Posts Tagged ‘UK election’

The breathless reporting of Labour advancing on the bastions of Torydom continues apace, including here in the national media in Australia.

But since two days ago, we have been focusing our attention on two issues – firstly, the seat by seat betting odds for the various parties, and secondly, intelligence leaking out from impeccable Labour sources.

Both would seem to suggest that any “surge” in the Labour vote may have been over-estimated by an over-eager or badly-informed media.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.18.55 pmWhat the punters say

The betting odds which reflect real money (laid by people in the know, usually) are certainly not predicting wholesale Labour gains.

Everywhere but London, Labour support looks soft, measured by this perennially reliable predictor. The odds aren’t always right, it has to be said, but they are consistently more right than anything else, including opinion polls, and especially when looking at individual seats. Parties often try and ameliorate the cost of their local campaigning through smart betting moves.

So if Labour activists the length and breadth of the country who can actually see the doorstep canvassing results are not plunging on with their own hard earned, then that says something.

What Labour insiders say

But Labour intelligence is even more interesting. Along with private messages we have received, the Labour Uncut website (which has excellent contacts and who have previously given real insights) point to certain factors that we should respect.

Calling potential results outside London as potentially “a nuclear winter”, the blog calls for extreme caution as regards the recent optimism over Labour, quoting the following points:

Labour members and supporters have been knocking doors in core Labour wards, in seats that are under threat. In the last week they’ve been focused specifically on Labour voters. If there was a shift [in favour of Labour], this could happening out of sight of the canvassers. For example, Labour might be piling up support in safe Labour seats where there is little activity.

This is a well-known phenomenon, which bedevils polling organisations the world over. Unless they are polling ONLY marginal seats, they may detect a hardening of support for a party in seats where that surge in support doesn’t actually matter. Look, for example, at the huge leads for Hillary Clinton on the east and west coasts of America. She still lost in key battleground states.

People are generally pretty savvy about who is going to win their seat. “It’s always been [so and so] around here.” And people like voting for the likely winners. So in safe Labour seats they are more inclined to vote Labour, in safe Tory seats, the same. This well-understood effect doesn’t mean that a rise in support in seats like this is reflected elsewhere.

The other phenomenon that has been noted in this election, which we mentioned the other day, is the rise in activity in younger voters. Labour Uncut hazards the following:

One explanation might be a rise in support among those in a household that don’t normally take part in the doorstep conversation but do answer online polls, such as young voters. The polls themselves indicate that Labour’s rise is being driven by enthusiasm among young electors with a striking proportion saying they are committed to voting. But since the rise in the polls, Uncut has heard various stories about Labour candidates and campaigners scouring their electoral rolls to identify households with voters under 25 – whether they live in Labour wards or not, whether they or their families have a history of backing Labour or not. The feedback has been that in the overwhelming majority of cases, this pool of voters is neither sizeable enough to make a difference nor are the canvass returns from these targeted efforts tallying with the level of rise that the polls are suggesting.

This may indeed be the case. A switch to online polling has changed how polls should be read.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.25.42 pmThere is a prevalent view that online polls aren’t as accurate as phone polls, and phone polls aren’t as accurate as face-to-face discussions. And it is on this latter point that Labour Uncut is most damning.

They encourage us to first note (looking at the last election) the difference between ‘party preference’ and ‘desired government outcome’. Voters might have identified with Labour but they didn’t want an Ed Miliband-led coalition so voted accordingly.

Second, they suggest that some voters “gamed the polls”. They used them to signal a protest before reverting to a different choice in the polling booth. It’s worth taking in, what Tory pollster Mark Textor said,

“We were polling massive numbers of voters every night and assessing how they looked at their choices, so we knew that in normal public-style polls they were saying they preferred Labour … but at the end of the day the actual outcome they wanted was a David Cameron-led Conservative government, and the only way to do that was to vote Conservative in their local seat,”

“We measured their preferred style of government … they might say: ‘Normally I prefer Labour’, but we asked: ‘Which scenario do you want as an outcome?’…so we knew there were a lot of voters who on traditional voting patterns were Labour voters but had made the tactical decision that the best choice was to vote for David Cameron … we were measuring outcomes and not just voting preference.”

