Filed under: General

Tagged with:  |  |  |  |  |  | 

|

By Owen Jones / @owenjones84

Labour’s current position in the opinion polls is disastrous. This isn’t written as a counsel of despair, but because we have to recognise political reality if we are going to turn it around. In the latest YouGov opinion poll, the Tories are on 42%; Labour languish at 26%. In this month’s opinion polls, Labour are consistently polling below 30% while the Tories are consistently above 40%

For some dedicated Labour loyalists, there is an understandable reluctance to accept such terrible polling as accurate. Unfortunately this undermines any efforts to turn it around, particularly when any call to address Labour’s challenges is treated as treachery by some.

‘Polls schmolls’ is the attitude of some. Look at how often polls are wrong! I get some tweeting me that the polls are actually made up, suggesting that the pollsters’ proprietors are Conservatives who are fixing the results (which would mean destroying their professional credibility for limited political gain). The problem is when polls are significantly wrong, it is almost always to the detriment of Labour. The two big polling disasters of recent times were in 1992 and 2015: on both occasions, the reality was much worse for Labour. In the 13 general elections since 1966, eve-of-election polling has only understated Labour’s results 3 times: a tiny amount in 2010, in 1983 (when Labour’s result was still calamitous) and in the first 1974 general election, which produced a hung Parliament.

The truth is the current polling could turn out worse for Labour in practice. Here’s why:

1) As above, Labour normally underperforms polling in a general election.

2) In a general election, there is normally a swing-back to the government.

3) At this stage of the last Parliament, Ed Miliband’s Labour had a significant lead but still went on to lose. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Labour frequently had sizeable leads and then went on to lose. You normally need a whopping big lead in the middle of a Parliamentary term if you want to even scrape a victory.

4) After last year’s polling rout, some pundits suggested we should have focused more on polling that showed Ed Miliband far behind David Cameron as preferred Prime Minister. According to current polling, when asked to choose who would make the best Prime Minister, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, or Unsure, Corbyn comes third (May on 51%, Unsure on 31%, Corbyn on 18%). In a general election, that could mean a soft Labour vote including either mass defections to the Tories, 0r a depressed Labour turnout.

5) Polling shows considerable dissatisfaction on the part of those 30.4% of the British electorate who voted Labour in 2015.

6) Labour is way behind on the economy: one poll shows that 70% of voters prefer the Tories’ economic team.

7) The headline polling is even worse in England, and likely to be even worse in the marginal seats.

8) There are dozens of Labour-held seats with a majority of 5,000 or less which would tumble in a rout.

9) The Tories will launch all-out-war against Labour’s leadership. They haven’t even got started yet.

When confronted with this polling, some reach for explanations. Firstly, the mainstream media. I’ve written two books which, in large part, focused on media bias, so I couldn’t be more naturally sympathetic to this argument. Our press is extremely aggressive and ideological: they’re mostly owned by highly political oligarchs who use their dominance over the means of information to wield political influence. Fine: but there’s not much that can be done about it. Complaining about it is like barking at thunder. The storm is not going to go away.

The second is the actions of Labour MPs in the aftermath of Brexit. The farcical decision to plunge the Labour party into very public and pointless turmoil at a time of national crisis when all the focus should have been on the Tories obviously damaged the party’s polling.

Two points though. Firstly, the polling slid badly, but from a mediocre position: Labour have not been ahead in the average of polls (which is what counts) since before the last general election. Secondly, if Labour faces a disastrous defeat, all of the party’s various sides might blame each other, but that won’t be much comfort in the years of Tory rule stretching into the future.

We have to turn it around for these reasons:

1) A terrible Labour defeat could break the party as a political force, consigning it to the wilderness for a very long time to come: that would mean not just losing the next general election, but the election after that, too.

2) Labour’s electoral failure means the people the party was set up to represent pay the price.

3) We’ve been up against Tory party implementing ideologically-driven cuts for the last few years: we’re now facing a UKIPised Conservative Party. Progressive Britain risks being swept away by a tidal wave of right-wing xenophobic populism.

4) The left will be blamed for a terrible defeat, which could see it marginalised for a generation or more.

5) When the Tories win a general election — particularly if it’s an overwhelming victory — politics overall shifts sharply to the right. Look at how Thatcherism succeeded in dragging the political centre of gravity sharply to the right in the 1980s.

