Archive for February, 2010



Saturday, February 27th, 2010


Morus wonders what would happen if…

Imagine that the polls narrow just a little more over the course of a blood-spattered, mud-flinging General Election campaign of only 17 working days that leaves no time for clarity and perspective.

Imagine that quirks of turnout and minor party support combine with a decent Lib Dem showing to befuddle the best laid plans of Mice and Men.

Imagine that the Conservatives, in spite of winning the largest percentage of the vote, are not the largest party in a Hung Parliament – or even that Labour win a toothskin-narrow majority in the Commons.

Just stop and imagine that. What happens to each of the three parties under that circumstance?

Perhaps the Conservatives will suddenly appear a different beast – tolerance for the sandal-wearing, hoodie-and-tree-hugging Cameroon project, and the dulcet tones of Guru Hilton, will surely be cast to the wayside. A new breed of Economically and Socially Liberal (cum Libertarian) MPs and activists thank the leader for his service, but consign him to the same circle of Purgatory as William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, and Michael Howard once occupied: Conservative leaders who never became PM.

The howl of anger from the activist base – once more betrayed by a leadership unable to smite even the most rotten of Governments, once more the arrogance of leadership failing to connect with the country that they suspect wishes them back, once more the putrid sight of their most zealous opponents greased with schadenfreude at their sombre trudge back to the trenches of Opposition.

And from that anger, a new radical wave sweeps the Tory benches – tax-cutters, Eurosceptics, as likely to believe in gay marriage as inheritance tax abolition: a hybrid borne of Cameronian social liberalism and the more virile wing of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Cameron, maybe Osborne too, relegated to the position of Party Elders before their time: a more strident, anti-Green, flat-taxing breed of Young Conservative is offered the knife to wield at a Labour Government in its Fourth and most bedraggled term.

And Labour? Perhaps with the majority of its Old Guard having fled the assumed slaughter, it assembles those too young and too bright to endure the baptism of fire that will greet them. The strategic and governmental inertia, combines with a growing sense of foreboding of an horrific financial future bequeathed to others, and inherited inadvertently.

This ‘new’ Government arrives stillborn at the Dispatch Box, led by a Prime Minister lacking both true allies, or veteran enemies capable of unseating him or constraining his behaviour, yet dragging a party into the abyss of his making with knowledge that this is their 1992 – that cruelest victory, the hack of the Executioner’s axe that did not quite end the life, but ensures complete annihilation when next he swings.

And the Lib Dems – perhaps they, having never been invited to be Kingmakers, are unable and unwilling to prop up the weakest of governments, yet knowing that the next election will likely see a shift of 1997 proportions, consigning them yet again to the wilderness of third party opposition with no hopes of coalition or influence.

And how long does this last? That’s the betting market I want to see…

Thanks to Tom Harris for the inspiration for this article. The Spectator article mentioned by Harris is also worth reading.


(who, for the record, still expects a Tory majority of 40 plus/minus 15 seats)

(DC adds:) If you haven’t already secured your copy of the Total Politics 2010 Election Guide, edited by Morus, it is definitely worth getting and is available here.


Will Salmond’s referendum change the Scottish debate?

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Can the SNP reverse Labour’s fightback?

With not particularly subtle timing, Alex Salmond launched on Thursday the Scottish government’s bill to put a referendum questions on independence and greater powers for the Scottish parliament – close to three years since taking office and within a few weeks of a UK general election campaign.
The SNP sailed into government close to the crest of their support: in the election, they won 33% of the constituency vote and 31% of the regional vote in 2007. Last year, at the European elections, the SNP were still scoring very well, finishing ahead of Labour for the first time in those elections with 29%. Unlike Westminster contests, both of those were conducted under PR and in neither was Labour able to credibly run stories on what might happen if the Tories were let in: it wasn’t going to happen in Scotland and it wouldn’t matter in Europe.

