Archive for the ' General Election' Category


How Britain voted on May 7th – the Ipsos MORI guide

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

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And the BPC announces details of its GE15 inquiry

After every general election Ipsos produces a table like the one above which become a key source of reference.

Meanwhile the British Polling Council has announced details of its inquiry into what went wrong with the polls.

Under the chairmanship of Prof. Patrick Sturgis, Director of the National Centre for Research Methods at the University of Southampton, the Inquiry is charged with the task of establishing the degree of inaccuracy in the polls, the reasons for the inaccuracies it identifies, and whether the findings and conduct of the polls were adequately communicated to the general public. Due to report by 1 March next year, the Inquiry will seek and welcomes submissions from all interested parties, and is empowered both to make recommendations about the future practice of polling and, where appropriate, for changes in the rules of the BPC. The BPC and MRS are committed to publishing the Inquiry’s report in full.
Eight people with professional expertise and experience in conducting and analyzing survey and polling data, have agreed to serve (unpaid) as members of the Inquiry. None of them were directly involved in conducting published polls during the election campaign. They are as follows:
o Dr. Nick Baker, Group CEO, Quadrangle Research Group Ltd

o Dr. Mario Callegaro, Senior Survey Research Scientist, Google UK

o Dr. Stephen Fisher, Associate Professor of Political Sociology, University of Oxford, who runs the Electionsetc website

o Dr. Jouni Kuha, Associate Professor of Statistics, London School of Economics and lead statistician for the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll

o Prof. Jane Green, Professor of Political Science, University of Manchester and Co-Director of the 2015 British Election Study

o Prof. Will Jennings, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Southampton, and a member of the Polling Observatory team.

o Dr Ben Lauderdale, Associate Professor in Research Methodology, London School of Economics and one of the team behind the website.

o Dr. Patten Smith, Research Director, Research Methods Centre, Ipsos MORI and Chair of the Social Research Association.

Mike Smithson


New PB columnist Don Brind looks back two weeks

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

ITV News 2200 May 7th the moment the exit poll was announced

The Tories won the ground war

There was a persistent refrain from Tories as they looked at polls pointing to David Cameron being ejected from No 10 – “Rememeber 1992”.

It was tempting to reply – “Beware of what you wish for”

The Tory annus mirabilis saw John Major confounding the pollsters and trouncing Neil Kinnock with a record 14 million votes. But it swiftly turned into annus horribilis when four months later Black Wednesday saw the pound crash out of the European Exchange rate mechanism in a welter of interest rate hikes.

The Tories plunged to 32% in the polls where they flatlined, making Major easy meat for Tony Blair in 1997,

On May 7th David Cameron delivered the first Tory majority for 23 years. The comparison with 1992 tells us something interesting about GE 2015.

Cameron’s tally of 11.5 million votes and 37 % share look miserable alongside John Major’s 14m votes and 42% share.

Cameron got his overall Commons majority despite increasing his vote tally by fewer than 100,000 – an increased vote share of 0.8%. Labour’s vote was up 1.5% — an extra 150,000 despite dropping 125,000 in Scotland.

    But if the Cameron comes out badly – the comparison is grim for Labour. What made the results so bad for Labour was they lost where they thought they were strong – in the ground war.

That is the big contrast with 1992. Then John Major’s record record vote was rewarded with a Common’s majority of 20 a handful more than Cameron’s. Labour had mastered the art of key seat campaigning and denied Major around 20 seats that he would have expected to win.

Two landslide defeats later the Tories set about catching up. In 2010 with the then deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft was in charge. He has described how “target seats received nearly 74 million centrally produced fliers, leaflets, postcards, surveys, newspapers and magazines.” The keys seats showed bigger swings to the Tories than the national average and that, he claims produced an extra 23 gains from Labour and another 9 from the Lib Dems.

This time round the Tories employed micro-targeting techniques from the US, which were “so sophisticated that in the final week the party was having multiple contacts via Facebook, phone and on the doorstep with individual voters who had been identified as likely to switch from the Liberal Democrats or choose the Tories over Labour,” according to Jim Messina, recruited by the Tories from among top Obama campaigners.

“Facebook was the crucial weapon; using data which the social media site sells to advertisers, he was able to target key constituencies and get to niche groups of voters,” he told the Times.

