Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Setting the record straight on the D'Hondt formula

A commenter on a previous thread has alerted me to a piece of polling analysis on Newsnet that is based on an entirely false premise.  The article claims that Best For Britain are wrong to suggest that the figures from their recent YouGov poll would translate into three SNP seats in the European Parliament, and that the correct figure should be two.  It also goes on to say: "Why Best for Britain have allocated 3 seats to the SNP when their poll results actually only give them just 2 is strange. Perhaps because of an unexplained adjustment or wider polling influence."

In fact, the Newsnet piece is wrong and Best For Britain are right.  The 38% of the vote that the SNP are given by the poll would comfortably be enough to win them three seats, and it would actually leave them not that far away from four.  This is not because of any "unexplained adjustment" or "wider polling influence" - it's simply because of how the D'Hondt formula works.  The Newsnet author wrongly believes that D'Hondt divides a party's vote by two every time it wins a seat, but that's not the case at all.  As Newsnet is a pro-indy website, this is clearly an honest mistake rather than anything malicious, but it's still important to set the record straight because it could lead to further confusion about how the voting system works.  (And Alex Cole-Hamilton would be only too delighted about that!)

The D'Hondt formula actually divides each party's original vote by the number of seats it has already won, plus one.  So this is how the calculation would play out if the Best For Britain poll happens to be accurate...

First count: SNP 38, Brexit Party 19.8, Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

SNP win first seat

Second count: Brexit Party 19.8, SNP 19 (38 ÷ 2), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

Brexit Party win second seat

Third count: SNP 19 (38 ÷ 2), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

SNP win third seat

Fourth count: SNP 12.7 (38 ÷ 3), Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

SNP win fourth seat

Fifth count: Greens 11, Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), SNP 9.5 (38 ÷ 4), Liberal Democrats 7, UKIP 2, Change UK 2

Greens win fifth seat

Sixth count: Labour 10.2, Conservatives 10, Brexit Party 9.9 (19.8 ÷ 2), SNP 9.5 (38 ÷ 4), Liberal Democrats 7, Greens 5.5 (11 ÷ 2), UKIP 2, Change UK 2

Labour win sixth seat

Final seat allocation: SNP 3, Brexit Party 1, Greens 1, Labour 1

Theresa trembles as phenomenal Panelbase poll puts support for independence at 48% - a three-year high

I'm not sure if this information was published at the weekend and I just wasn't aware of it because I don't pay the Murdoch Levy, but anyway, it turns out that the new Panelbase poll also asked the independence question, and the results confirm what appeared to be the case from two polls a few weeks ago - that Yes support is riding higher than it has been for years.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 48% (+1)
No 52% (-1)

To put this in perspective, Panelbase have recently been one of the most No-friendly polling firms, and for eighteen months between the early summer of 2017 and the autumn of 2018, they consistently had Yes on either 43% or 44%.  The last two Panelbase polls showed Yes had jumped to 47%, and now 48% is a three-year high.  It's very unlikely that such a sustained pattern is illusory - it does look like support for independence has increased significantly over recent months.  YouGov, of course, have shown the same trend.

Here's the proof that the 'Remain Voter' website can't be trusted

So just to recap: yesterday I expressed my suspicions that the 'Remain Voter' website might have some sort of agenda, because the explanation for their advice that pro-EU voters in Scotland should cast a tactical vote for the Liberal Democrats appeared to be absolute gibberish.  They stated that switching to the Lib Dems on Thursday could somehow help the SNP win a fourth seat - which is arithmetically impossible.

Today someone on Twitter wrongly stated that Remain Voter were claiming that people should vote for the Lib Dems because the SNP don't even have a chance of a fourth seat, and that any extra SNP votes would therefore be wasted.  This was my reply -

"They actually don't say that. Their advice is much more nutty than that. They say that the SNP *can* win a fourth seat, and that voting Lib Dem will help them do it. Mysteriously (or perhaps I should say understandably), they don't explain how that is arithmetically possible."

That attracted the attention of 'Remain Voter' themselves, who foolishly tried to cover their embarrassment with a grossly misleading response -

"No we don't say that. We say: "Recent polling shows SNP confidently gaining 3 seats with undecided Labour voters blocking a 4th. Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat..""