“They were using polling like a protest vote – they might think: ‘I don’t really want Miliband, but I’ll say I prefer him to tickle up the Conservatives’ – or whomever – but we knew at the end of the day when we measured their preferred model in government what they really wanted was the outcome of a stable Cameron-led government.”

Labour campaigners fear something similar is happening right now.

In every seat, canvassers are encountering lifelong Labour supporters who still identify with the party but not with Jeremy Corbyn.  (The point we made much of the other day.)

This group tends to have voted forScreen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.28.56 pm Ed Miliband reluctantly or abstained and are now either sitting out this contest as well or are ready to vote Tory for the first time to prevent a Corbyn premiership.

These switchers represent a new generation of so-called “shy Tories”, located deep inside Labour’s core vote.

The theory is that they are embarrassed at voting Tory, sufficiently so to deny their intent to friends, families and pollsters. Some of the older Labour officials and campaigners have reported familiar doorstep cadences from 1992 – “It’s in the eyes,” one said.

One last point is worth noting in judging what is happening on the ground. Lib Dem campaigners note they are in very tough fights to hold three or four of their seats, although hopeful of picking up a few more.  So no shock increase in Lib Dem seats coming up to skew the likelihood of a majority for May. And Labour campaigners and supporters are privately conceding seats that in a good year they would hold. But perhaps most of all, as Labour Uncut point out:

The Tories do not look like a party that thinks Labour is threatening a range of their seats in England, which is what the polls suggest.

Based on what Mark Textor said after the 2015 election, we know something of what they are doing. Large scale nightly polling, targeted at specific seats, with questioning framed as per the quote above. At this stage in the campaign, postal votes – which have been sampled over the past 5 days, giving them an idea of actual vote performance – will also be factored into the mix.

This is then used to shape their social media targeting on Facebook, local newspaper ad buys and visit schedule for the cabinet and leader.

Last Friday, Theresa May visited Sheffield. Specifically she was in Don Valley, Caroline Flint’s constituency, a seat where Labour led the Tories by 21% in 2015. On Saturday, she was in Penistone and Stockbridge, Angela Smith’s seat, where she won by 14% over the Tories in 2015. Tonight, May was in Bradford South, a seat where Judith Cummins beat her Tory opponent by 17% in 2015.

The fear of Labour officials and candidates, particularly in the West Midlands, North East, North West and Yorkshire, is that if the Tories are on course to flip seats like Don Valley, then many more could be vulnerable. One official in Yorkshire told Uncut that a string of Morley and Outwoods – the seat Ed Balls lost in 2015 – was on the cards for 2017.

Labour Uncut concedes they might be wrong, as you can see below, but we don’t think they are. To our eyes, the sheer un-electability of Corbyn has always been the key factor.

The polls might be right. There could be a surge of young voters that rewrite general election rules. This could be the first contest in living memory where a party increases its rating by so much during the short campaign. Labour could be about to poll near its 1997 level at the general election.

Or not.

We have consulted one election guru whose advice we consider near infallible. Not least because he personally steered some of the most famous by election victories in electoral history, and his political “nose” is about as attuned as anyone we have ever met, and he makes it his business to campaign in a variety of seats during an election.

He confidently reckons the Tories by 40-70 seats. So we are content to revise our prediction for a Tory victory upwards from the 30-40 where we had it. We’ll go with 50-70, especially as any pick ups for Labour in Scotland look increasingly unlikely. Maybe one or two. Maybe none. Not enough, anyway.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.09.41 pm

Apparently men with beards are seen as more aggressive – not a feature people like in politicians. Yet they like “strong” leaders. Go figure.

 

Still not a thumping endorsement for Theresa May, at all, but it finally would be a profound rejection by the voters of Jeremy Corbyn, personally. And we have no doubt he would retire from the leadership immediately in the event of such a result. Who would replace him is more problematical. The party is split top to toe between its parliamentarians and its members. There will be tears before bedtime.