Even so, the polls for the General Election are dramatically different. YouGov’s most recent Scottish poll was grim reading for the SNP, putting them on just 20%: less than half Labour’s 42% share and barely ahead of the Tories’ 19%. The 18-34 and 35-54 age groups even had them in fourth place, although the sub-samples are very small at that level.

While the SNP’s intended timetable for the referendum has been broadly known for some time, that does little to lessen the impact the referendum debate on the election campaign north of the border. At least, that has to be Salmond’s hope: if this doesn’t grab the agenda and focus minds, nothing will.

The aim will be not only to put that question centre-stage in Scotland but also to attempt to view every other issue through it. Doing so would drive a wedge between the SNP and the rest of the big four, reinforce their distinctiveness and positive message and so – they hope – reverse the loss of support the party‘s experienced.

Can they succeed? The election campaign in Scotland will be very different from that in England due to the devolved government taking so many issues off the agenda. That gives the SNP the room they need but it still has to be exploited: the danger is that they get tied down in inter-party negotiations and horse-trading to get the bill through and lose sight of the public politics.

My guess is that the referendum topic won’t generate the political returns the SNP hope for. Partly that’s because the tide’s running against them anyway and the publication is a long-anticipated step in a process, not a turning point; partly it’s that the General Election is of the first importance for Labour whereas for the SNP it’s an important hurdle but less critical than the 2011 Holyrood election or referendum itself (if it happens); partly it’s that it will be difficult creating both dividing lines against unionist parties and putting together a coalition to get the bill through. If the bill fails, the denial of a vote becomes a powerful SNP campaigning tool but that’s scant consolation against not having delivered a referendum.

And south of the border? Another party which recently hit historic highs against Labour has seen its position eroded in recent months. To recover, Cameron, like Salmond, has to regain control of the agenda. His first of a limited number of opportunities is this weekend at his party’s Spring Conference.

David Herdson





Was MORI really that good for Labour?

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Do the underlying numbers point to a different conclusion?

Just been looking at the detailed dataset from the the Telegraph’s Ipsos-MORI poll that came out late last night and in my view the underlying numbers are nothing like as good for Labour as the five point Tory lead might suggest.

After weighting for standard demographics we find that:

  • 300 of those certain to vote in the sample said they had supported Labour at the last general election. Yet only 236 of everybody in the poll said they planned to vote Labour at the coming election.
  • 229 of those certain to vote in the sample said they had supported the Tories at the last general election yet 274 of everybody in the poll said they planned to vote for the party at the coming election.
  • My simple calculation puts the 2010:2005 ratio for the Tories at 118.7% while with Labour it was 78.7%

    So the MORI’s own numbers suggest that Labour is down more than a fifth on last time while the Tories are up by about a sixth. Given that the split in 2005 was L36.2-C33.2 then the latest poll, if it had had politically balanced sample, would have ended up with a lead a lot bigger than the reported 5%.

    I know that this is me being mischievous and highly selective but it does show the massive challenge phone pollsters face – because of the systemic problem of the over-sampling of Labour past voters.

    Mike Smithson


    Will Roger continue his winning Oscars run?

    Friday, February 26th, 2010

    (Here is the 2010 version of what has become a great PB tradition – Roger’s Oscars Tips. Those who have followed them up with bets in previous years have almost always made money. Let’s see if this will work again next week – Mike Smithson)

    2010 Oscars. Here is a list of the nominations in the main categories followed by my tips for the winners. A competitive year with very few certainties,

    Best Film. ‘A Serious Man’, ‘An Education’, ‘Avatar, ‘ District 9’, ‘Inglourious Basterds’, ‘Precious’, ‘The Blind Side’, ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Up’, ‘Up In The Air’.

    Between two very different war films. The epic but banal ‘Avatar’ and the gritty but limited ‘The Hurt Locker’. Though well crafted ‘The Hurt Locker’ doesn’t have the scope of recent great war films like ‘The Deer Hunter’ or ‘Apocalypse Now’ so I’m going to go for ‘Avatar’.