And my reply -

"You little fibber. You've hurriedly edited your page - you know perfectly well that the previous wording was exactly what I said. It was as follows: "Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat while helping the SNP win the 4th seat.""

In case you want to see the proof with your own eyes, click HERE to see what their website looked like two days ago.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you want to contract out your voting choices to an Anglocentric website that has proved itself to be so slippery and deceitful.

And this might also be a suitable moment to give another plug to the new Phantom Power film I was involved in.  I make the point in it that the SNP do indeed have a realistic chance of winning a fourth seat on Thursday - but only if they receive 40%+ of the vote.  Switching your vote to a unionist party like the Lib Dems sure as hell isn't going to help.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Your four-minute guide to how Thursday's European election could be a giant leap towards an independence referendum

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Bannockburn with the legendary pro-indy film-maker Phantom Power to record a short piece about the forthcoming European elections.  You can watch it below, and I think you'll agree that it ends on a suitably rousing note!

If anyone tells you that "tactical voting" is possible on Thursday, they're either misleading you or they don't know what they're talking about

Over the last few weeks I've made the point a number of times that it's not possible to "vote tactically" in the European elections, regardless of whether the intended effect is to increase the chances of Scottish independence or to increase the chances of Britain remaining in the European Union.  We all just have one vote for one party, and seats in the European Parliament will be allocated in proportion to the share of the vote received by each party.  It's hard to think of a voting system less conducive to tactical voting than that.  And yet in recent days there have been two determined attempts to convince the public that pro-Remain tactical voting is both feasible and desirable.  First of all Gina Miller gave a suspiciously hazy summary of research based on "machine learning" that claimed, among other things, that Remain supporters in Scotland should tactically switch to the SNP on Thursday.  Then a website called 'Remain Voter' gave an even sketchier explanation for their advice that Scottish voters should switch tactically to the Liberal Democrats.

As there is a direct contradiction between the two recommendations (Miller and 'Remain Voter' also contradict each other in Wales and some of the English regions), it hopefully won't be too controversial if I say that both can be safely ignored.  But what's going on here?  I suspect Miller's initiative is well-intentioned but misguided - she's probably seen the dramatic effect of tactical voting in first-past-the-post elections (it cost the Tories a lot of seats in 1997, for example) and imagines that the same can be achieved in any election, regardless of the voting system.  She's used opinion polling to estimate the state of current voting intentions and then commissioned experts to judge which tactical movements between one Remain party and another would maximise the total number of seats won by Remain parties.  But that's where she hits the age-old problem: the results you get out are only as good as the data you put in.  She's betting the house on her poll results being exceptionally accurate, and if they're not, her recommendations will have no sound basis.  Yes, she's using the most advanced polling methods, but the extreme level of accuracy required for the exercise is simply beyond what is actually possible.  I would guess her experts must understand that perfectly well, but if you're being paid handsomely it's easy enough to turn a blind eye to that sort of fundamental snag.

I'm rather less charitable about the motivations of the 'Remain Voter' website, because their stated logic for the Lib Dem recommendation in Scotland is so mind-bogglingly perverse that it's hard to believe there isn't some sort of agenda behind the whole thing.  Here it is in all its glory -

"Scotland is interesting! Recent polling shows SNP confidently gaining 3 seats with undecided Labour voters blocking a 4th.

Remain Voter modelling shows LDs have the momentum to win a seat while helping the SNP win the 4th seat.

Smart voting can win a seat from a pro-Brexit party while capitalising on Labour's lack of commitment to their majority Remain membership."

Yes, folks, they really are saying that "tactically voting for the Lib Dems" can somehow "help the SNP to win a fourth seat".  Which is arithmetically impossible.  The lack of explanation for how they think the laws of mathematics can be bent on this occasion is rather deafening.  Someone suggested to me on Twitter that if a very large number of Labour voters were to switch to the Lib Dems, that could achieve the claimed effect, with the Lib Dems taking one seat and the SNP taking four.  But that's not "tactical voting" - that's voters switching sides from a Leave party to a Remain party.  The whole thing is absolute gibberish.

