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.

UK election minus 16 days

The Conservatives maintain a large lead owing to opposition vote-splitting. Was there any politically good move for Labour on Brexit? Also featured: updates from Israel, the US and Hong Kong. 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 six of these, the Conservatives held leads of ten to 13 points, while Opinium gave them a 19-point lead. The Conservative plus Brexit party vote has dropped to the mid 40’s from the high 40’s to low 50’s in most of these polls. Opinium is the outlier with a Conservative/Brexit vote of 50%. The Conservatives remain likely to win the December 12 election with a majority.

The Conservatives are being assisted by two factors. First, Brexit Party support is at just 3% in five of the seven polls. Second, the Liberal Democrats have about 15% and the Greens 3%, with Labour on 30%. In Britain’s first-past-the-post system, those who want Labour to adopt a pure Remain position are likely to deliver a Commons majority for a hard Brexit. Some Conservatives who would never vote Labour will vote for the Liberal Democrats, but most Lib Dem votes are at Labour’s expense given Labour won 40% in 2017 and the Lib Dems 7%.

The Conservative vote in six of the seven polls was 41-43%, with 47% in Opinium. With the split in the opposition, a Conservative vote below 40% is probably needed to avert a Conservative majority. The drop in the Conservative/Brexit vote has been taken partly by the Brexit party, but any further drops will impact the Conservatives directly.

On November 19, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn had their first head-to-head debate. Perhaps Labour’s campaign on the National Health Service is biting, but Corbyn reopened Remain divisions in that debate. On November 21, Labour’s manifesto was released; Labour will hope its left-wing agenda will win back some Lib Dems and Greens.

On November 22, the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party participated in BBC Question Time, with each leader getting 30 minutes to answer questions from the public. Jo Swinson of the Lib Dems was strongly criticised for her performance, and this failure could benefit Labour. There will be a three-way debate between Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson Thursday UK time, and a seven-way debate Friday.

Why are Remainers such a problem for Labour and Corbyn?

A YouGov poll gave Johnson a net -4 rating, up two points since August. Corbyn’s net rating was -42, up 17 points. Swinson’s net rating was -18. With Leave voters, Johnson had a +50 rating, while Corbyn was at -21 with Remain voters and Swinson +9. These ratings explain why the Leave vote has consolidated behind the Conservatives, while Remainers are split.

Labour’s current Brexit policy should appeal to Remainers. Labour will negotiate a soft Brexit, then put that to a referendum against Remain. It is likely Remain would win such a referendum. Labour’s problem is much more about the process of getting to the current policy. Corbyn is a known Eurosceptic who was reluctant to move from Labour’s successful pro-Brexit 2017 policy.

Ironically, the Conservatives are likely to win the election because the socialist Corbyn was centrist on a deeply polarising issue. But as I said before, an explicitly pro-Remain Labour would have been accused of disrespecting the 2016 Brexit referendum result and being an elitist party.

Was there any way for Labour to escape its Brexit predicament? I have a very cynical suggestion. Labour needed the economic crisis of a no-deal Brexit before the election, not after. If the Conservative hard right wanted a no-deal, Labour should not have got in the way. It is likely a no-deal will effectively occur after the transition period ends in December 2020.

Election updates: Israel, the US and Hong Kong 

  • In Israel, left-leaning Blue & White leader Benny Gantz failed to form a government by the November 20 deadline. There will be a third election in a year if nobody forms a government by December 11. On November 21, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted for bribery and fraud.
  • I wrote for The Conversation on November 20 that Pete Buttigieg had surged to a clear lead for the February 3 Iowa Democratic caucus.
  • At Hong Kong local elections held Sunday, pro-Democracy councillors gained control of 17 of the 18 councils, to just one council held by pro-Beijing councillors.

UK election minus three weeks

The Conservatives extend their large poll lead — and do the Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit, or stop Corbyn? Also featured: Spain, Israel, Louisiana and Sri Lanka. 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 six UK national polls released last weekend. Four gave the Conservatives 13 to 17 point leads over Labour, with a Conservative vote in the mid 40s and a Conservative-plus-Brexit Party vote at 48-51%. The remaining two polls were better for Labour, but still had the Conservatives eight points ahead. It’s looking like a Conservative landslide on December 12.

My opinion of what has gone wrong for Labour is that the average voter doesn’t like politics, but there has been far too much front-page politics in the last year, which has been blamed on the 2017 election’s hung parliament – see this Guardian article by a BritainThinks founding partner.

Kevin Bonham has discussed the Tasmanian “bandwagon” effect, in which undecided voters go to the major party most likely to win a majority to keep the Greens from holding the balance of power. So UK voters may be moving to the Conservatives to prevent another hung parliament. Also, Labour’s left-wing proposals are exciting when most voters want politics to return to being boring.

