A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Opinion" polls

One of my pet bugbears is that "opinion" polls, because of their designation, are taken to be representative of the state of public opinion.

In fact they aren't. The headline figures quoted by the newspapers for voting intention aren't the raw data showing what the public currently think about the parties - i.e. the "opinion" of the nation. In fact they are filtered to take into account propensity to vote so what we are actually given is the "opinion" of the people who the pollsters think will vote - they are therefore a prediction of the likely outcome of a General Election (useful in itself), not a measure of the popularity of the parties.

The February Ipsos MORI poll illustrates this. (http://www.ipsos-mori.com/polls/2008/mpm080226.shtml)

Looking at the headline figure quoted in the press, you would think that the Tories were very marginally more popular than Labour (Con 39%, Lab 37%, LD 16%).

But that's the figure after they've stripped out all the low propensity to turnout voters. The actual "opinion" of the nation is listed below that: Lab 42%, Con 34%, LD 15% i.e. an 8% Labour lead and a government that with the population, as opposed to the high propensity to vote population, is actually rather popular. Of course the very people Labour policies on health, education, regeneration, improving social housing, minimum wage, workplace rights, tax credits, full employment etc. have done most to help are by definition the least well off in society, who because of social exclusion are the least likely to vote. It's bad enough that their opinions don't get registered at the ballot box in proportion to the rest of the population, but nowadays they don't even get picked up by opinion polls.

Imagine how little political momentum David Cameron would have picked up if it had been made clear that for almost the entire time he has been leader, the Tories hadn't been ahead of Labour in terms of public support - only ahead amongst those most likely to vote.

Polling companies and the media ought to stop saying "opinion poll" and start saying "election predictive model". Even the utility of it for predicting elections breaks down if we reject the assumption that election turnout will always be as low as it was in 2001 and 2005. Surely if we had a 1992-style election which people thought was highly competitive again, turnout will go up again and people other than those "certain to vote" will get excited enough by the closeness of the contest to turn out?

Labour needs to focus on how we get the people who constitute our 8% lead in public opinion turned into people who will actually vote. I think we should revisit Tom Watson and Mark Tami's Fabian pamphlet from a few years back that recommended we introduce compulsory voting on the Australian model.


Anonymous tim f said...

Agree completely. We should trial compulsory voting, extend all-postal voting and launch government-sponsored voter registration drives.

We should also lower the voting age to 16.

9:14 pm, March 08, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep trucking matey.

You have a well-developed Old Labour propensity to disappear right up your arse.

9:31 pm, March 08, 2008

Anonymous hughes views said...

Agree - then we could concentrate on canvassing and talking to voters rather than voter id for GOTV.

10:50 pm, March 08, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Luke open your eyes and ears people are far from happy. Before the tories lost power it was clear just from listening to people that they were going to lose. Programmes such as BBC Question Time showed this very cleary. You watch question time now and look at the anger being vented towards Labour.

When you consider that Labour have over a 100 seat majority and if fail to get a working majority this has got to be seen as major failure.

Then also consider that the next two years. Stock Market at a 14 month low; inflation is out of control and the government figures completely up the swanny; cost of borrowing went up 0.3% despite the interest rate cuts, public and government debt in an appalling state; trade deficit at a record high; oil over $100; cost of living soaring etc etc.....This is the climate that Brown expects to recover in the Polls.

Labour are going to struggle to get a working majority at the next election.

You can't have power forever, at somepoint you have to let it go.

10:50 pm, March 08, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but I totally agree - compulsory voting would, coupled with AV, shift the political cetre hugely leftwards, mitigating the need for New Labour entirely! This should be our absolute priority, I don't understand why we're not doing it - I can only conclude the leadership don't want us to shift back to the left, even if it would be electorally viable. Now that's really sad.

1:55 am, March 09, 2008

Anonymous Dan said...

Compulsory voting hasn't noticeably favoured the Left where its been tried - recent elections in Australia, Belgium and the French Senate if anything suggest the reverse is true.

9:08 am, March 09, 2008

Anonymous Hubert said...

The studio audience on 'Question Time' are made up of Tory sympathisers. That is a fact. There is far less 'anger' around now than in 1992 when Heseltine closed the pits and old age pensioners were forced to pay extra for their gas and electricity.

9:14 am, March 09, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Presuming you give people the option of 'none of the above' (and I think you would have to) I fear that that particular option may score rather highly!

I entirely agree that the lowest turnout tends to be in areas where Labour is strong. That is partly owing to the social exclusion issues you mention, but it is also due to a) being in government (and none of us want to change that!) and b) disillusionment, disaffection, disagreement with the government amongst some of our own voters.

