Saturday, May 20, 2017

Finally the election explodes into life as YouGov poll moves the race closer to hung parliament territory

Whenever you see a Britain-wide poll showing a huge Tory lead (which has basically been every single poll in this campaign so far), it's worth bearing in mind that Jeremy Corbyn's theoretical objective is not to overturn that lead, but simply to bring it down to a level that might conceivably translate into a hung parliament rather than an overall Tory majority.  That's still a mind-bogglingly tough hurdle for him, but it does put a slightly different perspective on things, because depending on the distribution of votes even a 6 or 7 point Tory lead might not be quite enough for a majority.
Earlier today there were two polls which showed modest declines in the Tory lead, but which still left Theresa May with a very comfortable 12 or 13 point cushion.  However, both of those polls were largely conducted before people became acquainted with the controversial Tory manifesto, and the million dollar question was what impact that would have.  Expectations genuinely differed - some commentators thought working-class voters would be taken in by the faux 'redistributive' aspects of the manifesto, while others thought the Tories were taking a big risk with their core vote.  Judging by the newly-released post-manifesto poll from YouGov, the latter analysis may have been closer to the mark.

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov) :

Conservatives 44% (-1)
Labour 35% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (n/c)
UKIP 3% (-3)

For the first time in the campaign, then, we have a poll that makes it look just about plausible that we could end up with a hung parliament - the Tory lead would only have to slip two or three points more.  I still think that's highly unlikely - if anything, it's more probable that this is just a blip and the gap will widen again as polling day approaches.  But it's certainly electric shock treatment for a campaign that until now has been the dullest since at least 2001.

For reasons only they can explain, YouGov never reveal the SNP's vote share until the following morning, but judging from the percentage changes of the other parties there's no obvious reason to suppose the SNP have slipped back.  [Update : The SNP and Plaid are unchanged on 5%, and the SNP lead the Tories in the Scottish subsample by 44% to 28%.]

UPDATE : Hot on the heels of YouGov comes a post-manifesto Survation poll which goes some way towards confirming that there has been a telling swing from Tory to Labour, but which still leaves Corbyn with a bigger deficit than he has in the YouGov poll.

GB-wide voting intentions (Survation) :

Conservatives 46%
Labour 34%
Liberal Democrats 8%
SNP 4%

A more realistic hope than a hung parliament is that the Tory surge we saw at the start of the campaign may have now gone into reverse, and that we'll see the effects of that in Scotland as well as south of the border.  If so, the SNP lead over the Tories might just start to inch up, and some of the Tories' longer-shot constituency targets might begin to look out of reach.

UPDATE II : I've removed the percentage changes from the Survation numbers above, because they were comparing apples with oranges - this is an online poll, and Survation's other recent polls (for Good Morning Britain) have been conducted by telephone.

Never forget that more than 42% of Moray voters backed independence in 2014

Matt Singh of Number Cruncher Politics has drawn attention to the fact that the SNP (at least according to the latest YouGov poll) have lost most of the anti-independence people who used to vote for them, and that the Tories now have roughly 50% of both Leave voters and No voters.  He reckons this points to "big swings in NE + Moray".

Common sense will already have told you there's a danger that the SNP-to-Tory swing in areas like Moray and Aberdeenshire will be significantly bigger than the national average, because those are the places where large numbers of people have traditionally floated between SNP and Tory/Lib Dem, rather than between SNP and Labour.  That does leave several SNP seats looking very vulnerable.  However, there's also an "up to a point, Lord Copper" element in this - you really do have to go back to basics and remind yourself that both Moray and Aberdeenshire actually voted to remain in the European Union, and both had significant minorities that voted Yes in September 2014.

It's true that Moray had the highest Leave vote in Scotland last year, but even if three-quarters of those voters break for the Tories, that would only take the party to roughly 37.5% of the electorate (leaving aside for a moment the complicating factor of turnout).  OK, the Tories will also attract a percentage of Remain voters, but the vast majority of 'Tory Remainers' will have voted No in 2014 - and three-quarters of the constituency's No voters would still only take the party to roughly 43.2%.  It's not hard to see why Angus Robertson is likely to at least be competitive in a constituency which had a 42.4% Yes vote and a 50.1% Remain vote, especially once you factor in his personal following and a potential "leader's bonus".