There are some who believe that somehow things will be different this time and the polls should be ignored. This is putting hope above evidence and precedent, and is a fatal mistake.

A snap general election next year looks increasingly likely, which — as things stand — would be devastating for Labour — and for the country as a whole.

That’s why everybody has responsibilities. The Parliamentary Labour Party need to avoid doing anything that undermines the leadership: that’s in their interests, because if Labour is heading for a defeat, they need the leadership to own it. The hundreds of thousands who have joined the Labour Party all need to dedicate as much as their life as possible to knocking on doors and talking to voters outside the left-wing bubble. The Labour leadership needs to offer a clear coherent vision, backed up with message discipline, and exploit the divisions of a Tory leadership heading for a harsh chaotic Brexit, rather than a Brexit that puts the economy, jobs and living standards first.

Even spelling out these realities will upset some. Better to upset people now than to wake up after a general election that decimates Labour and consigns us to right-wing Tory rule for a generation to come.

To support our work at Open Labour please sign up to our updates.

15 responses to “Polling and Labour’s prospects

  1. This is a good piece – but sadly I think the die has been cast. Having been a Labour member since 1993, I no longer recognise the party as one that represents me or my political views. I think Labour’s woes can be put down to 3 key events. Firstly, the Iraq war – had Tony Blair’s evangelical support of George Bush not taken us to war, Blairism – and that centrist part of the party would not be held in such abhorence now. Secondly, the Blair’s government decision to put no quotas in place for EU expansion in 2004 – drastically underestimating the level of migration has caused the upswell in support for the far-right and UKIP and the disassociation of working class, grass-roots supporters. Finally, the Trade Union support and pushing of Ed Miliband, over David, put the wrong brother at the helm of the party, and had David been in place, offering a more palatable leadership to the electorate – the Tories would not have had a majority, we would not have had the EU referendum and Jeremy Corbyn would very likely not be leading the party.

    Since last month, I have cancelled my party membership and will be one of those choosing not to vote in future elections.

  2. As a labour party member of 20 years standing who resigned their membership following the re-election of Corbyn I guess that I am not the core demographic for Open Labour but OJ is the writer on the left who I respect and admire and who has on occasion changed my mind on issues. I would place myself (in old fashioned terms) as to the centre of the centre left. Many would dismiss me as a “Red Tory”, “Blairite” or a lot worse.

    70% of voters have more trust in the Conservative Government’s economic policies because the Labour Party leadership has effectively turned its back on me and millions of others by embracing voodoo economics that most people simply cannot support.

    I’m a Keynesian and believe it is legitimate to run budget deficits. But like Keynes I believe that over the long run the budget must balance. Despite the misinformation put about by the right wing press about Labour profligacy and overspending nearly every labour PM/Leader and Chancellor/Shadow Chancellor has believed and publically stated this.

    Labour did not “crash the bus”. The level of public spending between 1997 and 2010 was entirely responsible and sustainable. The massive strategic error of Ed Milliband in not defending the Labour Government’s record in order to differentiate himself from “New Labour” ceded the argument and a missive part of the political centre ground to the Conservatives. The global banking crash and liquidity crisis ballooned the budget deficit and in turn the national debt. To the public it is plain common sense that both of these need addressing. In 2010 Labour stood on the entirely reasonable plan of halving the deficit over the course of one parliament and eliminating it over the course of a second. This was the key battleground of the 2010 GE which was lost, narrowly, to the Conservatives, promising to eliminate the deficit in a term, a hopeless pipe-dream that was never going to be possible.

    As long as Labour pretends that the deficit and debt do not matter they will be slaughtered both in and at the polls. Between 2010 and 2015 Labour said that the deficit and debt mattered but opposed every cut at every turn without offering any solutions of their own. The result was an increasing loss of credibility in the public’s eyes and a worse defeat. Since 2015 the Labour front bench has been silent about the deficit and debt further eroding the Party’s credibility and resulting in the dire polling numbers highlighted by OJ.

    The Labour Party won’t have even the remotest shot at forming a Government until the public believe them to be a save pair of hands with the economy. The Party needs to state forthrightly and repeatedly (probably for years to come) that it believes the books should balance in the long run. The debate about austerity should never have been about whether it was/is required or not, but about the balance of how to achieve it.

    The conservatives went for 80% cuts and 20% tax rises hitting the poorest and most vulnerable in an unprecedented manner. How could they do this and get away it and go from coalition to majority? Only by the major opposition party ceding the centre ground of the debate.

