#Libdemfightback: What do the polls say?

Obviously we’re all a little wary of using the polls since the General Election, but it should be remembered that while the polls then underestimated the Tories and over-estimated Labour, they got our tiny percentage pretty much spot on. The only problem was that, because the Tory vote was higher in actuality than predicted, that we ended up losing a few more Tory/LD marginals than we’d ever expected to.

But Pollsters have been amending their weighting…and the ‘Shy Tory Voter’ doesn’t really seem to exist anymore. They’re out and proud! So I’ve been having a look at what the polls have been predicting for a General Election  held today.

The Method

My reading of the polls uses averages to fill in the gaps on the days when there aren’t polls, and then to run seven day rolling figures based on both those averages and the polls themselves.

The model I use is modelled heavily on that of Martin Baxter’s Electoral Calculus model, as featured often in the press. The idea is that one takes the ‘base’ vote of each constituency (i.e. Southport 2010 36% Con, 9% Lab, 50% LD etc), place that against the GE figure for that year (i.e. 37 Con, 30 Lab, 24 LD) and then see how the constituency figure moves with regards to latest polling (i.e. the final poll pre 2015 GE of 33 Con, 33 Lab and 9 LD) and then see how the initial constituency figure moves (in this case to 33 Con, 12 Lab and 35 LD) thus showing how John Pugh kept his seat.

I’ve been using my model since 2013 and modelled the SNP increases in as it became apparent that they were going to sweep some serious seats up. As an idea of how well it worked, using the 2010 baseline for seats with the actual 2015 GE percentage provided a result of Con 327 seats, Lab 254, LD 11 and SNP 35. The only real issue here was of an under-performing SNP, but an event of such political magnitude was always going to be difficult to capture. The key thing though is that even operating so far from the 2010 election, my model predicted that the LDs would hold six of the eight seats they *did* hold (barring Carshalton and Southport) and gave them just an extra five they didn’t win (among them the very close losses of Twickenham, Yeovil etc.)

So I think my model works well. As I say, it uses a similar method to Martin Baxter’s, but has the benefit in that the user gets percentage
splits in individual seats, whereas Baxter’s model merely gives gains/losses.

With that in mind, then, what have the polls been doing since the election?

Well, the Tory vote of 38% rose swiftly to 40% within a few days of the election, and then 41% by 18th May. It’s fallen since then,arriving back at 39% by 9th June and then 38% by 11th July and down to 37% as of 20th July.

Labour saw their 31% election figure reduced to 30% by 22nd May and 29% by 5th June, before rallying, before dropping back to 28% by 27th
June. It’s been rising swiftly since then though, and reached 31% by 8th July, 32% by 10th July and 33% by 12th July, before retreating by
a percentage point by the 20th.

The Lib Dems have also seen quite some flux since our 8% at the election, falling to 7% within two days, before climbing back to 8% by 3rd June, 9% by 17th June and 10% by 21st June. However, the resurrection of Labour has seen out vote fall back to 9% by 26th June,
8% by 4th July and finally 7% by 9th July. However, the recent Ipsos-MORI double figure polled has pulled our average back up to 8%
as of the 18th and finally 9% by the 20th July.

What does this mean in terms of seats? Well, the continued SNP rise post-election would have seen Alistair Carmichael lose Orkney by 10th
May, with the continued Tory increases seeing both John Pugh and TomBrake lose their seats too, a few days later. Five seats seems to be
the nadir so far, and Orkney was theoretically taken back by the 25th May. The demise of Labour in early June saw us theoretically take back
Julian Huppert’s old Cambridge seat by 4th June, with our own increase in the polls seeing the return of both Carshalton and Southport a day
or so later. Net gain = 1!

Sadly, the resurgent Labour party saw Cambridge fall again by 10th June, before it returned again on the 18th – which is just before theSNP ‘retook’ Orkney, although it had returned again by the 27th. Cambridge, however, fell victim again to a highly resurgent Labour
party by 7th July. Since then, a momentary drop in SNP support saw Jo Swinson’s East Dunbartonshire theoretically come back to us on 10th July, but lost again eight days later.

