UK election minus nine days

Three ways Labour could outperform the polls, and defy the Conservatives’ lead. Also featured: recent developments in Germany. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

There were seven UK national polls released last weekend. In five of these polls, the Conservative lead was six to ten points, but it was 13 points in Deltapoll and 15 in Opinium. While Labour has gained since last week, the Conservative vote is holding between 42 and 46% in six polls. The exception is BMG, where the Conservative vote was just 39%. I believe a Conservative vote below 40% is the target for a realistic chance of Labour forming the next government at the December 12 election.

On November 26, the Chief Rabbi accused Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism, and the BBC’s tough interviewer, Andrew Neil, interrogated Corbyn. Boris Johnson has not scheduled an interview with Neil. Polls listed above were conducted after the Corbyn/Neil interview.

On November 29, there was a terrorist attack on London Bridge in which two people, not including the attacker, were killed. Prior to the 2017 election, there were two major terrorist attacks in the UK, but Labour performed much better than expected.

Donald Trump will be in the UK for a NATO summit this Monday to Wednesday. This could assist Labour by focusing more attention on their November 27 claim, using leaked documents, that the Conservatives are planning to sell the National Health Service (NHS) to the US to clinch a US/UK trade deal. On Friday UK time, there will be a head-to-head debate between Johnson and Corbyn.

There has been some commentary that suggests Labour would be 20 points ahead if not led by Corbyn. But the main reason for people to vote Conservative is to Get Brexit Done. No Labour leader could match the Conservatives’ Brexit rhetoric. Labour’s 2017 performance was partly due to Corbyn being pro-Brexit. In addition, the latest jobs data indicates the economy is good for most people: unemployment is just 3.8% and real wages growth is 1.7%.

It is likely a centre-left, pro-Remain Labour leader would be destroyed by accusations of betraying the Brexit referendum.  Labour’s NHS scare campaign is their only realistic chance to regain enough lower-educated voters before the election.

Three ways current polling could understate Labour

Last-minute tactical voting: The Liberal Democrats still have about 13%, but in seats that are clearly Conservative vs Labour, it is plausible that many Lib Dems will vote Labour when faced with the ballot paper. While there is no love for Corbyn among hard Remainers, there is extreme antipathy to Johnson’s hard Brexit and illiberal agenda.

Differential turnout: It’s wrong to say that one side or the other benefits from high overall turnout. Where one side benefits is when their demographics vote at a higher rate than the other side’s demographics. In the past, better-educated and older people voted Conservative. As these demographics are more likely to vote, Conservatives tended to outperform their polls. But while the Conservatives retain an advantage among older people, they have lost it among the better-educated. It will be cold with short daylight hours on election day. Complacency among Leave voters could mean that relatively few vote. If there was relatively heavy turnout among Remainers, the Conservatives would likely perform worse than expected.

Vote efficiency: In this Conversation article, I wrote that Labour won over 70% in 37 of the 650 seats at the 2017 election, while the Conservatives had no 70%+ seats. Labour could lose many votes in their inner city strongholds to the Lib Dems and Greens, and still hold easily. This was the pattern during the Blair government years: high Lib Dem votes in the inner city, but low in the Labour/Conservative marginals. Meanwhile, the Conservatives could waste many votes owing to the Brexit party’s withdrawal from Conservative-held seats.

Nate Silver’s theory is that polling errors go in the opposite direction to the conventional wisdom’s expectations. The commentariat expect a healthy Conservative majority.

Germany: left wins SPD primary

On Saturday, the left-wing candidates defeated the moderate candidates by 53.1-45.3 in a membership postal vote for leadership of Germany’s centre-left SPD. The SPD is likely to abandon the grand coalition with the conservative CDU that has governed Germany for three of the last four terms since 2005. The next German election may need to be held before September 2021. Once one of the two major German parties, the SPD currently has about 14%, level with the far-right AfD and well behind the CDU and Greens.

See my personal website for the Swiss upper house results. At the October 27 Argentine election, the left won the presidency, but will need help from regionalists to pass legislation.

22 comments on “UK election minus nine days”

  1. First poll since the terrorist attack has no change in the Tories 7 point margin, with Labour up to 35%.

    UK (GB), ICM poll:

    CON-ECR: 42% (+1)
    LAB-S&D: 35% (+1)
    LDEM-RE: 13%
    BREXIT-NI: 3% (-1)

    +/- vs. 22-25 Nov

    Fieldwork: 29 November – 2 December
    Sample: 2,029

  2. Following from my post earlier this mng on prev thread, i dont believe Tories can be prevented from gaining a majority unless the LibDems gain around 10 seats at their expense.

    On their own merits and national polling this looks totally unlikely, they are going to have to rely on Labour voters tactically voting for them in the knowledge that voting Labour in that seat will only serve to deliver it to the Tories on fptp.

