General election campaigns provoke a lot of attention and criticism of opinion polls. Some of that is sensible and well-informed… and some of it is not. This is about the latter – a response to some of the more common criticisms that I see on social media. Polling methodology is not necessarily easy to understand and, given many people only take an interest in it at around election time, most people have no good reason to know much about it. This will hopefully address some of the more common misapprehensions (or in those cases where they aren’t entirely wrong, add some useful context).

This Twitter poll has 20,000 responses, TEN TIMES BIGGER than so-called professional polls!

Criticisms about sample size are the oldest and most persistent of polling criticism. This is unsurprising given that it is rather counter-intuitive that only 1000 interviews should be enough people to get a good steer on what 40,000,000 people think. The response that George Gallup, the founding father of modern polling, used to give is still a good one: “You don’t need to eat a whole bowl of soup to know if it’s too salty, providing it’s properly stirred a single spoonful will suffice.”

The thing that makes a poll meaningful isn’t so much the sample size, it is whether it is representative or not. That is, does it have the right proportions of men and women, old and young, rich and poor and so on. If it is representative of the wider population in all those ways, then one hopes it will also be representative in terms of opinion. If not, then it won’t be. If you took a sample of 100,000 middle-class homeowners in Surrey then it would be overwhelmingly Tory, regardless of the large sample size. If you took a sample of 100,000 working class people on Merseyside it would be overwhelmingly Labour, regardless of the large sample size. What counts is not the size, it’s whether it’s representative or not. The classic example of this is the 1936 Presidential Election where Gallup made his name – correctly predicting the election using a representative sample when the Literary Digest’s sample of 2.4 million(!) called it wrongly.

Professional polling companies will sample and weight polls to ensure they are representative. However well intended, Twitter polls will not (indeed, there is no way of doing so, and no way of measuring the demographics of those who have participated).

Who are these pollsters talking too? Everyone I know is voting for party X!

Political support is not evenly distributed across the country. If you live in Liverpool Walton, then the overwhelming majority of other people in your area will be Labour voters. If you live in Christchurch, then the overwhelming majority of your neighbours will likely be Tory. This is further entrenched by our tendency to be friends with people like us – most of your friends will probably be of a roughly similar age and background and, very likely, have similar outlooks and things in common with you, so they are probably more likely to share your political views (plus, unless you make pretty odd conversation with people, you probably don’t know how everyone you know will vote).

An opinion poll will have sought to include a representative sample of people from all parts of the country, with a demographic make-up that matches the country as a whole. Your friendship group probably doesn’t look like that. Besides, unless you think that literally *everyone* is voting for party X, you need to accept that there probably are voters of the other parties out there. You’re just not friends with them.

Polls are done on landlines so don’t include young people

I am not sure why this criticism has resurfaced, but I’ve seen it several times over recent weeks, often widely retweeted. These days the overwhelming majority of opinion polls in Britain are conducted online rather than by telephone. The only companies who regularly conduct GB voting intention polls by phone are Ipsos MORI and Survation. Both of them conduct a large proportion of their interviews using mobile phones.

Polls of single constituencies are still normally conducted by telephone but, again, will conduct a large proportion of their calls on mobile phones. I don’t think anyone has done a voting intention poll on landlines only for well over a decade.

Who takes part in these polls? No one has ever asked me

For the reason above, your chances of being invited to take part in a telephone poll that asks about voting intention are vanishingly small. You could be waiting many, many years for your phone number to be randomly dialled. If you are the sort of person who doesn’t pick up unknown numbers, they’ll never be able to reach you.

Most polls these days are conducted using internet panels (that is, panels of people who have given pollsters permission to email them and ask them to take part in opinion polls). Some companies like YouGov and Kantar have their own panels, other companies may buy in sample from providers like Dynata or Toluna. If you are a member of such panels you’ll inevitably be invited to take part in opinion polls. Though of course, remember that the vast majority of surveys tend to be stuff about consumer brands and so on… politics is only a tiny part of the market research world.

The polls only show a lead because pollsters are “Weighting” them, you should look at the raw figures

Weighting is a standard part of polling that everyone does. Standard weighting by demographics is unobjectionable – but is sometimes presented as something suspicious or dodgy. At this election, this has sometimes been because it has been confused with how pollsters account for turnout, which is a more controversial and complicated issue which I’ll return to below.

To deal with ordinary demographic weighting though, this is just to ensure that the sample is representative. So for example – we know that the adult British population is about 51% female, 49% male. If the raw sample a poll obtained was 48% female and 52% male then it would have too many men and too few women and weighting would be used to correct it. Every female respondent would be given a weight of 1.06 (that is 51/48) and would count as 1.06 of a person in the final results. Every male respondent would be given a weight of 0.94 (that is 49/52) and would count as 0.94 of a person in the final results. Once weighted, the sample would now be 51% female and 49% male.

Actual weighting is more complicated that this because samples are weighted by multiple factors – age, gender, region, social class, education, past vote and so on. The principle however is the same – it is just a way of correcting a sample that has the wrong amount of people compared to the known demographics of the British population.

Polls assume young people won’t vote

This is a far more understandable criticism, but one that is probably wrong.

It’s understandable because it is part of what went wrong with the polls in 2017. Many polling companies adopted new turnout models that did indeed make assumptions about whether people would vote or not based upon their age. While it wasn’t the case across the board, in 2017 companies like ComRes, ICM and MORI did assume that young people were less likely to vote and weighted them down. The way they did this contributed to those polls understating Labour support (I’ve written about it in more depth here)

Naturally people looking for explanations for the difference between polls this time round have jumped to this problem as a possible explanation. This is where it goes wrong. Almost all the companies who were using age-based turnout models dumped those models straight after the 2017 election and went back to basing their turnout models primarily on how likely respondents say they are to vote. Put simply, polls are not making assumptions about whether different age groups will vote or not – differences in likelihood to vote between age groups will be down to people in some age groups telling pollsters they are less likely to vote than people in other age groups.

