How ‘economic’ is opposition to migration?

By Anna Killick. Anna Killick is a PhD student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton.

What does the election tell us about the Ford and Goodwin theory that the political system is changing to ‘a newer set of cleavages that are largely cultural rather than economic’ (Ford and Goodwin 2014:29)? They argued in ‘Revolt on the Right’ that the white working class, characterised as ‘left behind’, are increasingly relying on their authoritarian cultural values, deserting the Labour Party for UKIP. In this post I highlight research which challenges Ford and Goodwin by pointing to the continuing importance of economic issues to working class voters.

Ford and Goodwin argue that the increase in migration from 2004 led to greater opposition to migration. Since both Labour under Blair and the Conservatives under Cameron had moved to the centre to attract cosmopolitan liberal voters, and New Labour was perceived as doing less to help its traditional working class base than it had in the past, the two developments contributed to a rise in support for UKIP. Anti-migration sentiment was also instrumental in the Leave victory in the 2016 referendum. Survey evidence tracking anti-migration beliefs over time and the increased percentages perceiving migration as the most important issue in politics support their case. However, how Ford and Goodwin interpret the nature of the anti-migration beliefs may be over-simplistic.

They claim ‘in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, the strongest and most inflexible opposition to migration has come from voters who see it as a source or symbol of rapid social change (Ford and Goodwin 2017:5) [my italics]’.  It may be the case that a proportion of anti-migrant people, whether middle or working class, are so xenophobic or racist that their opposition to migration is deep-rooted and social and that such people are the backbone of UKIP support. But does this hold for the majority of people who say they are opposed to migration? Some survey evidence, such as for British Social Attitudes, always showed that opposition to migration was as much economic as it was cultural and, indeed, anti-migration sentiment dropped during the economic good times of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

A neglected area in this debate is how working class people in particular define categories like ‘economic’. My interview-based research into public understanding of the economy, to be published next year, includes questions on what people believe about the economic effects of migration. The in-depth interviews of sixty Southampton residents show that people who oppose migration often do so as much for economic as cultural reasons. When I ask ‘what do you understand about the economic effects of migration?’ interviewees respond with arguments about migration driving wages down, increasing competition for jobs, leading to increased use of zero hours contracts and competing for scarce resources in the health service, housing and benefit sectors. They do not believe the usually nationally based economic research that migration has net benefits for the economy, but it is not clear whether the reason for their rejection of the national research is cultural racism or that the national research flies in the face of their local economic experiences.

Some aspects of understanding of the economic effects of migration can be illustrated by three extracts, all from interviews with working class women in their 50s and 60s. Linda, who lives on a low wage topped by benefits, believes migrants are attractive to employers looking to drive wages down:

it’s just that I think rich people take advantage of the poor people in ways of cheap labour you know… we don’t get the opportunity to have the jobs because we have to work for a proper wage to live and they don’t want anybody to do that, they want cheap [migrant] labour. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor forever and I think it’s getting worse.

Beverley, aged 65 and having worked all her life as a telephonist and shop assistant, believes migration is exacerbating the acute shortage of social housing in the city : ‘the migration, they’re letting so many people in and there’s no place for us to live at the moment.’ Shelley, aged 50 and on disability benefit, echoed the comments of many people I interviewed that migrants should not be able to claim benefits: ‘there’s so many that come and claim benefits and claim benefits for the kids that are in their country as well. That’s got to do some damage economically really’.

Interview-based research allows us to engage more deeply with how people define problems. Much has been made of survey evidence indicating that in the EU referendum Leave voters tended to see ‘migration’ as the most important issue whilst Remain voters saw the ‘economy’ as most important. But understanding of what ‘economy’ covers is not necessarily shared across all social groups. For instance, middle class interviewees were three times more likely to use the term ‘economy’ in my interviews, indicating that it may be a more negative term for working class interviewees. Some of those who said ‘migration’ was the most important issue may have been using it as a ‘catch all’ phrase that encapsulates their concerns about employment and austerity. Whilst they did support UKIP and voted to Leave the EU, they may be open to a party such as Labour in 2017 which promises to address their economic grievances, even though it is by means other than controlling migration.

So we should be open to the possibility both that anti-migration feeling is more economic than cultural and that ‘economic stewardship’ rather than ‘cultural values’ is still the dominant cleavage in British politics.