    It appears that Lab bleeding votes to LibDems (allowing Tories to overtake) is receding somewhat. Lab has to contain its losses to around max 20 seats… fewer if the LibDems cant gain any over what the SNP pulls off in Scotland.

    Any seat changing between non-Tories outside of Nthn Ireland is of functional irrelevance. A Lab minority govt or some kind of coalition will achieve nothing except to stymie a stupid Brexit – which, frankly they can achieve in opposition anyways as long as the Tories dont have a majority.

    Even if propped up by DUP its prob ok as they wont support Boris’ deal. And if no deal then becomes the go, i think there are 10 tories (even after the departure of so many decent ones) who will baulk.

  3. Expat, survation poll has labour vote amongst remainers up 10 points in just a week (39% to 49%)

    There is some speculation that many remainers will umm and arr right until the moment they walk into the polling booth – and in a sudden panic will vote labour. Well, maybe slight exaggeration, but you get the point. Its entirely plausible that there will be a sudden “tactical” rush of remainers to labour at the very last minute – especially if the commentariat continue to talk up the likelihood of a Tory majority.

    – which brings me to the theory that “conventional wisdom” always bets in the wrong way – I wonder to what extent that is a prescriptive factor at play – rather than a predictive error? What I mean is, do voters listen to the commentariat, convince themselves that an election is heading towards a particular result, and then act accordingly to stop that result? Or in other words, could the voters be acutely aware, as they were in 2017, of all the predictions of a Tory majority, and will intervene to stop that? I hasten to add, this would by no means be the only, or even main factor.

  4. I can understand the vitriol against Corbyn from the right, but the amount of flak he gets from sections of the left and centre-left is simply unfathomable to me.

  5. Kantar and Yougov polls both showing no change in the labour-tory gap.

    For what its worth, Kantar gets a lot of flack for some seemingly implausible turnout estimations – 90% amongst over 65s and I think around low 30s for young people (under 30s?). Such turnout figures would obviously heavilly favour tories.

    Another yougov poll has a 10 point jump in the labour vote in London to 49%. However this coming from an unnaturally low base. It is still below the 2017 level

  6. Big A

    Im hoping that a big rush of remainer voters decide to vote tactically optimally to stop Tories winning the seat in qn.

    In many seats this is a vote for Labour (notwithstanding that you might have been leaning Lib Dem) so that they dont lose the seat to the Tories.

    But you read like this is universally true across all seats that Lab is the optimal vote and that is what i keep saying again and again is NOT the case.

    In Scotland, the best strategy to gain the 13 Tory held seats is to vote SNP in just about all of them.

    The LibDems lost 40+ seats to the Tories in 2015 and are the party best placed to win the majority of them back (ie Labour cannot win the seat)… It is in Labour’s interests for the Lib Dems to gain 10 of these (had hoped for more but their campaign and support has drooped) as it minimises likelihood of Tory victory.

    A win-win scenario for Lab, LibDem and SNP is (1) as many seats as poss for yourself and (2) Tory non-majority. 1 without 2 means nothing.

    If you were Corbyn would u prefer 230 seats in a hung parliament or 240 seats in a Tory maj parliament?

    The tragedy is that (1) and (2) were entirely compatible strategies for both Lab and LibDem with some tactical cooperation across 50 Lab seats and 50 formerly held LibDem seats.

    Since they have cocked that up, we hope voters do it themselves in spite of them. Massive ask.

    A poll narrowing obviously helps but each individual seat poll so far puts the Tories in a great position. One week to go, the more each remainer knows the optimal tactical vote in their seat and follows it, the better.

    At this stage my lean is to a Tory maj with about 340 seats. I will be delighted to be wrong, but its those 20-30 seats that are going to come down to the wire that will decide it where each wasted non-tory vote for 3rd place getter is going to cost huge.

  7. Britain-wide YouGov poll:

    Conservatives 42% (-1)
    Labour 33% (-1)
    Liberal Democrats 12% (-1)
    SNP 5% (+1)
    Brexit Party 4% (+2)
    Greens 4% (+1)

    But the Scottish subsample, is very nice:
    SNP 52%,
    Conservatives 25%,
    Labour 11%,
    Liberal Democrats 7%,
    Greens 4%

  8. Just on Corbyn himself Big A… This govt of May/Johnson has been a disgrace. 10 yrs of grim Tory rule.

    Any Lab opp should be primed for a landslide victory in these circs.

    But Corbyn-led Labour is going to lose seats.

    Thats all the indictment necessary. Lovely chap, best of intentions – but unelectable.

    Ditto LibDems. And thats how a dope like Johnson wins big. Its how Trump won in 2016 (and will win nxt yr if up against Warren or Sanders i fear) and to a lesser extent how Morrisson won here.