    Best Director. ‘Avatar‘, ‘Inglourious Basterds’, ’Precious’, ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Up In The Air‘.

    It’s unusual to separate Best Film from Best Director, but this year I think they might . Kathryn Bigalow the director of ‘Hurt Locker’ did an exceptional job despite a budget a fraction of ex-husband James Cameron‘s ‘Avatar’. So Kathryn Bigalow for Best Director.

    Best Actor. Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner, George Clooney.

    The most competitive for years. I’d say it’s between Colin Firth playing a bereaved gay and Jeff Bridges as a washed-up country singer. Both excellent but because he’s American I think it’ll go to Jeff Bridges.

    Best Actress. Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Gabourey Sidibe, Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren.

    The smart money is on Sandra Bullock. I thought she was good but so were Gabourney Sidebe in ‘Precious’ and Carey Mulligan in ‘An Education’. Though I think Sandra Bullock will get it Carey Mulligan is a good long shot.

    Best Supporting Actor. Christopher Waltz, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson.

    Stand out winner Christopher Waltz for his brilliant performance as an SS colonel in ‘Inglourious Basterds’.

    Best Supporting Actress. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Penelope Cruz, Mo’Nique, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick.

    Very competitive again with four possible winners. But my favourite is the terrifying Mo’Nique in one of the best films of the year , ‘Precious’.

    Best Animation. ‘Coraline’, ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, ‘The Princess and the Frog’, ‘The Secret of Kells’, ‘Up’.

    An honourable mention for ‘The Princess and the Frog’ but it’s got to be ‘Up’.

    Best Foreign Film. ‘Ajami’ (Isreal), ‘Das Weiss Band’ (Germany), ‘El Secreto Sus Ojos’ (Argentina), ‘La Teta Asustada’ (Peru), ‘Un Prophete’ (France).

    In any other year three of these would be nailed on winners. ‘Das Weiss Band’ (The White Ribbon), ‘Un Prophete’ and ‘Un Secretode Sus Ojos‘. For me though it’s got to be ‘The White Ribbon‘, my film of the year. (Sorry Chris from Bethesda!)

    Best Cinematography. ‘Avatar’, ‘Das Weiss Band’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Inglourious Basterds’, ‘The Hurt Locker’.

    Probably English cameraman Barry Ackroyd for The Hurt Locker’.

    Best Art Direction. ‘Avatar’, ‘Nine’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’, ‘The Young Victoria’.

    ‘Avatar‘ again.

    Best Visual Effects. ‘Avatar’, ‘District 9’, ‘Star Trek’.

    ‘Avatar‘, obviously!

    Best Original Screenplay. ‘A Serious Man’, ‘Inglourious Basterds’, ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘The Messenger’, ‘Up’.

    I could make a case for every one of these. However I have a feeling it’s ‘The Hurt Locker’s’ year . A good long shot might be Tarantino’s very enjoyable ‘Inglourious Basterds’

    Best Adapted Screenplay. ‘An Education’, ‘District 9’, ‘In The Loop’, ‘Roche’, ‘Precious’, ‘Up In The Air’.

    I’d go for the intelligent well-written comedy ‘Up in the Air’ .

    Best Costume. ‘Bright Star’, ‘Coco Avant Chanel’, ‘Nine’, ‘Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’, ‘The Young Victoria’.

    Between ‘The Young Victoria’ and ‘Coco Avant Chanel‘. I hope it’ll be ‘Coco Avant Chanel’. A disappointing film but well dressed!

    Best Editing. ‘Avatar’, ‘District 9’, ‘Inglorius Basterds’, ‘Precious’, ‘The Hurt Locker’.

    ‘The Hurt Locker’.

    Best Sound Editing. ‘Avatar’, ‘Inglourius Basterds’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Up’.

    For perfectly creating the sounds and silence of bomb disposal I’d go for ‘The Hurt Locker‘.