The Society for Latin American Studies 2018 annual conference comes to Southampton

The University of Southampton will host the Society for Latin American Studies for its annual conference on 22-23 March 2018 at the University’s Winchester campus. The theme of the 2018 SLAS Conference is: Latin American Studies Around the World. The conference website can be found here.

Call for submissions

SLAS and non-SLAS members are encouraged to submit panel and paper proposals to be discussed at the 2018 SLAS Annual Conference on 22-23 March 2018. The deadline for all submissions is 16th July 2017.

To submit panels and papers, click here.

Thoughts on the 2017 election and what next for Labour

By Dan Jeffery. Dan Jeffery is a former Labour councillor on Southampton City Council, serving as Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Education. He is an alumnus of the University of Southampton, studying Politics and International Relations. He works as an advisor on medical workforce issues for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

This is a guest post by one of our alumni. We very much welcome similar submissions from former students and colleagues to the blog.

1) Progressive alliance in tatters

If we needed any clear signs that the so-called Progressive Alliance is a blind alley, last Thursday’s result was the clearest yet. Support for third parties has crumbled to a 40 year low. Labour has now clearly positioned itself as the big tent party of progressive opinion, and should ignore siren calls for cooperation with Liberal Democrats or Greens. Ironically, on the Isle of Wight, where Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq called for Labour to stand aside for the Greens, Labour is now a clear second, scoring its best result since 1959.

In Scotland, written off two years ago, there is now a path back to power. Labour’s conversation must now include a roadmap to winning seats across the Central Belt, where Labour came within spitting distance of winning even more seats.

2) Warning signs in the Brexit hinterlands

There’s no doubt Labour had a good campaign, particularly in London, Wales, and the South, where Labour is positioned to win in many southern urban centres next time. But we cannot ignore the worrying trend in some of the old Labour strongholds, including former mill and pit constituencies. Labour bastions like Stoke-on-Trent, Mansfield and Walsall were picked up by the Tories, and in Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover, a whopping 7.7% swing was recorded in the Tory’s favour. Our vote was also unevenly distributed, winning 83% in places like Walthamstow, while coming within a whisker of losing a whole bunch of Labour seats in Dudley and Barrow.

3) No more “local” campaigns

Of course, MPs need to campaign on their record, but there was too much cautiousness on the part of party machinery in terms of how Labour projected its messages. Many MPs, working on the assumption that the Corbyn programme was electoral poison, refocused their strategy around what amounted to a local government election. Last Thursday showed there is a path to power on a left programme, so in future all candidates must be more prepared to push national messages and policies. There is also insufficient flex in our bureaucracy to enable a mid campaign shift in resources. I am no campaign guru, and would never claim to be (and of course hindsight is 20:20), but it is a shame that when the polls were shifting in our favour, we weren’t able to re-orientate our party to take the offensive against the Tories. With a membership approaching a million, there must now be real investment in building organisational capacity, and assisting volunteers in doing things themselves.

4) Learn to love the Bomb

In what I think will be looked back as an important moment in the united campaign fought by the party, the neutralisation of Trident by clearly supporting renewal was significant. The party as a whole was able to minimise Corbyn’s lifetime political ambition to ban the bomb. And with Corbyn turning the issue of security onto one of Tory failings, we were able to strike a blow far more mortal than our opponents recognised. But we may not have that luxury by the next election, where our programme will be bombarded every month. Corbyn, in my view, would be wise to do a Kinnock and drop a commitment to unilateralism that would allow us to be painted as weak on defence.

5) Drop the constitutional silly buggers

Corbyn, rightly, has scored an enormous personal victory. His steely determination has united a party that six weeks ago was predicted to be about to embark on the 100th battle of a long civil war. He has earned the right to stay on as party leader, and use his anti-austerity credentials to shape policy. There is now, across the entire party, a determination to unite and defeat the Tories — which makes a Conference punch up over how we elect the leader of the Labour Party all the more unnecessary. Nothing would be a bigger own goal than for United Labour to go into Conference and tear the bandages off of a healing wound. The public don’t care about our rules, they care about our policies and want us to get on with the job of opposition. I would suggest that Momentum consider dropping support for the McDonnell Amendment.