On November 14, Labour announced a policy to make broadband free, paid for by a greater tax on tech giants. It would involve part-nationalisation. I think this is an attempt by Labour to increase youth turnout and win back voters who have turned to the Lib Dems over dislike for Labour’s Brexit policies.

There will be several TV debates, with the first one on Tuesday at 8pm UK time (Wednesday 7am AEDT). This debate will feature Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn head to head. The main risk for Johnson is that Corbyn can use this debate to consolidate the votes of those opposed to Johnson’s deal behind Labour.

Lib Dems: do they want to stop Brexit or stop Corbyn?

On November 12, Liberal Democrat candidate Tim Walker withdrew from Canterbury. In 2017, pro-Remain Labour candidate Rosie Duffield won Canterbury by just a 45.0% to 44.7% margin over the Conservatives, with 8.0% for the Lib Dems. However, the Liberal Democrats nominated a replacement candidate by the November 14 close of nominations. On November 5, party leader Jo Swinson said she was “absolutely categorically ruling out” Corbyn becoming PM via Lib Dem votes.

Commentator Stephen Bush says the Lib Dems are attempting to appeal to affluent voters in the south, who dislike both Brexit and Labour. I have two issues with this strategy. First, better-educated voters globally are more likely to swing to the left, so Labour may not be such a negative with these voters. If the Lib Dems won’t assist Corbyn, what is their plan to stop Brexit given they will win far fewer seats than Labour?

My second issue is that there are still some natural Labour voters in the southern seats the Lib Dems are targeting. The Lib Dems need these Labour supporters to tactically vote Lib Dem. But if Labour voters see it as a contest between “Blue Tories” and “Yellow Tories”, will they move to the Lib Dems?

Election updates: Spain, Israel, Louisiana and Sri Lanka

On November 12 – two days after the second 2019 Spanish election – the leaders of the centre-left Socialists and far-left Podemos reached a tentative deal to form a government. The two parties have 155 of the 350 lower house seats. A small leftist party would bring the left total to 158, but the stability of the government will depend on mostly leftist regional parties, which won 42 seats. Right-wing parties combined won 150 seats.

In Isreal, left-leaning Blue & White leader Benny Gantz has until Wednesday to form a government. If he fails, Israel likely faces its third election in a year.

At Saturday’s US Louisiana state election, the Democrats held the governorship by a 51.3-48.7 margin. Louisiana is normally a strong Republican state. Democrats won the highest office in four of five state elections this November.

At Saturday’s Sri Lankan presidential election, the right-wing Gotabaya Rajapaksa defeated his liberal opponent by a 52.3-42.0 margin. Rajapaksa is the brother of a former authoritarian president.

UK election minus four weeks and Spanish election results

The Conservatives still have a large poll lead as the Brexit Party slumps. Also: the left wins again in Spain; now can they cooperate? 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.

Four UK national polls were released last weekend from Panelbase, Opinium, Deltapoll and YouGov. These polls gave the Conservatives a ten to 13 point lead over Labour, little changed from the November 2-3 releases of these polls, although the Conservative lead fell from 16 points to 12 in Opinium. The UK election is December 12.

The fall in support for the Brexit Party is assisting the Conservatives in remaining well ahead of Labour. In Opinium and Deltapoll, there would have been a significant two-party boost for Labour if the UK used Australia’s preferential voting. Those polls previously had Conservatives plus Brexit at 51%, but it is now down to 47%. However, the Conservative/Brexit vote is up three in YouGov to 49%, and down just one in Panelbase to 48%.

My opinion is that, if the Conservative/Brexit combined vote is in the high 40’s or above, the Conservatives will win a Commons majority. If this vote falls into the low 40’s, there will be a live contest. Too many people would be supporting Labour or the Liberal Democrats for the Conservatives to be confident of a majority. If the Conservative/Brexit vote falls to or below 40%, Labour will form the next government.

Last week, there were claims made about Labour antisemitism by ex-Labour MPs Ian Austin and John Woodcock. Alleged antisemitism has dogged Labour under Jeremy Corbyn since 2016, but it does not appear to have hurt Labour electorally. Labour performed far better than expected at the 2017 election, and were competitive with the Conservatives through 2018.

Labour’s 2019 poll crash was caused by the polarisation between Remainers and Leavers. During 2019, Labour has reluctantly become a more pro-Remain party, but Leavers dislike any shift towards Remain, and many Remainers want Labour to be explicitly pro-Remain. Under Theresa May, the Conservatives also crashed in the polls, but Boris Johnson has restored Leavers’ trust in them.

