Archive for June, 2019


The best test of a pollster is not how they’re currently doing against other firms but what happened last time they were tested

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

I am afraid that I have to disagree with David Herdson on his latest Saturday thread about YouGov understating Labour. Firstly you cannot judge pollsters’ based on their current surveys when less than 5 weeks ago they were tested against a real election involving real voters.

In the two charts above I compare LAB and LD vote shares for the May Euros in their final published polls.  Just two of them can claim to have come out of the election well with the rest trailing some way back.

Just examine some of the exaggerated figures that some pollsters were record reporting for LAB where we had a range from 13% to 25%. The actual GB figures was 14%.

Now look at the second chart showing the final LD shares. These range from 12% to 20%. The actual GB share was 20,4%.

Apart from Ipsos MORI and YouGov the rest really did rather badly.

Because of the low turnout, the 37% that actually happened was broadly anticipated, this was always going to be a challenging election for polling because turnout was everything. If one party’s supporters were less likely to vote  then that presents the pollsters with serious challenges .

The other challenge, of course, was tactical voting generally by remain backing LAB voters to the parties they saw as being most likely to succeed in their region and so the vote could produce the maximum number of MEPs. This helped the LDs and, of course, the Greens to achieve the success that they did. Whatever mechanisms YouGov and Ipsos Mori use they were able to detect better what was the big characteristic of this election.

So when I look at the current polls I regard Survation and Opinium, of the recent ones, as LAB over-staters.

Mike Smithson


If Boris Johnson tries to deliver on his promise of a no deal Brexit on Halloween then a parliamentary vote of no confidence seems inevitable

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

‘Never trust anybody who spells gonorrhoea correctly on the first attempt’ is a maxim that has served me well in life, I might revise that maxim to ‘Never trust anybody who says a no deal Brexit will be fine.’ I suspect many MPs are also guided by the latter maxim.

If Boris Johnson does attempt to take the country out of the EU without a deal (and in contradiction to his claims during the 2016 referendum campaign) then I expect Parliament will seize control of the process, just like they did in March to prevent a no deal Brexit. The difference between March 2019 and October 2019 is that we are likely to have a Prime Minister who, unlike Theresa May, is convinced of the merits of a no deal Brexit.

Indeed Boris Johnson has hinted he would ignore the will of the Parliament. So what happens next? It feels pretty much nailed on Parliament will VONC Boris Johnson attempts to become a pound shop Charles I if he tries to prorogue Parliament or ignores the will of Parliament.

I think Parliament would have to take control of the Brexit process by ousting a no dealer Prime Minister and replacing them with someone who isn’t a supporter of no deal, that means a vote of no confidence (VONC) and exploiting the the 14 day period to choose a new Prime Minister under the Fixed-Term Parliament Act.

The other aspect to this is that isn’t just anti no dealers who could VONC a Boris Johnson government. If man attempts to sell out Northern Ireland then it isn’t hard to see the DUP wanting to get rid of the twice divorced Boris Johnson.

The DUP value the future of the United Kingdom a higher priority than Brexit thus the DUP will not risk the Union just so Boris Johnson’s life becomes easier.

Of course there’s also the possibility that the ERG might VONC Boris Johnson like never before if he doesn’t deliver Brexit on Halloween. Many epithets can be applied to Boris Johnson but consistency and principles are not adjectives you’d associate with Mr Johnson, having resigned from the cabinet because of Mrs May’s deal he ultimately voted for Mrs May’s deal.

My view is that we will we see a Parliamentary VONC sometime this year, the only question is it before Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister or after. Only a planned general election might be the only way to stop the first successful Parliamentary VONC since 1979, so I’m taking the 3/10 on Yes that Paddy Power are offering. The attractiveness of this bet is enhanced is that this bet pays out once a VONC occurs, it isn’t dependent on it being a successful VONC.



The looming fork in the road and the path many MPs will have to make

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

You need to watch politics in split-screen at the moment. In both Labour and the Conservatives, a group of politicians has come to a fork in the road. In both cases, there is no shortage of fellow party supporters telling them to fork off.