6) Magnanimity in (relative) victory

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will feel understandably vindicated that having argued for two years there was an electoral appetite for his policies, they have been able to win support (though, clearly we’re still a long way off being in Government). My response, as somebody who didn’t believe these policies were electorally viable, and rejected outright any strategy to raise turnout particularly among the young, is to humbly and quietly do what I can to support my party. But hubris would be unwise. I always believed that a big mistake Blair and his supporters made was crushing dissent within the party, and casting his policies and his outlook as the be all and end all of the Labour Party. And yes, I believe that supporters of Corbyn are also wrong to suggest that there is only the leader’s vision or nothing. These Khmer Rouge-esque Year Zero approaches do not create the conditions for a sustainable, vibrant, democratic politics. So to those who unquestioningly stuck by Jeremy, more credit to you, now lets come together.

Polling Observatory campaign report #4: Unexpected but not unusual twists and turns in the campaign polls

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). You can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.

This post is part of a long-running series (dating to before the 2010 election) that reports on the state of the parties as measured by vote intention polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates can be found here and here.

The general election is now just two days away, after a campaign that has defied pundits’ expectations of a walkover for Theresa May’s Conservatives, and seen both surprises and tragic events along the way. While the pollsters will likely deliver their final verdict on what voters are saying tomorrow, the Polling Observatory brings you its final roundup of the polls – as they stood up to Sunday night. We may yet see a late swing from the voters, as the choice between the parties becomes clearer in their minds. As such, our estimates remain ‘a snapshot, and not a prediction’.

In the main, there has been little change from the trends that we reported last week: the Conservatives retain a substantial lead in the polls, though are down from 44.5% to 43.8%, while Labour’s resurgence continues – now on 36.8%, up from 35.5% last week. Consequently, what was a 9-point gap (averaged across the pollsters) is now a 7-point gap. However, the change is within the error of most polls and there is considerable variation in the size of leads that pollsters are showing – in part due to the different turnout adjustments being applied. Based on the range of pollsters’ headline figures, the projected results include anything between a hung parliament and a Conservative landslide, hardly providing clarity on matters. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Greens continue to endure a miserable campaign. Current trends suggest that the big two parties will be more politically dominant in this election than at any time for a generation.

UK 04-06-17 anchor on average

The upturn in Labour’s support has led some to suggest this is the biggest shift in the polls during an election campaign since 1945. It is not entirely without precedent, though. In 2010, the surge in Liberal Democrat support following Nick Clegg’s highly effective performance on the first ever television debate – “Cleggmania” – was of similar scale to Labour’s gains in the polls in the 2017 election (around 10-points). That shift in the polls occurred over the course of just seven days, whereas during this campaign Labour’s poll numbers have risen steadily over a six week period. Some of the Liberal Democrats’ gains in the polls after the 2010 debate dissipated in the subsequent weeks of the campaign, and most of the remaining effects vanished by the time people voted. This is shown below, where the blue, red and yellow markers indicate the actual election result for each of the parties in 2010 – with the orange line notably ending well above the orange circle indicating the result. In contrast, the trends in party support during the 2017 campaign have been more gradual – with no sharp upticks or downticks for either the Conservatives or Labour. This may suggest there is less risk of pollsters’ overshooting in measuring the Labour surge, but only time will tell whether this is the case.



It is also possible to verify this claim historically based on the observed variance in all polls conducted over the campaign. For this, we use 574 polls conducted during the last thirty days of the campaign, for all elections between 1959 and 2017. The results are shown in the table below. What is striking from this analysis is that the variance of Labour’s poll numbers has been high by historical standards, but is still less volatile than the Liberal Democrats’ polling in 2010, 1983 or February 1974 or Labour’s polling in 2001 or 1983. The mean variance in the polls across the three parties is also not that much above the historical average (5.6 compared to 4.9). While 2017 has been a surprising and eventful campaign, it does not differ that much from past elections in terms of variability of the polls. Indeed, it is apparent from the table that the 2015 campaign was quite anomalous in the stability of the polls, which may be influencing our perceptions of how volatile polls can be during UK elections.