The only limited sense in which there's a grain of truth in the claims about tactical voting is that if you vote for a pro-Remain party that has no realistic chance of winning a seat in your electoral region (that would apply to Change UK in Scotland and in most other electoral regions), you're wasting your vote and you'd be better off voting for a more popular Remain party (ie. the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens or the Liberal Democrats).  But beyond that very narrow point, the system really can't be gamed, and you should just vote for whichever party you like best and agree with most.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The dream dies for Davidson as sensational Panelbase poll suggests the Scottish Tories face TOTAL WIPEOUT at Westminster, with the SNP poised to take almost every Scottish seat

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Panelbase):

SNP 38% (n/c)
Labour 19% (-2)
Conservatives 18% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 10% (+4)
Brexit Party 9% (+4)
Greens 3% (+1)
Change UK 2% (-1)
UKIP 1% (-1)

Panelbase have consistently reported a lower SNP share than other firms, so I would guess a new poll from YouGov or Survation might show the SNP in the low 40s.  But even if Panelbase are correct, what's happening is that Labour and the Tories are taking a hammering from the polarisation of politics along Remain v Leave lines, while the SNP are holding steady at roughly where they were at the last general election.  And when the voting system is first-past-the-post, that's all they need to do.  On the Electoral Calculus projection, they'd win almost every seat in Scotland, with the Tories being completely wiped out and Labour reduced to just Ian Murray's seat once again.  In practice, that's unlikely to be how it unfolds - I suspect David Mundell and John Lamont might hold on for the Tories, along with maybe one or two others.  But the bulk of the seats the Tories took in the north-east two years ago would probably tumble.  That's remarkable, because those seats looked absolutely rock-solid until a few short weeks ago.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The annual Eurovision post

Well, actually there are usually several annual Eurovision posts - this is the first year since starting the blog in 2008 that I haven't posted predictions for the two semi-finals.  But don't worry, I wasn't boycotting Israel or anything like that, so there's no need for Fiona Robertson to launch a bigotry inquiry.  I just ran out of time.

I know some of you get mildly homicidal when I start writing about Eurovision, so to sweeten the pill this year I thought I might make a small departure from my usual prediction post, and instead offer you some betting tips.  Even if you're not interested in Eurovision itself, you might be interested in making a little money out of it.  Obviously what you do with this advice is entirely at your own risk - it's just some general speculation about where the value might possibly lie.

The Netherlands, oddly enough, are the red-hot favourites to win this year, and if they do, it'll be their first triumph since the quintessentially dreadful Ding-A-Dong way back in 1975 (a song that Edwyn Collins memorably turned into a Bond theme two decades later).  Over the last few years, strong favourites have tended to win at a canter, but if you go further back, the contest is littered with highly-fancied entries that crashed and burned.  The most recent example was 2011, when France were expected to win but finished a poor fifteenth, which allowed Azerbaijan to emerge from the pack.  In this case I'm fairly confident the Netherlands will finish close to the top of the leaderboard, because the song is likely to be the favourite of the juries.  But whether it wins outright will also depend on the public vote, and that's where one or two doubts creep in.  It's actually possible to bet on the outcome of the public vote alone, and I'd suggest that the eye-catching Australian entry and Russia are both quite generously priced on that front.  Russia are particularly tempting, partly because they're the kings of political voting, and partly because their singer Sergey Lazarev won the televote (but not the jury vote) three years ago.  And at the risk of fuelling David Leask's suspicions, it's not a bad song at all.

When I first heard the UK's song in February, I thought it was "our" best entry for years and years and years, and I still think that, but it clearly hasn't caught the imagination of the fans, and you can get odds of close to 500/1 against a UK win.  In spite of uninspiring staging, I believe the song is significantly underpriced, probably due to fatalism brought about by years of poor UK results.  Probably the most sensible bet would be the 25/1 on offer for the UK to merely finish in the top ten, which seems insanely generous.  (For the avoidance of doubt, I don't think the UK will make the top ten, but I do think there's a greater than 4% chance of that happening.  4% is the percentage chance implied by the odds.)

The catchy-but-appalling San Marino song is also a rank outsider to make the top ten, and that's a semi-tempting one because you can guarantee the public will be voting for it as a laugh.  But you'd assume it'll be hammered by the juries.  (There again, the juries ranked the Israeli novelty song as high as third last year, so anything is possible.)

