A new centrist party?

With little political news over the Summer the media have entertained themselves with talk of new political parties. I have awaited the first poll to ask how people would vote if there was such a party with some trepidation. thus far it hasn’t turned up. Depending on how it is worded a poll question could either suggest triumph or disaster for such a venture. Either case should be ignored – polls asking about how people would vote in hypothetical situations aren’t particularly useful.

Back before the election YouGov asked a couple of questions asking how people would vote if the Labour party split into a centrist party and a Corbynite Labour party. That found Labour voters splitting fairly evenly between the two parties, with little impact elsewhere (a result that under FPTP would likely have delivered a Tory landslide). Of course that was a new party explicitly framed as a split within Labour. It it had been presented as a split from the Tory party, I expect it would have taken most support from them. A new party might actually seek to present itself as being made up of the centrists within both Labour and the Conservatives (though more important is how it would be seen by the public – how a party describes itself is not necessarily the same as how the public sees it), in which case it would have ambitions to take support from a wider pool.

As an explicit anti-Brexit party the first place to look for what support an anti-Brexit might receive is the EU referendum vote. 48% of people who voted in 2016 wanted to Remain. In more recent polls that group splits pretty evenly between Remainers who still think Brexit is a bad idea but that it should go ahead now the people have spoken, and Remainers who think that Brexit should be resisted and overturned. Some have suggested that this means the pool an anti-Brexit party is fishing in is only about 25%. I’d be less sure – at the moment we’re in a political situation where the political class has largely accepted the principle of Brexit and is arguing about the form it will take. Were that to be shaken up, were there a significant political force arguing for changing our minds, perhaps more of those who voted Remain would see it as something to be fought rather than accepted. Who knows?

A more negative consideration is what one thinks a new anti-Brexit party could offer that the Liberal Democrats aren’t already offering. Normally when there is speculation about new political parties it’s because there is a chunk of the electorate who support a political viewpoint that no party is representing – UKIP wanted to leave the EU when no other party did, the Greens offered an emphasis on the environment and anti-austerity that the other parties weren’t. We don’t have to ask hypothetical polling questions about how people would vote if there was a centrist, liberal, pro-European party standing…we already have a perfectly serviceable party of that description and they got 8% of the vote at the general election.

Ah, you might say, but this new party wouldn’t have the baggage of coalition that the Lib Dems have. Or it would have a better known and more substantial leader than Tim Farron. That may or may not be true, depending on who ended up being involved -serious political figures like Tony Blair or George Osborne would bring their own baggage. On the other hand, a new party wouldn’t have the local government or organisational base that the Liberal Democrats do.

The real difference between a new anti-Brexit party and the Liberal Democrats would be the political context and narrative. It is this that makes it impossible to predict from polling how any such party would do. If a party was set up by a couple of whohe’s it would likely sink without trace – if one looks through the register of political parties at the Electoral Commission you’ll find several new parties set up as pro-EU vehicles, and that none have had any impact. In contrast were twenty Conservative MPs and twenty Labour MPs to defect and form a new party, it would create a huge media buzz, there would be a lot of fuss and attention (needless to say, it would also deprive the government of a majority) and that would give it the potential to get a fair amount of support.

In judging these sort of hypothetical questions, I always look back to the polls we used to see in the final months of the Blair government, asking people how they would vote if Gordon Brown was leader. They would invariably show that Labour would perform less well under Gordon Brown. In the fullness of time Brown did take over, and Labour shot into a double digit lead as all the newspapers treated Brown like the second coming. The problem with those pre-Brown polls was that people couldn’t predict that wave of excitement and positive media coverage, couldn’t predict how they would react to it. Given the right people and media coverage, a new party could succeed to some degree (certainly the currently arithmetic in the Commons would make it comparatively easy for a party with Conservative defectors within it to make an impact). Whether it could be successful enough to actually retain or win seats and have a long term future is an entirely different matter – FPTP does not forgive smaller parties without concentrated support, the anti-Conservative vote is already split and the most pro-remain areas tend to be held by Labour.

In short, it could work in terms of upsetting the current narrative if not necessarily in electoral terms… or it could fall flat, but treat any polling questions asking how you would vote if X party existed with a huge pinch of salt. Without the context of the people involved and the political narrative around it, they simply aren’t good predictors.


We’re heading into Summer and the silly season now, so don’t necessarily expect much polling (August tends to be quite anyway…the month after a general election even more so). This is just a quick update on the latest YouGov voting intention figures, which are CON 41%(nc), LAB 44%(+1), LDEM 7%(+1). Fieldwork was Monday to Tuesday and changes are from a fortnight ago. Full tabs are here.


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The British Election Study have released their data from the election campaign waves today – one large wave straight after the election was called, a wave of daily rolling polls from throughout the campaign itself and a third large wave conducted straight after the campaign. All three of these datasets were collected online by YouGov (the face-to-face element of the BES is still to come). If you’re au fait with stats software like SPSS, Stata or R the raw data is available for download on the British Election Study site here.

There’s already some analysis of the data by the BES team here (a longer version of the article you may have seen on BBC this morning), focusing on how people changed their votes between 2015 and 2017, and between the beginning and end of the election campaign.

The article breaks down 2015 vote by Remainers and Leavers. Looking at how 2015 voters who backed Leave ended up voting in 2017, the Conservatives kept the vast majority of their 2015 leave voters and picked up over half of the 2015 UKIP vote (as well as a chunk of Labour Leavers). The collapse of UKIP wasn’t all to the Conservatives’ favour though, 18% of UKIP Leavers ended up moving to Labour.