Variance in all polls  
Election Conservatives Labour Liberals/SDP/Liberal Democrats Mean N of polls
1959 3.70 2.89 1.85 2.81 10
1964 1.03 1.34 0.77 1.05 6
1966 0.78 1.32 0.28 0.79 6
1970 4.12 1.50 1.56 2.39 8
1974 (Feb) 4.98 7.07 13.94 8.67 12
1974 (Oct) 4.70 3.92 2.59 3.74 29
1979 11.69 5.73 5.49 7.64 24
1983 4.99 11.13 14.53 10.22 50
1987 2.16 4.31 5.00 3.82 32
1992 2.68 2.39 4.84 3.30 54
1997 4.19 8.80 5.43 6.14 39
2001 3.04 10.86 5.28 6.39 30
2005 4.28 3.17 1.91 3.12 58
2010 5.92 4.91 20.40 10.41 88
2015 2.10 2.29 1.08 1.82 82
2017 5.42 10.08 1.33 5.61 46

Much commentary already seems to be preparing for another polling miss after the experiences of 2015 and 2016. Certainly, with current polling showing Conservative leads ranging from 1% to 12% someone will be substantially wrong (and someone should be right). The lack of consensus in the polls provides an important reminder, though, that surveying the public on their voting intentions is a hard business at the best of times – and this task is made more difficult by the varied geographical picture that may well emerge on election night, with Labour well supported among younger, educated voters in cities and the Conservatives making gains in regions and towns where once ‘working class Tories’ of the 1980s are being drawn to the leadership of Theresa May in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. It is possible that Labour will end up with the highest vote share since 2005 or even 2001, but the lowest number of seats since 1935. In the British “first past the post” system, it is not just how many votes a party gets which counts, but where they are cast. The geography of Labour and Conservative support could be just as important as their overall popularity, but at present it is receiving much less attention.


Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

Will turnout weighting prove to be the pollsters’ Achilles heel in #GE2017?


By Patrick Sturgis and Will Jennings, University of Southampton.

The 2017 election campaign has confounded expectations in many ways, none more so than Labour’s continuing surge in the opinion polls. From an average vote share of around 26% at the start of the campaign, they now stand at an average of 36% in the polls conducted over the past week. It is fair to say that few, if any, commentators expected Labour’s support to be at this level as we head into the final week of the campaign.

One of the theories advanced to explain Labour’s unexpectedly lofty position is that the opinion polls are, once again, wrong; their historical tendency to over-state Labour support has not been adequately addressed by the pollsters since the debacle of 2015. Key to this line of thinking is that Labour’s support appears to be ‘soft’, in the sense that those who say they will vote Labour in the polls are more likely to also report that they may change their mind before election day, compared to Conservative ‘intenders’. Labour’s core support is also concentrated within demographic groups that are, historically at least, less likely to cast a ballot, particularly younger voters.

Patterns of turnout across demographic groups will, of course, be key to determining the outcome of the election. But might turnout – and how pollsters deal with it – also be the cause of another polling miss on June the 8th?

Who will turnout and who won’t?

Adjusting for turnout is one of the most difficult tasks a pollster must confront. Polls work by collecting samples of individuals and weighting them to match the general public on characteristics such as age, gender, region, and education for which the population distribution is known. But around a third of  any representative sample of eligible voters will not vote, so an additional adjustment has to be made to filter out likely non-voters from the vote share estimate. The problem here is that there is no entirely satisfactory way of doing this.

The most obvious approach to determining whether poll respondents will vote or not is to ask them. This is indeed the way that the vast majority of polls in the UK have approached turnout weighting in previous elections. In order to allow respondents to express some level of uncertainty, pollsters usually ask them to rate their probability of voting on a 1 to 10 scale (where 1 = certain not to vote and 10 = certain to vote). The problem with this approach is that, for a variety of reasons, people are not very good at estimating their probability of voting. So turnout weights based on self-report questions tend to have high error rates, mainly of the ‘false-positive’ variety. Some pollsters use additional questions on turnout at previous elections to produce a turnout probability but these also suffer from problems of recall and socially desirable responding.

A second approach is to use historical survey data containing a measure of actual turnout (either self-reported after the election or via validation of actual votes using the electoral register). Such data is used to build a statistical model which predicts turnout on the basis of demographic characteristics of respondents. This ‘historical’ model can then be applied to current polling data in order to produce turnout probabilities based on actual turnout patterns from the previous election. While this gets round the problems with faulty reporting by respondents, with this approach we must believe that patterns of turnout haven’t changed very much since the previous election, an assumption which cannot be tested at the time the estimates are required. And, as the EU referendum showed, sharp changes in patterns of turnout from one election to another can and do arise.

In sum, turnout weighting is an essential component of accurate polling but there is no failsafe way of doing it.

The inquiry into the 2015 election polling concluded that, although the turnout probabilities used by the pollsters in that election were not very accurate, there was little evidence to suggest these were the cause of the polling errors. Might inaccuracies in the turnout weights be more consequential in 2017?