I disagree with the proposition that being explicitly pro-Remain would have solved Labour’s problems. Leavers would have detested such a move, and it would be contrary to respecting the Brexit referendum result. Labour would then have been portrayed as an elitist party.

As I said previously, I believe Labour’s best chance is to keep attacking Johnson’s Brexit deal by highlighting its negative aspects, particularly in regard to the National Health Service. They should attempt to turn the election into a question of whether to Leave with this specific deal.

Left wins second 2019 Spanish election, but can they cooperate?

 Spain uses proportional representation by region, which benefits bigger parties relative to vote share. At the November 10 election, the centre-left Socialists won 120 of the 350 lower house seats (down three since the April 2019 election), the conservative People’s Party (PP) 88 (up 22), the far-right Vox 52 (up 28), the far-left Podemos 35 (down seven), the right-wing Citizens ten (down 47) and the new left-wing MP three.

National left-wing parties won 158 seats (down seven) and right-wing parties 150 (up three), with 42 seats going to mostly left-wing regionalist parties. If the Socialists and Podemos can reach an agreement, they should be able to form a government with regionalists abstaining. But these two parties were unable to cooperate in the last parliament.

Popular votes were 28.0% Socialists (down 0.7%), 20.8% PP (up 4.1%), 15.1% Vox (up 4.8%), 12.8% Podemos (down 1.5%), 6.8% Citizens (down 9.1%) and 2.4% MP. The Citizens’ move to the right backfired; they were attempting to replace the PP as the party of the right.

The Senate is elected by first-past-the-post with four seats for most provinces. The Socialists won 92 of the 208 elected senators (down 31) and the PP 84 (up 30), with regionalists winning almost all the rest. With regional appointees, the Socialists have 110 of 265 senators, the PP 98, Citizens eight, Podemos six and Vox three.

Bolivian president resigns after vote count irregularities

On Sunday, left-wing Bolivian president Evo Marales resigned after “serious irregularities” were found in the October 20 presidential vote count. See my personal website for more.

UK election minus five weeks, US state elections and Spain

The Conservatives have a large lead in the UK polls, but there is still hope for Labour. Also: US state election results and Spain’s second election this year on Sunday. 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.

In polls taken since the House of Commons voted on October 29 for a December 12 election, the Conservatives have led Labour by seven to 16 points, and would be likely to win an election “held now” with a majority. The good news for Labour is that they are now a clear second, with the Liberal Democrats a distant third.

This will assist in the argument that if Remain voters want to stop Boris Johnson’s Brexit, they will need to vote Labour in the vast majority of English and Welsh seats. The Lib Dems are likely to be “squeezed”; in first-past-the-post, minor parties can lose votes to major parties to keep the other major party out. Labour’s Brexit policy is for a referendum between Remain and a Labour-negotiated deal, which many Remainers have campaigned for.

Even if Labour wins a large share of the Remain vote, they still need to grab votes directly from the Conservatives to be in an election-winning position.  Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing policies are unlikely to appeal as much as in 2017 owing to better economic conditions: 2.0% real wage growth now, versus -0.5% in May 2017.

In my opinion, Labour’s best chance to take votes from the Conservatives is a scare campaign against Johnson’s deal. The National Health Service (NHS), which Labour created in 1948, will be the focus of this campaign. In June, the US’s UK ambassador said the NHS would be “on the table” in a post-Brexit US/UK trade deal. US pharmaceutical companies would like access to the NHS. A hard Brexit would require the UK to negotiate its own trade deals, but other countries would be likely to extract as much as they could from the UK’s weakened position.

On October 31, Donald Trump said Johnson’s Brexit deal could rule out a US/UK trade deal. He also said Corbyn would be “so bad for your country”.  Trump denied wanting to grab the NHS, but he is somewhat untrustworthy. While British opinion is closely divided on Brexit, 67% have a negative view of Trump and just 19% a positive view. Trump’s negative endorsement could assist Corbyn.

On November 1, Nigel Farage said the Brexit Party would run candidates in all 650 Commons seats unless Johnson drops his Brexit deal, which he almost certainly won’t do. The Conservatives have already squeezed the Brexit Party down to around 10%, and at least some of the hold-outs will be people who won’t vote Conservative.

Democrats perform better than expected at US state elections

At US state elections held November 5, Democrats won the Kentucky governor race by 49.2-48.8. Kentucky is a very white, rural, Trumpian state. Republicans won the Mississippi governor by 52.1-46.6. In Virginia, Democrats gained control of both chambers of the state legislature, the House by 55-45 and the Senate by 21-19. Democrats easily held the New Jersey legislature. Also of note: a New York City referendum introduced Australian-style preferential voting by 73.5-26.5.

