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.

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.