One thing that is not really on anyone’s radar is whether May herself is under threat in, say, the 12 months following this election.

Her election performance has been underwhelming in the extreme. She’d have to do a damn good job of Brexit to avoid being tapped on the shoulder by the grey ghosts of the Tory Party.

Oh, one last thing. Buy some sterling. A Tory win will see a significant jump upwards in its value.

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This blog has a long and honourable history of predicting election outcomes, and usually getting them right.

We have, however, recently made a right pig’s arse of the process.

We got the Australian election almost spot on, in predicting a narrow Conservative majority. We got the shellacking handed out to the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 election spot on – we may have been the only predictor expecting them to hold under 10 of their seats. But in both those cases it might be argued that it was our personal closeness to the outcomes that led to their accuracy.

In other instances recently – David Cameron winning an unexpected majority in 2015, the Brexit vote narrowly backing Leave, and most infamously Donald Trump winning the electoral college (not, note, the popular vote) we were plain wrong, much to the inordinate glee of some of our correspondents who accused us of everything from not understanding opinion polling (unlikely considering our profession), to not seeing a fundamental shift to the populist nationalist right worldwide (which was always a nonsense), or of under-estimating electorate’s sense of angst and desire to give anyone – everyone – a kicking, (which was perfectly correct, and we did indeed under-estimate it).

Bang on time for this week’s UK election, this super article by Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com explains in great detail and copious references just why it has become so difficult to predict elections today, and the efforts gone to by polling organisations to correct any likely mistakes – which may even cause further mistakes.

If you have any interest in politics or political forecasting at all, we cannot recommend highly enough that you click the link and read it.

Anyhow, the old line out forth by politicians anytime a poll is unfavourable to them – “There’s only one poll that counts. The one on election day.” – is proving to be more and more true.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 2.23.45 pm

So will we make a prediction, or is our headline just a pathetic attempt at click bait?

Nope. We’ll give it a go, but with the loudly proclaimed proviso that we could be wrong by more than the apparent margin of error either way, as Silver so kindly points out.

The average poll lead for the Tories over the Labour Party currently sits at around 7%. In our view, this is likely to be a winning margin for the following reasons:

Labour haven’t fixed their Scottish problem. Although they will do better than their wipeout north of the border last time, we need to remember that Scotland used to be rock-solid Labour territory. They could count on hatfuls of seats from the big industrial conurbations. They are doing slightly better now, so they will win some seats back, but in our view, not enough. And essentially, with a thoroughly “SNP-ised” Scotland, Labour need to do historically better in England and Wales than at any time in their history in order to overhaul the Conservatives. And that’s not going to happen.

The Liberal Democrats have stayed stubbornly limited to around 8% in the polls, sometimes up to 10-11%, sometimes down to 6%. Essentially, they are not seen as serious contenders in this election, and there is a still a strong “on the nose” element hanging over from their disastrous conduct of the Coalition agreement. The Lib Dem result is notoriously hard to predict because what they do bring to the table, undoubtedly, is superb on the ground campaigning – the so-called “street game”. Which is why we think they will pick up some seats, but they are also in danger of losing a couple of obvious wins where boundary changes or demographic changes are running against them, so their net effect via-a-vis the Tories (their main target) is likely to be negligible. Certainly not dramatic enough to rob May of her majority.

The Corbyn factor is especially interesting. Rarely has a leader of a major political party been more demonised by the media and commentators. But along with this demonisation has come a stubborn determination by some Britons – especially the young and first time voters, who have registered in historically large numbers – to back him, to give the establishment a kicking if nothing else. He has also appeared more impressive while the campaign has worn on, in stark contrast to Theresa May, who has frequently looked like a rabbit caught in headlights.

