British election polling in five charts

A quick and dirty guide to what pollsters seem to be telling us a week out from an unpredictable British election.

With a week to go until Britain’s election, polls continue to credit the Conservatives with a lead over Labour which, although substantial, is not so great that they can lock in a parliamentary majority. Furthermore, the trend of polling is somewhat in favour of Labour, with the Conservatives apparently having sucked dry the short-lived insurgency of the Brexit Party, while Labour continues to pick off support from the floundering Liberal Democrats. This is illustrated clearly enough in the poll trend chart below, which combines the work of nine polling series.

While all the pollsters have the Conservatives well ahead, the size of the lead covers a wide range, from as little as 6% by the reckoning of the most recent poll from BMG to as much as 15% from Opinium. Given the assurance that the Scottish National Party will dominate north of the border, the former end would certainly be weak enough to leave the Conservatives short of the formidable hurdle that either major party must clear if they are to win enough seats in England to score a majority. The next chart shows local area regression trends for each pollster’s reckoning of the Conservative lead (a little more on the methodology is explained later in the post).

Labour optimists are hanging on to the notion of a pro-Labour “youthquake” that will up-end the pollsters’ turnout models. The importance of the age distribution of the voting population is forcefully illustrated by the chart below, which shows voting intention by age cohort (off very small sub-samples) from a recent poll by ICM Research.

Pollsters are varying quite substantially as to age distribution, as illustrated in the next chart, which has been derived from the weighting data provided as standard from pollsters in the UK (in Australia we can only imagine such things). Kantar looms as an outlier in its expectation that fully 49% of voters will be 55 and over, compared with just 19% for the 18-to-34 cohort. The other pollsters range from 25% to 29% for 18-to-34 and 37% to 43% for 55-plus. None of this has any obvious bearing on the pollsters’ leanings, perhaps with the exception of ICM, whose young age profile has been reflected by relatively modest Conservative leads.

Then there’s their modelling of the population by vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum, which I’m slightly puzzled by in that there is dramatic variation in the size of the various pollster’s “did not vote” cohort (which appears not to be related to their age distributions). In the cases of YouGov, ComRes, Survation and Deltapoll, I had to infer this total from what was left over after “leave” and ”remain” were removed from the total, which may be causing me to miss subtlety. Whatever the case, let the peculiarity of Kantar again be noted in that it proposes a majority “remain” population, despite having a age distribution that skews old. Conversely, Opinium’s weighting to “leave” may explain its apparent lean to the Conservatives.

Now for a quick introduction to the British polling fraternity. First up, the following table shows bias adjustments that have been used to standardise the poll trend measures at the top of this post. These were achieved my comparing their results to a straightforward trend measure of all the polls entered into the model (142 polls from nine pollsters). The results are actually fairly modest as these things go, contrary to the impression given by the range of results in the “Conservative lead trend by pollster”.

All these polls are of the online panel variety, with two exceptions: Survation, a phone poll, and Ipsos MORI, which despite being a big name has only published one poll since the campaign began. Survation is also unique in that it includes Northern Ireland in its polling, whereas the others stick to England, Scotland and Wales.

The pollsters are variable in how they structure their voting intention responses, particularly in relation to the Brexit Party, which is not running in most Conservative-held seats. Before that they had to struggle with which minor parties to include among the initial list of responses and which as a follow-up for those who chose “other party”. It is routine for the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru to be included as topline response options in Scotland and Wales respectively.

Winners and losers

Reading between the lines of the Liberal Party’s post-election reports for the federal and Victorian state elections.

In the wake of Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill’s federal electoral post-mortem for Labor, two post-election reviews have emerged from the Liberal Party, with very different tales to tell – one from the May 2019 federal triumph, the other from the November 2018 Victorian state disaster.

The first of these was conducted by Arthur Sinodinos and Steven Joyce, the latter being a former cabinet minister and campaign director for the conservative National Party in New Zealand. It seems we only get to see the executive summary and recommendations, the general tenor of which is that, while all concerned are to be congratulated on a job well done, the party benefited from a “poor Labor Party campaign” and shouldn’t get too cocky. Points of interest:

• It would seem the notion of introducing optional preferential voting has caught the fancy of some in the party. The report recommends the party “undertake analytical work to determine the opportunities and risks” – presumably with respect to itself – “before making any decision to request such a change”.

• Perhaps relatedly, the report says the party should work closer with the Nationals to avoid three-cornered contests. These may have handicapped the party in Gilmore, the one seat it lost to Labor in New South Wales outside Victoria.

• The report comes out for voter identification at the polling booth, a dubious notion that nonetheless did no real harm when it briefly operated in Queensland in 2015, and electronic certified lists of voters, which make a lot more sense.

• It is further felt that the parliament might want to look at cutting the pre-poll voting period from three weeks to two, but should keep its hands off the parties’ practice of mailing out postal vote applications. Parliament should also do something about “boorish behaviour around polling booths”, like “limiting the presence of volunteers to those linked with a particular candidate”.

