democrats (and it’s possible that the Greens might actually have saved their seat).

We can also look at what difference the boundaries would make to the leads each party needs to win an election.

  • Currently the Conservatives need to have a lead of 5.7% to get an overall majority (hence the 6.5% lead they actually got translating into only a tiny majority). On the proposed boundaries the Tories would get an overall majority with a lead of only 1.9%.
  • In contrast Labour currently need a towering lead of 12.6% to win an overall majority, and the boundary changes would move that target even further away, requiring a lead of 13.5%. To even be the largest party Labour would need a lead over the Conservatives of 4.7% (up from 3.9% on the current boundaries).

(One might reasonably wonder why, if the review makes nearly all the seats the same size, it still leaves the Conservatives in a better position than Labour. This is because different seat sizes is only one part of how votes translate unevenly into seats. The crucial part in explaining the present Conservative advantage is the distribution of the vote and the impact of third parties. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats and the growth of the SNP and UKIP means the system now favours the Conservatives. The Lib Dems are primarily strong in areas that would otherwise be Tory… but now win very few seats, UKIP have largely taken votes from the Tories, but this has not translated into many seats. In contrast the SNP are now utterly dominant in an area that previously returned a large number of Labour MPs. What this means if that if there is a Lib Dem revival or a Labour revival in Scotland the skew towards the Conservatives will unwind.)

These are only provisional recommendations – the boundary commissions will revise them based on the consultation period, so much of the detail will be tweaked before the final recommendations. It’s also far from a certainty that they will actually be implemented when they are complete. Earlier this month Pat Glass MP had a Private Members Bill which if passed would tweak some of the rules of the review, requiring the Commissions to start the process again from scratch and therefore probably delaying it beyond the election. I doubt the Bill will go far – it is nigh on impossible to pass a Private Members Bill in the face of government opposition. However, second reading did highlight some opposition to the boundary changes. Firstly, the DUP spoke against the boundary changes – there had been some speculation around conference season that there had been some sort of deal and the DUP were onside. They are apparently not. Secondly two Conservative MPs (Peter Bone and Steve Double) voted in favour of the Bill. It doesn’t take many rebels to stop the boundary changes progressing…


We’ve had three new voting intention polls in the last four days. ICM‘s regular poll for the Guardian came out earlier today, with topline figures of CON 42%(-1), LAN 28%(+1), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 11%(-1), GRN 3%(-2). Full tabs are here.

Opinium had a new poll in the Observer at the weekend. Their topline voting intention figures with changes from a fortnight ago are CON 41%(+1), LAB 29%(-3), LDEM 7%(+1), UKIP 12%(-1). Full tabs are here.

Finally YouGov at the tail end of last week had topline figures of CON 42%(+1), LAB 28%(+1), LDEM 8%(-2), UKIP 11%(nc). Full tabs are here.

All three polls show the Conservative lead still up around 12-14 points, suggesting that the narrowing in the Ipsos MORI poll last week was indeed just a reversion to the mean and that the polls are settling into a consistent position of the Tories up around 40% and Labour marooned around 30%.

Ahead of the Autumn statement both Opinium and ICM asked economic trust questions – Opinium found May & Hammond with a 26 point lead over Corbyn & McDonnell on who they’d trust to run the economy (44% to 18%), ICM gives tham a 33 point lead on which team would be better able to run the economy (48% to 15%).


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Earlier this week NatCen released new polling on what people want from Brexit. The vast majority (90%) of people would like to keep free trade with the European Union. By 70% to 22% people would also like to limit the amount of EU immigration into Britain. Getting these two things together does not, of course, seem particularly likely. Asked if Britain should agree to keep free movement in exchange for keeping free trade, people are much more evenly split – 49% think we should, 51% think we should not (the full report is here).

Personally, I still think the best way of judging public opinion on Brexit is probably not to ask about individual policies, but to test some plausible scenarios – when it comes to it, people will judge the deal as a whole, not as the sum of its parts. YouGov released some updated polling on Brexit today that repeated that experiment, and again found that a Canadian type deal is likely to get the widest support from the public (that is, no freedom of movement and a more limited trade deal). The problem with a Norway type deal – retaining full free-trade with the EU in exchange for keeping freedom of movement and a financial contribution is that most of the public would see it as not respecting the result of the referendum.