Conservative Remainers have had a desperate few years. The referendum result was not the start of it. Well before they lost the referendum, they had lost their party. They have spent the last three years seeking to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit and hunkering down until the delirium has abated.

The delirium is not abating: the fever is getting worse. MPs are being threatened with deselection for opposing Brexit despite having voted for the withdrawal agreement three times. During the early stages of the leadership election campaign, there were dark whispers that Michael Gove was the preferred Remain candidate. That’s Michael Gove, leader of Vote Leave.

Both of the leadership candidates to be presented to the membership have committed to a no deal Brexit if necessary and neither has come up with a remotely plausible plan for avoiding that. When Ruth Davidson optimistically praised Jeremy Hunt for putting the Union first, Julia Hartley-Brewer, one of the high priestesses of the Brexit cult, pronounced that: “Any Tory leadership candidate who puts the Union first has absolutely no intention of delivering Brexit”.

Boris Johnson, the runaway favourite, has committed to leaving the EU deal or no deal on 31 October 2019. It does not seem possible either to enter into negotiations with the EU or to pass the relevant legislation by that date, and the warnings about what it might mean in practice continue to pile up. He is not ruling out either ignoring Parliament or proroguing it: democracy itself might be sacrificed to no deal Brexit.

Any Conservative who regards no deal Brexit as disastrous has to accept that he or she is now fighting against mainstream party thinking on what all sides regard as the central question of the age. The party is about to elect a leader and give whoever wins a mandate to force through Brexit by hook or by crook.

There is going to be no place in the Conservative party for MPs who oppose that mandate. Such Conservatives need to decide whether they are going to take arms against a sea of troubles and if so how. Or they can decide to go quietly and acquiesce with a policy that they consider disastrous. A decision to wait and see is a decision to go quietly.

That dilemma is paralleled within the Labour party. The readmission of Chris Williamson to the party so that he can stand for re-election as a Labour MP, against the recommendation on his case at a time when the Labour party is being investigated in relation to anti-Semitism by the EHRC, gives the lie to the idea that the current leadership has the slightest intention of reining in its outriders. Jeremy Corbyn and his coterie have played grandmother’s footsteps with the rest of the party on the subject, creeping back to their own ways the moment they think that backs are turned.  

To be fair, they are right to be confident. Large numbers of MPs who have condemned anti-Semitism in the party campaigned for the Labour candidate in Peterborough who during the campaign had to apologise for her past actions. As with Republican senators after school shootings, it seems that thoughts and prayers are the preferred policy prescription to avoid repeats.

Any Labour MP who is serious about opposing anti-Semitism in the varieties found on the hard left has to accept that the Labour party under its current leadership will not reform on this subject. Either in essence they accept that getting Labour elected is more important than eliminating this anti-Semitism or they leave Labour. Expressions of outrage on Twitter without further actions are simply a decision that Labour getting elected is the most important thing.  Kvetching is just a smokescreen.

Politics is about priorities and both of these groups need to think what their priorities are. Conservative MPs who think a no deal Brexit is going to be bad, maybe even terrible, for the country, might nevertheless conclude that a Conservative government even under someone as unsuitable as Boris Johnson is better than the alternative. But if they do, they have to accept the compromise that they have made, to accept that they have willed what they see as a looming disaster. If they believe that no deal Brexit must be stopped, they must act now. Later is too late.

Labour MPs appalled by the anti-Semitism permeating through the party might similarly conclude that for all its flaws a Labour party committed to redistribution and improving the lot of the poorest in society is better than the alternative. But if they do, they have to accept that they have by necessary implication downgraded the need to oppose racism. If they believe that is a compromise too far, they must act now. There is nothing to wait for.

