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Polls, Polls, Polls

Posted 07/06/2017

by Alun Hayes

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Quota sampling, herding, socio-economic profiling and weighting – just some of the essential parts that make up the mysterious world of opinion polling. An old political dictum states that one should always ignore the polls, especially if you’re the one running for office. However, in reality they are plastered all over the media, online and print, so who can help but take note.

This election, more so than any other in recent memory, has been characterised by polling. Many critics viewed Theresa May’s decision to call a general election on 18 April as based on polls which had the Conservatives on a commanding 18%-21% lead (18 April, ICM/Guardian). But what’s happened during the campaign to seemingly shift the polls towards Labour?

Firstly, despite Diane Abbott’s best efforts to make Labour’s challenge even more difficult the truth is that Theresa May has lost a fair bit of credibility during this campaign.

She has performed badly under questioning from members of the public and journalists and has rarely looked at ease. It is now becoming obvious why her advisers didn’t want her to take part in live TV debates with her opponents.

There has been many a U-turn during these campaign weeks, which has led many undecided voters to question the previously accepted wisdom of the Party in Government as a safe pair of hands.  The Social Care Plan policy announcement for one did major damage and shifted the scrutiny away from Labour’s credibility on its Manifesto commitments back onto The Conservatives.

And then, the despicable actions of a few individuals in Manchester and London and the fallout from those tragic events have begged further questions about just how good Ms May’s record is on national security and policing when she was Home Secretary.

New figures put the two main political parties as close as 4% (29May – 02Jun, YouGov) or even a single 1% (Survation/MailonSunday).

Then again, in the lead up to the 2015 General Election some polls put Labour and Conservatives tied (5-7May, Populus), others saw a Labour lead of 1% (3-6 May, ICM/Guardian) and some with a 6% (6 May, Survation) Conservative lead. The reality was quite different.

Polling is complicated and as we saw with Brexit, they can go horribly wrong. Polling requires a range of voters, with a mix of backgrounds and ages in order to produce an accurate result. Furthermore, you need to get your sample size right – there is an ongoing to debate whether 200 or 20,000 makes a better poll. Lastly, weighting is required to produce an accurate poll; mainly due to the difficulties in obtaining a representative sample but also to offset voter tendencies – Tories are more likely to put the phone down or be ex-directory than Labour voters.

So after all that, should you pay attention to polls? Unfortunately, the answer is yes and no. Polls can categorise voting intention across the country, but the nuances of seat targeting, shy Tories and the last-minute voter all serve to mislead. At Iceni Engagement we look at the polls, but also at the bookies and the Conservatives are still at 1/4 for an Overall Majority (6 June, Ladbrokes).

Turnout is key.  Labour is currently polling at 68% in terms of voter intention amongst 18-24 year olds.  But not following through on voter intention is something Labour has been undone by in this past. The question is, will young people get out and vote this time?