The current state of play as of the last poll on 10th July is that there are eight seats for us, with Eastbourne within 0.5%, Lewes
within 1.3%, Julian Huppert’s Cambridge 1.5%, Steve Webb’s Thornbury 2.2%, Twickenham 2.4% (although one could argue about name recognition/incumbency with regards to Vince – did this pull his GE score up…or down?), Jo Swinson’s Dunbarton 2.4%, Ed Davey’s Kingston
3.9%, and St. Ives and Mike Crockart’s Edinburgh 4.3%

From a National point of view, the Conservatives lost their absolute majority as of 13th July, at which point a Labour/LD/Green/SNP/PC/SDLP
coalition would be within nine seats of government. Excluding SNP/PCleaves the opposition 65 seats short.

There’s a long, long way to go, but there are seats within (notional) grasping even with just a couple more percentage increases in the
polls. For example, if we gained 3% and the Tories, Labour and SNP lost 1% each, we’d be back up to 20 seats again.

Let the #LibDemFightback continue!

* Stephen is a lifelong Lib Dem voter, but one of many 8/5/15 members. He analyses and recommends for a major city Policy and Strategy organisation. He has two young children and used to have time for making and writing about music.

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  • Richard Underhill 26th Jul '15 - 11:36am

    Stephen, This says nothing about the boundary changes before the next general election, which affect almost all seats.
    A uniform swing within Scotland is not automatic or guaranteed.
    Orkney and Shetland are a long way from Edinburgh.
    The SNP are increasingly centralist within Scotland while we support increased devolution.
    The elections for the Scottish parliament in May 2016 will be contested using a partly proportional voting system.
    The SNP currently have an overall majority of one.
    Previously they were the largest party at Holyrood by 1 seat, but governed with help from Tories and Scottish Greens.
    The outcome in May 2016 will be likely to affect the outcome in May 2020 for Westminster.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jul '15 - 11:46am

    Stephen, Please also do not give the party another name. We already have ‘Liberal Democrats’, which accurately describes who we are and was voted on by a referendum of federal conference representatives early in Paddy Ashdowns’s leadership.
    David Steel, leader of the former Liberal Party, gave an interview to The Independent in which he said that ‘Lib Dem is acceptable in a headline’. He presumably had the agreement of Paddy Ashdown at the time.
    When we look at the alphabet soup of political parties elected to Westminster we have the DUP, the OUP, the SDLP, the SNP etc. We need to keep out of that.

  • You are comparing polls from different pollsters in the second half of your piece. I don’t think that attributing polling movements, which are well within the margin of error anyway, to real people changing their mind resulting in seats changing hands is sensible given that we only had 8 proper GE2020 polls.
    Yet a good Illustration of how a small fightback can win us at least sind seats.

  • However, boundary changes and lack of high profile/incumbent candidates could be a major problem. We lost so many big names, very few if any of whom are likely to want to step forward again in future.

  • Given that there have been only 8 polls since the Election I am not sure how useful this is. You could improve your model by applying a correction to each poll based on the historical “bias” of each firm (UK polling report did some work on that) but the problem is that most of the firms have been tinkering with their methods, trying ways to sort the problems.
    Since May 7th the “herding” of polls has dissapeared with a big gap opening between ICM & the rest. For example ICM have the UKIP vote stable while all the others show it falling steeply.
    I reccomend keeping a close eye on “Britain Elects” for the polls themselves & “UK Polling Report ” for explanations of how much of any changes are probably due to experimentation by the the pollsters. We arent going to get a clear picture until the polling community has agreed on what went wrong.

  • a week is a long time in politics…………………and an eternity when you’re down!! We must concentrate on getting our own house in order (things that are under our control) like getting the cash for honours ended, one member one vote on policy, members list for Lords (for Tim to follow TO THE LETTER), etc

  • Sammy O'Neill 26th Jul '15 - 3:06pm

    ” we ended up losing a few more Tory/LD marginals than we’d ever expected to.” -By that you mean all of them right? As well as a load of other seats which everyone considered safe?