So we see the growth in the polls for Labour as real, but we simply can’t bring ourselves to believe that a character as polarising as Corbyn can beat an incumbent government. It’s just too counter-cultural – the continuing drumbeat about his past views on the IRA, his beard – how successful many bearded politicians do you know? There’s a reason for that. – the fact he looks uncomfortable in a suit, the way he is repeatedly castigated as returning Labour to the bad old days of the seventies, let alone his recent wholesale rejection by his own MPs, etc. etc.  It’s just too much of a tsunami of criticism to push back against.

Our last reason for plumping for the Tories is the three recent terror attacks, and especially the last two, in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert, and over the weekend on London Bridge. In times of deep anxiety, people tend to plump for “the devil they know”, and in this case that is definitely the incumbent government. It shouldn’t be so: in a perfect world, people should make a careful and cautious examination of all the reasons for voting for one or other of the options on offer, and not be swayed by the actions of a few vicious lunatics, but the fact is people simply don’t behave like that. Enough people will say, we believe, that this is no time remove backing from the Government, and that factor alone will be enough to see them over the line. Also, the Prime Minister and Government of the day receive a great deal of “free” – and mostly positive – airtime, simply by saying the sort of thing that is expected of political leaders at such times.

As became clear after Manchester, however, the advantage does not necessarily flow all one way. A spate of attacks, so close to an election, cannot but challenge the Government’s line in some people’s minds that it has successfully defended the country against terrorism. After Manchester, too, the Labour leader offered a rather different view of root causes. While Corbyn denied blaming the Government for the Manchester attack in any way – and indeed did not do so – he did ask about the possible impact on domestic security of the UK’s involvement in foreign wars. Nor – surprisingly perhaps, given the context – did he attract much public opprobrium for doing so.

So the advantage to the Conservatives of a national security election – as opposed to a Brexit or migration or austerity election – may not be as decisive as initially thought. But it will not be the same election as it would have been, even if going ahead with the vote as normal shows the necessary determination not to be cowed.

So in the final wash up, our guess is a Tory majority of 30-40 seats. Way down on initial suggestions that May might win a majority of 100 or even 150 seats, and one unintended consequence of such a result would be that May’s own leadership credentials would be severely wounded. How seriously, only time would tell. But there are certainly those around her cabinet table with a lean and hungry look, even if that soubriquet could never reasonably be applied to Boris Johnson.

But our certainty, also, is that we could be completely – even wildly – wrong. Things used to be quite easy in the world of psephology. Not so much nowadays.

For once, we will not be making a substantial bet on the outcome. That should tell you something, Dear Reader.

The 2010 result - next Thursday will be wildly different.

The 2010 result – next Thursday will be wildly different.

Dear Reader, we have often claimed a 100% record for our election predictions around the world since around 1979. Of course, the fact that we haven’t managed to parlay these into a cushy job standing around in an ill-fitting suit on TV on election night is another matter altogether. Still, it’s a fun game: half political nous, half consumer insight, and half instinct.

Thus friends who have been following our prognostications for half a lifetime or more have been urging us to put up or shut up. Mostly, we suspect, shut up.

But this election in the UK is proving notoriously difficult to call accurately.

For those of you who aren’t following it with the same obsessive pleasure as your indefatigable correspondent, we will lay out the basic issues.

A majority government after next Thursday?

Will either Labour or the Conservatives get an overall majority of seats?

This is the easy one. No. The reasons are many and varied, but the essentials are that no one party is particularly popular in a country that is ravaged by political division and has endured tough times in recent years.

Normally, tough times would usher in the Opposition, on the basis that Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.

But there is the rather odd situation this time where none of the major party leaders are genuinely popular, and the electorate is also keenly aware of the fact that no major party seems to have a very clear idea of what to do to combat the general economic malaise affecting a Europe stricken with structural debt and over-spending, matched to low levels of productivity and innovation.

Labour would have won the election in the good old bad old days, but the seemingly unstoppable rise and rise of the populist, quasi-socialist Scottish National Party (and to a lesser extent their Welsh equivalent) will rob them of the seats in the major urban areas of of the Celtic states that they historically thought they “owned”.

