Archive for September, 2007


How do you square these two responses?

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

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    Do people switch during polling interviews?

I am grateful to Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report for picking up this oddity in the Ipsos-Mori poll. As can be seen two questions were asked – “How would you vote if there were a General Election tomorrow?” and a second “And how would you vote if there were a General Election held later this Autumn?”

For the former the widely reported headline figures had a 7% Labour lead. For the latter the margin drops to 5%.

On the face of it you would have thought that the same respondents would have produced the same answer to each question. Surely you don’t think – “well I’m Labour at the moment but in a few weeks I’ll be Tory”?

It would have been good to get a response from Bob Worcester when he was doing the Q&A session on the site here this morning.

This has got me thinking about those polling questions we had while Blair (remember him?) was still PM. People were asked how they would vote if there was an election tomorrow and then they were asked what they would do if Brown and Cameron were the leaders. In virtually every survey the Tories did better on the second question.

The view taken by me, amongst others, was that there was something about Brown that was turning off voters. Judging by these Mori responses it maybe that some people move to the Tories in the course of interviews.

Anthony notes, however, that “A week or two ago we were told that Labour’s private polling showed them 7 or 8 points ahead, but asked how people would vote in an autumn election it shot up to a 14 point lead”. This seems to be the opposite effect – except we don’t know with private polls what the questions were and the order that they were put.


Mike Smithson


1970 – when a Labour PM was misled by the polls

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

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    What happened when Wilson went early with a 7% lead

If there is one past general election that might worry Gordon it is 1970. Harold Wilson, the prime minister, did not have to go in the June and could easily have waited until the following year.

Bob Worcester, the Mori founder who was our guest this morning, has noted that when Wilson decided to go Labour had a lead of poll lead of 7%. Wilson decided to take the gamble and a Tory victory, as shown above, was the result.

Historically 1970 was a very odd and exceptional. It was the only time since 1945 when a party with an ample majority sufficient to govern was replaced by another party – also with an ample majority. In 1979 and 1997, the last two changes of government, Labour had lost its majority in the first and the Tories in the second. In 1974 it took two election before Labour got a majority and then only a small one.

Mike Smithson


Well Bob – do you think that Gordon should risk it?

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

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    Welcome to our guest – Sir Robert Worcester

The big news this morning is the latest poll from Mori – the firm that was set up by Bob Worcester – is showing a Labour lead of 7%. Ipsos-Mori as it is now known has been polling in the UK for longer than anybody else and has by far and away the best web-site.

Bob himself is a frequent commentator and has detailed knowledge of UK politics and opinion trends going back almost longer than anybody.

This is the first time that we have had a a question and answer session like this on the site and I am delighted that Bob has agreed to join us.

He’ll be joining at about 10.30am and hopefully will stay with us for an hour and a half or so.

Please put questions in the comments thread below and let’s keep the standard of discussion up to normal PBC high standards.

My first one is the title of this – should Gordon risk it?

Mike Smithson


Will the Tories be able to stop the seepage?

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

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    Two new polls show big Tory deficits

Above are two of the front pages from the Sunday papers at the start of what could be a historic week in British politics. Is Gord going to take the plunge? Can the Tories turn their desperate polling position round?

The main Ipsos-Mori poll for the month is out and in the Observer. This shows the following shares with comparisons on the last Mori survey a week and a half ago – CON 34%(nc): LAB 41%(-1): LD 16%(+2). So an 8% Tory deficit has become a 7% one – not really much significance in that. The Lib Dems, however, will be delighted with their two point rise.

Another poll is from BPIX in the Mail on Sunday and shows a very different picture for the Lib Dems. These are the figures CON 34%: LAB 41%: LD 12%. This is the first survey from the firm since September last year when it was showing a 10% Tory lead. How things have changed.

BPIX is not a member of the British Polling Council and does not have to follow its transparency code. Until it gets it act together and operates like a proper pollster then it’s not worth attaching much credence to its numbers. For well over a year its website has simply stated that the site “is under construction”. It is known that it uses the internet and YouGov carries out its fieldwork.

    So there we are. Will Brown go or won’t he? Will the Tories get a poll boost this week or will they still be in the doldrums. Has Cameron set the right tone with his challenge featured in the Sunday Times extract above?

Who knows and my gambling strategy is always to take profits where I can? So I’ve just cashed in part of the profits on my “Gordon weeks” spread bet. Nice to see £790 going into my account and I’ve reduced my exposure if Brown decides to wait. I’ve still got a further biggish bet on that market as well as a buy position on Labour seats.

