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.