Category Archives: polls

Psalm 146, verse 3

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

And certainly never in opinion polls.

However, is it time to muse on whether something is actually happening?

For months there has been stasis the numerology — which may be why the gurus expiate on the UKIP figures. Now, look at this:

Stephen Bush

MV5BMTk1MjE3MjQ0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTcyMTcyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR7,0,214,317_AL_I was wary when Stephen Bush took over the Telegraph Morning Briefing. He has proved to be witty, original and perceptive. His adaptation of the running item on opinion polls left me cold, particularly as the line-charts never seemed to do any thing (which, since it’s a running average, is actually quite convincing). And no, over the last few days, signs of movement. Odd? How long before the Mrs Tweedys of the Press realise that “the chickens are oop to summut”?

Five months to go!




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Filed under Daily Telegraph, polls, Stephen Bush

One has to wonder

Anthony Wells tacitly poses the question:

YouGov’s two sets of voting intention figures are CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15% in the Sun on Sunday poll, and CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6% in the Sunday Times (Sun Times tabs are here, Sun on Sunday should be up tomorrow) – so still showing the two main parties very close to one another.

On which, I have just two observations:

  • One particular: the same polling operation (YouGov), paid by the same other operation (Murdoch, via News UK, a subsidiary of NewsCorp), produce two sets of numbers. Admittedly the statistical difference is slight, but it is the difference between a “tie” and a “lead” — which is also (especially for a reader of The Sun) the difference between three points for a 1-o win and a single point for a 0-0 draw . By (quite obviously) no coincidence that slight but telling difference represents different narratives, which — curiously but neatly — fit those of the two “news”papers.
  • More generally, that little lot about sums my view of opinion polls and their interpretation. And that is more significant.

To repeat myself:

Opinion polls, outside of an imminent (that is a span of days, not weeks or months) election are totally valueless. There is no constraint, no check on findings.

Since, by definition, such polls cannot be validated by votes-in-boxes, they are, also by definition, valueless.

However, they fill “news” columns, provide editors and their subs with a predictable supply of column fodder. They keep the paper’s tame “expert” in employment: this, without exception, is a university psephologist or another self-serving crony in the polling business —in both cases, then, with a vested interest in keeping this balloon inflated. As Private Eye always says, “Trebles all round”.

Above all, they are statistical constructs, derived from arcane algorithms based on assumptions about the population on which the small samples are based.

Hence, they exist within “margins of error”.

The bottom line

My objection is not to the polls, which are harmless, the wind-blown spinnings of a spider:

… so light a foot
Will ne’er wear out the everlasting flint:
A lover may bestride the gossamer
That idles in the wanton summer air,
And yet not fall; so light is vanity.

[Which is Shakespeare’s better advert for Durex: the other is King Lear, Act IV, scene 6].

Yet, consider the spider.

Its work is neatly illustrated by the Independent on Sunday‘s two (usually reliable) commentators. John Rentoul opines:

David Cameron could not believe his luck. He was about to lose a by-election to the most irritating bunch of people a moderate Conservative prime minister could imagine, when Ed Miliband decided to distract journalists with a class-based comedy caper.

One of Cameron’s aides was so astonished by the Opposition’s mistake that he could hardly contain himself when we spoke the next day. The gist, with the expletives deleted, was that Miliband and his advisers had lost possession of their faculties, but this was mixed with outrage at their sheer lack of professionalism, as if he felt his craft had been insulted.

“The broadcasters were unsure if they were going to report it,” he said, of Emily Thornberry’s condescending tweet about England flags and a white van in Strood. “So they phoned Ed Miliband’s office and were briefed that he had never been so angry. It was like putting petrol on a fire.”

Got that? The whole narrative-thrust of the Rochester by-election is being dictated by the Downing Street spinners.

In parallel, Steve Richards then invites us into the age of anti-politics, concluding:

The loathed politicians agonise and differ over what to do about these big issues, but few notice. Thornberry has gone for taking a photo. White Van Dan is a celebrity. The main party leaders feel gloomy about being loathed and yet are perceived as arrogant and indifferent. Welcome to the mad world of British politics in a dangerous state of flux.

Hold on a mo: if you allow your narrative to be dictated by faceless spin-doctors, manipulating the crudest end of the Murdoch tabloid empire, what do you expect?