“We went in and took very deep dives in the seats and to see what was do-able, what was winnable . . . who were the voters, who were potential waverers, thinking about leaving the Lib Dems; who were the voters trying to decide between us and Labour; and who were the voters considering leaving us for Ukip — and we were able to have very focused messages to all of those people.”

Labour had their own hired gunes from the US but it looks as though the Tories’ was the best buy. But that may have had something to do with the fact he had more money to spend. Messina said of his operation “It’s expensive, it’s difficult, but you’re gonna miss a bunch of close races if you don’t.”

It enabled the Tories to match Labour in the key marginals where Labour’s meagre haul of Tory seats was matched by Tory by gains from Labour.

But it was the Lib Dems – traditionally very good at fighting local ground wars — who felt the full force of this Tory onslaught. As campaign chief Paddy Ashdown told the New Statesman’s Tim Wigmore “ they had £50 million to throw at their election campaign, I had less than £3 million.”

“Those organising the Lib Dem campaign on the ground report being outspent by the Conservatives like never before,” says Wigmore. And it was the slaughter of his erstwhile partners that was the key to the David Cameron’s outright victory. His 25 gains from the Lib Dem was about twice what most pollsters and pundits expected.

Labour have been developing techniques similar to Messina’s with the help of “data guru” Ian Warren. Ahead of the election a party source was describing it as the “This is the most sophisticated election tool we’ve developed.” The “Ribena test” (coloured Ukip purple) uses demographic information to carry out risk assessments for the 50 MPs deemed most at risk from Ukip A party source told the paper.

The big challenge facing the new Labour leader and his or her deputy is to work out how they can can scale up this initiative and to match Tory operation – and even more important how they can raise the cash to do it.

Don Brind


Post election “how did you vote” poll finds it was the oldies and men what won it for Dave

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

GQR, Labour’s pollster, has just published a post May 7th survey it carried out for the TUC asking people how they voted.

The main findings are above and show a big lead for CON amongst men and a huge one amongst the over 55s.

There’s a huge amount of data presented in an easy access interactive way on the GQR site.

Mike Smithson


It will be of little comfort to the yellows but GE15 proved to be a great example of the power of first time incumbency

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

LD incumbency
Tim Smith Univ of Nottingham

The vote shares of first time incumbents held up the most

A short paper headed “Lib Dem incumbency advantage persists but fails to prevent disaster” by Tim Smith of the University of Nottingham has just been published and provides valuable evidence of the power of first time incumbency.

This happens when someone who won for the first time at the previous elections seeks to defend the seat. The table above shows the very different performances in what were Lib Dem seats depending on whether the incumbent MP was re-standing and whether this was a defence for the first time. The figures are striking.

Overall in England the LDs saw an average drop of 16%. In LD-held seats from 2010 that increased marginally to 16.9% but look at the gap between where a new candidate was defending and where the person who had won it for the first time in 2010 was making his/her first defence. A drop on the LD share of 24.5% compared with 10.7%.

Tim Smith notes that:

“..After the 1970 election, at which the Liberals were reduced to six seats, the party made five by election gains in the subsequent Parliament, three of which they held on to at the February 1974 election, and one, Berwick, which survived until this election.”

Hopefully in the coming weeks we shall see comparable figures for Labour and the Conservatives.

Mike Smithson


A guest slot by Lucian on the Northern Ireland dimension – the re-emergence of the UUP

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

BBC News Northern Ireland summary

Now the focus is on next year’s Assembly elections

There is little doubt that the UUP will regard the general election as a success. They had no seats, they now have two. Fermanagh and South Tyrone was won by Tom Elliott after a deal was struck with the DUP and other unionist parties. South Antrim was taken from the DUP’s William McCrea by Danny Kinahan.

So the party has removed the horror of not having anyone on the green benches, a year after making a small step forward in the council elections.

Attention now turns to next year’s Assembly elections. The UUP has 13 seats to the 38 held by the DUP. The UUP will want more, a lot more. They will be emboldened by the breakthrough in South Antrim and will probably be aiming to at least get back up to the 18 seats won in 2007. The DUP will be raising the spectre of a Sinn Fein First Minister to try and entrench their position as the dominant

There is no love lost between the DUP and the UUP. While it is the dream of some to unite Unionism, it seems unlikely at present given the public spat between David Simpson and Mike Nesbitt following the hard-fought campaign in Upper Bann. David Simpson has accused UUP supporters of ‘totally unacceptable’ behaviour, while Nesbitt has queried the validity of an opinion poll which suggested that voting for Jo-Anne Dobson of the UUP risked letting Sinn Fein take the seat.