    The austerity debate should have been about timing and means. The balance of Tax rises against cuts and the speed of both.

    Nearly all my friends voted Labour from 1992 to 2005. Not one would vote Labour now. Not because they approve of how the Government has conducted austerity but because they think the Labour Party has completely lost the plot.

    I strongly suspect that the next three and half years could see the government of the UK descend into an unprecedented shambles. With the centre ground vacated by the main opposition the Conservatives could well find their bacon saved by default.

  3. OK the analysis is obvious and probably correct. However, you must recognize that the underlying cause of this goes straight back to the leadership. Until you recognize that Corbyn ,McDonnell, Momentum et al are the principle reason for the poor polls nothing will happen. I suspect, Owen, that you internally have accepted that electorally Corbyn has been a terrible mistake. If that is the case then you have to say it. Not doing so only makes it worse. The Tories have not started on Labour yet it will be very nasty when they do closer to GE2020.

  4. People go on about the so-called ‘coup’ but does no-one else remember how awful it was to discover on June 23 how little Corbyn had done to keep us in the EU? Alan Johnson’s obvious frustration only made matters worse. I’m afraid I don’t think people are turning away from Labour because of the divisions but rather because they don’t think Corbyn is a credible leader. I’m not even sure he wants to become PM, preferring instead to lead a movement outside parliament without any of the responsibilities of power. And that leaves all the people who need Labour’s help out in the cold.

  5. Could not agree more. Afraid Jeremy C seems to have gone awol from the air-waves, though I’m sure his most ardent supporters will protest that he is addressing enthusiastic meetings in village halls, sports centres, local schools and the like, convinced that he is building some kind of drum-beat support that will explode at the next general election.

    Sorry: Recurring appearances in news bulletins and at least the sympathetic or open-minded Press is equally – and vitally – important if the leadership wants to start turning the Polls. And, yep – that means fine-tuning the art of the snappy sound-bite as part of the Labour tool kit. The 1970s have gone. In 2016 it’s war on all fronts.

  6. Hi Owen, the main detractor has been the continued undermining of @JeremyCorbyn by the PLP. The damage yhey have caused in the last 12 months may well take over 4 years to rectify. These MPs with their salaries & special interests are far removed from @UKLabour voters. I’ve been on ESA 12months failed my WCA 0pts need 15pts to be allowed to stqy on ESA so I was declared fit to work by an admin person not a Dr or even a Nurse. Next I was anle to claim 26 weeks of JSA at £70 per week, stil unable to tind an employer that will offer me a job, after 26weeks I get infome based JSA which because my wife works 22.5hrs at £7,500 a year means I don’t qualify for any benefits. I am still having to record daily on universal job match the DWP tracking site to register what I’ve done that day. This pays for my STAMP for my retirement. Yet people consider me a benefit scrounger?!! If a couple with no children earns morevthan £110 per week or £5,720 per year after 26weeks unemployment benefit they would no longer receive any further financial help from the DWP. This is shocking, numerous times I have considered taking my life as the UK demonises anyone on benefits as scroungers. How am I scrounging when I get no money! How can a couple live on £5,720 a year? Rent, gas, electric, water, council tax, food are just a few essentials. Most Labour MPs are far removed to the plight of people like me a Labour voter! Jeremy Corbyn offers hope and social justice I believe without him I would not be alive today. Labour must offer hope, compassion & social justice for the next election which won’t be a snap election due to #Article50 negotiations Theresa May will wait until 2020 & by that time Jeremy’s vision of the UK will be much more attractive than the previous 4years of a Tory Government.