The main exception to this is Kantar, who do still include age in their turnout model, so can fairly be said to be assuming that young people are less likely to vote than old people. They kept the method because, for them, it worked well (they were one of the more accurate companies at the 2017 election).

Some of the criticism of Kantar’s turnout model (and of the relative turnout levels in other companies’ polls) is based on comparing the implied turnout in their polls with turnout estimates published straight after the 2017 election, based on polls done during the 2017 campaign. Compared to those figures, the turnout for young people may look a bit low. However there are much better estimates of turnout in 2017 from the British Election Study, which has validated turnout data (that is, rather than just asking if people voted, they look their respondents up on the marked electoral register and see if they actually voted) – these figures are available here, and this is the data Kantar uses in their model. Compared to these figures the levels of turnout in Kantar and other companies’ polls look perfectly reasonable.

Pollster X is biased!

Another extremely common criticism. It is true that some pollsters show figures that are consistently better or worse for a party. These are know as “house effects” and can be explained by methodological differences (such as what weights they use, or how they deal with turnout), rather than some sort of bias. It is in the strong commercial interests of all polling companies to be as accurate as possible, so it would be self-defeating for them to be biased.

The frequency of this criticism has always baffled me, given to anyone in the industry it’s quite absurd. The leading market research companies are large, multi-million pound corporations. Ipsos, YouGov and WPP (Kantar’s parent company) are publicly listed companies – they are owned by largely institutional shareholders and the vast bulk of their profits are based upon non-political commercial research. They are not the personal playthings of the political whims of their CEOs, and the idea that people like Didier Truchot ring up their UK political team and ask them to shove a bit on the figure to make the party they support look better is tin-foil hat territory.

Market research companies sell themselves on their accuracy, not on telling people what they want to hear. Political polling is done as a shop window, a way of getting name recognition and (all being well) a reputation for solid, accurate research. They have extremely strong commercial and financial reasons to strive for accuracy, and pretty much nothing to be gained by being deliberately wrong.

Polls are always wrong

And yet there have been several instances of the polls being wrong of late, though this is somewhat overegged. The common perception is that the polls were wrong in 2015 (indeed, they nearly all were), at the 2016 referendum (some of them were wrong, some of them were correct – but the media paid more attention to the wrong ones), at Donald Trump’s election (the national polls were actually correct, but some key state polls were wrong, so Trump’s victory in the electoral college wasn’t predicted), and in the 2017 election (most were wrong, a few were right).

You should not take polls as gospel. It is obviously possible for them to be wrong – recent history demonstrates that all too well. However, they are probably the best way we have of measuring public opinion, so if you want a steer on how Britain is likely to vote it would be foolish to dismiss them totally.

What I would advise against is assuming that they are likely to be wrong in the same direction as last time, or in the direction you would like them to be. As discussed above – the methods that caused the understatement of Labour support in 2017 have largely been abandoned, so the specific error that happened in 2017 is extremely unlikely to reoccur. That does not mean polls couldn’t be wrong in different ways, but it is worth considered that the vast majority of previous errors have been in the opposite direction, and that polls in the UK have tended to over-state Labour support. Do not assume that polls being wrong automatically means under-stating Labour.


965 Responses to “How not to interpret opinion polls”

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  1. Ken Bates?

  2. Not sure if this has been covered already (apologies if I missed it) but the Lib Dem candidate in Ian Blackford’s constituency in 2017 will be lending her vote to him in this election for the reasons explained by her in the link below. It’s a short and interesting read giving some insight into tactical voting, shades of opnion about a second independence referendum, and tensions within her former party the Lib Dems:

    https://jeanmedavis.com/2019/12/04/my-votedecember-2019/

  3. @ Old Nat

    “It is constitutionally possible for that to happen. If sufficient MPs made it known to our unelected Head of State that they would support a government formed by Ms X, then the constitution (such as it is) wouldn’t be contravened.”

    Labour MPs tried to remove Jeremy Corbyn before. Both efforts failed. It’s too bad no one would break to make Ken Clarke the Prime Minister. He seems like such a lovable old stuffed teddy bear.

    (Though perhaps what you really need when dealing with the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg is one of these: https://savelacougars.myshopify.com/products/p22-limited-edition-plushy )

    “Politically, it is unlikely, as MPs are dependent for their jobs on being selected again, and without a system of primary elections to select candidates, at best their reselection will depend on the vote of all local party members, or at worst on the votes of a largely self-selecting group in a moribund constituency association.”

    So I think the way in which the Tories, Labour, and the Lib Dems pick their leaders is INSANE. I don’t know how your Scots Nats select their leaders. But in any event, I’m no one to judge. Because the way that we pick our Presidents is absolutely insane and backwards. I mean, I honestly wonder how so many Democrats advocate to replace the electoral college yet seemingly have zero problems with the inequitable and undemocratic way in which we nominate presidents. The cognitive dissonance stuns me sometimes.

    However, there is one positive thing about it. Donald Trump’s political survivor depends upon radical leftwing Democratic activists nominating a Jeremy Corbyn type nominee. We certainly have a lot of crazy people out there who would love to have that kind of leader. They mistake opposition to Dump as an embrace of a radical, hard left agenda. (News media does this too).

    The nomination process though is skewed in favor of African American voters and to a lesser extent, Latino voters. Both groups have shown a strong dislike to Corbynism and Corbyn style candidates.

  4. Yesterday the FX markets seemed to make up their minds that Johnson will get a majority.
    Perhaps they’ve jumped too soon?

  5. So Labour have just plucked another 8+ Billion off the magic money tree for each of the next 3 years, irresponsible and desperate just about sums it up.

    Any polls due today?

  6. Miserable Old Git: Talking of a federal Uk, as I see it there are three basic models could be used (in all cases where Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each constitute one “region” in the federation):

    (1) A “National” model, where England is a 4th “region”. This would be no less unbalanced, and therefore potentially centifrugal, than the current UK, and offers little benefit.