Despite the party having a spring in its step, it is highly unlikely that the UUP can make huge ground on the DUP in a year. The DUP has most of the well-known politicians, the media profile and incumbency factors in their favour. The UUP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone has to find a new MLA to replace Tom Elliott in the shoo-in spot before even remotely tilting at a second. It is hard to see whether having a local MP will mean more than having well-known MLA candidates when the Assembly election comes around. The decision is an important one for the local Unionist Association to take amidst the celebration.

Assuming they remain the second Unionist party, after the election, they will have a big decision to make as to whether it takes its executive seat(s). There is no official opposition in Stormont. That’s obviously a weird situation. It’s also one that I suggest should change.

Mike Nesbitt has said before that it is a step to normalising politics in Northern Ireland. It would be a brave step to pull out of the executive, but it could be a huge step forward for the UUP in the long term. Formal Opposition offers voters an alternative. Nesbitt has stopped the rot. Can Opposition be a way to regain primacy in the province?

Lucian is a long standing contributor to PB discussions


As the post GE15 polling debate continues SPIN’s Aidan Nutbrown asks “Are Elections Random?”

Monday, May 18th, 2015

The outcome showed why punters should expect the unexpected

Albert Einstein famously said: “God doesn’t play dice”. He was wrong. Everything has a random element to it. I aim to board the 8.08 train each morning but sometimes for unforeseen reasons I miss it. And sometimes for unforeseen reasons it doesn’t appear. This uncertainty is precisely why betting is fun, and why bookies exist.

It is a given that sports events have large degrees of uncertainty to them. A horse can clip a fence and fall, a batsman can misjudge an awkward delivery or an underdog, with a dollop of good fortune can fell a goliath (note Leicester City’s 5-3 victory over Man Utd, September 2014 as just one example).

However there appears to be a widely held belief that Elections don’t follow this pattern – that they are entirely predictable. That with correct methodology expert pollsters should be able to tell us precisely how many seats each party will win. This is a false assumption. Even if their methodology is correct it supposes that nothing happens between the poll and the election itself. That people don’t change their minds, or decide not to vote. Polls are a great guide to the state of play at that moment in time – a snapshot – but as forecasts they are limited.

    One reason is that the media demand dumbed-down answers – headline numbers about exactly how many seats will be won, by whom. In fact forecasters should be providing probability distributions. If we understand that there’s a 10% chance of rain today why can’t we understand that there’s a 6% chance of a Tory majority?

At Sporting Index we like to use a football analogy to explain how the polls are our best guide as to how to calculate and align our forecasts. Polls are like having a dataset of matches that tell us to expect, on average, 2.7 goals in a Premier League match. But any forecast model needs to allow for the uncertainty that may follow. This uncertainty may take many forms – the weather affecting turnout, shy Tories, lazy left-wingers as recently uncovered by Prof LVW, Jungian crowd behaviour or a myriad of other factors we may not have even thought of yet. The levels of this uncertainty may reduce as the date of the election nears, or they may not – news might break that swings the public one way or the other. In short the probability distribution of our forecast has to account for a considerable degree of unpredictability. It has to be wider and flatter – in other words more disperse.

In football we frequently see 0-0 results, or as above (but more rarely) eight-goal bonanzas. Describing how to model football scores or seats distributions is beyond the scope of this post, but it is worth showing Sporting Index’s distribution models for Con & Lab seats that were created in March 2015 and that are aligned to the polls of the time, giving expected seats of Con 284 and Lab 262. By varying the degrees of uncertainty, the chances of Con getting most seats and a majority can be seen to change. In the first graph the chance of a majority is 0%, in the second it is about 10% and clearly describes a far more complex situation than the former, which is much more akin to the straightforward “forecasts” we were provided with in the media in the run up to May 7th.