I wrote for The Conversation Wednesday that a Siena poll of battleground states implies that Trump could be re-elected despite losing the popular vote, as occurred in 2016. The US economy is still performing well. Joe Biden has retaken the Democratic primary lead from Elizabeth Warren.

Spain: left parties’ failure to form government gives right a chance at new election

I covered the April Spanish election here. The centre-left Socialists and far-left Podemos were short of a majority, but appeared to have the numbers to form government with left-wing separatists abstaining. But in July, as covered on my personal website, Podemos abstained from a confidence vote, and the vote was lost. No agreement was reached by the September 23 deadline, and so there will be a second 2019 Spanish election this Sunday.

Spain uses proportional representation by region, which assists bigger parties. Polling suggests that national right to far-right parties (People’s, Citizens and Vox) have a realistic chance of winning more votes and seats than national left-wing parties (Socialists, Podemos and the new Más País). It is unlikely either side will reach the 176 seats required for a majority, with separatists holding the balance of power. This new election is likely to put the Socialists in a worse position than after April.

Brexit, Argentina and elsewhere

Does Labour have any chance of winning the likely upcoming UK election? Yes. Also: the left wins in Argentina, plus Israeli and US election updates. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Update Wednesday morning: With Labour finally backing an election, the Commons overwhelmingly passed on Tuesday a bill setting the election for Thursday, December 12.  An amendment to hold the election on December 9 was rejected by 315 votes to 295.  The bill now goes to the House of Lords, where it is expected to pass quickly.  The Commons will be dissolved next Wednesday.

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.

On Monday, despite some objections from French President Emmanuel Macron, the European Union agreed to a Brexit extension until January 31. However, Labour still does not appear to want an election, and so Monday’s vote on whether to hold an election will not achieve the two-thirds majority required.

However, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party (SNP) will assist by voting for a bill setting a December 9 election date. Legislation only requires a simple majority to pass. The government is likely to support this bill if they cannot win Monday’s vote. Commentator Stephen Bush wrote that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is likely to pass eventually if parliament continues sitting, and so it makes sense for Remainers to vote for an election in the hope that the Conservatives will be defeated.

The Conservatives currently have a double digit lead over Labour in the polls. This partly reflects the greater unity of the Leave vote, with Labour and the Lib Dems both opposed to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and no-deal, but the Lib Dems appealing to pure Remainers. The Conservatives received a further boost after agreeing the deal with the EU. Voting with the Conservatives to hold an election could damage the Lib Dems with Remain voters.

As we all know, Leave won the 2016 Brexit referendum by 51.9% to 48.1%. The trouble since then has stemmed from Leave being undefined. But had there been a clear proposal for Leave at that referendum, it would probably have lost – see the Australian 1999 Republic referendum. There would have been people who wanted to Leave in principle, but not with that particular deal.

Now that there is a clear Brexit proposal, it will be attacked during an election campaign by both Labour and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party. And there is plenty about the deal to attack from a left perspective.

Bush wrote that the proposed deal would mean a hard Brexit. If the UK leaves under this deal, a no-deal Brexit could occur in December 2020 once the transition period ends. If the Conservatives win the next election, there will probably either be a high-divergence Brexit, or a no-deal Brexit by December 2020.

The more Labour can turn the election into a referendum on Johnson’s deal, the greater their chance of winning.

Left wins Argentine presidential election

At the October 27 Argentine election, the centre-left candidate, Alberto Fernández, defeated the conservative incumbent president, Mauricio Macri, by a 48.0% to 40.5% margin. 45% or more was needed to avoid a runoff. Polls had predicted a Fernández win by almost 20 points. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was a controversial left-wing president from 2007 to 2015, returns as vice president.

Left-wing parties have performed well in recent national elections in Portugal, Canada, Argentina, Switzerland and Bolivia (see below). Does this mean the general trend to the right globally can or will be halted?

Election updates: Israel, the US, Switzerland and Bolivia

Right-wing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government, and returned the mandate on October 21. On October 23, the Israeli president nominated the left-leaning Blue & White leader Benny Gantz to attempt to form a government, and he has four weeks from that date. Expectations are that Gantz will also fail, and that elections will be required for the third time in a year.

Most US states hold their elections concurrently with federal elections, but there are a few state elections on November 5. Virginia and New Jersey will hold legislative elections, while Kentucky and Mississippi hold gubernatorial elections. Given presidential leans of these states, I expect Democrats to hold New Jersey and gain Virginia’s legislature, but Republicans to hold Kentucky and Mississippi.

On my personal website, I wrote about the Greens’ surge at the October 20 Swiss election, where a unique system of executive government is used. Also covered: the left-wing Bolivian president was re-elected for a fourth successive term, the far-right dominates Hungarian local elections despite a setback in Budapest, and the far-right surges in German and Italian October 27 state elections.