    (2) A “strong federal” model, with 7 or 8 English “regions”, where the regions have power over all domestic and fiscal policy, and the federal government retains powers only over foreign and defence policy, national infrastructure, constitutional matters and the supreme court, and probably fiscal redistribution amongst the regions. This is potentially stable but, effectively eliminates “England” as a concept, and may therefore be unacceptable to the English populace.

    (3) A “weak federal” model, again with 7 or 8 English “regions”, working similarly to the US model (ie with a relatively powerful federal government, a population-based lower house, a regional-based upper house, and a requirement that all legislation be passed by both houses). Note that this allows for, but does not require, an executive president. This is probably the most stable approach, as it would make possible a sub-national, supra-regional, English authority (if desired).

    I think that the federal boat has well and truly sailed. Of your options, [1] fails for the reason you give. But equally [3] fails for the same reason. [3] is no more than a mid point on a scale between [1] and [2] and for it to be a weak federal model, we are left with a central UK with a lot of clout and hence the continuation of the structural issues of the present UK, exacerbated by the centuries of the position of England being ingrained into the system.

    [2] depends entirely on the regions being given substantial autonomy and is something which could have worked 20 years ago, when Labour offered regional devolution to the NE and the NW and intended to roll it out across the UK. If a moderately substantial model of autonomy had been offered, comparable to Scottish Devolution you might expect that by now, the regions would be well used to working together and forming various alliances over particular issues.

    But things have moved on. Scotland has been carving out its own path for 20 years and will be less inclined to engage in alliances with English regions, because a plurality in Scotland want Independence and the rest would be divided on the type of UK settlement they would want.

    In England, I see very little comprehension of the issues, especially of what the UK union is, such that no one has really engaged with the changes which were required. England, without the UK union would probably benefit from regionalisation, but it is not essential and I see no motivation to do this, especially not to save a union which England does not much care about anyway
    I doubt that England would tolerate such regional devolution after the trauma of brexit so far. Plus, with the brexit trauma so far, I doubt anyone will feel old enough to carry though such a sweeping constitutional reform and if brexit does go ahead, there will not be the political bandwidth to see it through.

    Given the foregoing, I can only believe that the UK is finished. I’ll allow an outside chance on successful reform, but overall, even if a Scottish Indyref fails, in my opinion the only options to keep the UK together are now coercive measures.

  7. The New Statesman, which presents itself as a left-wing newspaper, has called Jeremy Corbyn ‘unfit to be prime minister’ and is refusing to endorse the Labour Party in the forthcoming election.

    Oh dear an embarrassing silence from other posters on here!

  8. socalliberal,
    ” It seems like the anger is driven by anger at other things that Brexiteers have basically channeled, unchallenged, into anger at the European Union.”

    The problem with challenging it is that then someone else would have to own blame. Which would basically be the parties who have been in power during our period of membership. ‘It wasnt the EU, it was us you should blame!

    Difficult.

  9. Thomas: For any LDs out there, I (not LD) didn’t think Swinson’s AN interview was all that bad …

    A question though: I understand why, tactically, she had to apologise for everything she did during the coalition, but strategically, how does this help the LDs? As the third party it is surely in the LDs interest to sell the idea of coalition governments and thus to justify the compromises that go with them. Trashing that concept means the LDs have no option but to either replace one of the big 2 or give up on national politics. What would be the point of electoral reform if all the smaller parties refuse to be in coalitions with the largest party?

    I think a distinction needs to be drawn between the merits of coalition and the merits or otherwise of what you do in coalition.

    Culturally, England is not used to coalition and the experiences have not been good either. So I expect electoral reform attempts to flounder, even in what is demonstrably a crisis of the present system, and for authoritarian solutions to have more support.

  10. @James E and others
    Average 11 polls prior to GE ’17 / act result
    Con 43.1 / 43.5
    Lab 36.5 / 41.0
    UKIP 4.4 / 1.9
    Ldem 7.5 / 7.6
    SNP 4.2 / 3.5
    Green 2.5 / 1.7
    Other 1.9 / 1.2

    GE ’17 opinion polls were very good predictors of Con & Lib Dem VI %

    Labour was underestimated by 4.5% and others overestimated, mostly UKIP.

    It is not disputed, the polls in GE’17 were biased against LAB,
    4.5% was a chunky error – question is does this bias remain today or did the polling companies changes to methodology clear it out?

    AW’s article argues this bias has been removed. If he is right then Labour are substantially worse now than GE ’17 with both -4% in polling VI (32.5% vs 36.5%) AND -4.5% of bias removed = -8.5% vs GE’17

  11. @profhoward
    I think the criticism of Jo Swinson has been a bit unfair.
    …………..……………………….

    I thought Jo Swinson would connect with the UK public in her honeymoon period. Very few in England had noticed her before (so no record to defend albeit she was in government 2010 to 2015).
    Scottish accents are highly trusted in England. Maybe just a neutral quality in Scotland.
    We are always being told that ‘women’ want more ‘women’ in politics. It seems that whatever the truth of the abstract, the concrete trumps the abstract -just like Hillary Clinton – but NOT that woman!
    Jo Swinson is a generation younger than Boris and Jeremy Corbyn.
    She had a crystal clear policy on the biggest issue in UK politics 2017-19 which canvassers did not have to explain because the voters already knew it. Revoke – we ain’t leaving the EU.
    For these reasons and others, I expected Jo Swinson to at least double Lib Dem support and if VI moved to her, then for the GE narrative to be Labour VI is falling. Momentum can take off in the media and accelerate VI movement to polling day.
    As it is, I was one hundred percent wrong (unless all the polls are wrong).