    Best Original Score. ‘Avatar’, ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Up’.

    Probably ‘Up’.

    Best Original Song. ‘Crazy Heart’, ‘Fauberg 36’, ‘Nine’ , ‘The Princess and the Frog’ (Almost there), ‘The Princess and the Frog’ (Down in New Orleans).

    ‘Crazy Heart’ (The Weary Kind).

    As always (on the subject of film!) the thoughts of EdP are well worth hearing.


    Guest slot from Flockers on YouGov

    Friday, February 26th, 2010

    (I’m on holiday in Dorset at the moment and this guest slot submitted by Flockers echoes quite a lot of comments that we are getting whenever YouGov polls are published – which is now five times a week. When I return next week I’m hoping that the firm’s Peter Kellner will take part in an online Q&A session – no doubt this will form part of the conversation. I should emphasise that these are the personal views of Flockers – Mike Smithson)

    What is it about their weightings?

    For good reason, all polling firms apply weightings to their raw data in order to derive the final figures. There is little value in seeking to predict the responses of the electorate from the responses of a sample if that sample is not representative of the electorate as a whole; a poll taken in the Birkenhead working men’s club would have very little predictive value.

    Looking at the YouGov data, I was immediately struck (see table above) by the resilience of the unweighted Conservative vote share and of the unweighted Conservative lead over Labour.

    In each of the eleven 2010 polls to date, the unweighted Conservative share was in the range 41-46 (reported 38-40) and the Labour share in the range 26-30 (reported 30-33). The average unweighted Conservative lead was 14.4 points against an average reported lead of 8 points, indicating an average weighting of 6.4 points away from the Conservatives.

    Crikey! If YouGov are habitually over-sampling Tory supporters, how massive must the unweighted Conservative lead have been when Labour support slumped in the aftermath of the expenses scandal?

    Not so massive. In seven reported polls during May and June the unweighted Conservative share was in the range 38-44 (reported 37-43) and the Labour share in the range 21-26 (reported 21-27).

    The average unweighted Conservative lead was 15.7 points against an average reported lead of 15.7 points – the weighting against the Conservatives was 0.012 points. The weighting moved in the Conservatives’ favour in three polls, against them in four.

    When did YouGov’s weightings start causing the weighted result to diverge so dramatically from the unweighted result? Quite recently:

    In 16 reported polls for which the fieldwork was completed in July, August or September the average unweighted Conservative lead was 14.4 points against an average reported lead of 12.8 points, indicating an average weighting of 1.6 points away from the Conservatives, far below the 2010 average weighting of 6.4 points.

    The weighting moved in the Conservatives’ favour in four polls, against them in twelve. During October, November and early December, 15 polls gave the Conservatives an average unweighted lead of 15.5 points, against an average reported lead of 12.6 points, indicating an average weighting of 2.9 points away from the Conservatives.

    In the twelve subsequent polls the average weighting against the Conservatives has been 6.3 points.

    Every single poll in 2010 has seen the Tory share weighted downwards and the Labour share weighted upwards, with a net effect on each poll of between three and nine points. Ten of the eleven polls this year have seen weighting impact the Tory share by more than four points. Only five of the previous 39 polls was adjusted by the same amount.

    The previously close correlation between the score produced by an analysis of the unweighted responses and the weighted results has been dislocated.

    Why? If the weighting’s haven’t changed (and I understand that’s what YouGov will say), then the only answer can be sample bias. Have all eleven of YouGov’s 2010 samples been heavy with people having Conservative-leaning characteristics (but who, oddly, are not influencing the numbers saying they will vote Conservative)? YouGov does not weight by certainty to vote – which would be one credible explanation if this discrepancy was seen in another pollster’s work.

    A historical perspective But surely none of this matters, because unweighted samples are irrelevant. Well, quite.