Mike Smithson


General election and other site announcements

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

bob worcester.JPGBob Worcester: The founder of Mori and one of the most pre-eminent people in the UK polling industry, Sir Robert Worcester will be joining us for an hour or so tomorrow to discuss, amongst other things, the latest Ipsos-Mori poll – due out in the Observer in the morning. I am hoping that Bob’s appearance will start a new feature on PBC when leading figures in the polling industry can talk about how they see things going.

Comment publishing arrangements. After nearly four years of full open publishing of comments a modest control measure has been introduced today in advance of a general election campaign. If the details featured – the name and email address etc – are not known to the site then comments will be held in a moderation box hopefully for not more than an hour.

Regular posters will notice no difference provided their details are the same. If there is a change then you might find that your comment will be held up.

I could have opted for pre-registration which is cumbersome and inhibits people coming on to the site. I am hoping that this modest measure will enable the discussions to continue in the manner that many of us enjoy. If there are any problems then please drop me an email.

Any volunteers I am looking for two or three regular users who can assist me in the management of the site during the campaign. I will be asking our normal stand-in editor, Paul Maggs but I think we need one or two others who can provide some cover. I have a particular problem in mid-October when I will be in North America on a business trip.

Site slim-down To ease pressure on the server the number of articles that will appear when you come to the site will be reduced to three or four. If you want to regularly refer to early thread then can I suggest that you subscribe to an RSS service where the 25 most recent threads are easily accessible.

Site traffic September has already surpassed all previous months yesterday alone the were more than 65,000 page downloads – a total that was only surpassed at the May elections. No other UK political site gets anywhere near these figures.

Mike Smithson


What more evidence does Brown need?

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

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    Two polls give Labour doubt digit leads

Back in May and June I was among a number of commentators who were saying that we would really have to wait until November before we would get a clear view of how the new leadership at Number 10 had changed the political environment. Well it is looking as though that November suggestion might be when the general election itself takes place.

The polls have moved so firmly and decisively in Labour’s favour that it’s become very hard to see how Brown can pass this opportunity by.

    On the one hand he doesn’t want to be remembered for a 127 day premiership if it all went wrong – on the other if he doesn’t go and eventually things get tighter he’ll be blamed for not taking the chance when Labour had double digit polling leads.

The most significant of today’s two polls is from Populus in the Times – the firm that at the start of the month had two surveys showing the margin at just one point. Today’s figures with changes on the last one are – CON 31%(-5): LAB 41%(+4): LD 17%(-1)

Populus is a conventional pollster that uses the telephone, has past vote weighting to ensure a politically representative sample and adjusts its figures in line with the certainty that respondents say they have about voting. Theoretically anybody in Britain with a land line at home can be asked to participate in the firm’s surveys.

Meanwhile the latest from the YouGov polling panel, which on Tuesday gave Labour an 11% lead, has produced a similar margin in the Telegraph this morning. Its figures with comparisons on the last survey are – CON 32%(-1): LAB 43%(-1): LD 15%(+2). The firm does not poll amongst the public at large but restricts its surveys to members of its “polling panel” on whom it has a mass of data including responses about what they did at the last election .

So where are we? Is it all now very certain that we are only weeks away from a general election? Will Brown want to wait until he’s seen what the Tories do at Blackpool?

I was very struck by this comment on last night’s thread by the Observer writer, Nick Cohen – “My colleagues think that if Brown backs off after marching his men to the top off the hill the commentariat will turn on him. The press will be full of attacks on his weakness and dithering and he’ll get a taste of what life was like for John Major. For what it’s worth my view is that Labour has allowed the speculation to run for so long they’ve trapped themselves. If Cameron has a good conference and the polls change, suddenly it will be Labour which doesn’t know what to do.”

The latest on the Betfair election date market is that 2007 is now the 0.9-1 favourite. I’ve been betting on the Spreadfair “Gordon Weeks” market and took a “sell” position last Saturday in the expectation of cashing in during the week as prices moved during Labour’s conference. I’ve got £42 a week on at an average of 74.5 weeks.

Mike Smithson


Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Friday, September 28th, 2007
    Can Cameron turn it round?

cameron resolute RH.JPGLike Iain Duncan Smith in 2003, and Michael Howard in 2004, David Cameron goes to the Conservative conference in a desperate position. Labour has an opinion poll lead that would give it an increased majority, were it to be repeated in a general election, and there are certainly some members of his party who would love nothing more than an outbreak of civil war at the party conference. Many senior figures in the Labour party are keen on an early election, in the belief that this will finish off both the Conservative Party (although it seems unlikely to me that 35% of the population can ever be permanently disenfranchised).

