Regular readers will know that I have often complained about surveys claiming to show that an issue or policy stance will make people more or less likely to vote for a party. I’ve written about it previously here, here and here.

Polls like this are very popular with pressure groups and political campaigns because they inevitably end up suggesting that the issue they are campaigning on is really important and will swing votes, and MPs better listen to them and do what they say or they’ll lose their jobs. The problem is people don’t actually behave like that – we know from academic studies that people don’t vote on single issues, they vote on broad things like party identification, perceptions of party leaders, perceptions of competence, economic trust, party image and so on. Individual policy stances play into these things, but to reduce the complex drivers of voting behaviour to polling questions purporting to show that “If party X follows policy Y then 14% of people won’t vote for them” is simplistic and naive.

I won’t recite at length why these questions give such misleading data, but there are a number of reasons. Firstly respondents use them to indicate support or opposition to a policy or a party regardless of whether it would actually change their vote. Secondly it gives false prominence to a single issue, when in a real election campaign that issue would be considered alongside other important issues like the economy, leadership perceptions, party competence and so on. Thirdly people simply aren’t very good judges of what drives their own decision making. Working together these produce results that overestimate the impact of single issues on voting intention.

Yet, it is a question that people eternally want asking – and keeps provoking rather silly news stories, full of hyperbole about gay marriage dooming the Conservative party. Hence it is worth trying to do it sensibly.

In the Sunday Times/YouGov poll this week they first they asked what three or four issues would be most important to people in deciding their vote at the next general election. It’s still simplistic of course, and still depends on people understanding the drivers of their own voting intentions when they don’t, but at least it doesn’t give an issue false prominence.

Asked this way, 56% say the economy will be an important issue in how they vote, 42% immigration, 36% health, 28% unemployment and so on down to gay marriage, of which 7% of people say it will be an important issue in deciding their vote. This includes 5% of current Tory voters and 5% of 2010 Tory voters.

Of course, not all these people who care about the issue are necessarily opposed to it. YouGov asked those 7% who said gay marriage was likely to be an important factor in deciding how they voted whether it would make them more or less likely to vote for a party – 54% said more likely, 44% less likely. In other words three and a bit percent of voters claim they are more likely to vote for a party that supports gay marriage, three and a bit percent claim they are less likely.

Looking just at Tory voters, that 5% of Tory voters who say it will be an important issue in deciding their vote are mostly people who would be less likely to vote for a party that supported it… but this still equates to just 4% of Tory voters – that is, about 1 percentage point of their current 34 percentage points of support. Hardly a huge election winning or losing issue.

Even this is likely to be an overestimate of course, because as I said at the start of the post, people aren’t very good judges of what drives their voting intention and individual issues aren’t actually much of a driver of voting intention; party identification, competence, the economy, leadership perceptions are the sorts of things that actually drive votes. On top of that, gay marriage is very high up the news agenda right now – I expect it will be a far less high profile issue in 2 years time. It also ignores whatever positive impact the issue might have.

In terms of a direct effect, my guess is that, by the time of the next election, gay marriage will have negligible impact on Tory support. Potentially more important is the indirect effect – whether, on one hand, that it adds to perceptions amongst traditionalist voters that David Cameron does not understand or reflect their views or, on the other hand, helps build perceptions that the Conservatives are a more modern and tolerant party that is at ease with the modern world.

Things like this are almost impossible to measure in polls, but are probably far more important. My own view is that Michael Ashcroft is right on this – in terms of impact on party perception Cameron may or may not have been right to come down the route of pushing gay marriage, but now he is here he must continue. Changing his mind won’t convince his detractors that he actually agrees with them, it will just make him look weak, while fatally undermining whatever positive impact it has on making the Conservative party look more tolerant and in tune with modern Britain (that said, I’m far from convinced that it is having a positive impact on that front, because the impact of David Cameron supporting gay marriage risks being cancelled out by the impact of right-wing Conservative backbenchers opposing it).

Meanwhile YouGov’s weekly poll for the Sunday Times has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 41%, LD 12%, UKIP 8%. The mid-week Sun polls clearly suggested the referendum boost was on the wane, but these figures suggest it hasn’t completely gone yet.

357 Responses to “What impact does gay marriage have on voting?”

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    @” I wasn’t feeling sorry for him before but…………”

    I had a different reaction.

    I had always suspected that Huhne’s much paraded principles always took second place to a ruthless personal ambition.