Back at the ranch, in the meanwhile, George Osborne’s “long-term economic plan” has just gone rotten pear-shaped, but was downgraded in The Times (once, proudly, “a newspaper of record) to page 60, on 22 November — you’d have found it sandwiched between nougat and toy trains:

Public sector borrowing between April to October this year rose £3.7bn compared to the same period the previous year, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks (PSNB ex) from April to October 2014 was £64.1bn…

Government cash requirement from April to October was £56.2bn, an increase of £20.3bn compared with the same period the previous year…

Public sector net debt excluding public sector banks (PSND ex) was up £97.1bn in October 2014 compared to October the previous year.

The speed of the spinner’s tongue versus the eyes of even the most adapt commentators?

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., economy, George Osborne, Murdoch, politics, polls, Sunday Times, Times

De minimis non curat praetor?

“The boss-man doesn’t get concerned over details”

Fair enough.

A few days ago I was wondering about the absurd inconsistency of Benedict Brogan’s lay-out. His morning briefing email showed careless pitch-size. Even the font could switch between paragraphs:

Stephen kb

Stephen K Bush, the understrapper in charge when the Great Man was off to foreign parts, did something about it and for a few days all was sweet and dandy.

Now the nominal figurehead is back, and once again:



  • Is it minimising bad news? That 4% Labour lead, for the moment, seems consistent across all the pollsters, and it isn’t going away. Surely, the Gove-Cummings sneering at Cameron and all his works cannot help. Nor can Jean-Claude Juncker being enstooled by Frau Merkel (partly in spite over the Tory MEPs falling in with Alternative für Deutschland?).


  • Can they simply not get it right?

Though, by the look of Tory voting figures, and the complexion of the Telegraph, it could be both.

Oh, and was Brogan’s absence last week deliberately coincidental with the revelations in Private Eye about his Ugandan discussions?

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Filed under Benedict Brogan, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, polls, Private Eye

That Murdochian agenda, again

Last week the Sunday Times screamer was all about the usual YouGov poll. Let’s be a trifle less biased and less hysterical, and get it from Anthony Wells:

The full details of YouGov’s weekly Sunday Times poll are now up online here. Topline voting intention figures are CON 36%, LAB 37%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%.

That means two polls today, from YouGov and Survation, both show a reduced Labour lead of just one point. As ever when you get a couple of polls indicating a shift straight after an event it’s tempting to conclude the event has had a big impact. Be a bit cautious – the YouGov and Populus polls conducted Wednesday night and Thursday morning didn’t show a narrowing, it’s these two polls conducted from Thursday to Friday that show narrower leads. They aren’t necessarily contradictory (many people in those initial polls wouldn’t have seen the details of the budget or the media reaction yet), but it means the evidence isn’t all one way. Wait a bit to see if this pattern continues into the week.

Well, the general pattern of a reduced Labour lead did persist through the week, and was — but naturally — hailed by the Tory press. The gem — again, but naturally — was the Daily Mail‘s spin:

Labour MPs demanded that Ed Miliband beef up his economic policies last night after his ‘lame’ response to the Budget gave the Tories a poll bounce.

And in further dispiriting news for the Labour chief, a survey revealed that voters think he is the ‘weirdest’ party leader in Britain.

The YouGov poll for BuzzFeed showed that 41 per cent think Mr Miliband is either ‘very weird’ or ‘somewhat weird’, while 34 per cent thinks the same of Nick Clegg and only 27 per cent believe that David Cameron is weird.

If that’s a strange, even weird, bit of polling, stranger still is the quality that was generally omitted from the commentaries: Miliband was seen as the most honest of the three party leaders.

And so to this week’s Sunday Times.

The regular poll is still on the front page, just. It is no longer the main headline. In fact, you have to scroll six paragraph through a very different story (on Labour will take axe to student fees) to find:

Miliband will take comfort from a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times that suggests Labour has beaten off the Conservatives’ post-budget bounce by opening a seven-point lead. The party is backed by 40% of voters, against 33% for the Tories. But another poll, by Opinium, shows a lead of just one point.

Note how the Sunday Times rubbishes its own paid poll, by puffing the Opinium poll in the rival Observer.

And, note too, how ConHome’s Newslinks manages to ignore the hard-Tory-linew Sunday Times (sales: 850,000ish) poll in favour of the liberal-lefty Observer‘s (sales 220,000-dh) Opinium. I cannot think why.