In both cases, meaningful action is going to require a break with their party. In both cases, this would mean breaking lifelong allegiances with the high probability of ending their political careers sooner rather than later. All of them will look at the unhappy year the TIGgers will have and shudder. But they have to ask themselves, really ask themselves, what they are in politics for. Better to fail with integrity than to fail without even trying to succeed. On that basis, the TIGgers have so far all done better than those who did not follow their lead.

In life, all of us from time to time are faced with times when there is an easy choice and a difficult choice. In the longer term, the difficult choice is almost always the right one. Time for quite a lot of MPs to start making some difficult choices.

Alastair Meeks


In Brecon and Radnorshire the Remain parties are united and the big battle is between the pro-Brexit ones

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

Letter to B&R voters from ex-CON MP Chris Davies

The start of a new politics?

A striking feature of the August 1st Brecon & Radnorshire by-election is that it appears that all the pro-Remain parties including the Greens and PC have decided to stand aside and get behind the Liberal Democrats who, of course, held the seat until GE2015. So unlike other previous elections there will be a single remain choice. Meanwhile, as can be seen from the Chris Davies residents’ letter above the Tory big fight is with BXP to be the choice of Leave.

There is, of course, no mention, of Farage’s party in the letter but clearly that is what is worrying the blue team. It is bad enough having the man convicted of making false expenses claims as your candidate without having to contend with serious opposition that the BXP poses. In Peterborough, of course, the Brexit Party came within a few hundred of taking the seat from Labour.

My guess is that by election day, August 1st,  the Tories will be helped by Johnson being the new leader but Farage cannot afford to take his foot off the gas and not put in a hard effort in B&R. Every by-election has to be seen as an opportunity to further the party.

It appears that UKIP will also have a candidate there.

The remain alliance approach could be a model for future elections including an early general election. Under first part the post  having one or two of the parties standing aside in seats where another of them appears to have a good chance seems a good strategy without a formal link.

If there is an early general election I would expect this practice to be widespread.

In the betting the LDs remain 1/5 favourite to re-take the seat.

Mike Smithson



The YouGov discrepancy: just how badly is LAB doing?

Saturday, June 29th, 2019


A clear lead or struggling to be neck-and-neck?

Three parties have dominated the coverage of opinion polling and major elections over the last three months. On one side, the Tories have clearly suffered a catastrophic loss, shedding more than half the support they had at the start of the year, losing more than 1300 councillors and then nearly all their MEPs in May. Against which, the Brexit Party has exploded out of nowhere to win the EP elections and to vie for the lead in Westminster voting intention, while the Lib Dems have dramatically recovered from their near-decade-long slump to gain over 700 councillors, more than double their poll share and win their biggest election since 1910 (London, in the EP vote).

What of the other party in the apparent four-way tie for the lead, Labour? Perhaps because their slump in support began earlier (early March, following the TIG defections), and hasn’t been quite so precipitous, it’s not been so well-observed either.

But just how big has that drop been? Here we arrive at a polling quandary. Present-day polling gives a disproportionate prominence to YouGov, who release far more polls than anyone else. This is unfortunate since their results are quite out of line with other pollsters.

For example, these are the average poll scores from YouGov so far this month:

Brx 24.3
LD 20.5
Lab 19.8
Con 19.3
Grn 9.0

Whereas the average shares from all other pollsters combined (and the relative difference against YouGov) is:

Lab 26.0 (+6.2)
Con 23.8 (+4.5)
Bxt 19.0 (-5.3)
LD 18.0 (-2.5)
Grn 6.2 (-2.8)

These are, clearly, starkly different splits. At the extreme, YouGov shows Labour 4.5% behind the Brexit Party, while other firms have them 7% ahead. Before anyone gets too excited about the implication for seats won implied in any individual poll, let’s remember that someone’s methodology for producing the underlying polling data is very wrong (never mind the methodology for translating the votes into seats – though that’s a discussion for another day).

In as far as we have anything to go on, the chances are that it’s YouGov which is out. At the EP elections, their final poll underreported Con and Lab against the actual results by 2% and 1% respectively, and substantially overstated the Brexit Party (by some 6%), which is very much in line with their Westminster findings compared to other companies (with the possible exception of Opinium).