There are a few other entries that are odds-against to make the top ten, but which might be a value bet - the Czech Republic song is very infectious, Serbia have followed the dramatic Balkan ballad template that proved so successful for them a few years back, and Cyprus have a song that is fairly similar to their runner-up from last year.

*  *  *

And for those of you who aren't interested in either Eurovision or Eurovision betting, here is YouGov's latest Scottish subsample for the European elections.  It's an unusually large subsample of more than 600 respondents, which makes it almost as good as a full-scale poll, because YouGov (unlike other firms) are believed to weight their Scottish subsamples correctly.

SNP 39%, Brexit Party 20%, Liberal Democrats 13%, Greens 10%, Conservatives 7%, Labour 6%, UKIP 2%, Change UK 1%

Seats projection: SNP 3, Brexit Party 1 or 2, Liberal Democrats 1, Greens 0 or 1

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ruth Davidson's campaign pitch is just sooooo 2017

So I received my official Ruth Davidson's Conservatives Election Communication through the door this morning, and a few points leap out at me...

* They seem to have entirely given up on voters with a primarily Scottish national identity.  Note the prominent usage of the Union Jack and the total absence of the saltire.  They've travelled a long way since the likes of Michael Forsyth co-opted the saltire as part of the unionist brand in 1990s.  Now, doubtless their strategists would point out that Ruth Davidson has had greater electoral success than Michael Forsyth, but it does mean they're limiting themselves to a niche market - British identity is much weaker in Scotland than Scottish national identity.  It would be reasonable to suggest that this approach was far more compatible with Davidson's aim in 2016 of becoming the largest opposition party than it is with her current stated objective of becoming First Minister.

* They seem to have entirely given up on Remain voters.  How on earth do you win a majority in Scotland if you only want people who are BOTH self-identifying Brits AND Leave supporters (38% of the population in 2016 and now a touch lower)?  It's even harder now that the Brexit Party seems to have become overnight the natural home for passionate Leavers, which means that the Tories are effectively left chasing after the voters who do want Brexit but don't particularly prioritise it.

* They're testing the credulity of voters with a bizarre juxtaposition between the "no more divisive referendums!" message and their insistence that "the result of the divisive referendum we held ourselves only three years ago MUST be respected!!!!"

* I wouldn't actually rule out the possibility that lazily rerunning the 2017 anti-indyref message could gain some traction - but if it does, that could conceivably split the Brexit Party vote and help the SNP.  I'm not even joking.  If yesterday's YouGov subsample is right about the Scottish Tories only being on 6% of the vote for the Euro elections (a perfectly plausible figure given that the Tory vote across Britain is just 10%), they're well below the de facto threshold for winning a seat, and an extra 1% or 2% of votes for them will be wasted votes.

* If a vote for the Conservatives in this election is a vote to "tell Nicola Sturgeon - no more referendums", doesn't it logically follow that if the Tories are wiped out and the SNP gain a seat (as the YouGov subsample implies will happen), the public must want a referendum?

Could Ruth Davidson be facing an ABRUPT END to her political career? SHOCK YouGov research puts the Scottish Tories in SIXTH PLACE for the Euro elections

Every day seems to bring word of a poll showing even more progress for the Brexit Party, and the latest from YouGov is no exception.

Britain-wide voting intentions for Westminster (YouGov):

Conservatives 24% (-5)
Labour 24% (-5)
Brexit Party 18% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 16% (+3)
Greens 7% (+2)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (+1)
Change UK 2% (-1)
UKIP 2% (n/c)

Scottish subsample: SNP 41%, Labour 15%, Conservatives 14%, Brexit Party 12%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Greens 5%, UKIP 1%, Change UK 1%

Britain-wide voting intentions for European Parliament (YouGov):

Brexit Party 34% (+4)
Labour 16% (-5)
Liberal Democrats 15% (+5)
Greens 11% (+2)
Conservatives 10% (-3)
Change UK 5% (-4)
SNP 3% (n/a)
UKIP 3% (-1)
Plaid Cymru 1% (n/a)

Scottish subsample: SNP 38%, Brexit Party 21%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Labour 10%, Greens 9%, Conservatives 6%, Change UK 2%

To say that public opinion is fast-moving at the moment would be the understatement of the century.  It seems like no time at all ago that we thought the hardline Brexit vote would be split down the middle between the Brexit Party and UKIP, and that the hardline Remain/anti-independence vote would be split between the Lib Dems and Change UK, perhaps meaning that all four parties might miss out on a European Parliament seat in Scotland.  But the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems seem to have decisively won the side-battles against their ideological cousins, which turns our expectations for the Euro seat allocation upside down.  If by any chance the YouGov subsample is completely accurate, the six Scottish seats would be distributed as follows: SNP 3, Brexit Party 2, Liberal Democrats 1.  There would be no Labour or Tory representation at all - the first time in history that Scottish Labour would have been wiped out in the European Parliament.