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Filed under Britain, ConHome, Ed Miliband, Murdoch, Observer, polls, Sunday Times


I read this by Anthony Wells:

As you’ll probably know, the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election was also last night, and was a comfortable Labour hold. This means today will be full of people saying what it *means* and trying to draw some wider conclusions based upon it. I’ll only repeat my normal warning about not reading too much into by-elections. They are extremely unusual beasts – an election in just one single seat that won’t be representative of the whole country, intensely fought but often with low turnout, and where who wins does not make any difference to who the government is the next day. Essentially, if a by-election performs in line with the national polls it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, if it performs in some way different to the polls it’s probably because of the unusual circumstances implicit in a by-election.

Please, I beg anyone, read that last sentence again. With care.

Because I think it *means* the polls are more reliable than votes-in-the-box. And that is a very, very dangerous assumption.

On the whole, an opinion poll is a sample — typically a bit over a thousand bods, chosen by gender, age, and past experience, to represent a wider population. So those 1,000+ are to be treated as an “accurate” representation (+/— the margin of error, which is a convenient cop-out) of the 42 million electors in Britain.

Wow! Suddenly I’m with the opening Prologue of Henry V:

Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance…

[Neither Olivier in 1944, nor Branagh in 1989 did that bit properly.]

Except, by the statistical legerdemain of the pollster, one man comes to be about 42,000. Which is an  imaginary puissance beyond even Will Shagsper at his prime.

Where Anthony Wells has a point

He is correct to say that any by-election is an unfair “sample” of the whole of this nation.

We certainly could not overwrite West Belfast onto Chelsea, or suggest Banff and Brechin might be a carbon copy of Wee Willie Hague’s Richmond. That way madness lies.

Or, were we to do so, we should only concern ourselves with those bellwether constituencies which blow with the prevailing political wind: Dartford,  Basildon, Luton, Reading — all conveniently an hour or so on the train from central London, and so of metropolitan importance.

Where Anthony Wells goes too far

Of course Wythenshawe and Sale East matters. Even if only 24,ooo voters turned out on a foul night in mid-February.

Mr Wells should look carefully at what happened there yesterday, compare it with “Lord” Ashcroft’s poll, review the electoral history of this constituency over the last four General Elections.

He would see that:

  • The Labour vote (and conventionally, working-class Labour voters are more of a problem to turn out than others, especially in a rock-safe constituency) was right in the middle of predictability;
  • The Tory vote plummeted. There has been a solid 25% Tory vote here since 1997. Last night, four-in-ten Tory voters didn’t bother — or went elsewhere.
  • When four out of every five “natural” LibDems absent themselves, something is badly, sadly amiss.
  • And suddenly the UKIP “surge”, as the sump for hopeless-but-motivated dissident, has some meaning.

Where Anthony Wells is OTT

He claims that polling is more “representative” than elections.

That his statistical tweekery is *means* something, is of more reality (his own implication!) than real people going out on a miserable day to make real votes at a real polling station, to be counted by real polling clerks.

Nonsense. Rubbish. Crap.

Such arrogance exceeds the mark.

After hubris comes nemesis.

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Filed under Britain, Elections, politics, polls, Shakespeare, ukpollingreport

The word from

I have enough of my past (and an enduring bit of my present) invested in the Aul’ Sod to frequent regularly the Irish and Northern Irish chat-rooms. That means and Slugger O’Toole can be dropped down from the menu bar.

This morning the thread on UKIP, neatly headlined Herding cats, had run into the sand. It evidenced considerable, if naïve acceptance that UKIP was a continuing, coming force.

I have severe doubts; so it set me to thinking, which is done mainly through this keyboard.

This is what came out:

The usual political forums have quite serious discussions of what UKIP is, is not, what it means in the middle-term, and where it and the UK electorate are going. Despite a valiant attempt in Sync‘s headline piece (just a trifle too jokey and whataboutery, perhaps — but I doubt I could do better), this thread hasn’t reached the standard required.

imagesFirst of all, if UKIP didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. It is the epitome of anti-politics politicking. With the demise of LibDems as the dust-bin of frustrated votes, dissident Little Englanders needed a substitute. In a time when “austerity” sado-monetarism is cutting into living standards (except for the protected and privileged few), many are thrashing around for an Aunt Sally at which to chuck ordure — the EU being just the distant, easily-misrepresented target-woozle required.