The Lib Dems, although they have done a little better in the last week thanks to a creeping decline in the UKIP vote as the anti-immigration party come under greater scrutiny and a good performance from party leader Nick Clegg in a TV debate, will not win enough seats to make another straight Tory/Lib Dem Coalition a possibility.

So who will be the next Prime Minister?

That’s probably a rather easier one. If one adds the likely SNP wins to the likely Labour wins, then it will be Ed Milliband of Labour. Except that he has gone out of his way to insist (without any credibility) that he will not even consider an agreement where the SNP guarantee supply, let alone a full-blown coalition, so there is still some uncertainty. If Labour wins the popular vote (say by 35-34%) in the old days that would have seen them within a seat or two of a majority given the current standing of the Lib Dems and UKIP. The rise of the SNP is a new political reality that Westminster has to grapple with.

As we cannot predict with any certainty what politicians will do behind closed doors – who would have bet on the Lib Dems backing the pro-austerity Euro-sceptic Tories last time rather than their more amenable centre-left Labour colleagues? – we cannot predict what will happen after Thursday. But we suspect the outcome may be as follows, or something like it:

As the leader of the largest party, and the sitting PM, the Queen will invite David Cameron to try and form a majority Government – which may need to be tested on the floor of the Commons – but he will fail to pass a vote of confidence. The Lib Dems won’t have enough seats to get him over the line, even with the support of the protestants from Northern Ireland and a couple of UKIP MPs, and anyway they will abstain because of the current Tory insistence on an “in out” referendum on the EU.

The Queen will then invite Ed Milliband to do the same, and his motion WILL pass, but without a formal agreement with the SNP, putting him in power as a genuine minority Government – a situation almost unknown in British governmental history. Why will it pass? Simply because the SNP will calculate that they have more chance of negotiating successfully and informally with Labour, with whom they share many policy objectives, than they would with the Conservatives, who are anathema to them and their supporters. In effect – and this may be Milliband’s current calculation – they are pretty much caught in the cleft stick of their own anti-Tory rhetoric.

This process could take a long time, and will be the subject of fevered discussion in the media and the country. If you thought post-2010 was chaotic, it’ll be nothing compared to this.

So why not just call the election now? Isn’t that what you’re doing?

Well, sort of. Except when we make predictions we like them to be as accurate as possible, and there’s one factor that prevents a rush to final judgement.

The last weekend

One of the things most misunderstood by political pundits and commentators that have never actually been politically active themselves is the effect of the “ground game”, as the Americans call it. The Obama ground game – making sure one’s own supporters get out and vote in sufficient numbers, and getting waverers back into the fold – was the main reason he won re-election in 2012, for example, and it went to pot in the 2014 mid-terms, which is why the Republicans did so much better then.

(That’s a deep simplification, and other factors were at play in both elections, but it’s essentially a very true and much-ignored fact.)

Yes, the all-important ground game: that’s the effect on the electorate of the work done by political parties in each constituency. These can produce utterly skewed results, seat by seat. Taken over the country as a whole, they can affect the result significantly.

We won’t know the effect of the last weekend’s campaigning until polls are taken on Sunday night (by telephone) in key marginals, hopefully picking up any last minute impacts.

Similarly, whilst it might be hard for those of us obsessed with such matters to believe it, politics isn’t the most important factor in many people’s lives. So many people make their mind up in the last few days of an election, including, in the UK, whether to vote or not at all. We would normally suggest a low turnout for this poll, given the unpopularity of the main parties, but two other factors suggest it will be an average or even slightly higher turnout. One: other options now exist for disenchanted voters to express a protest vote, such as UKIP, the Greens and the Nationalists. Two: everyone understands the election is close, and therefore people feel their individual vote may carry more weight than usual. Those people are not yet reflected in polls – unless they are “Don’t Knows” – and in a tight election working out what they might do is central to understanding what will happen.