• Hints are offered that Liberals’ pollsters served up dud results from “inner city metropolitan seats”. This probably means Reid in Sydney and Chisholm in Melbourne, both of which went better than they expected, and perhaps reflects difficulties polling the Chinese community. It is further suggested that the party’s polling program should expand from 20 seats to 25.

• Ten to twelve months is about the right length of time out from the election to preselect marginal seat candidates, and safe Labor seats can wait until six months out. This is at odds with the Victorian party’s recent decision to get promptly down to business, even ahead of a looming redistribution, which has been a source of friction between the state and federal party.

• After six of the party’s candidates fell by the wayside during the campaign, largely on account of social media indiscretions (one of which may have cost the Liberals the Tasmanian seat of Lyons), it is suggested that more careful vetting processes might be in order.

The Victorian inquiry was conducted by former state and federal party director Tony Nutt, and is available in apparently unexpurgated form. Notably:

• The party’s tough-on-crime campaign theme, turbo-charged by media reportage of an African gangs crisis, failed to land. Too many saw it as “a political tactic rather than an authentic problem to be solved by initiatives that would help make their neighbourhoods safer”. As if to show that you can’t always believe Peter Dutton, post-election research found the issue influenced the vote of only 6% of respondents, “and then not necessarily to our advantage”.

• As it became evident during the campaign that they were in trouble, the party’s research found the main problem was “a complete lack of knowledge about Matthew Guy, his team and their plans for Victoria if elected”. To the extent that Guy was recognised at all, it was usually on account of “lobster with a mobster”.

• Guy’s poor name recognition made it all the worse that attention was focused on personalities in federal politics, two months after the demise of Malcolm Turnbull. Post-election research found “30% of voters in Victorian electorates that were lost to Labor on the 24th November stated that they could not vote for the Liberal Party because of the removal of Malcolm Turnbull”.

• Amid a flurry of jabs at the Andrews government, for indiscretions said to make the Liberal defeat all the more intolerable, it is occasionally acknowledged tacitly that the government had not made itself an easy target. Voters were said to have been less concerned about “the Red Shirts affair for instance” than “more relevant, personal and compelling factors like delivery of local infrastructure”.

• The report features an exhausting list of recommendations, updated from David Kemp’s similar report in 2015, the first of which is that the party needs to get to work early on a “proper market research-based core strategy”. This reflects the Emerson and Weatherill report, which identified the main problem with the Labor campaign as a “weak strategy”.

• A set of recommendations headed “booth management” complains electoral commissions don’t act when Labor and union campaigners bully their volunteers.

• Without naming names, the report weights in against factional operators and journalists who “see themselves more as players and influencers than as traditional reporters”.

• The report is cagey about i360, described in The Age as “a controversial American voter data machine the party used in recent state elections in Victoria and South Australia”. It was reported to have been abandoned in April “amid a botched rollout and fears sensitive voter information was at risk”, but the report says only that it is in suspension, and recommends a “thorough review”.

• Other recommendations are that the party should write more lists, hold more meetings and find better candidates, and that its shadow ministers should pull their fingers out.

Donation drive

At the end of every second month, this site rattles offers a gentle reminder to its valued readers that it relies on their patronage to survive and prosper. Donations are gratefully received at all times, though perhaps especially during the lean periods between elections, like the one we’re enduring at present (things start to perk up with Queensland and territory elections in the second half of next year). They can be made by clicking on the PressPatron button at the top of the page, or the “become a supporter” buttons that appear at the foot of each post. If you are having technical problems with the donation facilities, which have been known to crop up from time to time, please drop me a line at pollbludger-AT-bigpond-DOT-com.

A track winding back

A look at leadership approval poll trends, and my new facility for tracking them.

BludgerTrack is back, sort of – you can find a permanent link on the sidebar along with a miniature version of its main attraction, namely polling trends for leader approval and preferred prime minister. These go back to the onset of Scott Morrison’s prime ministership in August last year, and thus encompass distinct Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese epochs.

As you can see, Morrison has mostly gravitated around neutral on his net rating (i.e. approval minus disapproval), barring a post-election surge that has now run its course. Shorten’s position appeared to improve during the election campaign, which was also picked up in Labor’s internal polling, though clearly not far enough. Albanese has mostly been around neutral, but as a newcomer he has a high uncommitted rating, which doesn’t come through when you reduce it to a net measure. This is how he manages to do worse than Shorten on preferred prime minister (although a narrowing trend kicked in here a few months ago) despite doing better on net approval.

I haven’t included the most recent Newspoll result at this stage, as this is clearly a distinct new series for which I will require a few more results before I can standardise it against the other polls. On the basis of this limited evidence, the new-look Newspoll’s leader rating scores can be expected to behave somewhat differently from the old. As Kevin Bonham notes, the new poll has markedly worse net ratings for both leaders, as uncommitted rates are lower and disapproval higher.

Needless to say, what’s missing in all this is voting intention, for which I am going to need a good deal more data before I reckon it worth my while. If you’re really keen though, Mark the Ballot has gone to the trouble of running a trendline through all six of the Newspoll results post-election. If nothing else, my BludgerTrack page features a “poll data” tab on which voting intention polls will be catalogued, which for the time being is wall-to-wall Newspoll. And while I have your attention, please note as per the post above that I’ve got the begging bowl out – donations gratefully received through the link at the top of the page.