  9. A possible wildcard is that extended forecasts suggest a significant risk of snow on election day in at least some parts of the UK, which if it happened would probably have a substantial impact on turnout (especially given how well the UK’s transport system doesn’t cope with snow).

  10. Another point on vote efficiency: Labour is likely to have low vote shares in Tory/Lib Dem contests, perhaps even losing their deposit in some of those. If that Scottish subsample from YouGov is right, Labour also gets low vote shares in Scotland.

    That means more votes for Labour where it matters.

  11. In YouGov’s previous poll (Nov 28-29, not the current Dec 2-3 one), 48% thought a US/UK trade deal a risk to the NHS and 30% disagreed. Boris’ trust on NHS at -19, Corbyn +9. However, Labour at -44 on whether its promises are realistically deliverable, Tories at -14. Tories helped by delivering Brexit being their big promise.

  12. While the Tories lead by 42-33 in headline VIs on YouGov’s Dec 2-3 poll, they only lead by 31-25 including responses “won’t vote” (9%), “don’t know” (13%) and “refused” (4%). Those responses are excluded from the headline figures.

    If many of the 17% who don’t know or refused do vote, and if they disproportionally favour Labour, that would cause the polls to err. These DKs/refused are more likely to be young and female, which favour Labour. Also the NHS scare campaign could influence late deciders.

  13. expat: “Just on Corbyn himself Big A… This govt of May/Johnson has been a disgrace. 10 yrs of grim Tory rule.

    Any Lab opp should be primed for a landslide victory in these circs.”

    I believe, as does AB, that this is a myth.

    You say “grim Tory rule”, yet for most of the population, austerity hasn’t really had much of an impact. As AB mentioned in the OP, the fundamentals of the economy are actually quite good. Elections 101 would tell you that to vote out a government, the public needs to have quite a big economic (above all other factors) incentive to do so. In UK at the moment, they don’t really have that.

    Then you add brexit to the mix, which has tribalised the British political landscape like never before. At the moment its got to the point where most of the public will vote along brexit lines – of which the tories are by now virtually the only go to party for leavers. That gives the Tories a solid 40+ no matter who is labour leader. Thats just the reality here. Neither Corbyn, nor any other labour leader can do anything about that. There are around 25-30% of leavers who voted labour in 2017 – but that was in 2017 when labour had a strict “obey the referendum result” policy. Even prominent remainers like Starmer was on the “get brexit done” bandwagon. So what happened after May’s deal fell through and the political discourse started to openly canvass the prospect of overturning the referendum? Those labour leavers abandoned labour in droves to the one party that wasn’t prevaricating on getting brexit done. Again, that would happen whether Corbyn was leader or not. But what Corbyn is doing that another more ‘palatable’ moderate candidate would almost certainly not be doing – is not abandoning these leavers by adopting a clear remain position. Had he done so, he may have well have better polling today – but it would likely cost him an even bigger defeat in the election.

    And Corbyn’s ‘fence sitting’ policy is actually being vindicated in terms of the remain side – as we are now seeing remainers return to labour from the LDs and Greens in droves. Its lkely that come the election, the LDs will be back to where they were in 2017 – so no damage on that front. Whether or not Corbyn’s strategy wins over enough leavers (polls suggest many have already returned), remains to be seen – but the point is, he can’t afford not to try. An uncompromising remain position would unquestionably be electoral suicide for labour.

    I used to buy into all the progressive/centrist claptrap about Corbyn shooting himself in the foot with brexit, but the more I think about it, the more sensible his position becomes. Its likely he’ll still lose on December 12, but I can’t see how any other labour leader could have faired any better. The current political climate is just so badly stacked against labour – and thats no labour leader’s fault.

  14. The sad fact is that Labour is handicapped by having a leader who is not charismatic. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Voters tend to be drawn to colourful characters, even clowns, like Johnson against all good sense.

  15. I’m really getting a hung Parliament feel about this. I’ve been thinking for a while now, as Adrian Beaumont has made reference to, that the Labour vote in the polls is likely being weighed down somewhat by a combination of a low vote in Scotland and tactical voting in parts of London. In the end, I see it coming down to what happens in the north of England; can Labour hold the line there in spite of it being pro Brexit?

    Of course, as I’ve previously mentioned, and I think this scenario is actually becoming a real possibility, the Conservatives may fall just short, creating a rerun of 2017, bringing Northern Ireland in to play. So here are my thoughts on a few of the contests there.

    Belfast North. This seat is currently held by the DUP’s leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds. He held the seat by a margin of 4.5 percent at the 2017 election. This time, he is under severe threat, as both the moderate Nationalist SDLP and the Green Party are not standing a candidate, giving a clearer run to Sinn Fein. So this seat is likely to be extremely close. It will come down to a combination of how many SDLP and Green voters will be prepared to turn up to vote for Sinn Fein, and Unionist turn out. On the latter, I expect Unionist turn out to be high, as Unionists have been energised by Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
    Prediction: A very narrow DUP hold.