I’ve written a much longer piece about the YouGov polling over on the YouGov site here, so I won’t repeat it all. One interesting bit though is looking at the possible outcomes of an early election, fought on the issue of Brexit. Now, I should start with some important caveats – hypothetical election questions are very crude tools. While I’m sure an early election would be dominated by the issue of Brexit, there would be other issues at play too, so a question like this will over emphasise the impact of Brexit policy. Nevertheless, it suggests some interesting patterns. YouGov asked how people would vote if Brexit could not pass a Parliamentary vote and instead an early election happened. In the scenarios the Conservatives and UKIP back Brexit (as they undoubtedly would) and the Lib Dems back a second referendum (as they’ve said they would). YouGov offered three different scenarios for Labour – one, where Labour back Brexit, two where Labour back only a “soft Brexit”, three where Labour also offer a second referendum. In all three cases the Conservatives would win easily – even the closest scenario gives them a twelve point lead. The interesting finding is the Lib Dems – in the two scenarios where they are the only party offering a second referendum their support goes up to 19% or 22% (if Labour also offer a referendum the Lib Dems don’t gain nearly so much). So, while these are hypothetical questions that need to be taken with a pinch of salt, it does suggest that appealing to those voters who really are set against Brexit could be a route back for the Lib Dems, especially if they are the lone “anti-Brexit” party. The full results for the YouGov polling are here.

Meanwhile Ipsos MORI released their monthly political monitor. In terms of voting intention the Conservative lead is halved from last month, but that is likely something of a reversion to the mean after a towering eighteen point lead last month. Topline figures are CON 42%, LAB 33%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 7%, GRN 3%. As ever, wait until you see the change echoed in other polls before concluding that the Conservative lead is waning.

Theresa May still enjoys a positive approval rating – 54% are satisfied with the job she is doing, 30% disatisfied. The new government also have a net positive rating at their handling of the economy so far – 51% think they’ve done a good job, 30% a bad job. Where the public are not convinced is on how the government are handling the biggest issue – only 37% think the government are doing a good job at handling Brexit, 48% think they are doing a bad job. Full details of the MORI poll are here.


Donald Trump has won, so we have another round of stories about polling shortcomings, though thankfully it’s someone else’s country this time round (this is very much a personal take from across an ocean – the Yougov American and British teams are quite separate, so I have no insider angle on the YouGov American polls to offer).

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about whether there was potential for the US polls to suffer the same sort of polling mishap as Britain had experienced in 2015. It now looks as if they have. The US polling industry actually has a very good record of accuracy – they obviously have a lot more contests to poll, a lot more information to hand (and probably a lot more money!), but nevertheless – if you put aside the 2000 exit poll, you have to go back to 1948 to find a complete polling catastrophe in the US. That expectation of accuracy means they’ll probably face a lot of flak in the days ahead.

We in Britain have, shall I say, more recent experience of the art of being wrong, so here’s what insight I can offer. First the Brexit comparison. I fear this will be almost universal over the next few weeks, but when it comes to polling it is questionable:

  • In the case of Brexit, the polling picture was mixed. Put crudely, telephone polls showed a clear lead for Remain, online polls showed a tight race, with leave often ahead. Our media expected Remain to win and wrongly focused only on those polls that agreed with them, leading to a false narrative of a clear Remain lead, rather than a close run thing. Some polls were wrong, but the perception that they were all off is wrong – it was a failure of interpretation.
  • In the case of the USA, the polling picture was not really mixed. With the exception of the outlying USC Dornslife/LA Times poll all the polls tended to show a picture of Clinton leading, backed up by state polls also showing Clinton leads consistent with the national polls. People were quite right to interpret the polls as showing Clinton heading towards victory… it was the polls themselves that were wrong.

How wrong were they? As I write, it looks as if Hillary Clinton will actually get the most votes, but lose in the Electoral College. In that sense, the national polls were not wrong when they showed Clinton ahead, she really was. It’s one of the most fustrating situations to be in as a pollster, those times when statistically you are correct… but your figures have told the wrong narrative, so everyone thinks you are wrong. That doesn’t get the American pollsters off the hook though: the final polls were clustered around a 4 point lead for Clinton, when in reality it looks about 1 point. More importantly, the state polls were often way out, polls had Ohio as a tight race when Trump stomped it by 8 points. All the polls in Wisconsin had Clinton clearly ahead; Trump won. Polls in Minnesota were showing Clinton leads of 5-10 points, it ended up on a knife edge. Clearly something went deeply wrong here.

Putting aside exactly how comparable the Brexit polls and the Trump polls are, there are some potential lessons in terms of polling methodology. I am no expert in US polling, so I’ll leave it to others more knowledgable than I to dig through the entrails of the election polls. However, based on my experiences of recent mishaps in British polling, there are a couple of places I would certainly start looking.

One is turnout modelling – US pollsters often approach turnout in a very different way how British pollsters traditionally did it. We’ve always relied on weighting to the profile of the whole population and asking people if they are likely to vote. US pollsters have access to far more information on which people actually do vote, allowing they to weight their samples to the profile of actual voters in a state. This has helped the normally good record of US pollsters… but carries a potential risk if the type of people who vote changes, if there is an unexpected increase in turnout among demographics who don’t usually vote. This was one of the ways British pollsters did get burnt over Brexit. After getting the 2015 election wrong lots of British companies experimented with a more US-style approach, modelling turnout on the basis of people’s demographics. Those companies then faced problems when there was unexpectedly high turnout from more working-class, less well-educated voters at the referendum. Luckily for US pollsters, the relatively easy availability of data on who voted means they should be able to rule this in or out quite easily.