And yet … and yet …

Perhaps the Kipper phenomenon has peaked. Or perhaps there is no pattern at all, at all. Let’s have a few facts — and I would never want local council by-elections to cloud the Big Event: they are totally unpredictable. and a few dozen votes swinging either way do not make a Big Story.

There have been six by-elections in this parliament:

  • 29 Nov 2012 Rotherham, Denis McShane’s Labour seat, and the by-election a fall-out from the expenses scandal. On a 33% turn-out, Labour achieved a slight vote up-tick (>2%) but their majority down by 3%. The beneficiary was UKIP, whose vote surged by nearly 16% to come second with nearly 22% of the valid vote.
  • 29 Nov 2012 (same day) Middlesbrough. Vacancy caused by death of Sir Stuart Bell, long-serving — and notoriously absentee — Labour MP. Good heave for Labour vote (up nearly 15% to a plurality of 60%+), UKIP second with not-quite 12%.
  • 29 Nov 2012 (same day) Croydon North. Vacancy caused by death of Malcolm Wicks, who had been the Labour MP since 1992. Another plurality for Labour (nearly 65%, up by nearly 9%), Tories second (down 7%), UKIP third with less than 6%.

In all three cases, the ConDem vote fell sharply — particularly so for the LibDems. And so we come to:

  • 5 Feb 2013 Eastleigh. This was the Biggie. Chris Huhne resigned, as he changed his lying-about-speeding-ticket plea to guilty. This ought to be a cast-iron LibDem patch: they hold every single council seat, and have squeezed the natural 20-25% Labour vote to extinction (and that wasn’t going to alter). Only the Tories could have a hope. Farage had been tarting-his-mutton locally for years — at the last, he turned chicken, and the Kippers put up a carpet-bagging incomer. The Tories put up their defeated (about 7% behind Huhne) General Election candidate: under greater media scrutiny she showed to be a very flakey candidate indeed. Since this is a constituency any London journo can visit on a day-return ticket, much raking over was done. Between them the Daily Mail and Murdoch press sponsored half-a-dozen opinion samplings — which showed a persistent seepage of Tory voters going Kipper. In the outcome, UKIP squeaked second (but up 24% to a very creditable 28%) ahead of a dismal 25% (down 14%) for the Tory. Result: LibDem hold, but still badly down (by —14%)

Eastleigh was the Kipper high-water mark. Then, on the same day as the English local elections, we had:

  • 2 May 2013 Soth Shields. An iffy one for Labour, caused by David Miliband huffing, upping and offing. Labour, wisely, put up a local woman councillor (though there were behind-the-scenes shenanigans when the ‘natural’ succession was withdrawn late on in the selection) — and Labour held its bare plurality (down about 1½%). The Tories faded badly (— 10%) and the LibDems evaporated to come 6th. From nowhere UKIP took 24% of the vote, as the only repository for non-labour votes.

Which brings us to last night, and as I was thinking the morning sparrows were still … clearing their throats:

  • 13 Feb 2014 Wythenshawe and Sale East. Despite “Lord” Ashcroft’s poll, Labour achieved a natural 55%, and the Tories slumped to 14½%. That’s the predictable 11% swing back from 2010 — not spectacular, but not to be sneezed at. The story was supposed to be the UKIP onwards-and-upwards: not quite 18% isn’t that. Which is why Farage is screeching about “dirty tricks” (though, on the ground, the complaints were going the opposite way).

And there’s more:

These numbers are the best we have to go on.

I’d not get hung up on opinion polling, at least in the UK context. There’s simply no real “quality check” outside the few days before a General Election. Not for nothing was one pollster satirised as “What d’ya Want, Gov?”

The US seems even dodgier, as we saw in the last Presidential: samples of 800-1000 across an electorate that size have margins of error of 3% (i.e. anything between 97 and 103 = 100).

All that said, and much more unsaid, where is there concrete evidence the Labour lead is narrowing? On the contrary, has the 6-8% lead that persisted throughout the previous 15 months, reappeared in the last few days? Since there is little likelihood of “trickle-down” improving living standards by 2015, what chance of selling the Great Osborne Economic Wonder? Or, by implication, that the position will narrow to the point of a 4-5% Tory lead, to give Cameron a majority in May 2015?