    Therefore, I do wonder if the key is the genuine level of intensity of the 16 million Remain support from 2016.
    I concede over 1 million would use their own blood to sign a petition to Remain/second referendum, and that this group dominated Westminster, the media and most media pundits.
    However, I always thought that over 50% of the support was blancmange soft. It was voting for a quiet life. The nice establishment view of that nice Mr Cameron. Now they know this is not an option, it just is not there. This is why I always welcomed a second re-run referendum which I think Leave would win decisively and not pollute a GE which needs to address other valid policies.
    Unless the polls are wrong, outside of the usual suspects (M25 and Scotland) there is no intense Remain vote topping a pecking order of policy issues.
    Jo Swinson either just misread this, or she is mainly fishing in the M25 and Scotland for winnable seats. Of course if she gets 20 by 5pm December 13th, she is a winner compared to 2017.
    If she gains seats, then (apart from her own expectation management), she is a winner. The Lib Dems stay part of the Westminster conversation and on to the locals (where another good year would make them a very significant force).
    If the polls are right (I am trusting YouGov), then for Boris it is just ‘I am the only Leave show in town in over 350 seats) and Corbyn will bankrupt you.

  12. @Fred

    Very sad that anyone on the Left doesn’t want to endorse Labour. Even if you have concerns about the leader, surely you would look at the Labour candidates and want to support them, particularly when compared to some of the extreme far-right candidates that the Conservatives are fielding.

    The irony of those on the centre-left not being willing to support Labour will be that it might mean the people who will lose their seats in the Tory/Con marginals are mainly the more centrist Labour candidates. (e.g. Mary Creagh in Wakefield)

    Add to that the Conservatives will change the boundaries, expand voting for ex-pats and introduce voter id to reduce the participation of ethnic minorities and young voters and making it much less likely that a left-wing or centre-left government will ever be elected.

    Unless you live in Islington you can’t vote for Corbyn. Unless you live in Uxbridge you can’t vote for Johnson.

    If only people would actually take the time to look at their local candidates views / voting records and make their decisions based on that instead of the nonsense spouted by the media and the parties then our electoral system of 650 separate elections might make more sense.

  13. FRED

    Yes-that is quite something !

    BANTAMS

    @”So Labour have just plucked another 8+ Billion off the magic money tree for each of the next 3 years, ”

    Best of the lot was that £6k pa for 7m families. You would have thought Lab VI would have shot up for that alone. Wonder why not ?

  14. @ Bantams

    As I reported before a friend of mine in Leeds with two primary school children was called to a meeting with other parents by the headteacher. He was informed that the school was broke. They would have to be a drastic reduction in the educational provision uness the parents cough up to keep the school afloat. The sums involved that the parents might be expected to give quite large.
    Could you take time out from your relentless, tedious and utterly predictable, negative n partisan posting to comment on the fact that the educational system of this country has been reduced to such a state that head teachers everywhere are reduced to begging for money; and also to suggest how the ordinary kids of this country can be given a decent state education without an increase in funding.

  15. @ Fred

    “The New Statesman, which presents itself as a left-wing newspaper”

    Presents is the operative word, it has been a centrist publication since the late eighties. In many ways the LoC publication of yesteryear (usually poorly funded and living from hand to mouth) has migrated online so to imagine that the New Statesman, The Guardian and The Independent are anyway left of centre is not to recognise the shift in the UK Overton Window which has taken place over recent years. In other words those publications were considered left of centre when the Blair Government was considered to be left of centre, they were not in any European or international understanding of political geography. The Blair government and its supporters were much more akin to the Democratic Party in America under Clinton, to the left of the Republicans but to the right of virtually every Christian Democrat in Europe never mind the Social Democratic parties.

  16. Latest GFS 06z run just completing now, and unlike the polls, these are swinging around a fair bit.

    Next Thursday now looks to be starting pretty cold everywhere, but with a strong westerley wind setting in further south. Later in the day there could be gales in the SW, moving eastwards by the time polls close, although from the midlands northwards the winds ease during the day, with Scotland staying pretty chilly (sub zero still in many parts). England and Wales more like average December temperatures now, however, which is a major flip from previous runs. Some showers likely, perhaps sleety over English hills, snowy further north.

    I personally think the weather is a potentially big factor but completely unpredictable. Apart from the vagaries of the weather itself, we have no real way of know whether it will differentially influence different sections of the electorate.

    One observation though; last night I received a call from Labour canvassers specifically asking for help with transport on polling day. This is the first time I’ve been asked, and I’ve said yes. I have my snow tyres fitted, and have booked the day off, and will be scooping up as many Labour voters who need a lift as I can manage. Labour has a big membership. I suspect I won’t be alone.

  17. @ROBBIEALIVE

    That’s quite a common thing in my local are near Wakefield as well. Multiple local schools have cut Teaching Assistants and Special Needs Assistants and still struggling with budgets and going begging to parents.

    And I suspect the majority of parents are blissfully unaware that the support for their children in the classroom has been halved or worse in some cases. The number of kids with special needs that are completely unsupported is a scandal, particularly as some are making little or no progress and are disruptive without one to one support.

    In theory schools have a duty to provide support but in practice they have no money and no staff to provide that support. And even those schools that have found money for support staff are having to advertise the positions as temporary or part-time and then they can’t fill them.

    Education is as big a scandal at the moment as the state of the NHS but seems to be completely under the radar.

  18. JIMR

    Thank you.

    I think many people are failing to realise that the adjustments that caused polls to understate Labour in 2017 are no longer being applied. So for there to be a similar result to 2017 we would need a larger (and totally different) polling error understating Labour and/or overstating the Tories.

  19. @ ROBBIEALIVE

    Why wasn’t it in the manifesto then if things are so bad? They should have left something else out to allow this in. I know teachers in Pudsey and there it’s nothing like you say it is in your part of Leeds but I do accept different pressures are at play in different schools.

    It was an overall point I was making here, Labour aren’t making progress in the polls so are now they are grasping at expensive straws with big numbers attached just to grab some attention.

  20. Jonathan Stuart-brown,
    “For these reasons and others, I expected Jo Swinson to at least double Lib Dem support ”

    Trouble with your argument is that it is self defeating. The more strongly people feel about brexit, and however much they might prefer a policy of revoke now, fact is libs will not form the next government. So the best thing to do is vote lab in order to obtain a second referendum. Better a chance that way than certain defeat voting lib.