  7. Hi Owen, the main detractor has been the continued undermining of @JeremyCorbyn by the PLP. The damage they have caused in the last 12 months may well take over 4 years to rectify. These MPs with their salaries & special interests are far removed from @UKLabour voters. I’ve been on ESA 12months failed my WCA 0pts need 15pts to be allowed to stqy on ESA so I was declared fit to work by an admin person not a Dr or even a Nurse. Next I was anle to claim 26 weeks of JSA at £70 per week, stil unable to tind an employer that will offer me a job, after 26weeks I get infome based JSA which because my wife works 22.5hrs at £7,500 a year means I don’t qualify for any benefits. I am still having to record daily on universal job match the DWP tracking site to register what I’ve done that day. This pays for my STAMP for my retirement. Yet people consider me a benefit scrounger?!! If a couple with no children earns morevthan £110 per week or £5,720 per year after 26weeks unemployment benefit they would no longer receive any further financial help from the DWP. This is shocking, numerous times I have considered taking my life as the UK demonises anyone on benefits as scroungers. How am I scrounging when I get no money! How can a couple live on £5,720 a year? Rent, gas, electric, water, council tax, food are just a few essentials. Most Labour MPs are far removed to the plight of people8 like me a Labour voter! Jeremy Corbyn offers hope and social justice I believe without him I would not be alive today. Labour must offer hope, compassion & social justice for the next election which won’t be a snap election due to #Article50 negotiations Theresa May will wait until 2020 & by that time Jeremy’s vision of the UK will be much more attractive than the previous 4years of a Tory Government.

  8. Hi Owen, the main detractor has been the continued undermining of @JeremyCorbyn by the PLP. The damage they have caused in the last 12 months may well take over 4 years to rectify. These MPs with their salaries & special interests are far removed from @UKLabour voters. I’ve been on ESA 12months failed my WCA 0pts need 15pts to be allowed to stay on ESA so I was declared fit to work by an admin person not a Dr or even a Nurse. Next I was able to claim 26 weeks of JSA at £70 per week, still unable to find an employer that will offer me a job, after 26weeks I get income based JSA which because my wife works 22.5hrs at £7,500 a year means I don’t qualify for any benefits. I am still having to record daily on universal job match the DWP tracking site to register what I’ve done that day. This pays for my STAMP for my retirement. Yet people consider me a benefit scrounger?!! If a couple with no children earns more than £110 per week or £5,720 per year after 26weeks unemployment benefit they would no longer receive any further financial help from the DWP. This is shocking, numerous times I have considered taking my life as the UK demonises anyone on benefits as scroungers. How am I scrounging when I get no money! How can a couple live on £5,720 a year? Rent, gas, electric, water, council tax, food are just a few essentials. Most Labour MPs are far removed to the plight of people like me, a Labour voter! Jeremy Corbyn offers hope and social justice I believe without him I would not be alive today. Labour must offer hope, compassion & social justice for the next election which won’t be a snap election due to #Article50 negotiations Theresa May will wait until 2020 & by that time Jeremy’s vision of the UK will be much more attractive than the previous 4years of a Tory Government.

  9. Amazed you wrote all that and didn’t mention how terrible the leadership is. A new high in all time lows. Well done.

  10. This article is written in denial for the simple reason that it does not mention the party’s primary liability, to wit its leader. I voted Labour in 2015 and loathe the Tories, and because of the catastrophe of the coalition will never vote Lib Dem. But I will not vote for a leader hell-bent for the whole of his life on abandoning our nuclear deterrent; and the party’s policy of going ahead with replacing Trident is irrelevant when the leader says that he would never push the nuclear button: I wouldn’t push the button either, but I’m not stupid (and I do mean stupid) enough to say it as someone who wants to be leader of the country. That stance is impossible: to renew the nuclear deterrent while at the same time saying you would never use it. Jeremy Corbyn’s weakness on NATO and his waffle on the The Marr Show about negotiating over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, after all the grief and blood shed recovering them and against the wishes of the islanders themselves, are both preposterous. The Labour will never, not ever, win an election with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm. People will not vote for him for a myriad of reasons and come the run-up to the next election the Tory machine will tear him to shreds. It will be worse, and mark this, than 1983. The Labour leader is a guarantee to the Tories of victory in the next election and, in all probability, the one after that.

  11. Labour made another catastrophic mistake in backing a Remain vote. Not only did disaffected voters feel that Labour wasn’t addressing their concerns it saw Labour on the side of big business, big banks and Tories (just like Scotland!!) Labour has also lost people who couldn’t believe that MPs were not standing up against an undemocratic institution with extremely regressive policies – a fortress Europe that has treated many EZ countries appallingly, slaps huge tariffs on poor countries in Africa, and negotiates secret trade deals. And so much more. While the party continues to argue for free movement they show very little sense of internationalism that understands how FM affects other countries – poaching skilled people whose training has been paid for by other countries, or draining out populations from countries like Greece – who will care for their elderly? The Labour party at the moment looks just like the SNP and Lib Dems in trying to undermine or circumvent the vote to leave. It’s time for the party to regrow its radical balls, embrace the new situation and start to tell a positive story.