    But what if I were to tell you that in six of YouGov’s last seven polls before the 2005 general election a simple analysis of the unweighted sample would bring you to within a 2% Lab overstatement of the actual result? Not bad for an unrepresentative sample. As it happened, the 2005 polls saw on average a two point weighting to the Conservatives, which made YouGov one of the most impressive performers in the 2005 general election.

    By way of further historical perspective, a random sample of eight 2008 polls produced a mean weighting against the Conservatives of 2.3 points, and a random sample of five late 2007 polls produced a mean weighting against the Conservatives of 2.6 points. The current level of weighting appears to be unprecedented for YouGov in the Brown/Cameron era.

    Good news for the blues? Not entirely. The unweighted samples support the recent narrowing of the polls, with the Conservative lead in the last three polls averaging 12.33 per cent, against an average 17.9 per cent lead in the first three polls of the year. Indeed the reported numbers may even have masked the extent of the narrowing, as the polls early in January were some of the most heavily weighted in the sample. The data also shows a steady increase in Labour support since May.

    However, if you are prepared to look through the weighting, the basic unweighted responses of people polled by YouGov still point to a commanding Conservative lead.



    How’s this going to go down at the Tory Brighton conference?

    Thursday, February 25th, 2010

    CON 37% (40)
    LAB 32 % (32)
    LD 19% (16)

    MORI has the gap down to just 5

    The first MORI poll for the Telegraph has more bad news for the Tories and will certainly add to the early election fervour.

    For the gap is down to just five points which on the conventional UNS calculators could mean Labour having most seats in a hung parliament.

    There’s no getting away from it – this is seriously bad news for Cameron and his team though you always have to add a caveat with MORI polls. It does not politically weight its samples and is hugely vulnerable to sample variation.

    The fieldwork took place from last Friday until Monday and a lot has happened in the meantime. The sample size was 1,500 – half as much again as we get from standard MORI phone polls. Maybe this is the pattern for the new Telegraph relationship following the ending of the paper’s seven year relationship with YouGov.

    When we see the detailed data and check the numbers against what those interviewed said they did last time we’ll get a greater sense of this. MORI also only include in their headline figures those who are 100% certain to vote.

    So with all the polls pointing to a narrowing of the lead it might be a difficult weekend for the party leadership at their spring conference in Brighton.

    Mike Smithson


    And yet again the daily poll reports a 6pc lead

    Thursday, February 25th, 2010

    CON 39% (38)
    LAB 33% (32)
    LD 16%(19)

    But how will it compare with tonight’s MORI poll?

    Tonight’s YouGov daily poll for the Sun maintains the consistency that we’ve seen for a week with Labour just six points behind the Tories. Both main parties move up one but there’s a big shift downwards for Nick Clegg’s party.

    At this level YouGov is suggesting that Labour have dropped just one in twelve of the voters who supported Blair’s party in 2005 – something that will raise further questions about the pollster’s weightings which have seen a revision this week.

    Caveman had a good post on this during the morning which is well worth reading. I plan to return to the subject in more detail when I get back from holiday next week.

    The big polling development is that the Telegraph appears to have switched to MORI following the end of their seven year relationship with YouGov. The February survey will be out tonight. Last month it was C40-L32-LD16

    Mike Smithson


    Launching the Andy Cooke seats calculator – final version

    Thursday, February 25th, 2010

    Belatedly, I can at last say that my spreadsheet model is now available to download from Google Docs. The instructions are now in the adjacent post on PB2 and in that post is a link to the model.

    Looking at the effects identified in my original analysis, we can now expand on the details – thanks largely to the in depth and constructive discussion on

    Firstly, the “Constituency Effect”. I now think that this is a poor name, but I can’t think of another. To expand upon what it is:

    Labour, when they win power, typically have a vote share composed of their core vote and the further vote they’ve won to get over the line (non-core vote). The core vote tends to turn out noticeably less and be concentrated in a couple of hundred safe seats, which are (on the whole) smaller than the average constituency size in terms of population and overall turnout. When they are on the up, they capture a segment of the vote that is non-core to any party. This segment turns out to vote at a noticeably higher rate than the Labour core. So when they are on the way up, the increase in their core vote (concentrated in the smaller seats) is dwarfed by the increase in their non-core vote (which, would therefore be disproportionately represented in slightly larger seats). This is reversed when they are on the way down – the lower turn-out core vote will drop less than the higher turnout non-core vote.

    Therefore, on average, each constituency Labour vote will increase by more than the national swing, as the smaller constituencies will increase by slightly less (higher proportion of core voters) and the larger ones by slightly more (larger proportion of core voters).

    Reports from pbc’s Labour MP that, unusually, the non-core vote is holding up whilst the core vote is dropping strongly (largely due to “stay-at-homes”) should therefore be considered very important. If this is so, and it is replicated across the country, Labour could even prevent the expected unwind – or even wind it further.

    The second effect, the Tactical Vote. From thinking about the Marginals Boost Effect, I’ve concluded that I have split the tactical voting into two components of which this is one (and the other is merged in with the marginals boost). This is the average effect across all Con/Lab battles, regardless of how marginal. It should be concentrated in marginal constituencies (and those within reach of a big swing). There will be some effect even in safe seats – voters are often not fully in the frame of how marginal a seat is, and who is the main competitor (which is the entire reason for the existence of bar-charts …). However, this should be viewed as the average tactical vote nationwide, with the concentration of tactical votes in marginal consistencies being contained within the marginal boost effect (positive in marginals/semi marginals, negative in safe seats).

    The third effect, the Marginal Boost. This consists of many components:

    – Concentration of tactical vote

    – Increased attraction to C1/C2s (Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman). This is a crucial component, as they are highly concentrated in METTHs (see Blair Freedman’s excellent article )

    – Increased attraction/turnout amongst “Guardianistas” (usually AB demographic).

    – Number of activists in marginal seats. This effect has been well explained by “Bunnco’s excellent article on pb2 .

    – Net effect of targetting. Money spent and concentration of effort on the identified target seats. All parties will be doing this, the net effect is a factor of which party wins the “Ground War”

    – Other. Effects not mentioned above, beyond those identified. One effect that might factor in the coming election was identified by Bunnco on pb2.

    My “wet finger in the air” view is that the above components will weight as follows:

    – Tactical vote concentration: 1/5th

    – Attraction towards C1/C2: 1/5th

    – Guardianista attraction: 1/10th (smaller demographic segment and could be subsumed into one or other of the tactical voting effects)

    – Relative activist concentration: 1/5th

    – Net targetting effect: 1/5th

    – Others: 1/10th

    (I emphasise that this is a guesstimate of relative weights).

    One element I picked up from the discussion which lodged firmly with me is that the Marginals Effect largely built up over 2 elections (1997 and 2005, not dissipating significantly in 2001) – the full unwind in one election could be rather sudden. Further, the precision implied by the figures given is rather artificial. I’ve therefore reduced the effect slightly and rounded to half-percents rather than tenths.

    The Model

    The above factors will act as “distortions” on the output provided by a probabilistic UNS (which is, itself, a variation from “straight” UNS). My original articles summed up the accumulated effect over the Blair Years, and gave the forecast of what would happen if the pressure exerted on the UNS pendulum by the Blair Effect was released. My model is available from Google Docs now, so I’d encourage people to make their own assumptions on the basis of their own judgement of what’s going to happen. In the model, a base level of unwind on Average Tactical Vote and Marginal Boost are assumed, and the full effect is assumed as linear from there (at zero swing) to the point of return to 1992 (and max out at that point). Please feel free to enter your own assumptions (with all assumptions set at zero, the model will act as a probabilistic UNS swing calculator). I’ve also provided a boost for Lib Dem defence in their seats, as the much-vaunted Lib Dem incumbency effect does seem to have some grounds in the data