    “Therefore, I do wonder if the key is the genuine level of intensity of the 16 million Remain support from 2016.”

    Yes I agree, but as above I also feel the stronger they feel about brexit, the less likely they are to vote lib. So contrary I think to yourself, i think libs, greens and other small parties would all be doing better -much better – if voters cared not at all about Brexit. Indeed, the risk for lab and con is what happens to their support once Brexit ceases to be an issue.

  21. @Alec

    A very warm welcome to the world of political activism! And for Labour too in this election. Good man!

    @NickP

    If it was Ken Bates, I hereby withdraw my offer of resumed cordiality. Mr Bates was not a very pleasant fellow. Let’s leave it at that.

  22. James E, a notable thing in 2017, that Red UKIP voters returned to Labour, thinking they would deliver Brexit, they are now gone to BXP or Tories. So this and the methodology are being represented in the current polling.

  23. ROBBIEALIVE

    He was informed that the school was broke. They would have to be a drastic reduction in the educational provision uness the parents cough up to keep the school afloat. The sums involved that the parents might be expected to give quite large.

    I just don’t get this. Real-terms per-pupil funding in primary schools has dropped by the tiniest of amounts, and is still higher than it was in 2010. Indeed, it’s far higher than it was throughout the 2000s, yet schools were capable of staying open for 5 days a week then without going cap in hand to parents. What on earth has changed to make them so dependent on the marginally higher levels of funding which they had for the brief period from 2013 to 2016?

  24. @ JJ – We differ slightly on the maths but close enough on the outcomes. So below is further examining the “messy” zone of CON 290-310ish seats (adjust slightly if you like)

    Beyond the HoC maths the other key issue is the “process” and “lead time” aspects and for that we can go back to all the issues we faced when CON only had 288 MPs in last HoC (ie post “purge”)

    Boris might agree to some amendment(s) to his WAB (eg environmental issues) that give LAB MPs a “fig leaf” to allow them to vote “aye” (or abstain). New one that we didn’t discuss back then would be putting some legislation in concerning NHS spending or iron clad legal guarantee on drug prices in trade deals, etc (not specific to WAB but would encourage more LAB MPs to get a few things locked down before forcing another GE via VoNC and allowing the 14days to tick down)

    However, if it comes to amendments demanding a CU or a 2nd ref then forget it. When Boris only had 288 MPs he preferred to pull his WAB and go for GE. He doesn’t want to be a “puppet” PM but he will be fairly confident on the “decisions” of the ABC MPs who have been very predictable so far. They desperately want to avoid “No Deal” but don’t want PM Corbyn – hence Boris can play a “bluff” (although IMO he wouldn’t be bluffing and if it comes to “No WAB” or asking for a 4th extension then we get a Farage Brexit on 31Jan’20)

    Note, Hoyle is not Bercow but TBC what kind of speaker he is. However, anyone hoping for “Surrender Act2” is really clutching at a tired pre-used straw. Boris got away with not dying in a ditch once and Macron caved in on extension again so although it’s not impossible we have another groundhog year in 2020 I doubt LAB candidates who saw their majority collapse but narrowly win in Leave seats next week due to BXP splitting the Leave vote (and those are the ones you need to keep) will be keen on another extension to see if another GE will “fix” the HoC maths.

    Surely, for many LAB MPs that squeak a win in a Leave seat, they are better to try to get a “fig leaf” from Boris and then either abstain or vote “aye” in the WAB vote. Then ABC MPs can take Boris and CON min.govt down after 1Feb but before the extension deadline – that period is plenty long enough time to hold a GE and allow LAB to campaign on the promise that they’ll turn PD into a much closer “future relationship” than Boris would (and get Long Bailey in to replace Corbyn, etc).

    So, in the 290-310 CON seat zone then LAB should “play long”. Let Boris’s WAB go through (with a few “fig leafs” attached/on the side) and then try to win GE’20 by taking Boris down AFTER 1Feb’20.

    I’m aware that will sound biased[1] but if you see a fault in the tactical logic then let me know.

    [1] That would be a “bad” outcome for me so I don’t really see how it can be biased. I’d then need CON to win GE’20 and if that was Boris v Long Bailey then well… I’d be making preparations to move my business interests out of UK but looking to forward to spending my ISA money on something other than uni fees for my kids (always a silver lining!)

  25. @Bantams

    Actually real terms education spending has seen a dramatic reduction over a sustained period now. It’s no wonder schools are reaching breaking point.

    https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/sep/19/education-spending-fall-from-2010-to-now-was-worst-since-1970s-ifs

  26. Voice of Reason

    I responded to your excellent post on why people should endorse Labour candidates. But it seems to have disappeared. It was perhaps a bit over the top

  27. James E,
    ” for there to be a similar result to 2017 we would need a larger (and totally different) polling error understating Labour and/or overstating the Tories.”

    As a candidate, I might suggest the demographic shift through the population away from generally tory views towards generally labour views. Polling kinda assumes a national baseline which is moved back and forth by issues over the years. But if the makeup of the nation is changing, then this imposes a bias between elections which will not be allowed for by the standard methods, which are to use recent elections as the new baseline.

    So, have more right died and more left joined the voting population? Is this a steady trend, which would then give labour a permanent and unaccounted underestimate at each election?

    Or not, of course. But I also think this is related to the change in makeup of labour support, where its own traditional base has been dying out too, but has been replaced by a new kind of left voter.

  28. @ALEC

    last night I received a call from Labour canvassers specifically asking for help with transport on polling day

    I was asked to help a couple of weeks ago but at the stage it was for voters with mobility issues and when I explained that I have a 1985 Land Rover Defender which is difficult to climb into, they agreed it wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s great in snow though so I shall call them back and offer my services.

  29. @JamesE @JimR

    The specific 2017 error on turnout estimation has certainly been corrected – though even the polling companies not making that error did largely underestimate Labour in 2017.