    “the ‘Shy Tory Voter’ doesn’t really seem to exist anymore. “- baseless comment.

    Relying on electoral calculus – which got the election entirely wrong- is a dubious choice.

    The polling data available is so limited and general that many of the conclusions you draw are not really justifiable or realistic. What will be interesting is how the lib dems ground operation holds up over the next 5 years. Where I am, quite a few of the old hands have chucked it all in. Some because of the election, some because of Farron. Apparently there are lots of newbies, currently enthusiastic, but will they really be keen to do the dull tasks of leafleting and envelope stuffing when the reality hits? For many, I suspect not.

    The first Westminster by-election will reveal if things are on the up. I suspect we’ll see no improvement. If it ends up being in Orkney & Shetland then the words “SNP gain” will be inevitable.

  • Sammy,

    We were all ‘newbies’ once.

    We leafleted. We stuffed envelopes.

  • The LibDems are at risk of annihilation in Scotland by not facing up to the reality of the Carmichael situation – but the results of the poll below must carry some weight with Farron:

    ” The recent Scottish ST Panelbase poll found that an overwhelming majority of voters believe Alistair Carmichael should resign – even 49% of GE2015 LibDem voters thought he should go:

    Should resign: 71%
    Should not resign: 14%
    Don’t know: 15% ”

    Farron has an opportunity to overrule the self-interested Scottish LibDem party machine and be seen to do the right thing. For what it’s worth I think a candidate like Jo Swinson would have a good chance of winning a O&S by-election, effectively giving the LibDems the impression of winning a seat even though it doesn’t add to their total and possibly give them some momentum for May 2016 council and Scottish elections.

  • Richard Underhill,

    Perhaps you have not been paying much attention to Scotland but the argument is not over whether the Holyrood government should be centralist of localist. It is, like everything else, primarily about trust and independence. Obviously the independence support remains almost double its traditional level and shows no sign of reducing. On the issue of trust, while Carmichael remains clinging on to power, the only outcome the Lib Dems face in 2016 is annihilation.

    The article mentions theoretical winning back of East Dunbartonshire. This really demonstrates the weakness of this sort of national swing analysis. The Lib Dems are finished in East Dunbartonshire, the despised Lib Dem council administration is about to get a very heavy kicking and without Jo Swinson’s personal vote (she won’t be the candidate in 2020) there is no chance of the SNP losing the East Dun seat.

  • Dair,

    It is always a pleasure to welcome people on this Forum who have no axe to grind….

  • Sammy O'Neill 26th Jul '15 - 11:06pm


    I know, but realistically a lot of people who join parties in the excitement/disappointment of the post election period will fade away over 5 years. The party needs to attract active members in the long term, which is something all of the parties struggle with but I suspect the Lib Dems will do so more.


    Carmichael should be shown the door immediately, his behaviour has been an absolute disgrace, Farron would go up immeasurably in my books if he did something about Carmichael. The SNP have an easy smear weapon again the Lib Dems in Scottish elections now. If we hold more than 2 Scottish parliament seats I will be surprised, I don’t rule out a total of zero currently. I also think all the London Assembly seats are probably going to be lost unless something radically changes. The Greens and UKIP are going to be a real pain in London.

  • William Summers 27th Jul '15 - 10:06am

    I’m afraid you can’t take movements of 1% to be significant. If you consider that represents around 450,000 people changing their minds overnight, it is worth taking it with a large pinch of salt. Only the longer-term averages are worth worrying about – and even they were out before the last election, as we all know.

    Best forget the opinion polls for a while and concentrate on re-establishing core values and policies. Personally I think the obsession with adding another 1-2% on poll ratings is a mistake as it emphasises short term populism over long term credibility.