    Belfast South. This seat was gained by the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly from the SDLP at the last General Election, with the DUP vote increasing by over 8 percent. However, this time the contest will be very different. Both Sinn Fein and the Green Party are not standing, giving a clearer run to the SDLP, with Sinn Fein in particular strongly endorsing a vote for the SDLP. Alliance, however, have opposed pacts and are standing. Here, I just don’t see enough Unionist votes for the DUP to hold on, and with Sinn Fein’s endorsement, the SDLP should win this one.
    Prediction: SDLP gain from DUP.

    Belfast East. This seat is currently held by the DUP’s Gavin Robinson. There has been some talk that Alliance leader Naomi Long may cause an upset here, but I just don’t see it. The DUP got over 55 percent of the vote at the last election; this is a strongly Unionist area and with Unionists likely to be energised, I don’t see this one being particularly close.
    Prediction: DUP hold.

    North Down. This seat has been held since 2001 by Sylvia Hermon, formally of the Ulster Unionist Party, later Independent. Sylvia Hermon is not recontesting the seat. The DUP vote here has been growing, at the last election Hermon achieved 41 percent of the vote to the DUP 38 percent, though her former party the UUP did not contest the seat. This time, the UUP are standing. However, I think the DUP will pick up enough of Hermon’s vote, without losing all that much to the UUP, to win this one.
    Prediction: DUP gain from Independent.

    A couple of other seats to watch are Foyle, where SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is trying to win the seat back for the SDLP from Sinn Fein, and East Antrim, where the new UUP leader is attempting to unseat the DUP’s Sammy Wilson. I think the SDLP may actually get up in Foyle, with voters choosing to elect someone who will take their seat-and the DUP will easily hold East Antrim.
    Prediction for Northern Ireland. DUP 10 (unchanged), Sinn Fein 6 (-1) SDLP 2 (+2), Ind 0 (-1).

  16. Charisma? No. The Maybot had all the charisma of a plank of wood – and she got 43%. Boris will be lucky if he even gets that. A Boris like clown leading labour would just become a delicious target for the already hostile media. It would be a massive distraction to labour’s message, and electoral disaster. Being dull and boring is likely the optimal personality trait for a labour leader in this political climate.

    As I said above, most of the anti-labour vote has been ‘locked in’ due to factors completely out of labour’s (or Corbyn’s) control. And what is “charisma” anyway? Is it inspiring half a million grassroot campaigners to volunteer on the ground? Or perhaps its inspiring a record number of voter enrollment?

  17. Agree Lab forming maj govt becomes impossible due to the mountain of seats it lost in Scotland in 2015 that they aren’t winning back anytime soon.

    Lab also made a v silly error not supporting the Alt Pref Vote referendum in 2011.

    All that aside, losing seats in this election is a terrible result and i do not believe would be happening with eg Starmer as leader. Labour leave voters swinging Tory ought to be offset by Tory remain voters swinging Labour… But not with Corbyn at the helm.

  18. Ian Dunt is typical of what you might term the ‘progressive/centrist’ cadre – passionate, almost fanatical remainers, who have a visceral hatred of Boris and the tories – yet at the same time have huge contempt for Corbyn.

    This week Dunt has been tweeting his dispondency at the election and its seeming inevitable outcome of a comfortable Tory victory. I say dispondent, but I rather suspect he is secretly satisfied on some level that his, and his ilk’s incessent vitriol against Corbyn (which in reality amounts to little more than screaming “antisemitism antisemitism antisemitism!!” ad nauseum) – seems to be vindicated.

    It seems to me if there wasn’t a nasty conservative government in place, opposed by a hopeless pie in the sky socialist labour party – the likes of Dunt would be out of a job.

  19. One poll today from ComRes has everyone except the SNP down a point, probably due to rounding.

    Europe Elects @EuropeElects
    UK (GB), Savanta ComRes poll:

    CON-ECR: 42% (-1)
    LAB-S&D: 32% (-1)
    LDEM-RE: 12% (-1)
    SNP-G/EFA: 4% (+1)
    BREXIT-NI: 3% (-1)
    GREENS-G/EFA: 2% (-1)

    +/- vs. 27-28 Nov

    Fieldwork: 2-3 December 2019
    Sample size: 2,041

  20. There is a little evidence in the two latest YouGov polls that the Tory Labour gap has narrowed a little in ENGLAND & WALES, but it has been disguised by a consolidation of the anti-Tory vote behind the SNP in Scotland. Probably a similar story in ComRes.

    Some number crunching gets a Tory Labour gap of 9.4% in Eng & Wales in the Nov 28-29 YouGov, which narrows to 8.5% in the Dec 2-3 YouGov. This is very rough as we only get whole number percentages.

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