The second is sampling. The inquiry into our general election polling error in 2015 found that unrepresentative samples were the core of the problem, and I can well imagine that this is a problem that risks affecting pollsters anywhere. Across the world landline penetration is falling, response rates are falling and it seems likely that the dwindling number of people still willing to take part in polls are ever more unrepresentative. In this country our samples seemed to be skewed towards people who were too educated, who paid too much attention to politics, followed the news agenda and the political media too closely. We under-represented those with little interest in politics, and several UK pollsters have since started sampling and weighting by that to try and address the issue. Were the US pollsters to suffer a similar problem one can easily imagine how it could result in polls under-representing Donald Trump’s support. If that does end up being the case, the question will be what US pollsters do to address the issue.


No Bregrets

Almost as soon as the referendum votes were counted people were asking for polling on whether people regretted their decision. There is still a certain audience who seem downright desperate to find polling showing that people do not, after all, want to leave the European Union (and, I suppose, a (slightly larger) audience who want to see polls showing they don’t!). I guess this is the curse of a referendum decision that takes a couple of years to actually implement.

The most straightforward way of measuring Bregret is to ask the referendum question again – how would people vote if the referendum question was asked again now. Several polls have done that:

YouGov/Eurotrack (20th-25th Oct) Remain 44%, Leave 43%
BMG (19th-24th Oct) Remain 45%, Leave 43%
YouGov/Eurotrack (21st-22nd July) Remain 43%, Leave 44%
YouGov/Eurotrack (3rd-4th July) Remain 45%, Leave 45%

All of these suggest a very small movement towards Remain, and given Leave’s lead was only four points that’s enough to flip the result in a couple of cases. However, I’d be a little cautious in reading too much into the results. All of these polls are just straight “how would you vote questions” with no attempt to account for differential turnout, when at the referendum Leave voters were more liable to turnout. If you look at the actual tables for these you’ll find there is very little movement between remain and leave, the shift is down to people who didn’t vote in the referendum claiming that in a referendum tomorrow they would vote in favour of Remain. That’s possible of course (perhaps people who assumed a Remain victory in June and didn’t bother to vote, now realising their vote really would count)… but I’m rather sceptical about people saying they’d vote in an EU referendum who didn’t bother to vote in the one we just had.

The approach alternative is to ask if people think it was the right decision and if they might change their vote.

Just after the referendum there was an poll by Ipsos MORI for Newsnight, which showed 43% of people thought Brexit was the right decision, 44% thought it was the wrong decision. Asked if they would change their mind in a new referendum, 1% of Remain voters said they would definitely or probably change their mind, 5% of Leave voters said they would definitely or probably change their mind. If those people all switched to the other side it would have just edged into a Remain lead.

In contrast YouGov have regularly asked if people think the decision to leave was right or wrong, and have tended to find slightly more people saying it was the right decision. The pattern of opinion is pretty consistent – movement between Remain and Leave is small and tends to cancel out, people who didn’t vote at all tend to split in favour of it being the wrong decision:

YouGov/Times (11th-12th Oct) – Right to Leave 45%, Wrong to Leave 44%
YouGov/Times (13th-14th Sep) – Right to Leave 46%, Wrong to Leave 43%
YouGov/Times (30th-31st Aug) – Right to Leave 47%, Wrong to Leave 44%
YouGov/Times (22nd-23rd Aug) – Right to Leave 45%, Wrong to Leave 43%
YouGov/Times (8th-9th Aug) – Right to Leave 45%, Wrong to Leave 44%
YouGov/Times (1st-2nd Aug) – Right to Leave 46%, Wrong to Leave 42%

Finally the British Election Study asked a question on whether people regretted how they voted or not. Only 1% of people who voted Remain said they regretted their vote, but 6% of people who voted Leave said they regretted their vote. Now, saying you’ve some regrets doesn’t necessarily mean that you wouldn’t, on balance, end up doing the same. For what it’s worth though, if those people who had regrets hadn’t voted the result would still have been leave; if those people had voted the opposite way it would’ve been Remain.

Looking across the board at all this polling, there is a suggestion that public opinion may have moved very slightly towards Remain, and with only a four point lead that’s enough to change the lead in some polls. However, in most cases that apparent movement isn’t people changing their minds, but is down to the opinions of those people who didn’t actually vote last time. That means if there was another referendum right now, if turnout was similar to June the result would probably be similar too.

My expectation is that, given time, we probably will see “Bregret”, simply because Brexit is going to be tested against reality while Remain isn’t. The road ahead has a lot of obstacles and some Leavers’ hopes and expections will be dashed (Remainers’ hopes and expectations of what would have happened if we’d stayed won’t, of course, face the same collision with reality). The lead at the referendum was only 4%, so it really won’t take that many people having second thoughts to flip opinion over. To those who really want to see evidence of Bregret in the polls – have a bit of patience. It will probably come in time, but the data really isn’t there to support it now.