    I’m looking forward to finding out what the error is this time – with Opinium on Con+15 and BMG on Con+6 in their latest polls with identical fieldwork dates, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll both turn out to be extreme outliers, though I don’t have any guesses on which will be more accurate.

    Adjustments in how the votes are distributed (some signs of Lib Dem revival in the South of England, higher SNP performance, Brex standing in only half the seats so doing rather better than their headline poll indicates) means that the Conservatives probably require a slightly larger lead over Labour to get a majority this time. But it certainly also looks at the moment like they’ll get it.

  30. Garj

    Our secondary schools are full of zero hour contract labour, classes are regularly cancelled.

    It is largely a result of the coalition reform that in the name of efficiency made an extremely inefficient funding system (Effectively increasing fixed cost (overhead) massively.). The free market economy ideology beat the practical business approach.

  31. Random thoughts:

    There seems to be some genuine nervousness in Conservative ranks, despite a seemingly unassailable poll lead. I guess this is the result of relying on an uninspired electorate in an age of zero trust.

    Labour non endorsements: I think we are seeing now what a mountain the Labour left have to climb. Throughout the Blair years, when the ‘centrists’ or as we should call them, ‘right wingers’ took over Labour, the left maintained it’s support and activism. I never saw Corbyn call for anyone to vote Conservative, even after Blair’s disastrous military campaigns. I’m afraid this is the loyalty you get from alleged moderates who have no real interest in challenging systemic abuses of working people that they claim to represent.

    Law of diminishing returns: In their attempts to be radical, Labour may reflect that they have gone too far. In politics, it isn’t so much what you say that counts, as your level of credibility. Labour’s offer, rightly or wrongly, has been seen by many as a retail offer, addressing a series of high profile but specific issues, with big prices attached. I’m not sure the messaging has worked enough to deliver it as a coherent whole, and within that. too many people see the numbers and doubt it’s credibility, even if they see popular things in there.

    Conservatives have, by contrast, offered a vanishingly thin prospectus for government (‘we will talk about finding a solution for the care crisis’) but hiding behind getting Brexit done, have appeared more coherent and credible, even while they sport a very right wing cabinet, stuffed fulled of Thatcherite +++ thinkers whose musings will be deeply damaging to the Labour Leave communities they target. It has been a very effective campaign.

    On the election outcome: A Conservative majority appears overwhelmingly likely, scale to be determined. How real is this victory?

    The direction taken by the Conservatives is not sustainable. They have used Brexit, and the discontent that caused Brexit, very cleverly in this campaign, and on top of that have pretended to want to do very Labour- like things with the public sector spending. This is not sustainable for a right wing party, and how they handle this is going to define the next five years.

    To win, Conservatives have had to accept a far greater appetite out there for tax and spend, while still holding to a tax cutting mantra. Perhaps this suggests Labour are the real victors, having lost the election but only after pushing the Conservatives into a position where they recognise that their small state vision is electorally unsustainable.

  32. @RobbieAlive

    Thanks. :-) Well I just think its a case of the centre-left cutting off their nose to spite their face.

    From an internal Labour politics viewpoint it’s even more self-destructive. In theory, if Corbyn does lose the election, then someone more towards the centre of the party might be more likely to be considered for leader by the party. But if there is no-one left from the centre-left, or they don’t have a broad enough level of support within the parliamentary party, then the likelihood is that the next leader will be in a similar vein to Corbyn.

    But the wider point, given our electoral system, I think is still valid. People can only vote for their local candidates. As voters we should find out what they think and make our choice based on that.

  33. the Trevors,
    “Note, Hoyle is not Bercow but TBC what kind of speaker he is”

    The job description os the speaker is to speak the view of the majority in the commons. If conservatives have a majority in the commons on issues, then he is their man. If not, he isnt.

    I dont believe Bercow was nearly as controversial as the minority government liked to claim.

    “Surely, for many LAB MPs that squeak a win in a Leave seat, they are better to try to get a “fig leaf” from Boris and then either abstain or vote “aye” in the WAB vote. ”

    Ah, but that gifts 5-10 million rejoin votes to libs at the next election, whenever it comes. If labour cannot act for remain, then libs will get those people because they then become the best hope for rejoin. The last three years has been all about trying to avoid taking a clear stance, By both lab and con.

  34. I cannot imagine the DUP propping up a Corbyn government.

  35. Add on to 10:59am. It’s also possible that even after 1Feb’20 that EC-EU27 state that prior to the transition extension deadline that we could rejoin via an “expediated” A49 process and keep our old vetoes etc. (ie the first 5mths and maybe even the second 6mths of 2020 is all effectively a 4th/5th extension and we can still “Remain”)

    I’m very careful not to “predict” what EC-EU27 will do beyond knowing they don’t want a “WTO” Brexit so might be a little devious in ways to try and keep us trapped in EU (or at least CU+SM) rather than risk WTO and UK falling out of their “sphere of influence”[1].

    I will state I’m absolutely certain the Arch-Remainers in UK will not “give-up” and they’ll latch onto any straw of hope that any single voice in EC-EU27 offer. That could be as much a problem as a blessing for LAB though – as the clock ticks down in 2020 then there won’t be time for a GE and then a ref – so they’ll have to move to LDEM policy

    NB all the above is simply exhausting one branch in a decision tree, the messy, hard to predict (bit not impossible to speculate) branch of CON winning 290-310ish seats.

    [1] Awful imperialist term but sadly how Holy Roman Empire v5 see it.

  36. Alec,
    “There seems to be some genuine nervousness in Conservative ranks”

    Are they afraid of winning, or afraid of losing? Or even both?

    “To win, Conservatives have had to accept a far greater appetite out there for tax and spend, while still holding to a tax cutting mantra.”

    Obviously that isnt credible. However, a brexit recession would probably be helpfull in confusing the issue of national fnances for the next 5 years. At least, the recession itself would not help con, but it would make their stated plans immaterial. The 2008 recession, from which lab had commenced a recovery by 2010, was still used by con to justify the next 10 years of cuts.