There was an almost 40% Yes vote in Aberdeenshire, so again, it scarcely stretches credulity to believe that the SNP may be able to hold on there in first-past-the-post contests.  Having said that, Aberdeenshire is a vast and varied local authority, and West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine looks to be tougher terrain than Gordon or Banff & Buchan.

Perhaps the more important question here is what the loss of anti-independence voters means for the SNP's strategy.  Do they conclude that those people have basically gone for good, and instead concentrate on firing up the Yes vote, and perhaps winning over the 25% of current Labour voters who are pro-independence?  Do they look at the unionist parties' success at using the fear of independence to dramatically reduce the number of No voters who vote SNP, and conclude that talking up the independence issue is the obvious way to deter Yes voters from backing unionist parties, especially Labour?  At the moment, the SNP's answer to both of those questions appears to be a firm "no".  They've instead gone back to the 2015 strategy of not scaring the horses on independence, which presumably indicates that they believe they can win some No voters back, even in the face of the unprecedented paranoia about independence being whipped up by the unionist parties.  I do have a slight doubt in my mind as to whether that's the correct call, but thankfully this is all way above my pay grade, so I'll just wait and see how it plays out.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

YouGov poll : Labour's current voters are less hostile to independence than the class of 2015

Since my last post I've had a chance to look at the YouGov datasets, and I was particularly interested in seeing what has happened to SNP voters from 2015.  It's important to stress there has been movement in both directions - 10% of people who voted Labour two years ago are now planning to vote SNP, as are 7% of people who voted Liberal Democrat, and even 1% of people who voted Tory.  But obviously that is more than offset by the people who have moved from the SNP to a unionist party. 

It shouldn't be any great surprise that 10% of the SNP's support has moved direct to the Tories - there are bound to be voters, especially in rural areas, who used to vote SNP for reasons that had nothing to do with the constitution, and who now feel that a stridently pro-Brexit/anti-independence party better reflects their views.  More interesting, though, are the 8% of SNP voters who have switched back to Labour.  Because the SNP's vote was twice as big as Labour's in 2015, that means (if the poll is accurate) there has actually been net movement from the SNP to Labour, in spite of the fact that Labour's overall vote has continued to fall.  I'm not convinced that finding can be explained by people having a change of heart on independence, because Labour's current coalition of support is considerably less anti-independence in character than its 2015 coalition was.  25% of people who currently plan to vote Labour would vote Yes to independence, compared to just 13% of people who voted Labour in 2015.  So it looks very much like there is a significant number of people out there who are pro-independence, and who have actually voted SNP at least once in the recent past, but who are nevertheless planning for some inexplicable reason to vote for the sinking ship that is Labour.  If the SNP are looking to recover some lost ground, that group may be the most obvious low-hanging fruit.

It's smaller beer, but we can also take some heart from the fact that 2% of SNP voters from 2015 say they plan to vote Green.  With no Green candidate to vote for in the vast majority of constituencies, it's not unreasonable to suspect that most of those votes will be heading back to the SNP - which could be enough to boost the overall SNP vote share by 1%.

SNP vote increases in "heartening" full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov

After an insanely long wait of several weeks, we finally have the fourth bona fide full-scale Scottish poll of this campaign, and it comes from YouGov.

Scottish voting intentions for the UK general election :

SNP 42% (+1)
Conservatives 29% (+1)
Labour 19% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

I can't find any sign of the fieldwork dates yet, but judging from the number of people who mentioned being interviewed by YouGov a couple of days ago, it's probably safe to assume that the poll is close to being bang up-to-date.

So what can we take from the numbers?  They're not necessarily inconsistent with the impression of recent days (derived from anecdotal evidence and from the Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls) that the SNP have bounced back somewhat after a ropey spell earlier in the campaign.  Obviously a 1% increase is underwhelming and not statistically significant in itself, but the standard 3% margin of error is perfectly capable of disguising a bigger jump.  We'll just have to await further polls for more information.  In the meantime, we can take great heart from learning that the first poll conducted after 4th May has completely failed to detect any sign that the Tories generated significant additional momentum from the local election results, and ate deeper into the SNP's lead.  There was always an obvious danger that they'd manage to do that, and the fact that they seemingly haven't may lead us to wonder whether we've now more or less reached Peak Tory - ie. the absolute limit of potential Tory support, from where they can only stand still or go backwards.  Put it this way - if the Tories can't poll higher than this when they're pushing 50% in some UK polls, when will they ever?