By allowing elections randomness, and crucially by describing the possible outcomes as a range of chances, it is perfectly feasible that the pollsters in the final days were in fact not necessarily wrong. Rather that they provided an expectation and the actual outcome based on this expectation was improbable but not impossible – much like Leicester City beating Man Utd in an eight-goal thriller.

One thing that the 2015 Election forecasters did get wrong though was to tell us that there was 0% chance of a majority. This bold statement was due to insufficient modelling and a failure to respect the market view, in which a Tory majority was trading at around the 5-10% mark for much of April and May.

Another pointer to this underlying randomness is the relative success of the Exit Poll. Yes it has a much bigger basis, but the clue really is in the name. The Exit Poll is after the fact. The turnout ratios are perfect. There is no time left for uncertainty. The only variation from the result emanates from the limitations in the numbers and locations sampled and having to extrapolate nationwide.

There is another big live televised event that many view as predictable and not subject to uncertainty, and the 2015 running is only days away. It is Eurovision. Like an Election it follows a basic predictable framework – that the Balkan states will vote for their friends and that the UK will do atrociously as we don’t ‘get’ Eurovision. But that view is limited and doesn’t allow any room for chance to play its part. The UK can win it – note Katrina & The Waves in 1997 – and for three years in a row from 2001 to 2003 the winners were 20-1 underdogs!

We should learn to embrace the chaos and expect the unexpected. After all this is why it is fun to bet.

Aidan Nutbrown is Sporting Index’s political trading supremo


Labour should not be too pessimistic about their chances of taking power in 2020

Sunday, May 17th, 2015


The Conservative Party will be fighting the next general election without their strongest asset, David Cameron.

There’s some pessimism from Labour supporters about their chances at the next election.

For example, Jon Cruddas in today’s Observer says “this could be the greatest crisis the Labour party has ever faced” whilst some are suggesting, that Sir Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and someone who has been an MP for a little over week, is the man to save Labour, though it was Tears for Keir’s fans as he ruled out running this morning.

Stephen Bush at the New Statesman pointed out Labour need a  near 13% lead in the popular vote to obtain a majority.

As the run up to the last election showed, Labour doesn’t need to win neither the popular vote nor the most seats (or anywhere near the most seats) to form the next Government, so long as the Lab/SNP/PC/SDLP/Green/Lib Dem bloc is greater than the Con/DUP/UUP bloc then Labour forms the government in May 2020, as I expect a Farron led Lib Dem party will not be keen to prop a Tory led government.

It is widely accepted that the Tories won in large part, though not exclusivity due to their advantages over Labour on the leadership and economic front, it is entirely possible those advantages will be negated in 2020.

On the first point, David Cameron will not be contesting the 2020 election, so that advantage might be gone, the next Tory leader, needs to have the potential to have a similar performance in the leader ratings, so someone who has authority, and is seen as credible, so this is probably bad news for Boris Johnson and good news for George Osborne.

All those Lib Dems seated the Tories gained on May the 7th, could be at risk, apart from Ken Clarke, I can’t see any Tory politician appealing to those Lib Dem defectors the way Cameron does.

It may well be that the Tory economic advantage will also have evaporated then, especially if the economy is performing sub optimally, and Labour have repudiated their economic past as some leadership contenders have begun to do so.

The excellent spreadsheet by AndyJS shows that Labour only needs a 0.44% swing from the Tories at the next election to deprive the Tories of their majority and a 4% swing to get around 30 gains from the Tories, a position that makes a Con/UUP/DUP alliance infeasible against a Rainbow Coalition.

They say a week is a long time in politics, heavens knows what 258 weeks or so until the next election is.



GE2015: The Inquest. A special podcast in collaboration with Polling Matters

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

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One of the great developments of the campaign has been the appearance of many new online resources for analysis and discussion. One of these has been the excellent Polling Matters created by Keiran Pedley of pollster GFK.

This afternoon, in collaboration with Polling Matters, we have a special podcast featuring some of the key players.

Keiran spent the last week speaking to several leading experts in the polling industry including Professor John Curtice, Lord Foulkes, Damian Lyons Lowe of Survation, Anthony Wells of YouGov, Matt Singh and Rob Vance. This podcast is a compilation of these interviews and is well worth a listen for those interested in what happened and where the polling industry goes from here in future.

Keiran tweets about politics and public opinion polling at @keiranpedley

Mike Smithson