    To see him described by his own son as “”the most most ghastly man I have ever known”does nothing to change my mind.

  2. CB11

    @”A Colonel Blimp ”

    That was certainly the image he cultivated.

    But the pinnacle of his army career was the rank of Sergeant.

    The son of a shopkeeper , he left his LCC school at age 16 to join the army.

    His post-army business career was a successful one , and entirely self made , having started on a factory floor.

  3. Labour’s 2010 result in Eastleigh clearly significantly understates its underlying strength in the area. The 5 previous elections saw Labour polling between 21% and 27% – the big drop in 2010 simply reflected tactical voting and a bit of Cleggmania.. I see no obvious reason why Labour cannot get back to circa 25% in the byelection.

  4. Crossbat

    “’m not sure that’s a sensible comparison, is it? The Labour Party had been infiltrated in the 70s and 80s by hard line Marxists who had no tradition or place in the Labour Party.”

    So where are they now?

  5. JOHN B DICK and CrossVillaBat 11.

    The new book on the 1980’s (BIG BANG) by G. Stewart does the inflitration of Old Labour by the very far and hrd left brilliantly. And scarily.

  6. Here’s a wager.

    All parties will be looking to avoid the Huhne factor (liar, extra-maritals, Calamity Clegg).

    A virtual fiver that the LDs and Labour select a woman.

  7. I does seem that the ‘L’ word is moderated. Very House of Commons. :)

  8. AMBER
    “Following the speculation that Boris & Nigel might stand for the Tories & UKIP respectively, the actual candidates will likely seem very dull by comparison”
    But how nice if they did, and if Labour, as very likely, come up with some very bright, attractive and sparky young politician who give a damn, to compete with these at bottom boring and pretentious, going-nowhere and irrelevant old gits?

  9. Any Poll news from YG?

  10. @ John Pilgrim

    Indeed, a contest featuring Boris, Nigel & a sparky young woman for the Labour team, I would pay money to see that by-election!

  11. There’s no chance at all that Boris will stand, he’s not even through 1 year of his 2nd term as Mayor.

    Farage, might stand, but even he is sceptical I’ve read. I think he only wants to stand in one that he might win, if he enters too many, and continues to lose it will take off some of the gloss.

  12. @Amber “Indeed, a contest featuring Boris, Nigel & a sparky young woman for the Labour team, I would pay money to see that by-election!”

    I think in that instance Boris would definitely the win. Not only does he have name recognition, but it’s a fairly right wing seat, (in that its a con/lib marginal,) and I think even Farage would have to admit he’s not as good a show man as Boris.

  13. John Pilgrim,
    I wish I had said your final sentence,but if I had I would have been moderated.
    Good for you.

  14. National Health Action party executive are deliberating about whether to field a candidate in Eastleigh.

    UKIP were to decide their candidate on Monday next week, but the pressure is now on Farage to make up his mind by mid-week. I can’t see how he would anything but lose – surely it would better for him to bask in a creditable showing from another UKIP candidate and keep the show on the road.

  15. The Scottish Parliament has its own black sheep but not treated with the sympathy Laws, Aitken, Archer, and now Huhne get.

    All for serial wife abuse before he became an MSP.

    They won’t even sit next to him.

  16. Iron rule of politics: if your wife knows where the bodies are buried, don’t leave her for another woman. As others have said, all bets are now off.

    I understand that the Lib Dems remain surprisingly strong in the area, but their 2010 majority was very slim. On paper, purely going by the 2010 result, Labour should be out of contention but going further back, it was much more of an evenly split centre left vote, with the Lib Dems able to edge it during the 1992 by-election, followed by what looks very much like a tactical squeeze, particularly at the last election:

    h ttp://

    h ttp://

    That could well at least partially reverse with the Liberal Democrat alienation of the left, loss of incumbency and a major tactical unwind. In a by-election in this Parliament (a General Election would be a different matter) , there’s zero incentive for Labour to hold back and very little incentive for tactical voting. I’m very surprised to see the noises on Labour List writing it off at the outset.

    And then UKIPs intervention introduces another unpredictable element.

    Either way, it’s a win-win situation for Labour, even if they don’t make much direct headway it sows dissension within the coalition, and is a gift to political watchers, I know I’ll be getting my popcorn, in any case.


    You`ll be pleased with the Youguv poll tonight!

  18. Tom Newton Dunn [email protected]

    YouGov/Sun poll tonight: Labour posts record 15 point lead – biggest since early Blair. CON 30%, LAB 45%. Gay marriage row fall out?

