US Iowa Democratic caucus minus six days

Polls show Bernie Sanders with a narrow lead over Joe Biden in Iowa. Also: the upcoming Irish election and yet more on Brexit. 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.

Six days before the US February 3 Iowa Democratic caucus, the RealClearPolitics poll average has Bernie Sanders narrowly leading with 25.0%, followed by Joe Biden on 22.0%, Pete Buttigieg 17.0% and Elizabeth Warren 13.5%.  Nationally, it’s 28.4% Biden, 23.0% Sanders, 14.9% Warren, 8.0% Michael Bloomberg and 6.9% Buttigieg.  In the last two weeks, Biden and particularly Sanders have gained, mostly at Warren’s expense.

Iowa is important because it helps to winnow the field of candidates, and candidates who exceed expectations often get a surge in their national voting intentions.  Three more contests are scheduled in February: New Hampshire (February 11), Nevada (February 22) and South Carolina (February 29).

The early states are important mainly to demonstrate strength; on “Super Tuesday” March 3, 36% of all pledged delegates will be awarded, and this could be decisive.  Delegates are allocated proportional to vote share in each state and Congressional District (CD), but with a high threshold of 15%.  That threshold applies to CDs, so any candidate who fails to break 15% in a CD gets zero delegates from that CD.

Biden has polled strongly with black voters, but not so well with whites.  Iowa is a virtually all-white state.  If, as some polls suggest, Biden nevertheless won Iowa, he would likely be the Democratic nominee to face Donald Trump in November.  If he fails to win Iowa, Biden is still well-placed when the contest turns to more diverse states.

You can see my Conversation articles for more on the US elections.  The strong US economy is Trump’s best asset.

Is Brexit over on January 31?  No

After the Conservative landslide at the December 12 election, Boris Johnson easily passed his Brexit deal through the Commons, and Britain will Leave the European Union on January 31.

However, there will be no major changes until at least December 31, when the transition period expires.  The transition period could be extended, but Johnson has ruled it out by legislation.  The transition period is time to negotiate a UK/EU trade deal, and pass it through parliament.

While the Conservatives hold 365 of the 650 Commons seats, 118 Conservative MPs rejected Theresa May’s deal when first put to a vote in January last year, and 75 in March.  Johnson would easily lose Commons divisions if those defections were repeated.

If Johnson agrees a soft trade deal with the EU, he is likely to anger hard Leave Conservative MPs.  If no deal were agreed, there would be a “no deal” Brexit on December 31.  With Brexit assured, there would be little incentive for hard Leavers to hold their noses and vote for a soft Brexit.

Also in Britain, there is a Labour leadership contest.  This will be decided by a preferential postal vote among Labour members, with the result announced in early April.  The main contenders appear to be the pro-Remain Keir Starmer and the pro-Corbyn Rebecca Long-Bailey.  A mid-January YouGov poll of Labour members gave Starmer a 63-37 lead over Long-Bailey, from first preferences of Starmer 46%, Long-Bailey 32%.

A Starmer victory is unlikely to help Labour in Leave-voting regions.  According to a YouGov post-election poll, the Conservatives won lower-income voters by a greater margin than higher-income voters.  They won those with the lowest education level by 58-25.

Irish election: February 8

The Irish election will be held on a Saturday.  Previous Irish elections have been held on weekdays, so this Saturday election may boost turnout.  The 160 lower house seats are elected in 39 electorates that each have three to five members.  Ireland uses Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system, so a quota for election is 25% in three-member electorates, 20% with four, and 16.7% with five.

Irish politics has been dominated by two conservative parties: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.  Currently there is a minority Fine Gael government.  Polls suggest Fianna Fáil will narrowly win the most seats, but there will be a large increase for the far-left Sinn Féin and the Greens.

Spain’s Socialists win confidence vote after election

I wrote for my personal website on January 8 that the left-wing Spanish government won its investiture vote by just two votes, 167 to 165.  Also covered: the left won the Croatian presidential election, a conservative/green government was formed in Austria, and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu easily won a primary for leadership of his Likud party.

British election live

Live commentary on counting for the British general election.

10:05am Wednesday December 18: A post-election YouGov poll of over 40,000 respondents has the startling finding that low-income people voted Tory by greater margins than high-income people.  The Tories won the middle class (ABC1) by 43-33 and the working class (C2DE) by 48-33 (44-40 and 44-42 respectively in 2017).  The Tories won those with the lowest educational attainment by 58-25 (55-33 in 2017).  Labour won those with the highest educational attainment 43-29 (49-32 in 2017).

3:25pm Saturday: Conversation article up.  I believe a major cause for the bad Labour loss was its Brexit policy, but another important difference from 2017 was real wage growth: -0.5% before the 2017 election vs +1.7% in the latest available data.  People are only willing to vote for left-wing policies if they are not doing well financially.  There’s also US politics stuff in that article.

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.

7:50am Saturday: The Conservatives HELD St Ives overnight with an increased majority over the Lib Dems.  Final seat numbers are 365 Tories (up 47), 203 Labour (down 59), 48 SNP (up 13) and 11 Lib Dems (down one).  I will have a write-up for The Conversation later today.

