The first voting intention polls published since the election was called were in this morning’s papers: Survation for the Mail, Ipsos MORI for the Standard and YouGov for the Times. Topline figures were

Survation – CON 34%, LAB 26%, LDEM 19%, BREX 12%, GRN 1% (tabs)
Ipsos MORI – CON 41%, LAB 24%, LDEM 20%, BREX 7%, GRN 3% (tabs)
YouGov – CON 36%, LAB 21%, LDEM 18%, BREX 13%, GRN 6% (tabs).

There’s quite a spread between the results – Ipsos MORI have the Conservatives up above 40, their highest in any poll since August. YouGov and Survation have them in the mid-thirties. Labour’s support varies between 26% in Survation down to 21% in YouGov. All three have the Lib Dems between 18%-20%. This means while the Conservative lead varies, there is a consistent Conservative lead across the board as we start the campaign.

It’s worth noting that that Tory lead is largely down to a split opposition. Even in the MORI poll the Conservatives have lost support since the election (in the YouGov and Survation polls they’ve lost a lot of support). This is not a popular government – in the MORI poll, their satisfaction rating is minus 55 – it’s just that the main opposition have lost even more support. The healthy Conservative lead is down to the fact that the Conservatives are retaining the bulk of the Leave vote, while the remain vote is split between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP, Plaid and so on.

For as long as this is the case, the Conservatives should do well. If it should change they’ll struggle. If the Brexit party manage to get back into the race and take support from the Tories it would eat into their lead. The other risk for the Tories is if the Remain vote swings more decisively behind either Labour or the Liberal Democrats (or that there are signs of more effective tactical voting, winning seats off the Conservatives despite a split vote). Essentially Boris Johnson needs to keep the Leave vote united and the Remain vote divided.

It is also worth considering how the Conservative lead might translate into seats. In 2017 the Conservative lead over Labour was only two and a half percentage points. You would therefore expect an eight point Conservative lead to translate into a majority, and a fifteen or seventeen point lead to be a landslide. In reality that Survation poll could easily be touch-and-go for a Tory majority and, while the bigger leads would likely get a Tory majority, it may not be landslide territory.

The reason that the Conservatives translated votes more effectively into seats in 2015 and 2017 was to do with the distribution of the vote. The Conservative re-emergence in Scotland meant that Tory votes up there were no longer wasted (but Labour votes increasingly were), the collapse of the Liberal Democrats in the South-West meant that the Tories vote there returned more MPs. If at the coming election we see those trends reverse, and the Conservatives lose seats to the SNP in Scotland and the Lib Dems in the South, then suddenly their votes won’t be translated so effectively into seats, and they’ll need to win more seats off Labour to make up for it.

Right now we have little evidence of how uniform or not the changes in support are, of whether there is evidence of tactical voting (Survation have released a couple of constituency polls they have conducted for the Liberal Democrats showing them doing very well in individual seats, but I don’t think it’s too cynical to imagine that the Lib Dems may have selectively published seats they are doing particularly well in). In the fulness of time I expect we will see the publication of MRP models along the lines of those YouGov conducted in 2017 that may give us a better steer, but I’ll come to that another day.

In the meantime, as we cross the starting line the Conservatives have a clear lead in the polls, but how it translates into seats is unclear. In the polls with the smaller Tory leads, it may not produce a majority at all. Equally, their lead is dependent upon the Leave vote remaining relatively united, and the Remain vote remaining divided, if that changes, the race could end up being far closer.


I wrote about this in my last post – exploring what, if anything, we could tell from the polling about whether Boris Johnson would get the blame if Brexit did indeed end up being delayed past the 31st October.

With the government now pushing for an election in December the issue has now arisen again, with lots of people dragging out a ComRes poll from the 16-17th October that asked how people would vote in an election if Britain had NOT left the European Union on 31st October, showing Labour one point ahead. Some people are sharing it with excitement, others with dismay. Both should probably calm themselves.

As a general rule, you can only usefully ask people a polling question if they actually know the answer… and most of us aren’t actually very good at predicting how we will respond to hypothetical situations. If you take this specific question, it was asking people to imagine quite a lot. How had the delay come about? Had the government fought it, or gone along with it? How had the government explained and reacted to the delay? Given the dates of the fieldwork, many respondents wouldn’t even have known about the deal. All of these things will impact how the public react and whether they blame the Conservatives or not… but were impossible for respondents to know.

In short, polls measure current public opinion. They can’t predict the future. While you can ask respondents to predict their own future opinions, they aren’t necessarily very good at it.


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The position in the polls remains much the same as the last time I updated – the Conservatives still have a substantial lead, though one that varies from pollster to pollster due to methodological differences. The figures also remain somewhat artificial given we know that a major event with the potential to transform the political weather (either Brexit going ahead, or Brexit being delayed) is looming upon the horizon. Perhaps the more interesting question is, therefore, what impact is that likely to have on the polls? Or perhaps more to the point, can polls tell us *anything* useful about what impact it would have on the polls?

Most of the polling that has set foot in this rather difficult territory has attempted to shed some light on what will happen if Boris Johnson ends up seeking a delay to Brexit.

Several polls have asked who people would blame if Brexit ended up being delayed, and as a rule they’ve tended to show that people wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson or, at least, that he would not be widely blamed by Conservative supporters or Brexiteers – the voters he needs to keep hold of. YouGov found 39% of people think a delay would be Boris Johnson’s fault to a large or moderate extent, 46% think it would bear little or none of the fault. Among Leave voters only 18% thought Johnson would bear significant blame. A ComRes poll found 34% think Johnson would bear much responsibility for a delay, 33% some responsibility and 22% no responsibility at all. Among leave voters only 19% thought he would bear much responsibility, 35% some, 37% none.

However, polls that have asked how people would vote if there was an election after a further delay to Brexit have invariably shown the Conservative party losing support and the Brexit party gaining it (for example, this ComRes poll from last month). A naive reading of that might be these two approaches are contradictory (the ones asking about blame suggest most people wouldn’t blame Boris, the ones asking hypothetical voting intention imply he would pay a heavy cost) – in reality they don’t. Even if most of his supporters wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson for an extension, if 1 in 5 Tories voters blamed him enough to defect to the Brexit party it severely damage the Conservatives’ electoral hopes.

I would urge some degree of caution on both these approaches though. We are asking people to imagine a rather vague hypothetical situation. A delay in Brexit could cover all sorts of different scenarios. Maybe Boris Johnson will apply for an extension, maybe he’ll resign and someone else will. Maybe he’d have done it willingly, maybe he’d have been forced into it by the Courts. More recently it’s been floated that he could even end up seeking an technical extension in order to deliver a deal. People’s reactions may be extremely different depending on the different circumstances. For now these uncertainties should put a question mark over any polls asking hypothetical questions about how the public think they would react to a delay – if political circumstances become clearer in the next week then perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll be in a better position to do useful polling on the issue.

In the meantime we are left to speculate. The questions I ask myself when trying to predict what the impact on public opinion are these. Can I imagine Boris Johnson seeking an extension and it NOT damaging him? Well, in certain circumstances I suppose I can, yes. On the other hand, can I imagine Boris Johnson having to seek an extension and it NOT giving Nigel Farage a boost?