One problem with not having compulsory voting is that we do not have information about those who don't vote. Are they not voting because of social-exclusion issues, or is it an active decision to vote for nobody. If it is the latter then a priority higher than forcing them to vote (though I'm not decided either way on the question) should be trying to understand that disillusionment and doing something about it. ie. If we can make people want to vote - and want to vote for us - that should be attempted before we make them vote (as they may well resent the compulsion and vote for others, or indeed simply turn their passive disaffection into an active one and vote for the 'none-of-the-above' option).

10:14 am, March 09, 2008

Anonymous bonkers said...

We need to introduce compulsory voting for Labour. Then we need a referendum on hanging. Finally we need to hang everyone in the BBC. Is that you knocking on the walls of the padded cell next door?

10:27 am, March 09, 2008

Blogger Jack Ray said...

brilliant. Instead of wondering why Labour's traditional base have stopped voting, why a Labour government means so little to them they won't cross the street and put an x on a bit of paper once every five years, just force them to vote, that'll sort it.

12:22 pm, March 09, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Compulsory voting is a complete waste of time and if we did go down that route no doubt they would introduce fixed penalties for all those who couldn't be bothered. The state has no right to demand our vote, the choice is our right.

What political parties should be addressing is why people are so bored of poltics. I should imagine it has something to do with our vote not meaning a great deal. If Labour wanted to engage the electorate then surely a referendum on European treaty would of been a good place to start.

Is that Labour wants our vote but once they have it they don't give a damn what we think? Our democracy is as much as a farse as the recent Russian elections. Just because we have fair elections doesn't me a shit if once you're in power you don't honour your promises.

I'm very tired of Labour and all their broken promises.

7:56 pm, March 09, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Luke it would be laughable if it were not so offensive to find that with the sorry pass we have reached in UK politics that political activists should ever have the arrogance to propose compulsory voting.

One of the most enduring and now growing phenomena in UK politics has been the steady alienation of the ‘real world’ in our community, civic, social and cultural sectors from the political class. That is directly because the political class is an intellectually dishonest, ethics-free, narcissist, greedy and self-aggrandizing mess. At every level it not only now fails to either inspire or motivate – it is actually increasingly becoming the object of scorn and disgust.

We have a political class (largely Metro-London fixated) that is incapable of comprehending how it is perceived by the rest of society and seems incapable of reforming itself… or of even showing some decorum in being discreet about the worse of its excesses.

The evidence and examples to support what I say are legion. – the willingness and ability of a political activist like yourself to propose compulsory voting is once example. I could also cite your recent enthusiastic commitment to campaigning for Ken Livingston despite all that you know.

It amounts to the politicians saying; ‘there is something rotten and worsening about the system we created and are perpetuating. Increasing numbers of the electorate just refuse to legitimize by voting –so, the solution that we politicians come up with? We will make it compulsory to vote for us, or at least to vote and legitimize the rotten system we live and prosper by’.

It has to be said Luke your idea is like your UK political class; it stinks because it is rotten and well beyond its sell-by date. Forcing people to going consuming it without any root and branch reform will just engender worsening ill health in the body politic.

8:37 pm, March 09, 2008

Anonymous hughes views said...

On second thoughts compulsory voting may not be the answer. A far sounder system would be the presumption of a Labour vote for everyone except those who make a trip to the polling station to vote for another party. This would make elections far cheaper and, because fewer people would need to visit them, the number of polling stations and their opening hours could be reduced...

8:27 am, March 10, 2008

Anonymous Daniel said...

Agree 100% on compulsory voting - or at least compulsory attendance at voting stations.

I wasn't even aware of the lead in support Labour holds over the public generally as opposed to those certain to vote.

Obviously the latter is what counts - without a Labour government we can have vast majorities of people behind the party and it won't achieve squat for those who need a socialist party in office - but it's certainly nice to know things aren't all bad.

David Cameron. Mr 34%.


1:32 pm, March 10, 2008

Anonymous VCB said...

is compulsory voting the only way you can think of for what is meant to be your constituency to turn out for you? Don't bother engaging with them properly, eh? Just make them choose the least worst option!

2:46 pm, March 11, 2008

Anonymous Warren said...

Those who say the politicians should sort things out before compulsory voting is tried are missing the point. If everyone was compelled to make a choice - even if it was for "none of the above", they couldn't claim that whatever is happening at their town hall or in Westminster was somebody else's fault, and would have to take some responsibility for it. That might engage a few more people from across the spectrum and boost the numbers of decent activists on all sides, and decrease the general cyicism which is too fashionable for many to speak out against.

8:55 am, March 12, 2008


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