We have to recognise that, thanks to the LibDems taking revenge for the AV-vote by denying the reduction of the size of parliament and a heavy redistribution, if Labour polls 35-36% in 2015, that is almost certainly a majority.

Which is where the other factors become very, very interesting:

  • What about the Scottish factor? If #Indyref goes one way, there would likely be no Scottish seats in the next parliament. If it goes the other, is the SNP — at least in the world outside Holyrood — dished for a generation; and does that restore the two-parties Old Firm Derby?
  • Has the LibDem vote imploded? Despite what the Tory blog-artist and commentator, Iain Dale, was asserting, I’d hesitate to suggest there would be 30-35 LibDem MPs next time round. The student vote has gone AWOL over the fees betrayal. The Iraq stuff (where, especially in places like North London, the LibDem propaganda was undistinguishable from the Socialist Workers) no longer works. In suburbia, why vote middle-man LibDem when the wholesaler Tory has the next-door stall? The bottom line: what is the LibDems’ “Unique Selling Point”?
  • Just what will the Kipper vote be in May 2015? All the bean-counters suggest, up to around 20%, it cuts disproportionately into the Tory vote. That was the experience at Eastleigh. Until we get a by-election in a natural Tory seat, that remains merely theoretical.

To conclude:

If you’ve already had that earful, courtesy of, my apologies. I’d guess you didn’t persist this far along.

Remember, too, the (non-UK, but politically aware) audience to which this was pitched. The cutting-edge of political perspicacity this is not — but in STV-Ireland, one should never underestimate the “cuteness” available.

I post it here, more as a memorandum than Great Thoughts.

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Filed under Irish politics, politics, polls, Slugger O'Toole, UKIP

Fretting about Fratton

portsmouthfirst2Handy Hancock

In the Portsmouth municipal elections in May, who will be the Liberal Democrat candidate?

Apparently, although this is a safe LibDem ward (58.7% in 2010), there may not be one.

The sitting councillor is a certain Mike Hancock, of whom many — especially those with a scurrilous turn of interest — may have heard much.

Hancock is currently “suspended” from the LibDems, but only after a report by Nigel Pascoe, QC, was leaked. Political Scrapbook have been on the case.

Disgraceful Mike

It would be unnecessarily cruel to suggest that Mr Hancock has aged disgracefully since that photo above … well, perhaps not.

HancockEven so, Hancock seems to have a continuing close throttle-hold on Portsmouth’s LibDems:

The [Portsmouth] News understands Cllr Hancock will still be able to attend group meetings but without voting rights.

And a meeting of the Portsmouth Lib-Dem exec agreed last night not to put up a candidate against Cllr Hancock in Fratton ward at May’s local elections.

The meeting saw seven vote for the motion, one against and one person abstained.

Mystic Dale

Not surprisingly, when Iain Dale cooked his predictions, that there would be 30-35 LibDems in the next Parliament about LibDems, he wrote:

This seat has never had a huge LibDem majority since it was won by Mike Hancock in 1997. It’s always ranged between three and six thousand. It’s difficult to assess the impact of the groping scandal, but on top of their national woes, it could be that the Tories win back what was once for them a safe seat. Hancock has failed to squeeze the Labour vote as much as some of his colleagues, and not so long ago they managed a healthy 25%. If they return to those levels the Tories will win.

Dale may be on the right lines here (though he is surely sadly wrong about Lynne Featherstone having more than the faintest hope of holding Hornsey & Wood Green). What should not go unnoticed is the reservoir of potential left-of-centre votes in Portsmouth South. Hancock was elected for the SDP in the 1984 by-election. It was a three-horse race:

SDP 37.6%
Tory 34.3%
Labour 26.5%

Revolting youth

Despite what Dale says there, Hancock survived in 2010 by squeezing the Labour vote to half its natural level. That will not be repeated. The constituency, reckoned Anthony Wells:

contains Portsmouth University, and is the more student heavy of the two Portsmouth seats.

Portsmouth University has 18,000 students. In the 2010 General Election campaign, nationwide, students polled had near a half tending to the LibDems. Latest numbers suggest that figure is down to barely double figures — and a switch to Labour of perhaps 30% +. If those rough numbers make any sense, they alone destroy Hancock’s majority.

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Filed under British Left, Elections, Iain Dale, Lib Dems, Political Scrapbook, politics, polls, sleaze., Tories., ukpollingreport