7:10pm Most polls had the Tory lead over Labour at nine to 12 points; the final result will be 11.5 points, so most polls were about right.  Survation, Ipsos, Opinium and Kantar had the Tory lead at either 11 or 12 points, and are the best pollsters.  The worst were ComRes (just a five point lead) and ICM (six points).

7:03pm How the Britain Elects Poll Tracker compares to the actual results excluding Northern Ireland.  William Bowe has said the two majors were too high in the polls, but most UK polls exclude Northern Ireland.

6:13pm: In Northern Ireland, the DUP won eight of the 18 seats (down two), Sinn Fein seven (no change), the Social Democratic Labour Party two and the Alliance Party one.  Vote shares were 30.6% DUP, 22.8% Sinn Fein, 16.8% Alliance and 14.9% SDLP.  So the Alliance got only one seat on 17% vote.

5:57pm: Final Scotland results: SNP 48 of 59 seats (up 13), Tories six (down seven), Lib Dems four (no change), Labour one (down six).  Vote shares: SNP 45.0% (up 8.1%), Tories 25.1% (down 3.5%), Labour 18.6% (down 8.5%) and Lib Dems 9.5% (up 2.8%).

4:52pm: With 13 seats to go, the Tories have 355 seats, Labour 202, the SNP 48 and the Lib Dems ten.

4:33pm: Another ex-Tory gets pummelled

Continue reading “British election live”

UK election minus three days

The lower-educated appear likely to sink Labour in Thursday’s UK election. Also featured: a guide to how the results will come in on Friday (our time).

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.

Seven UK national polls were released last week, with the Conservatives leading by eight to 11 points in five and by 14% to 15% in Survation and Opinium. There was little change since last week in most polls, but the Conservative lead was up five points in Survation.

Donald Trump was in the UK from December 2-4, and there was a head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on December 6. Polls listed above were taken after the Trump visit, and Johnson won the leaders’ debate by 52-48 in a YouGov “insta poll”.

In the latest YouGov poll, the Conservatives hold leads of 39-34 with the ABC1 social grade (upper to middle class), but by 48-31 with C2DE (working class). Sky’s Lewis Goodall has qualitative research into Labour’s problems with lower-educated voters. Facebook ads have damaged Corbyn’s popularity with these voters. The Conservative message that Labour has blocked Brexit is cutting through.

While Corbyn has a problem with the lower educated, he’s far from unique. Centre-left parties had unexpectedly dismal results in the UK (2015), US (2016) and Australia (2019), owing to swings towards conservative parties among the lower educated.

There are probably two ways for the global left to start winning elections consistently again. One is via a deep economic recession. The other way is via demographic change. Since 1940, educational attainment among those aged 25-29 in the US has surged. As the population becomes better-educated, the left is likely to do better – but not for a long time.

A hope for UK Labour is that Johnson’s ratings in an Ipsos poll slumped 22 net points to -20 since November, while Corbyn was up 16 to -44. Something could go wrong for the Conservatives with Johnson that unpopular. In YouGov, Johnson’s net approval was down nine points since last fortnight to -13, Corbyn down five to -47 and the Liberal Democrats’ Jo Swinson down 18 to -36.

As I wrote previously, there are three ways Labour could defy the polls. A fourth can be added: late deciders. While the Conservatives lead by 43-33 in YouGov, they only lead by 33-26 including “won’t vote” (8%), “don’t know” (13%) and “refused” (3%). If late deciders break to Labour, it will be closer than current polls suggest.

At the UK’s May European elections, pollsters tended to overstate support for the Brexit party, Conservatives and Labour, and understate support for the Lib Dems and Greens. The Brexit party was the clear choice for Leavers at that election. In general, the performance of UK pollsters has been poor.

A guide to election results day (Friday)

UK polls are open from 7am to 10pm Thursday local time. Unlike Australia, where small booths report quickly, the UK has no counting by booth. Instead, votes from all booths within a seat are transported to a central counting centre, and counted there. Postal votes must arrive by election day. Barring a recount, seats are declared once the vote count finishes. It takes far longer to get a good idea of the result than in Australia.

To follow their elections, the British need to pull an all-nighter. In Australia it’s easier, with polls closing at 9am Friday Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT). Here is my guide to the events in Australia; all times are Friday AEDT.

9am: Polls close and The Exit Poll is released (intentional capitalisation). In the last three elections, The Exit Poll has given seat results which greatly disagreed with pre-election polls and expectations. In all three cases, The Exit Poll was far closer to the mark than pre-election polls. Only seat counts are given, not vote shares.

11am: According to this article about the 2017 election, only three of 650 declarations are expected by this time.

1pm-3pm: These two hours should be the heaviest for declarations.  Initial results will be biased to Labour as the Conservative heartland regional seats take longer to gather their votes. The key is to watch the changes in vote share, and whether seats are being gained or lost.

6pm: Only a few seats will not be declared by this time. Very close seats can take longer to declare owing to recounts. If there’s snow on the roads, results will be delayed.

From the editor

Below is an update of the poll tracker I published on Friday, with nine new polls added. It maintains a trend of steady improvement for Labour at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, while the Conservatives hold steady. The latest trend result is Conservatives 42.7% (up 0.3% on 2017), Labour 33.7% (down 6.3%), Liberal Democrats 12.3% (up 4.9%) and Brexit Party 3.4%.

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.

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.