  37. @ MILLIE – DUP might abstain though. They would also probably prefer “No WA” to “Boris’s WA” if it came to that choice.

    However, for sure no one should be including them in the maths that narrowly puts Corbyn into #10. LDEM maybe but DUP no.

  38. VOICE_OF_REASON

    Actually real terms education spending has seen a dramatic reduction over a sustained period now. It’s no wonder schools are reaching breaking point.

    You’re muddling up different things. Overall educational funding has seen cuts, but the lions share of those have been borne by things like adult education, and through shifting more of the burden of paying for further education onto tuition fees. The ‘worst fall since 1970s’ thing is classing journalistic misdirection, because funding levels are still way, way higher than they were even 15 years ago. The article you linked contains the graph that actually matters when it comes to schools funding, headed ‘Per-pupil spending rose sharply under the last Labour government’, which charts per-pupil funding in 2019/20 prices. What it shows is that primary funding did indeed climb consistently under Labour, doubling from £2300 up to £4600. When the coalition took over in 2010 it continues to climb, up to £5200 by about 2016. The Tories, however, have pulled it back down to £5000 per pupil.

    So, to be clear, the Tories have cut primary school funding by just under 4% from its peak a pew years ago, but it’s still a good 8.7% higher than it was when Cameron first took office. Yet when you read articles about it, or posts on here, or hear the pleas from headteachers, you’d think that funding levels had been slashed by 50% or some similarly huge amount. They haven’t, so what gives? I’m not just trying to pick holes, I’m genuinely curious as to why schools are struggling to function with funding levels that are only a shade under their all-time high. Is it because of how they’re being distributed between different schools, or an increase in SEN provision eating up more of their budgets, or the struggle to meet higher requirements in terms of classroom sizes and staffing levels, or increases in salaries brought on by a higher minimum wage? Somebody explain, because it just doesn’t add up to me.

  39. @ Robbie Alive

    The donations from parents you mentioned is also a cause of rising inequality. The middle class areas will have the parent funding, the deprived areas it is a waste of time even asking and arguably immoral to do so anyway.

    There are also so many subtle sub issues involved here with shortage of staff and redundancies disproportionately affecting deprived areas. TA’s are cut back on because they can be but also many little things that help kids cannot be done because of lack of resources. For deprived children the school trips and after school activities make up for the advantages that middle class families take for granted. Breakfast clubs become harder to run.

    Education is 6 hours a day but inequality arises because of the differences in opportunities and semi educational experiences outside of this time. It’s difficult to explain this to people who come from a middle class background whose parents had the money and time to provide this other stuff for their kids.

  40. Very Logical Trevor, just the ruling out no deal amendment that could in such a scenario be potentially difficult.

    If passed the so-called Spartans would pull the rug a we have anew cliff edge on 31st Jan.

    Other question is that if Tories lose seats net does Johnson say or get replaced – Gove maybe?

    Probably academic as modest but functional OM looks likely.

  41. ALEC

    I think -from your post-you are on the horns of a dilemma.

    You lambast the election winning Centre Left as right wing , and excuse the Left’s failure to get a VI lead as “going too far” with their Tax/Spend plan and getting their “messaging” wrong.

    I mean how far was far enough if £83 bn pa was too far?-£40bn pa-£20bn pa ……….a Centre Left programme that addressed the inequities with credibility and broad appeal?

    Perhaps not the last one eh?

    More seriously if you REALLY believe that McDonnell’s offer is the radical answer to this countries ills at this time-then why do you think Johnson’s Conservatives are even being talked of as a winning prospect?

  42. @Garj

    Increased SEN provision is definitely a huge factor. Some classes in our closest primary school have 5 or 6 kids with special needs. Previously there would have been fewer kids and those that there were would have had 1-2-1 support. Now you are lucky if you have one SEN support staff per class.

    And just to give one particular example of where SEN needs have risen, one of our area’s local schools has still seen a quadrupling of young children with significant speech issues. To such an extent that they have had to buy-in additional speech therapy support and employ staff to work on this.

    The reasons for this are many and varied but the most obvious one seems to be that parents just aren’t talking to their kids as much as they used and the end result is that children arrive at school without basic skills that they would have had 15-20 years ago.

    Speech is just one are but there are others. Ability to ‘share nicely’ or play games in a group is another example of a skill that children are no longer picking up at home and are having to be taught in school.

    Then of course beyond that there are a great many more children being identified with ASD or hyperactivity. The assumption by many parents is that these children will be provided for by schools but increasingly staff that are supposed to be dedicated for these children are being split between multiple children because for every 1 child with a diagnosis of ASD there are probably 2 or 3 more that definitely should have an ASD diagnosis but haven’t received one (either because of reulctance on the part of local authority to assess them as ASD or the slow process of getting them assessed).

    All in all, its a very complex picture. But I’ve never seen it so bad in the primary schools in my local area and staff are leaving the profession just because of the pressures of their roles, the additional demands and the schools often can’t afford to replace them when they do leave.

    Just to give you 1 example from a school very close to me – 2 TA’s recently left, 1 HLTA has decided to take retirement, 1 HLTA has taken a job elsewhere and 2 more SNA’s on temporary contracts were told that they were being made redundant. All within the last 6 months. None of the positions are being advertised and school has no plans to replace. This is small 1 form entry school that is effectively losing 6 staff.

    It will leave most classes without TA’s. There are no interventions being done with special needs children as there are no staff to run them.

    This ended up being a more detailed reply than I intended but I know from speaking to other colleagues around the district that the above is not an isolated case.

    Most schools in our area are in crisis and we are not expecting it to get better any time soon.

  43. ALEC

    Not a lot I particularly disagree with there, though I’m not sure about this bit:

    To win, Conservatives have had to accept a far greater appetite out there for tax and spend, while still holding to a tax cutting mantra. Perhaps this suggests Labour are the real victors, having lost the election but only after pushing the Conservatives into a position where they recognise that their small state vision is electorally unsustainable.