Effect of turnout weighting on vote intention estimates

We can get some handle on this by comparing the poll estimates of the Conservative-Labour margin before and after turnout weights have been applied. The table below shows estimated Conservative and Labour vote shares before and after turnout weighting for eleven recently published polls. It is clear that the turnout weights have a substantial effect on the size of the Conservative lead. Without the turnout weight (but including demographic and past-vote weights), the average Conservative lead over Labour is 5 percentage points. This doubles to 10 points after turnout weights have been applied.


Vote estimates with turnout weight Vote estimates without turnout weight
Pollster Fieldwork End Date CON LAB CON CON LAB CON
(%) (%) lead (%) (%) lead
ORB/Sunday Telegraph 4th June 46 37 9 44 38 6
IpsosMORI/Standard 1st June 45 40 5 40 43 -3
Panelbase 1st June 44 36 8 40 39 1
YouGov/Times 31st May 42 39 3 41 39 2
Kantar 30th May 43 33 10 40 34 6
ICM/Guardian 29th May 45 33 12 41 38 3
Survation (phone) 27th May 43 37 6 43 37 6
ComRes/Independent 26th May 46 34 12 43 38 5
Opinium 24th May 45 35 10 42 36 6
Survation (internet) 20th May 46 34 12 43 33 10
GfK 14th May 48 28 20 45 29 16
Mean  = 10   Mean  = 5
      S.D.  = 4.5  S.D. = 4.9


Particularly notable are the Ipsos-MORI estimates, which change a 3-point Labour lead into a 5-point lead for the Conservatives. Similarly, ICM’s turnout adjustment turns a 3-point Conservative lead into a 12-point one. It is also evident that pollsters using some form of demographic modeling to produce turnout probabilities tend to have somewhat higher estimates of the Conservative lead. For this group (Kantar, ICM, ORB, Opinium, ComRes), the turnout weight increases the Conservative lead by an average 5.4 points compared to 3.7 points for those relying on self-report questions only.

It is also worth noting that the standard deviation of the Conservative lead is actually slightly lower with the turnout weights (4.5) than without (4.9). So, the turnout weighting would not appear to be the main cause of the volatility between the polls that has been evident in this campaign.

This pattern represents a substantial change in the effect of the turnout weights compared to polls during the 2015 campaign, where the increase in the Conservative lead due to turnout weighting was less than one percentage point (for the nine penultimate published polls conducted by members of the British Polling Council).

Why is turnout weighting having a bigger effect now than it did in 2015? One reason is that many pollsters are applying more aggressive procedures than they did in 2015, with the aim of producing implied turnout in their samples that is closer to what it will actually be on election day. While there is a logic to this approach it seems, in effect, to rely on getting the turnout probabilities wrong in order to correct for over-representation of likely voters in the weighted samples.

A second reason turnout weighting matters more in this election is that the age gap in party support has increased since 2015, with younger voters even more likely to support Labour and older voters to support the Conservatives.  Thus, any adjustment that down-weights younger voters will have a bigger effect on the Conservative lead now than it did in 2015.

Corbyn-mania among younger voters?

Another idea that has been advanced in some quarters is that young voters are over-stating their likelihood to vote in this election even more than they did in 2015. Come election day, these younger voters will end up voting at their recent historical levels and Labour will underperform their polling as a result.

We can obtain some leverage on this by comparing the distributions of self-reported likelihood to vote for young voters, aged 18-24, in 2015 and 2017 (the 2017 figures are from the polls in the table above, the 2015 estimates are taken from the penultimate published polls in the campaign). We also present these estimates for the oldest age category (65+). There is no evidence here that younger voters are especially enthused in 2017 compared to 2015. And, while the implied level of turnout is substantially too high for both age groups, the 20 point gap between them is broadly reflective of actual turnout in recent elections.


The inquiry into the 2015 polling miss found that representative sampling was the primary cause of the under-statement of the Conservative lead. The fact that implied turnout is still so high in the current polls suggests that the representativeness of samples remains a problem in 2017, on this measure at least. Turnout weighting is having a much bigger effect on poll estimates now than it did in 2015. This may be because the pollsters have improved their methods of dealing with the tricky problem of turnout weighting. However, it also suggests that getting turnout weighting right in 2017 is likely to be both more difficult and more consequential than it was in 2015.