Although the Tories slumping to a scarcely believable fifth place across Britain is the most eye-catching aspect of the poll, the Scottish Tories' 6% share in the Euro subsample is also worthy of note.  Will the myth of Ruth ever recover?

As far as the Westminster figures are concerned, this wouldn't be the first time in recent decades that we've seen weird numbers that amounted to nothing when an election came around - remember the SDP surge, or the Cleggasm, or the temporary lead for William Hague during the fuel crisis of 2000.  But I do wonder if this time could be different, particularly if Britain hasn't yet left the European Union by the day of the election and if Brexit passions are still running high.  Almost anything could happen.  I talked the other day about the nightmare scenario of Nigel Farage ending up as Prime Minister, but we shouldn't overlook the lesser-but-somehow-equal nightmare of Jo Swinson walking through the doors of Number 10.  The Lib Dems' 16% share, which looks thoroughly unimpressive compared to the achievements of Charles Kennedy, is nevertheless enough to put them just eight points off the outright lead.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Opinium poll suggests Farage has a chance of becoming Prime Minister

It's not very often that Nicola Sturgeon tweets about a Britain-wide opinion poll, and I was initially slightly puzzled as to why she singled out ("it's time for independence, Scotland") today's new poll from Opinium.  It shows Labour with a six point lead over the Tories, with Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party one point further back in third place.  On the face of it, that's better for Labour and less good for the Brexit Party than other recent Euro election polls.  But then I took a closer look and realised it's not a Euro election poll.  It's a Westminster poll.

Britain-wide Westminster voting intentions (Opinium):

Labour 28% (-2)
Conservatives 22% (-3)
Brexit Party 21% (+4)
Liberal Democrats 11% (n/c)
Greens 6% (+1)
SNP 4% (+1)
UKIP 4% (n/c)
Change UK 4% (+2)

(Note: I've updated the above figures to include the SNP and Change UK, and also to correct the percentage changes - it turns out there was also an earlier Opinium poll that we didn't know about.)

Yes, folks, Opinium really are saying that if there was a general election tomorrow, the current governing party would be essentially tied with a hard-right populist party that was only formed a few weeks ago.  That almost certainly wouldn't translate into parity in terms of seats, because the first-past-the-post electoral system would punish the Brexit Party for support that is too evenly spread.  But the flip-side of the coin is that once a party becomes popular enough, it suddenly gets rewarded for evenly spread support - that's how the SNP ended up winning almost every seat in Scotland in 2015.  Nigel Farage is potentially only a few percentage points away from becoming Prime Minister in a snap election.

Is it credible to believe that this nightmare scenario could actually unfold in real life?  As an election approaches, voters often revert to old habits - for example, the Liberal Democrats still ended up in third place in 2010 in spite of the "Cleggasm" that temporarily propelled them into a lead in the polls.  But there could be a tipping point if Tory MPs start defecting to the Brexit Party.  It's certainly conceivable that if Britain hasn't left the European Union by the time the election is held, Nigel Farage could end up leading a sizeable group of Brexit Party MPs in the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, it must be some kind of record for any party to be leading a Westminster poll on just 28% of the vote.  It's perfectly conceivable to win a majority on that sort of vote if you have a big enough lead over the second placed party.  Would there come a point where even the Labour and Tory dinosaurs might start to conclude that the perversities of first-past-the-post are getting beyond a joke? 

*  *  *

UPDATE: A Westminster poll from ComRes shows much the same picture, except that it actually has the Brexit Party in second place...

Britain-wide Westminster voting intentions (ComRes):

Labour 27% (-6)
Brexit Party 20% (+6)
Conservatives 19% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 14% (+7)
Change UK 7% (-2)
Greens 5% (+2)
SNP 3% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-2)