    Have Labour successfully moved the conversation onto their territory, or have they given the Tories the political cover they needed to abandon austerity and take a more centrist position on public spending? Cameron and Osborne were certainly small-state idealogues who relished the chance to cut back, and while May might have had different instincts, Hammond (be he ‘tin-eared’ or ‘spreadsheet’) was obsessive about bringing down the deficit. Johnson is a very different beast, favouring a relatively Thatcherite economic liberalism, but also despearte to be liked (loved, even), and very willing to splash the cash if it’ll help him achieve that. Javid, for his part (and despite having been sidelined by his boss), has been arguing for increases in spending and investment for quite a long time.

    As to voter trends, much will depend on how things play out. I’m inclined to agree with Trevor that the greatest difficulty lurks with a small Tory majority, which could hamper the concessions Boris will need to make in his desire to tie up a quick trade deal. If he manages that, and the increases in public spending are sufficient to ease the strain on public services, then it could put Labour in a very dangerous position next time around. After all, the lesson from Scotland was surely that Labour’s traditional support base is something of a house of cards, and can very readily come crashing down if those voters become disillusioned with the party.

    On the other hand, a Tory government could very easily get mired in scandal and division, find signing a trade deal with the EU very difficult, discover their spending increases are insufficient to create noticable improvements in public services, and have to handle the impacts of a global recession to boot. If those sorts of things happen then a Labour party with a less divisive leadership could find itself pushing on an open door next time around.

  44. Anthony – Thank you for the excellent write-up above, though I was shocked that polling companies, and presumably others, can inspect the marked electoral register to see whether we voted. Just another example of how, on the one hand, the authorities cite data protection when it suits them, then sell the same information when it pays.

  45. @Garj/robbiealive/voice of Reason etc

    I’m on a train and smartphone so apologies if this post is a bit staccato and garbled. I’ve been reading your exchanges on education spending with interest. I neither worked in education nor have I studied the current vs past spending levels in detail, so I can’t compete with your expertise in either fields.

    However, it struck me that your exchanges and disagreements are typical of many that fly between competing political viewpoints. It’s the conflict between lived experiences and spreadsheets in a nutshell. Your experience says this, my statistics say something else. You talk about impoverished schools, I can show you a spreadsheet that says they’re getting more money. You point to growing waiting lists in hospitals and I’ll show you record high new doctor recruitment. You say the economy isn’t working for many, I’ll show you deficit reduction figures that says the economy is fixed.

    And so it goes. Somebody’s lived experience is invalidated by statistical proof that they must be talking nonsense or exaggerating their stories.

    Maybe they are, I don’t know, but this seems a pattern now. A very skewed mainstream media can heavily influence this debate too and how the truth is perceived..

    Accordingly, I think the statistics are beating the lived experiences by a long way, certainly in terms of political salience.

  46. @Colin – good questions there.

    My thinking, oddly enough, is informed by what I thought was one of the best statements by one T Blair.

    I can’t recall the exact quote, but he once said in a speech to the Labour conference that the problem with some on the left was that they judged their political position on the left by how much money their governments spent. He said that a big welfare bill isn’t a sign of a virile left wing government, but a sign that they had failed. I agree with this view.

    Like you, I’m a little puzzled about what Labour means by nationalisation. There are different forms of state control and influence of infrastructure companies, and old fashioned Whitehall centred control isn’t necessarily a good one. Labour are thinking these different ideas, but they haven’t expressed these that well in the campaign, imo.

    There are some truly radical things out there that don’t involve creating money and nationalising. Two small examples I would give you three that I often think about:

    To reform politics – cap all donations at no more than £5,000 per voter per year, with no corporate/company donations allowed – including unions.

    To boost council infrastructure funding and affordable homes, pass a law than captures 90% of planning gain for councils.

    To aid social mobility – make it a criminal offence for any employer, educational institution or any other body that selects entrants by competitive process – from asking for any information from applicants that could identify their name, age, address, ethnic origin or place of schooling.

    You don’t need to know a job applicant is called Ibrahim and is from Brent, is 23 and went to an inner city comprehensive school in order to offer them a university place. You just need to know what their academic record is and what else they do with their time.

    I hope these examples help to illustrate my thinking, in an albeit somewhat jumbled manner. Being radical sometimes means doing things completely differently, whereas I think this Labour Party iteration is a bit too fixated on traditional solutions.

  47. @ bantams

    “So Labour have just plucked another 8+ Billion off the magic money tree for each of the next 3 years, irresponsible and desperate just about sums it up.

    Any polls due today?”

    Irresponsible would be holding an ill-thought out referendum on Brexit with no plan whatsoever for one of the vague outcomes, then coasting along for years promising all sorts of impossible things.

    #Random question about polls to make it look like I’m following the comments policy.#

  48. @Crossbat

    “At least I think he was called Ken. Any of the old UKPR guard remember him?”

    ———

    Oh yeah, I remember Ken. We had some mild political exchanges, then it settled into chatting about the Algarve and his interest in hydrogen as he’d invested in a company developing tech to use hydrogen in conventional piston engines (rather than fuel cells). Hope it’s all going ok.

  49. This site is childish , I remember when you could get real information about polls ( Canterbury going Labour for instants) now it just a mouthpiece for someone call ” Bathams” . Would it not be better for the site if people just ignored him or better still someone tells his mum he using the computer again.
    Signing off .

  50. Good Afternoon to everyone from a cold but sunny Bournemouth.

    I see there has been a discussion about school funding.
    The major problem is the sharp rise in ‘on costs’ Employers are being faced, have been faced since about 2012 when the Cons and the Lib Dems were in coalition together.
    Employer contributions to National Insurance for employees and to the Teacher Superannuation scheme have risen a great deal; well above the revenue increases.

    The New Statesman article, however, indicates, as the programme from Grimsby also showed, that many voters do not fee safe with Corbyn and his team, so there is no viable alternative to the status quo- in the minds of many voters.

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