Sanders

For those of you who may never have lived in a marginal seat, here’s a brilliant example of what’s known as a “Last minute squeeze leaflet” employed by sitting Lib Dem MP in Torbay, Devon, Adrian Sanders. Normally, one would expect Sanders to be in trouble in this seat, which was a Tory fiefdom for decades, despite the fact that he is a hard-working local MP who is well-respected. But this leaflet makes it clear to all those who intend voting that only the Lib Dems or the Tories have a realistic chance of winning. Voters like being on the winning side – messages like this, if conveyed successfully, produce so-called “tactical voting” (aka I want the MP I least dislike) – which can boost the result for one of the main contenders or another.

Of course, the Tories can employ the same tactic against intending UKIP voters – and will, in this seat and others. Both Tory and Labour candidates will ruthlessly “squeeze” Lib Dem candidates and others in seats where they are going head to head.

How well each party makes this argument, seat by seat, will have a profound effect on the result. Pollsters will be seeking to track that effect from Sunday night onwards, which is why we will reserve our final prediction for a day or so.

We will note these general trends, which we expect to show up more clearly in polls over the next few days.

  • The number of “Don’t Knows” is falling, and this will increase as next Thursday approaches. Opinion polls that combine face-to-face interviewing with telephone interviewing, and which include constituency-specific data in their polling, will be more accurate, and are the ones to follow.
  • UKIP’s vote has peaked and is in decline. They have had, essentially, a poor campaign. Will probably only win two seats in England.
  • The SNP will probably not win all the seats in Scotland, as people have so breathlessly been reporting, but they will win a great many. The Lib Dems will retain Orkney and Shetland and maybe one more seat.
  • Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats is now marginally less likely to lose his seat of Sheffield Hallam than he was a couple of weeks back. The Lib Dem vote is trending up again, inch by laborious inch, and we expect it to end up on or near 9-10% nationally. Predicting their result nationally is fiendishly difficult because there are some seats – Eastleigh is a good example – where their ground game and local Government presence makes it almost impossible for them to lose, whereas on notional national swings they could. We have said all along they will end up with 20 seats or less – which will be a disaster for them – but we concede that other wise heads predict 20-to-30. We think we’re nearer right than wrong.
  • The Greens will only hold one seat after the election, the one they hold now in Brighton.

More news as it comes to hand. We will make our fearless prediction on Monday or Tuesday. Maybe.

Interestingly, The Independent newspaper’s poll of polls where they consult the heads of the ten largest polling organisations is headlined “A Tory lead but a Labour Government” and includes this very apposite comment from one of the pollsters, Michelle Harrison of TNS:

This election represents what happens when a country is not confident about its economic future, unsure of its place in the world, and fed up with the state of its politics.

The political stalemate at the centre, and the fragmentation of the traditional party system, has left us with a set of polls incapable of telling what will ultimately happen, when there are so many potential scenarios. What we can feel confident about though is that Thursday will be a seismic night for politics in Scotland. When the votes are counted, we expect the Tories to be the largest party, but that Labour should still have the greatest chance of forming a government. But how do we measure the advantage for the Conservatives of already being in No 10 in the days after the general election? The real drama will start on Friday.

We agree. Meanwhile, if you think you know better, put your assumptions into this rather excellent Election Predictor, one of many around. Here’s another good one. Hours of innocent fun for all the family …

Incidentally, putting an average of the most recent polls into predictors today (using different figures for Scotland of course) gives this result which would mean our predictions over the last year about most of the result have been well-nigh spot on. Long way to go yet though:

National Prediction: Conservative short 46 of majority

Party 2010 Votes 2010 Seats Pred Votes Gains Losses Pred Seats
CON 37.0% 307 33.5% 18 45 280
LAB 29.7% 258 31.5% 53 33 278
LIB 23.6% 57 10.0% 0 40 17
UKIP 3.2% 0 13.8% 2 0 2
Green 1.0% 1 5.1% 0 0 1
SNP 1.7% 6 4.1% 45 0 51
PlaidC 0.6% 3 0.6% 0 0 3
Minor 3.4% 0 1.4% 0 0 0
N.Ire 18 0 0 18