For Labour, it may be cold comfort that they’re probably polling in first place with a mid-twenties share rather than in third, behind the Lib Dems and perhaps sub-20. After all, for the main opposition party to be in the mid-20s in any circumstance is extremely poor but it’s still not quite the existential crisis that not being the largest left-of-centre party is. Note also the much larger share that YouGov give to the Greens: almost half the Labour share, rather than less than a quarter of it that the other companies find.

Of course, these figures were before Labour casually revived media attention of their antisemitism problem by readmitting an unrepentant Chris Williamson into their party while the EHRC inquiry into it is still ongoing. That, plus the internal Labour criticism to it, might trigger a decline in Labour’s vote share after a month of relative stability, as might well the election of the new Tory and Lib Dem leaders – and goodness knows what might happen after the summer, when the Brexit drama reaches a new climax. Even if Labour is ahead now, there’s no guarantee it’ll last.

David Herdson


Latest Polling Matters podcast on the US Democratic debate reaction & more on Hunt vs Johnson

Friday, June 28th, 2019

On this week’s Polling Matters podcast, Keiran Pedley is joined by Ariel Edwards-Levy of the Huffington Post to discuss the latest developments in the race to face Donald Trump in 2020 following this week’s Democratic debates.

Later in the show, Keiran looks at the most recent public opinion numbers on Hunt vs Johnson.

Listen to the podcast here

Follow this week’s guests:


WH2020 could be the election that the US finally chooses a woman

Friday, June 28th, 2019

A look at the Presidential gender betting

Over the past couple of nights we had the first tv debates of the battle in the Democratic party to secure the nomination for next year’s White House election to come up presumably against Donald Trump .

One factor that is very striking is that the two contenders who most stood out were women. They are Senators Elizabeth Warren (16% on Betfair) of Massachusetts, clear victor on Wednesday evening, and Kamala Harris (25% Betfair favourite) of California who took the accolades on Thursday.

We haven’t seen yet any serious post debate polling on how potential primary voters view the race now but it is apparent that Senators Harris and Warren are the ones to beat. Overnight the ageing duo of Jo Biden and Bernie Sanders, both in their late 70s, failed to come across effectively and it is much harder to see either going all the way to the convention next year when the nominee will be confirmed.

Until this point one betting market that I haven’t highlighted before is on the gender of the next President. On Betfair it is about a 25% chance that the next occupant of the White House will be female and that looks a very tempting price given the current dominance of Harris and Warren.

A bet on the WH2020 winner being female would also cover you for two other women senators in the field as well as Oprah Winfrey who is being enthusiastically supported by late night TV host Bill Maher. There’s been no indication that she is interested.

Mike Smithson



The standout moment of the 2nd Democratic debate and campaign so far – Kamala Harris taking on Joe Biden on race

Friday, June 28th, 2019

My immediate betting reaction after watching the second WH2020 Democratic debate was to place a bet on California Senator, Kamala Harris for the nomination.

Her confrontation with ex-VP, Joe Biden, seen in the clip above, is the one that is being focused on by the US media and will surely be repeated time and time again. As can be seen it was personal and powerful and demonstrated her powerful communication skills. It also exposed the frailty of the front runner and current favourite, ex-VP Joe Biden.

Whether it does more damage to the 76 year old Biden than it benefits her we will have to wait and see but it will certainly reinforce Harris as a key contender in a party that is desperate to find someone who can defeat Donald Trump in November next year.

This was the overall verdict of Taegan Goddard of Political Wire:

“Only Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg improved their position in the Democratic presidential race tonight. Both were prepared and very clear in explaining why they were running and what they would do as president. But most important for Democrats, both play to win. They would be formidable competitors to Donald Trump. If I had to pick a winner, it was Harris.

The most experienced candidates on the stage — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — significantly underperformed expectations. They weren’t terrible, but they likely lost ground tonight. The remaining six candidates were incredibly weak.”

Mike Smithson