It's worth remembering that of the three polling firms that produced Scottish polls earlier in the campaign, YouGov reported the lowest SNP share.  That may have just happened by chance, or there may be a 'house effect' at play.  If it's the latter, it's possible that the next polls from other firms will put the SNP as high as 44% or 45%.  The bad news, though, is that Panelbase also reported a much higher Tory vote than YouGov did, so there's no particular reason to suppose that YouGov are underestimating the SNP's lead over the Tories - which ultimately is the most important thing in a first-past-the-post election.

Which leads me on to the big nagging worry - differential turnout.  If the SNP's real lead on the ground is somewhere between 10% and 15%, there's a risk that will translate into a sub-10 lead on polling day (exactly as happened in the local elections), due to the party's main opponents being strongest among the demographic groups that are most likely to turn out to vote.  We're going to need a Rolls Royce get-out-the-vote effort simply to achieve a result that properly reflects the state of public opinion.  But the more positive way of looking at it is that it's all in our own hands - the prize of 45 seats or more (an overwhelming landslide by any standards) is there for the grabbing.

The indispensable first step in that process is to make sure that potential SNP voters are actually able to vote, and time is running out in that respect.  If you know anyone (perhaps a young person) who you suspect is not on the electoral roll, don't delay in making an intervention - they can very quickly register by following this link.  But they have to do it by Monday evening, or they'll be powerless to stop the Tories in June.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

SNP lead by more than 16% in latest subsample average

The run of exceptionally good subsample results for the SNP was finally broken today when Ipsos-Mori actually put the Tories ahead of the SNP.  That hasn't happened previously in this campaign, but it's a somewhat artificial finding because the SNP were slightly ahead (and on a very healthy 45% of the vote) before the turnout filter was applied.  As ever, individual subsamples are prone to huge error and should be treated with extreme caution, but an aggregate of several subsamples might conceivably tell you something interesting.  Here is what the average of results over the last seven days shows...


SNP 46.6% (+0.2)
Conservatives 30.1% (+2.1)
Labour 14.9% (+0.3)
Liberal Democrats 4.3% (-2.2)

I had a bit of a dilemma with this update, because Kantar/TNS provide partial information about their Scottish subsample, but don't reveal what the turnout-weighted figures are.  I decided to take the view that you just have to go with the information that's actually available, so this update is based on subsamples from seven polls - two from YouGov, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from Kantar/TNS, one from Survation, one from Panelbase and one from ICM.  The GfK subsample published today (which shows an enormous lead for the SNP) is excluded because the fieldwork began more than seven days ago.

A few people mentioned being interviewed by YouGov the other day for what seemed to be a Scotland-specific poll, so if it's intended for public consumption, we may not have to read the runes from subsamples for much longer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Drama as Lib Dem manifesto implicitly concedes the case for an independence referendum

This is a direct quote from the Liberal Democrat manifesto published today -

"Keeping the UK in the EU will remove the basis for the SNP’s divisive proposed referendum on independence."

With the exception of the word "divisive", I don't think anyone in the SNP would disagree with that.  The one and only reason another independence referendum has been proposed relatively soon after the last one is that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against its will.  In the highly unlikely event that the United Kingdom never leaves the EU, the grounds for holding a referendum in the near future will no longer exist.

But of course the reverse is also true.  If keeping the UK in the EU removes the basis for a referendum, failing to keep the UK in the EU will by definition ensure that the basis for a referendum remains intact.  The Liberal Democrats should be congratulated for implicitly (and probably accidentally) conceding that vitally important democratic point.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Latest subsample average suggests SNP have a huge 18% lead over the Tories

We may simply have had a run of good results by complete chance, but it has to be said that the last week of Scottish subsamples has made for considerably pleasanter reading as far as the SNP are concerned.  There hasn't been even a single one in which they've slipped below the 40% mark, which certainly wasn't the case earlier in the campaign.  Their best showing was 56% in a Panelbase subsample released today, and there have also been four others in the high 40s.  The obvious hope is that the media hype over the Tory gains in the local elections has backfired, and that anti-Tory voters are now coalescing behind the SNP.