    Tom Newton Dunn [email protected]

    …full figures: CON 30%, LAB 45%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 9%.

  19. New SUN/Yougov = Lab 45 Con 30 The rest…who cares:-)

  20. Perhaps best not to question Peter Kellner’s prognostications as I did yesterday…

    Perhaps some suggestion in the latest YouGov that “party x divided” might still be a driver of VI.

  21. I did predict the lead would widen in the new year when life is grey and wet and miserable.

    The 45/30 is nice arithmetic but its been a long time coming.

  22. Surely even the bigots won’t be able to say that it was because “their” party became too liberal that they didn’t win the 2015 election?

    But they probably will. If a worst-case scenario [from their point of view] does occur, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know where they will go to from here. Who can they elect as leader after Cameron? Their only hope would be Boris but I wonder how long that novelty would work for them

  23. Goodness what a day,and now the long awaited 15% lead.I shall go and lie
    Down in a dark room.

  24. Quite an effort by Tim Montgomerie etc using polling data to persuade MPs that opposition to gay marriage is not a vote winner – the effect of perceptions about disunity will also be grist to the mill – but will they listen?

  25. PAUL
    Just think what it will be like when the sun is shining and the girls are out ineir summer dresses at Eastleigh. Whar larks, eh Pip?

  26. These figures for the Tories do make one wonder if it is possible that enough of them may even consider witholding their vote in Eastleigh, with the intention of forcing a leadership contest.

    I think anything is possible now and its hard to see much good news ahead for them.

    Still, n’e’mind ay?

  27. Will the tory grassroots dismay about gay marriage come into play?

    If the tory candidate is not a gay marriage rebel it leaves it wide open for a classic protest candidate to stand on the issue and seriously damage the tory vote.
    A ‘save marriage’ candidate AND a UKIP candidate would give tory malcontents an enticing range of options to exercise their hobby horses.

    Be interesting how labour plays this, they may not put up much of a fight so as to try and ensure that the tories dont win – which would be politically disastrous for cameron.

  28. @ Smukesh

    “Isn`t it the Conservative party which operates a `don`t ask,don`t tell` policy or maybe it`s the U.S army…Am getting a bit confused!”

    That policy applied to all branches of the U.S. services and that policy is NO MORE. :) :) :) It’s dead and gone. Actually, it was kinda cool last night watching the Congressman most responsible for getting that law repealed, Patrick Murphy, tweet about the Super Bowl and how much a fan of Beyonce’s behind he was. Perhaps he is serious when he tells his still devastated supporters that he’s not interested in returning to elected office. :(

  29. I can see Colin will be having a nightmare dreaming of Ed Balls delivering his first budget in June 2015.

    I have expected that Labour would have a lead of at least 15% at some point and to regularly have double digit leads in the various polls.

    Don’t think it is gay marriage fall out, but people don’t like to see any party that is so split on issues and they may not like Camerons position on the EU, having had a few weeks to think about it.

  30. CON 30%, LAB 45%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 9%.

    15% one of Labour’s largest leads on UKIP only 10% think the Tories are united, 10% that high.

  31. I’m sorry about Chris Huhne. Haven’t been following the case at all (so maybe he did something truly egregious) but I kinda can’t help feel some sympathy for him. He had a promising career and could have been the Lib Dem leader. And now that looks like it’s over. Kinda sad.

    I think the Tories might have a shot at Eastleigh depending upon how much tactical support natural Labour voters give. I’d say that just about any seat the Lib Dems hold that they did not hold prior to 1997 is at risk in the next election.

  32. On these figures,the inevitable Tory Eastleigh win doesn`t look so inevitable!


    Thanks for clarifying…Obama seems to have been good for gay rights!

  33. Socali

    How can you feel sorry for him? He committed a crime, one of which he had past experiences with, it wasn’t a one off.
    Then coerced his wife into taking the punishment, before dumping her a few years later for another woman.

    By no counts is this man a decent fellow.

  34. Been feeling oddly sad about Richard III today and now – sadly but bizarrely as a comparison – feel even sadder at the death of Reg Presley of the Troggs.

    I played with them many years ago and, when not on stage, Reg and I spent the evening chatting in the dressing room – mostly about extensions, family life and so on.

    He was a lovely. natural bloke and I think of him with affection.

  35. It’s easily possible to feel sorry for indecent fellows…

  36. I think Eastleigh will be good to watch for us anorachs.

    I think all 3 main parties have a chance of winning.