  • “The Lib Dems have also seen quite some flux since our 8% at the election”

    Not really – all those changes you list are within a “convenctional” 3% margin of error (though you don’t give a MoE for your model so I’m assuming the usual 3%)

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jul '15 - 10:38am

    People get more interested in politics when there is an election on, or there is something of major interest happening.
    There is the Labour leadership election, Turkey is bombing Iraq, the price of gold has halved, London’s Mayor has wasted money on water-cannon, Lord Seweel has resigned as Deputy Speaker in the Lords, …

  • Thanks for all the comments, folks. I’m the author, and I’ll try to address some of the queries raised here.

    David Wallace – thanks.
    Richard Underhill – hadn’t intended to give us another name. Did I use ‘Lib Dem’? Apologies. I’ve been trying to use ‘we’ since joining, but find it quite hard to get used to. I’ve never been a member of a political party or a football team supporter or anything before, so saying ‘we’ about something I feel I have little to do with the success of (unlike, say, my family, or my old band for example) is tricky sometimes. Will try harder!
    Josef – Yes, I’m comparing different pollsters. This is partly because there are so few polls out there, but I do think that piling different methodologies together can weigh out ‘the noise’. I think my averaging out on ’empty days’ also helps secure this.
    RC – boundary changes is a huge problem for my model, yes. I will endeavour to do what I can if/when they occur!
    Paul Barker – I concur that many might not find this useful, but it is something I’ve been doing for the last few years for my own entertainment and thought I’d see what the public response was! I shall continue doing so as more polls appear. I think its main use is in helping to people see exactly what a move from 8% to 10% or 12% etc in the polls means in terms of potential seat gains, and also helps an audience to see if the Tories can be expected to keep their monopoly, how the rest of the left are doing, etc. I do keep an eye on Britan Elects, but deeply analyse the raw(ish) data myself in order to get percentage figures rather than the headline whole number. Especially useful if both 7.6% and 8.4% of the vote gives us “8%” as a headline!!

  • Sammy O’Neill – No. We had expected to lose a lot of Tory/LD marginals, but had not expected to lose places like Twickenham, Lewes, Thornbury etc. That these too fell shows why the enormous landslide against us occurred. Electoral Calculus’ did get the election wrong, yes. As I stated though, I merely use the basis of the model for my own model. I don’t think Electoral Calculus’ Scottish monitoring was as strong as it could have been, for example.
    Re: Orkney and Shetland, I think we’d need either a local candidate or a ‘big name’ who can’t be associated with the disliked Coalition. However, the fact that O&S is one of the least pro-SNP seats in Scotland suggests we would be in with a glimmer of a chance of holding it. Better to make the party ‘purer’ by losing another MP? Tough call for Tim.
    Also, you mention the weakness of ‘national swing’ models. I think that the election actually highlighted how feasible national swing models are. Everyone was parroting the line that the Lib Dems would hold on to several seats despite the national swing, that we are “like cockroaches”. Even I disputed my beloved model and started trying to get it to automatically add on incumbency bonuses to keep us in the high teens of seats as I couldn’t believe the national swing would take us so low. But I was wrong, the swing was right, and the model was right. Dunbartonshire? You raise an interesting point re: the ‘despised’ council, but a quick look at Brighton’s greatly disliked Green-led council shows it’s not pertinent to an MP losing their seat…
    William Summers – the aim isn’t to show that 1% shifts in opinion are significant, but are aiming to put those changes in context. We haemorraged on 8% of the vote at the GE, and would have done so on 9%, but on 11% (and with 1% drops in Con, Lab and SNP votes), we’d have held onto around 20 seats. It’s about seeing quite how well we have to do before we stop being quite such a minor party. If Tim gets us to 11% is it good enough? If he gets us to 15% how would we be doing, etc?

    Thanks all for your comments!