Recent history suggests that David Cameron does have a good chance of boosting his party’s standing at the conference. To my mind, there could have been no Conservative conference more shambolic and awful than that of October 2003.

Yet, a snap poll taken by Yougov straight after the conference showed Conservative support rising from 33% to 38%, and a few days later, ICM and MORI showed Conservative support rising by 3% and 4% respectively. In 2004, the Conservative conference took place straight after the Hartlepool by-election, where they finished fourth, with Populus, Yougov and ICM placing them on 28-30%.

Yet by the end of the month, after a successful speech from Michael Howard, they were placed on 31-33%. Quite possibly, a snap poll after the conference would have shown a bigger boost. Last year, a lead of 1% with ICM, and level-pegging with Yougov, prior to the conference, had been converted into leads of 10% and 7% respectively, after the conference.

Provided the Conservative Party does not tear itself to pieces next week, then there must be a good chance that the party will see its ratings rise from 32-34%, at present, to the 35/36% that it enjoyed at the start of September. And that in turn, would surely make it very risky for Gordon Brown to call a snap election, although perhaps the momentum for an early poll, which will either finish Brown’s political career, or Cameron’s, is now unstoppable.

This week’s round of local by-elections was a good deal better for the Conservatives than the previous two weeks’. As always, however, don’t read too much into any one set of results.

Portsmouth City Council, Nelson. Labour 791, Conservative 682, Lib Dem 548, UKIP 90, Green 78, English Democrat 71. Labour Hold. Both the Conservatives and Labour increased their vote share slightly, compared to May, and the Conservatives moved up from third place.

Sunderland Metroplitan Borough, Washington East. Conservative 1,196, Labour 994, Lib Dem 206. Conservative gain from Labour. Sunderland is one Northern city where the Conservative Party has not faded away, and they worked very hard to pull off this win.

Cheshire County Council, Gowy. Conservative 1,863, Lib Dem 1,419, Labour 307, UKIP 107. Conservative hold. The Labour vote dropped by 80%, compared to 2005.

Northamptonshire County Council, Lloyds. Labour 1,093, Conservative 375, Lib Dem 311, BNP 265. An easy Labour hold, although they appear to have been harder hit by the BNP than the other parties.

Chester Le Street District Council, Central. Labour 324, Conservative 88, Lib Dem 81, BNP 51. An easy hold for Labour, in one of their strongholds.

Mansfield Borough Council, Lindhurst. Labour 339, Independent 302, Lib Dem 215, Conservative 61, Green 35. Labour gain from Independent. Traditionally, Mansfield has been a Labour stronghold, but the council is now controlled by independents. Perhaps, Labour is regaining ground.

Dover District Council, Aylesham. Labour 661, Conservative 108, Independent 59, Independent 1. Labour hold, with a big swing to them.

Dover District Council, Maxton, Elms Vale, and Priory. Labour 365, Lib Dem 274, Conservative 252, Independent 70, UKIP 65, Independent 56. Labour hold, but with quite a large swing against them.

Kent County Council, Dover Town. Labour 1,860, Conservative 1,348, Lib Dem 420, Independent 300, UKIP 256. Labour hold.

Sean Fear


Does too much of Labour’s new support come from non-voters?

Friday, September 28th, 2007

    Why is it that the lead amongst 2005 voters is only about 3%?

One of the great new polling sources that we have now that we didn’t have last time is a breakdown, segment by segment, of people’s current intentions based on what they did at the last election.

This approach was pioneered by ICM just twelve months ago and now all the telephone pollsters present their detailed data in this way. This gives poll-watchers a whole range of new trends to track such as whether those who said they voted in 2005 are thinking differently from those who didn’t.

This enabled us earlier in the year to observe that the big move to Cameron’s Tories was by people who, for whatever reason, did not vote in 2005.

    Now the polls are showing that much of the big lurch to Labour since June has come from the non-2005 voting group – so much so that the lead amongst those who actually voted in 2005 is only about 3%.

In fact in almost every single Populus and ICM survey where this data is available the Tories are doing better at retaining their 2005 support than Labour.

This could be worrying for Labour planners because, surely, those with a track record of voting at previous elections are more likely to do so at the next one.

Maybe the expected weekend polls will show something different but this trend could be a little worrying.

Mike Smithson