Turning to the Remain vote, Labour were the clear victor: around a third of 2015 Tories who voted remain drifted away from the party, either to Labour or to the Lib Dems, but Labour also picked up a chunk of the 2015 Lib Dem vote and most of the 2015 Green vote. Of course, while this is easy to view through the prism of Brexit, that doesn’t necessarily mean Brexit was the main driver (to give an obvious example, yes – a large proportion of Green Remain voters moved to Labour… but a large proportion of the 2015 Green vote had already moved to Labour before the referendum, presumably as a result of the direction Jeremy Corbyn had taken the party).

More interesting is the movement during the campaign itself. 19% of people changed how they would vote between the start and the end of the campaign. This is not in itself unusual – in 2015 the figure was 17%, and according to the BES team it was higher in 2010 and 2005. The difference in 2017 is that this movement was overwhelmingly in favour of the Labour party, whereas at previous elections the churn largely cancelled itself out. Hence during the campaign we can see significant numbers of Tory votes, Lib Dem voters and, most of all, don’t knows moving towards Labour, but very little movement away from Labour.

In terms of explanations for the movement – while the voters Labour attracted during the campaign were those you’d expect to be the most receptive (that is, tending to be opposed to a hard-Brexit and left-leaning), the most obvious movement was on leadership ratings, that sharp collapse in Theresa May’s ratings and the steady increase in Jeremy Corbyn’s, and those people who moved to Labour during the campaign were also those who displayed the biggest increase in their perceptions of Jeremy Corbyn.

Ed and Chris’s full article is here.


Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor for the Standard has topline figures of CON 41%, LAB 42%, LDEM 9%. This is MORI’s first poll since the general election, and like other companies now shows Labour with a small lead over the Conservatives. Fieldwork was Friday to Tuesday. As far as I can tell, the methodology is back to MORI’s usual methods, as they were using before the election campaign. Full details are here.

To update on other voting intention polls earlier this week, ICM for the Guardian on Tuesday had voting intentions of CON 42%(+1), LAB 43%(nc), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 3%(nc). Fieldwork was over the weekend, and changes were from a fortnight ago. Full tabs for that are here.

Finally YouGov for the Times, which was released on Monday but conducted last week, had topline figures of CON 40%, LAB 45%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 2%. Tabs for that are here.


Sunday polls

Opinium’s latest voting intention figures are CON 41%(+2), LAB 43%(-2), LDEM 5%(nc), UKIP 5%(nc). Theresa May’s net job approval stands at minus 21, Jeremy Corbyn’s at plus 4 (though May has regained a small lead on who people think would make the better Prime Minister, 36% to Corbyn’s 33%).

Asked about Theresa May’s future, a third of people think she should resign straight away, 16% think she should go after Brexit negotiations are complete, 8% just before the next general election and 22% that she should remain and fight the next general election. Answers to this are heavily partisan, as you might expect: a hefty majority of Labour voters would like May to go now, only 9% of Tory voters. 62% of Tory voters would like her to remain PM until either shortly before the election (14%) or to fight the election (48%). Tabs for the Opinium poll are here.

There was also a Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday with topline figures of CON 39%(nc), LAB 41%(-4), LD 8%(+1), UKIP 6%(+2). Changes are since Survation’s last online poll in mid-June, rather than their last telephone poll which showed a small Tory lead. Theresa May also still leads as best PM here, 43% to Corbyn’s 35%.

Survation also asked questions about Theresa May’s future, though their’s was a simpler should she stay or go question.45% would like her to resign, 40% would like her to stay. Again, responses are overwhelmingly split down partisan lines: 77% of Lab voters would like her to go, 78% of Tory voters would like her to stay). Asked about who should succeed her if she did go, Boris Johnson leads on 22% ahead of David Davis on 15%. 46% of people say don’t know. Questions like this don’t give us that much insight because of low public awareness of the options. The most interesting ones there asked who people would prefer in run offs between two potential leaders – between Davis and Johnson Davis wins by 36% to Johnson’s 30%. Paired against Philip Hammond Johnson only just wins, 34% to 33%, though he beats Amber Rudd by 38% to 27%. There are still lots of don’t knows, but I’m conscious that a few years ago Johnson’s popularity and celebrity would probably have seen him easily winning all three questions at a trot. The shine looks as if it may have come off Boris Johnson. Tabs for the Survation poll are here.

Finally there was a BMG poll in the Independent asking about the public sector pay cap. Questions like this are tricky – most people have huge sympathy for “frontline” public sector workers like nurses and firefighters, so the social desirability bias towards saying you’d pay a little more to give them a rise is huge (it’s what we tend to call a “drowning puppy” question in the office, as in “would you pay more tax to save this drowning puppy?”). If anything, I’m surprised only 56% said they’d be willing to pay more in tax to fund a pay rise above 1% for only occupations like firefighters, police officers, paramedics and nurses. More generally, 69% of people said the public sector pay cap should end, but asked if they’d be willing to pay more tax to give a rise to “non-emergency” occupations the split was pretty even, 42% said they would, 41% would not..

Opinium also asked about the public sector pay cap in their poll. 53% of people support ending it, 21% of people would be opposed. They also asked about it on specific jobs. Questions like this are, to some degree, just reflections of how popular or valued a role is (as well as how well paid people think it currently is). Almost 70% of people wanted the pay cap ended for nurses, 60% or more for the armed forces, police and fire service. Teachers was 56%, followed by doctors on 53%. For dentists it was only 38%. I’m intrigued about what Opinium would have found if they’d asked about less obviously sympathetic public sector jobs: local government planning officers perhaps, benefit assessors, immigration officers, refuse collectors, traffic engineers, taxmen…