Monday, 11 November 2019

'It’ll Go Higher?'

Morning all, Aaron Bastani here with the first ever 'It’ll Go Higher?', a weekly newsletter where I cast a sociological side-eye on predictions, polls and punditry between now and election day. You’ll hear plenty of hot takes on what the polling apparently means between now and 12 December, but this newsletter aims to dig a little deeper, get beneath the surface and isolate trends ahead of time.

"But are polls even worth engaging with?" I hear you silently cry.

Yes and no, because despite claims that all the pollsters called the last general election wrong, that isn’t entirely true. YouGov adopted a system based on predictive modelling (a technique used extensively by Barack Obama but which the Observer thinks is as Russian as Chekhov) and massive amounts of data (50,000 respondents a time). That allowed them to predict a hung parliament…until they changed their system from MRP because they didn’t want to stand out from the crowd (showing that even pollsters can exhibit ‘bandwagoning bias’). Survation had a bit more backbone, however, and, sticking with the same methodology throughout the campaign, they called the final results almost perfectly - putting Labour on 40% and the Tories on 41% the day before the vote. In the final weeks of campaigning I said Survation were the most likely pollster to be accurate. Unlike Dan Hodges I was right.

Labour edgding...higher?

It’s important to emphasise that at this early stage the polls being published are less ‘robust’ than those available in the final weeks of 2017. Polling conducted by Deltapoll and Opinium over the weekend, both of which showed Labour inching up but remaining significantly behind the Tories, had smaller samples with people responding online (which is generally viewed as weaker data than that collected face-to-face and over the telephone). Nevertheless, with 1500 and 2000 respondents respectively, their findings on headline voting intention should be taken seriously.

Importantly, when you put their findings into broader context, especially compared to Labour’s support around the time of May’s European elections, deeper trends become conspicuous. There is no doubt Labour have significantly stabilised in the last few months: Opinium claim that 66% of Labour leavers now intend to vote for the party, up nine points from last week; while 48% of Labour remainers plan on voting Labour – up 10 points. While still nowhere enough to form a government, that is welcome. And the parties suffering as a result? The Brexit party and Liberal Democrats.

Until as recently as September, Opinium had Labour behind the Brexit party among leave voters and trailing the Lib Dems among remainers. Having edged ahead of both, only surpassing the former last week, they have done something of vital importance in the first week of campaigning: consolidated their base on both sides of the Brexit debate - no mean feat and a testament to the party’s post-conference position on a second referendum.

Jo Swinson is REALLY unpopular.

Despite only being leader of her party since June, Jo Swinson is surprisingly unpopular. Like, really unpopular.

Opinium has her behind Jeremy Corbyn on a bunch of absurd, but perhaps insightful, questions such as “Who would you rather take part in Celebrity Gogglebox with?” Corbyn also does better than Nigel Farage on most of these questions, although he’s some way behind Boris Johnson. Yet even this is somewhat surprising. After all, Corbyn and Farage have well-established political brands and are undoubtedly polarising figures. And yet both are generally viewed as more affable than Swinson, a person whose whole schtick is being an agreeable ‘moderate’. To put it bluntly, since she’s become leader the public has rapidly decided what they think of her - and it ain’t good. That could a major problem for the Liberal Democrats who now seem intent on building their campaign around the East Dunbartonshire MP.

Less apparent, but also of interest, is how Nigel Farage has seen his approval ratings suffer of late. Only 37% of leave voters approve of Mr Toad compared to 50% a month ago. It’s likely that his decision to not stand as a candidate in the forthcoming election is a major reason why - something raised while he campaigned in Wales last week. Between Labour’s ground campaign and Boris’s Brexit belligerence, it is increasingly difficult to see how the Brexit party can win any seats. Of course it’s early days - but one suspects Farage knows this and doesn’t want to be personally humiliated come election day.

The Remain ‘Alliance’ Ain’t Working

While Labour edges up, the opposite is happening to the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru (the last of which Deltapoll puts on 0%). Of particular interest is how Swinson’s party is failing to pick up many ‘soft Tories’ - the people who may have voted Lib Dem in 2010 but powered David Cameron to a majority five years later.

Attracting these individuals is at the heart of Swinson’s rationale in attacking Labour so relentlessly. Last weekend’s findings indicate that, after a fruitful six months, this is no longer working. According to Opinium, 54% of those who voted Conservative in 2017 and favour remain are sticking with Boris Johnson. That’s the kind of figure that could decide the next election, and is generally being neglected by the media.

So one week in, here’s what we know:
  • Labour is stabilising at the cost of smaller parties, while the Tories - predictably - pick up the lion’s share of the leave vote from a flailing Brexit party.
  • Intriguingly, the public dislikes Farage and Swinson as much, if not more, than Jeremy Corbyn, and despite the media’s often-contrarian reporting it’s almost certain the big two will see their vote share continue to grow at the expense of the others over the next few weeks
  • Meanwhile, the early signs of the Lib Dem-Green-Plaid pact is that all are suffering as a result.

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