  • Calum & Sammy – can I just point out that if Tim Farron did “overrule the self-interested Scottish LibDem party machine” then not only would he be riding roughshod over the party’s constitution, he would more than likely find himself with next to no activists in Scotland and the probability of the party in Scotland becoming completely separate from the party in England. Tim knows that, I’m sure. We are the people who know Alistair – in many cases since he was a student – and have worked closely with him, and know that this error was completely out of character. Don’t be fooled by the SNP’s attempts to manipulate the situation – they would have done nothing had they not been in second place. Taking the sort of action you suggest wouldn’t make the party “purer” – if that were the case, then we should be kicking out all the current MPs who voted for tuition fees, which would leave us with 4 – just smaller.

  • nvelope2003 27th Jul '15 - 9:59pm

    There have been a number of local council by elections where the Liberal Democrat vote has increased substantially and virtually none where it has dropped further. There have been gains and some near misses but this has not been reflected in the polls. A parliamentary by election now would be too soon but maybe in 2 years time there would be a better chance but these things cannot be had to order. Tim Farron has only been in post for just over a week so he has not had time to make his mark on the voters. When you consider that Nick Clegg was barely known by them in 2010 he has a hard job ahead of him but he does have some charisma unlike most of the Labour party leadership hopefuls. We shall just have to hope they do not choose Jeremy Corbin as he would scoop up all the young and idealistic voters. We must hope they will choose someone dull and stodgy. Completely opposing all the benefit cuts seems a risky strategy like opposing tuition fees. Many of the voters like this policy and it would be a disaster if we had to let down those who do not support it. I do not find many people who favour subsidies when they know the money is going to come from their own pockets – or at least the interest on the debt.

  • In the past we’ve gained in the polls during general election campaigns partly because the media remembered we existed and the proportion of news people got actually from us increased. We’ve fallen back once the election was over. The apparently quite stable vote of 1992-2010 looked much wobblier if you took into account opinion polls and for most of the 1997-2001 parliament commentators were predicting disaster for us in 2001, backed by the polls.

    This time, of course, we had plenty of media attention throughout the parliament and got a pathetic vote which failed to climb at all during the election campaign. I’d still see the months following the election as a period when we’d be unlikely to lift much in the polls, though, because many people will be assuming we’re of the past. That will change.

    I don’t think we need be too worried by David Wallace’s point that it will be very hard for us to win the next election. Winning 50 seats would do fine.

  • I don’t know much about Scottish politics, but I suspect that outside the SNP activist base (which is quite large, of course) most people would not regard what Alistair Carmichael did (leaking something to try and embarrass other politicians) as all that serious (compared to breaking the pledge, for example, which Alistair also did). Of course if people are asked “should he stand down for lying about it” they say yes… It seems unlikely the petition will be successful (I could not see any justification for it in electoral law, which is all about candidates, not parties), and most people will say “that’s that then”

    2020 is a long way away. The people who voted for Alistair presumably did not like the SNP all that much – I think his fate will depend much more on the relative standing of SDP and Liberal Democrats compared to 2015 than to this issue. And the signs are that the Party is already above the 5.2% we got in the Holyrood list vote in 2011, in which case we will not lose all our seats. It would not take much to lose all the seats except the 2 in the Highlands and islands though…

  • Mr Stephen,

    I agree with you about the 11%. I did back of the envelope calculations based on needing to get >30% in 50 seats, combined with <5% in the rest, in order to explain the Ashcroft polls. On 8% they just did not work out, but on 11% they could have….

  • nvelope2003

    A by-election soon would be ok but only in one of the few constituencies where we are in a good 2nd place. What the local by-elections have shown is that where we campaign strongly a high proportion of people are prepared to vote for us – that did not happen much in the coalition years. By next May the Tories and Labour will have relaxed back into their usual torpor when there is no general election in view, and unless we hit a hive of UKIP or Green activity, we have a good chance of making gains where we fight hard.

    In the coalition years Labour voters in particular were not prepared to give us the benefit of the doubt… I really believe that will be starting to change by next May. But I don’t expect much where we put up a paper candidate (or a one leaflet candidate)

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