    The tories narrowly lost it last time, there is a case to be made, that Lib Dem support will melt away to Labour, but not enough to give Labour a win, and the added pain of the Huhne scandal could even push the libs into 3rd.

    Or, you could see it this way, in that, the Libs will lose some votes because of Huhne and the coalition, but the Tories will get beat by the same stick too and so cancel out and the libs still win.

    Or 3rd, perhaps the most unlikely, but still quite possible, the tory vote slips because of a UKIP rise, and being an unpopular government, the Lib dem vote splits going to Labour as they are the opposition to this unpopular government and the huhne scandal etc.

  37. In by-elections candidates are much more important. One thing you do not want is someone with “Carpetbagger” stamped across their forehead. For that reason I can’t see Boris standing – it could all too easily go wrong and once he loses his winning streak he’d be back to just being buffoon Boris. It might also expose him to too much scrutiny – he gets a very easy ride indeed from the London media. Stepping outside the bubble he might not find it so favourable.

    Farage may well stand. He doesn’t need to win to be successful, just to take enough votes from the Tories to make sure they don’t win. Oddly enough he was the UKIP candidate in the previous Eastleigh by-election in 1994 (1.4%).

    The Lib Dems have to be the most careful. What they don’t want to do is parachute in some rising star with identikit Westminster PPE-Spad background (this may be why Huhne had problems in 2005). At the same time they do need someone who can deal with all the awkward questions.

    Actually the candidates of all the main parties are going to have a hard time getting their positioning right. Both Lib Dem and Conservative grassroots are alienated from their leaderships to some extent and Labour are a bit sceptical about theirs. So blind loyalty may not always be the best position to endear you to either voters or activists.

    At the same time there will be greater media scrutiny than any previous by-election this Parliament as this is the one where the outcome is most uncertain. It’s also only 80 minutes from Waterloo (unlike those strange Northern places where other by-elections have been) so even the Press may be able to get down there.

  38. Sorry just to make clear, in scenario 2, the “stick” they are both beat with is being in an unpopular government

    In scenario 3, its a Labour win.

  39. @SoCalLiberal

    Huhne does not come out of this well, it probably wouldn’t have occurred for but for the divorce, which again doesn’t redound to his credit. The original offence was 10 years ago, and I saw the figure of perhaps five million people committing that original offence and getting away with it. He should have come clean, but he chose to brazen it out – something many politicians do.

    On the plus side he was considered to be a highly effective MEP, and I saw him mentioned as the only new minister in 2010 who was fully competent for his role from day one. For Lib Dems he had the distinction of being a combative member of Cameron’s cabinet… and he was out of the country (Cancun climate change conference) for the dreaded tuition fees vote!

  40. I went with my friends to see the Troggs at the Ipswich Odeon. Dave Dee,Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich were on, as were the Walker Bros.

    Oh we were wild things.

    Valerie X

  41. @ John Ruddy

    Point of order: the vast majority of those who claim more benefit than they are entitled to DON’T commit fraud and really have just broken benefit rules. Fraud is deliberately misleading in order to gain financially; most benefit overpayments are down to inaccurate or incomplete information due to mistake, innumeracy or genuine belief that a relevant fact was irrelevant. I’ve known elderly people, when asked if they have any capital, simply not know what it means; or when asked if they have any savings, discount sums in the bank which are in their mind allocated for funeral expenses or similar. I’ve known them deny having any income at all, and when challenged on what they lived in I’ve found that they did not equate a state pension with an income.

    Last time I looked fraud was only about 1 in 8 of benefit overpayments; which does not stop politicians and the press referring to “overpayments and fraud” and then proposing counter-measures which are only relevant to fraud and don’t help with other overpayments at all.

    Sorry. Rant over.

  42. I don’t doubt this is a very common crime (though 5 million (per billybob) looks a bit high… are there even 5 million convicted speeding offences a year in the whole country?). I know for a fact that my mother took exactly this rap for my father (I can safely say this as my mother is dead and my father in a care home with advanced physical and mental decay, so no prosecution is likely to be forthcoming). Both were otherwise solid law-abiding middle-class pillars of the community; this offence is just generally not looked upon as corrupt (though, obviously, it is exactly that).

    As ever in politics, the problem for Huhne was not the original offence but the subsequent cover-up. All the denials, now proved to be mendacious, show him up as a less than wholly reputable gentleman.