The following subsample average is based on eight polls - two YouGov, one Survation, one ComRes, one ICM, one Opinium, one ORB and one Panelbase.


SNP 46.4% (+3.6)
Conservatives 28.0% (-2.3)
Labour 14.6% (-0.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.5% (-1.0)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Subsample average fails to find any post-locals momentum for the Scottish Tories

Well, the "remarkable" poll in the Sunday Times did turn out to be an anti-climax, not for either of the reasons I speculated last night, but simply because it was a poll that had already been published and that we already knew about!  It was a GB-wide Ashcroft poll, but the Sunday Times are reading huge significance into the results of the Scottish subsample, because "far more" Scottish respondents were interviewed than for a standard full-scale Scottish poll.  That gives the entirely misleading impression that the results are more accurate than a full-scale Scottish poll, whereas in fact a properly weighted poll of 1000 people should be more accurate than an unweighted subsample of 3,500.  In any case, even a weighted poll of 3,500 wouldn't be dramatically more accurate than a poll of 1000.

Even if you take them seriously, the Ashcroft numbers are already a couple of weeks out of date (they precede the local elections) and don't show anything radically different from what we've seen in the campaign so far.  The SNP's lead is 11% - exactly the same as in the full-scale Panelbase poll.

So we still await the first Scottish poll since the local elections, and in the meantime all we can do is look at an average of the very small number of Scottish subsamples conducted over the last seven days, which suggests there hasn't been any further momentum for the Tories.


SNP 42.8% (-2.2)
Conservatives 30.3% (-1.2)
Labour 15.0% (-0.8)
Liberal Democrats 7.5% (+2.7)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

"Remarkable" Scottish poll incoming?

Probably the less said about my Eurovision prediction the better, although I've got a few crumbs of comfort to cling to - I was correct about Bulgaria finishing second, I was right about Moldova doing better than the betting suggested (although I still underestimated how well they would do), and all of the songs I had in the top five finished in the top six.  However, I've been completely wrong about Belgium the whole way through, and I significantly overestimated Italy and underestimated Portugal.  I was right about the UK doing much worse in the public vote than with the juries, but that wasn't exactly a tough prediction.

I'm delighted that a song performed entirely in a language other than English has won for the first time since 2007 (last year's winner was partly in Crimean Tatar but also had English segments).  Mysteriously, Julia Hartley-Brewer said it was "a victory for the English language", so if anyone has the slightest clue what she might mean by that, be sure to let her know.

Turning back to the general election, there is apparently a "remarkable" Scottish poll in the Sunday Times, but I can't find any trace of the results online yet, and with it being almost 2am presumably we're going to have to wait a few more hours for whoever drew the short straw to #buyapaper.  I would imagine "remarkable" is most likely to be code for "good for the Tories", but let's not jump to conclusions - I suppose it could also mean a record low for Labour or something like that.  But even if our worst fears are confirmed, we should treat the poll with a measure of caution - it's likely to be from Panelbase, who have already produced the Scottish Tories' best showing in this campaign so far.  It's just possible there's a house effect at play.  We could really do with a much wider range of full-scale Scottish polls than we've had, but of course after the polling disasters of the last two years, newspapers are much more reluctant to spend money on polls that have no guarantee of accuracy.

(There's also the possibility that this will be an anti-climax and it won't even be a voting intention poll at all.)

UPDATE : As has been pointed out in the comments section below, there is a Britain-wide YouGov poll in the London edition of the Sunday Times, which could be classed as "remarkable" due to the strength of the Tory vote and the collapse of the UKIP vote.  It's possible that's what Jason Allardyce was referring to in his tweet, in which case we'll all be able to breathe a sigh of relief.  I had just assumed he was talking about a poll in the Scottish edition of the paper, which he edits.  Doubtless the mists will clear soon enough.