Matters Western Australian

With the electoral boundaries now finalised, some reflection on how things stand in Western Australia, where the next state election is to be held in March 2021.

Western Australia’s state redistribution process has been completed, without making any major changes to the minimalist approach that was unveiled when the draft boundaries were published in July. There have apparently been “a limited number of changes to the original proposals”, but they haven’t made it easy to see where – no geospatial data has been provided, and any acknowledgement of them must be buried somewhere in the report’s discussion of the submissions that were received.

If there are any changes worth remarking on, they relate to two changes in name from the draft proposals. Thankfully, the commissioners have decided not to proceed with a plan to have a new electorate in the northern suburbs called Kingsway right next door to an existing electorate called Kingsley. Rather, the new seat will take the name of Landsdale. Another potential point of confusion has been removed a little further to the south, in that an electorate that was to be called Girrawheen will instead be called Mirrabooka. It can now be said that Landsdale is the successor to abolished Girrawheen, while Mirrabooka maintains continuity with the redrawn electorate of the same name. Had the draft proposal remained intact, Labor’s likeliest approach would have been to “move” Girrawheen MP Margaret Quirk to Kingsway/Landsdale (though she may instead retire), and Janine Freeman from Mirrabooka to Girrawheen. Now, Freeman can, in a sense, “stay put”.

I’ll come up with my own full accounting in due course, but that will be redundant for most purposes as Antony Green has sprung into action with his own set of estimated margins. His calculations include one notable difference with my own in that the northern suburbs seat of Joondalup, which Labor’s Emily Hamilton gained by a 0.6% margin in 2017, is rated as now being notionally Liberal with a margin of 0.4%, whereas I had it as 0.1% in favour of Labor (UPDATE: Antony has revised his numbers, and Joondalup is now fractionally on the Labor side of the pendulum). Neighbouring Hillarys, a 4.1% Liberal seat that I reckoned to be absolutely lineball when the draft was published, is credited by Antony with a 0.6% Liberal margin.

This and other actual and potential redistributions are the subject of a podcast on which I appeared with Ben Raue of The Tally Room, which you can listen to below. My focus is on the changes in the northern suburbs, particularly to Balcatta, Burns Beach and Wanneroo, all of which have been strengthened for Labor. Joondalup wasn’t discussed, the feeling being that anything with that narrow a margin is likely to revert to the Liberals after the once-in-a-generation Labor landslide in 2017.

Since there isn’t a huge amount to discuss in the redistribution, I encourage the thread below to be used to discuss Western Australian state politics generally. The subject hasn’t had much of a run on this blog since the 2017 election, in which time there has been a grand total of one published opinion poll. Last month the Liberals were circulating highly bullish internal polling, but it had an implausibly wide split in its gender breakdowns. The Liberals have been using these to promote the notion that Liza Harvey, who succeeded Mike Nahan as leader in June, has been a big hit with the “soccer moms” of Perth’s suburbs. The state of the Western Australian economy certainly gives the Liberals some cause for optimism, although there are signs emerging that it may be turning around.

However, the Liberals’ hopes of exploiting this are being complicated by the euthanasia laws that have been stuck in parliament for the last few months, which have consumed most of the oxygen available for state politics in the media. Grumblings are accordingly emerging within the party about the role of conservative powerbroker Nick Goiran in keeping the legislation stalled in the Legislative Council. Besides a huge majority, Labor has some other points in its favour: the state’s credit ratings have improved since the government came to office, with S&P Global recently providing an assessment of the situation that the government might well have written itself; and local monopoly newspaper The West Australian, while as conservative as ever in most respects, is showing little of the hostility towards Labor that blighted it during its last tenure in office.

Essential Research: bushfires, climate change and asylum seekers

A new poll finds respondents clearly of the view that not enough is being done to tackle climate change, but with opinion divided as to whether it appropriate to debate the matter in the context of the bushfire emergency.

The Essential Research poll series continues to chug along on its fortnightly schedule without offering anything on voting intention, with this week’s survey mainly relating to bushfires and climate change. Support for the proposition that Australia is not doing enough to address climate change have reached a new high of 60%, up nine since March, with “doing enough” down five to 22% and “doing too much” down three to 8%.

However, perceptions of climate change itself are little changed, with 61% attributing it to human activity (down one) and 28% opting for “a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate”. On the debate as to whether it was appropriate to raise links between climate change and bushfires, opinion was evenly divided – out of those who considered such a link likely, 43% felt raising the matter appropriate compared with 17% for inappropriate, while another 30% rated the link as unlikely.

A further question related to the issue of medical evacuations for asylum seekers, and here the situation is murkier due to the need to provide respondents with some sort of explanation of what the issue is about. As the Essential survey put it, the relevant legislation allows “doctors, not politicians, more say in determining the appropriate medical
treatment offered to people in offshore detention”. Put like that, 62% were opposed to the government’s move to repeal it, including 25% who believed the legislation didn’t go far enough. That left only 22% in favour of the pro-government proposition that “legislation will weaken our borders and result in boats arriving”.

The poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1083.