    Do they never learn…. Tricky Dicky Nixon (“there will be no whitewash in the white house”); Honest John Aitken (“sword of truth”, etc). And countless others. It’s ALWAYS the cover-up.

  43. @ Smukesh

    “Thanks for clarifying…Obama seems to have been good for gay rights!”

    You’re welcome. Best President in history for LGBT rights. No question in my mind. As Jon Stewart said of the Inauguration speech “I believe that is the first time a President has name-checked a gay bar in his Inaugural Address.” That made all the effort, all the disappointments, all the money donated, Charlotte, all the work……made it all worth it. I could go through all the actions he’s done (as opposed to speeches though his Inaugural speech was something historic) but I’ll go on too long.

    Still miss Murphy though in Congress. When he lost reelection, it was as if my dog had died. I don’t think I was alone in that feeling either. I think of all the losses in 10′, that was the most devastating of all.

    Ironically, my dog did die a few months later, causing great pain and loss. Well my dog is not coming back and based upon what Patrick Murphy says publicly, he’s not coming back to politics either (though I still hope he changes his mind). :(

  44. @ Billy Bob

    “Huhne does not come out of this well, it probably wouldn’t have occurred for but for the divorce, which again doesn’t redound to his credit. The original offence was 10 years ago, and I saw the figure of perhaps five million people committing that original offence and getting away with it. He should have come clean, but he chose to brazen it out – something many politicians do.

    On the plus side he was considered to be a highly effective MEP, and I saw him mentioned as the only new minister in 2010 who was fully competent for his role from day one. For Lib Dems he had the distinction of being a combative member of Cameron’s cabinet… and he was out of the country (Cancun climate change conference) for the dreaded tuition fees vote!”

    I thought people were far too harsh on David Laws. As far as I’m concerned, no harm, no foul. Yes, he technically broke the rules but he paid more in order to break the rules. And he did so in order to maintain his privacy, which I may not personally like but I respect and defend his right to.

    So I’m not making any judgments about Huhne cause’ I don’t know what is going on his case. I’ll have to read up on it.

    Politicians often get screwed when they don’t come right out and admit their wrongdoing and instead try and hide it and cover it up. Because more often than not, the cover up is far worse than the actual crime. (Or in the case of Gary Condit, it looks that way even when it’s not true).

  45. I think if we are seeing a 15% Labour lead, it is more to do with difficult economic news (triple dip in the offing?) rather than Gay Marriage, which I think would not send voters swung by that toward Labour (more likely UKIP, but they don’t seem to be moving that much)

    Obviously the Conservatives have more problems than the economy and Europe, and these can’t be solved with a speech and referenda etc.

    Although, it looks to me that they may well take Chris Huhne’s seat. They could end up consolidating their position in the south-east, and leave Labour most of everywhere else. Not a situation that suggests a Conservative OM, with or without boundary changes.

    “Both Lib Dem and Conservative grassroots are alienated from their leaderships to some extent and Labour are a bit sceptical about theirs. So blind loyalty may not always be the best position to endear you to either voters or activists.”

    This may be to underestimate “party loyalty” in the Labour Party, where it has always tended to be one of solidarity rather than loyalty to a leader, and where charisma has, I think, tended to count less that being “sound”. Ed may not be proven, but I think he has the latter quality, and that’s why he has grass roots support. I believe the Labour campaign for Eastleigh will be formidable, have support at every level and be tactically astute.
    I think it will also be planned as a proving ground for the GE, and, whichever way it goes, will be directed to strengthening Labour’s position.

  47. @Eddie

    “…Martyn. I fell about laughing at your Cylon comment to Balthus a few days ago. I tried to say so at the time, but my phone doesn’t do CAPTCHA when it doesn’t want to…”

    Thank you, you’re welcome.


  48. No New Thread at the moment alert.

    [This is a brand new service discussed and agreed at our New Thread Senior Monitors Conference in Hastings ]

  49. Red Rag – I know it’s a joke but the arrogance of saying 45 L, 30 Con, the rest, who cares astounds! 25 per cent care!! And let me remind you that 45 and 30 are still minorities!! As for Eastleigh, the Lib Dems will win it handsomelyl and Labour will be an afterthought like they have been for much of the past 100 years in the South and South West. There are areas where they just don’t resonate with voters at all. That’s why the Lib Dems are still on around 11/12 pc and will prob poll at least 15pc in a GE. The old liberal/Tory tradition which goes back before labour even existed maintains in some parts and labour have done little over the years to really penetrate that.

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