  12. So naive, Owen Jones. We don’t need pollsters to tell us that we have serious problems BUT dismissing poll-cynics is exactly the equivalent of telling somebody that they should believe something because they have read it in the Telegraph. Mid-term polls don’t risk the pollsters’ reputations. . . because they are mid-term! Here’s a copy of a short explanation that I wrote elsewhere for other poll-disciples:

    SOME FACTS ABOUT POLLING
    There is a myth that anything mathematical is objective. In fact, even the truth of such a basic assertion as that the answer to the ‘sum’ 2+2= ? is 4 depends upon the conventional assumption that we are working in a number base that makes that conclusion sensible. (In base 3, for example, 2+2 = 11).
    The collection and interpretation of statistics is one area where the subjective decisions made in the process can have a profound influence on the outcome. Such decisions cannot be avoided – but it is true that once you start making them, what is nigh-on-impossible is to have a truly objective outcome, however hard you try.
    I do not know how relatively objective the polls that we are currently seeing are. I cannot know – and neither can anybody else commenting in this forum. There are just too many ways of introducing bias (consciously or unconsciously) and no polling company that I know of has such a huge level of transparency as to make that judgement possible on particular polls.
    What I can say is that just as a Telegraph article is shaped by subjective decisions (such as who to interview, how to phrase questions, what to include, what to leave out etc.) so, too, is there not just the potential but the necessity to make similar choices with polls. A question that the BPC themselves say that we should ask concerns who is commissioning a poll and who is conducting it. I suggest that doing so is a good idea in the case of some of the polls currently being produced.
    We do, on occasion, have a way of testing the accuracy of polls – e.g. when they occur very close to an actual election. It would be reasonable to assume that, whatever their usual level of relative objectivity, pollsters would be trying extra hard at such times to get their predictions correct. However, they, famously, didn’t do so in the run-up to the 2015 GE and failed almost unbelievably miserably in relation to the LE in May – one highly respected organisation predicting a potential loss of 105 seats for Labour when the actual loss was 18. (Another well qualified poll analyst, Prof. John Curtice, predicted a loss of 170 seats – as reported in . . . The Telegraph).
    So please, if you want to believe the polls and find them helpful that’s fine. Just stop bashing those who are more sceptical. They may well have a point!
    Here are some of the facts about polling that inform my opinion.
    POLLING IS NOT REGULATED
    Polling is not regulated and a bill, sponsored by the Lords to introduce regulation, will make no further progress as it had not completed its final stage (Consideration of amendments) before the 2015-2016 session of Parliament ended.
    There is a professional body, The British Polling Council, who are opposed to the introduction of regulation. The Council specifically state that is not their purpose to pass judgment on the merits of methods used to obtain the results. They do say that some basic information about the polling methods that their members use (in cases where results are made available to the public at large) should be disclosed when members first publish their results. It is also laid down that other information should be held but only made available on request.
    http://www.britishpollingcouncil.org/statement-of-disclosu…/
    FACTORS THAT CAN INFLUENCE OUTCOME
    There are a huge number of factors (some of them interacting) that can influence the outcome of any poll. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
    Poll items
    What questions are selected for inclusion
    The specific wording of each question
    The sequencing of questions
    Sampling
    The method of selection of the respondents (e.g. random or quota)
    Whether self-selection features at some stage in the process
    Whether the people were from specific types of location (e.g. in cities or in villages)
    The particular moment in time when data was collected
    The size of the sample
    The demographic make-up of the resulting sample (please see section on ‘weighting’ below)
    Method of Data Collection
    People, sub-consciously or consciously, have been shown to give different answers depending on, for example, whether they were asked on the phone or completing a survey by email. Such factors are known as ‘mode’ effects.
    Weighting
    If a sample is not considered representative of the population at large, by whatever criterion/criteria the pollster decides, then the pollster will usually apply a weighting to the answers of the individual respondents to ‘balance that up’ (for example if it turned out that 50% of a randomly chosen sample fell into a particular age group, but that age group only comprised 10% of the overall population being surveyed). This is a particularly interesting factor because there are all sorts of subjective decisions to be made that can effect results. e.g. if you wanted to focus on age, what size you choose for each age-band and even, in some cases, what specific ages you chose for your beginning and end points for each band.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *