Polling Observatory #42: Sharp drop in Labour support adds further confusion to the most chaotic election in living memory

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). The homepage of The Polling Observatory can be found here, and you can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This is the forty-second in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion 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. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

UK 01-11-14 anchor on average

In last month’s Polling Observatory we noted remarkable stability in the polls despite a hugely eventful political month. This month we find the opposite pattern. A relatively subdued political month has been accompanied by one of the largest shifts in opinion we have observed since the beginning of this parliament. Labour’s vote share, at 31.6%, is down 2.8 points in just a month, erasing nearly all of the fragile lead over the Conservatives that the party have been clinging to over the past six months. This plunge in support is among  the largest shifts in opinion we have recorded since 2010, and implies that about one in twelve Labour voters has drifted away from the party in the past few weeks. A significant part of this drop may be the result of the seismic shift in opinion north of the border, where support for the Scottish National Party has surged dramatically, threatening Labour’s long hegemony in Scottish Westminster polls and votes. The Conservatives, by contrast, have recovered some of the ground they lost last month, rising 0.6 points to 30.7%. The top two parties are now within just a single percentage point of each other, pointing to a tightening race with just six months to go to the general election.

Meanwhile UKIP have consolidated their large gain last month, and are stable on 15.2%. However, as the widening dashed lines around our latest UKIP estimate indicate, there is an unusually high degree of uncertainty about UKIP support at the moment. This reflects the substantial spread in UKIP support in the polls. Some pollsters are showing the party at 20% or higher, and indeed in the aftermath of the Clacton by-election one Survation poll reported UKIP as high as 25% (and another ComRes poll put them on 24% around the same period). In contrast, other pollsters have them stable in the mid-teens, for example with both Populus and YouGov often finding UKIP support in the 13% to 15% range.

As we have discussed previously, our method makes it possible to estimate the ‘house effect’ for each polling company for each party, relative to the vote intention figures we expect from the average pollster. That is, it tells us simply whether the reported vote intention for a given pollster is above or below the industry average. This does not indicate ‘accuracy’, since there is no election to benchmark the accuracy of the polls against. It could be, in fact, that pollsters at one end of the extreme or the other are giving a more accurate picture of voters’ intentions. In the table below we report the ‘bias’ towards or against each of the parties for all current polling companies. From this, it is quickly apparent that the largest range of house effects are found in the estimation of UKIP support, with Survation’s figures 4.3 points higher than the average pollster, followed by Opinium at 2.8 points higher and Lord Ashcroft at 2.1 points higher. In contrast, ICM put UKIP 2.6 points lower, ComRes (telephone) 2.5 points lower and Ipsos-MORI 1.8 points lower. As when we reported on this previously, the uncertainty seems to be associated with the method a pollster employs to field a survey. All the companies who poll by telephone (except Lord Ashcroft’s weekly poll) tend to give lower scores to UKIP. By contrast, three of the five companies which poll using internet panels give higher than average estimates for UKIP. The diversity of estimates indicates the continued uncertainty about the extent to which UKIP is reshaping the political landscape at the present time, where the lack of a clear precedent means that pollsters have little previous information to use to calibrate their estimates.

With the top two parties effectively tied, and the pollsters divided about the performance of the surging insurgents who may decide their fates, the outcome of the 2015 election has never been less certain.

House Mode Adjustment Prompt Con Lab Lib Dem UKIP
ICM Telephone Past vote, likelihood to vote UKIP prompted if ‘other’ 1.3 -0.8 2.7 -2.6
Ipsos-MORI Telephone Likelihood (certain) to vote Unprompted 0.5 0.3 0.5 -1.8
Lord Ashcroft Telephone Likelihood to vote, past vote (2010) UKIP prompted if ‘other’ -0.9 -0.6 -1.0 2.1
ComRes (1) Telephone Past vote, squeeze, party identification UKIP prompted if ‘other’ 0.3 -0.1 0.1 -2.5
ComRes (2) Internet Past vote, squeeze, party identification UKIP prompted if ‘other’ 0.3 -0.7 -1.0 1.8
YouGov Internet Newspaper readership, party identification (2010) UKIP prompted if ‘other’ 1.9 2.1 -1.3 -0.4
Opinium Internet Likelihood to vote UKIP prompted if ‘other’ -0.8 -0.8 -2.2 2.8
Survation Internet Likelihood to vote, past vote (2010) UKIP prompted -1.7 -1.4 -0.3 4.3
Populus Internet Likelihood to vote, party identification (2010) UKIP prompted if ‘other’ 2.4 1.7 0.1 -2.1

Another polling sub-plot which emerged this past month has been the emergence of the Greens as yet another potent force in the fragmenting political landscape. A number of polls have put their support at 6% or 7%, a massive increase on their 2010 showing of less than 1% (though this is artificially deflated as the party stood candidates in less than 50% of constituencies), and close to or even above the struggling Liberal Democrats. We do not currently estimate support for the Greens, but will investigate adding them to our model if the current surge in support is sustained. Currently, we have the Lib Dems at 8.5%, up 0.3 points on last month. Although falling behind the Greens is symbolically bad for the party, and provides seasoned poll watchers with an exciting new story, the substantive impact of this new twist is likely to be limited. The Lib Dems’ fate still depends on how well they can hold on to votes in their traditional constituency strongholds.

Despite the sharp fall in their support this month, Labour still hold important structural advantages thanks to the biases in the electoral system, which mean their votes translate more effectively into seats. Lord Ashcroft has been doing the psephological community a huge service by systematically polling the individual marginal seats which will decide the result next year. Using this method, he has already identified enough prospective Labour gains to put the party ahead on seats next year, and he still has many more strong prospects to poll. However, as Lord Ashcroft’s himself wisely reminds us, polls are a snapshot not a prediction, and Labour’s leads in many key marginals look awfully fragile. The opposition remains, slightly, in front for one more month. But there are six more to go, and if just one of these looks like October, the contest will be thrown wide open.

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

Political disaffection is not new, but it is rising and driving UKIP support

Diptic

Diptic

By Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker. Will Jennings is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at University of Southampton (Academia.edu, Twitter) and Gerry Stoker is Professor of Governance at University of Southampton (Twitter). You can read more posts by Will Jennings here and more posts by Gerry Stoker here.


Some argue that the current anti-politics mood is just a contemporary manifestation of a timeless phenomenon: that people don’t much like politics or politicians. It probably true that politicians have never been greatly popular in the history of British democracy but there is now clear evidence of decline and more than that it appears that anti-politics is having a big effect on politics by driving  support for UKIP.

Good longitudinal data on public attitudes towards politics and politicians is difficult to come by. To address this, we have replicated a poll question that was first asked by Gallup in July 1944: “Do you think that British politicians are out merely for themselves, for their party, or to do their best for their country?” To mark the 70th anniversary of the original poll, and the launch of a new ESRC project that looks at popular understandings of politics between 1937 and 2014, YouGov carried out a survey for us asking precisely the same question as was asked to the British public in 1944 and 1972.

The results (see Figure 1) show that there has been a clear shift in public attitudes seeing politicians as self-serving, with some 48% of respondents now considering that they are ‘out for themselves’, a further 30% believing they are out for their party, and just 10% thinking they want to do what is right for the country. The fact that only 1 in 10 of us think politicians try to their best for the country now represents a large drop, both from the wartime poll (where 36% were willing to see politicians as trying to do their best for the country) and from the 1970s poll (where 28% felt that politicians were out to do their best for us). The data tells us that people are noticeably more negative about politics today than they were seventy years ago. Indeed, the fact that public opinion moved only slightly between 1944 and 1972 but much more negatively since then indicates that recent disenchantment with politics is an issue that is of serious consequence.

Figure 1. What Motivates Politicians? 

Figure1

It is also clear from our data that disaffection with politics and politicians is fuelling the drift of voters away from the main parties to UKIP. UKIP voters are steadfastly negative about the political class. Some 74% of them believe that politicians are out for themselves and 19% for their party, with a paltry 3% thinking they are out to do their best for their country. This view of self-serving politicians is the unifying feature of attitudes of UKIP supporters.

Arguably political disaffection unifies UKIP supporters at least as much as either opposition to the EU or concern about immigration. If we model the likelihood of voting UKIP as a function of those answering that politicians are out for ‘themselves’, as much variance is explained as typical social predictors of UKIP support (those predictors in our dataset being respondents who are male, over-54 and working class). UKIP voters are not necessarily the ‘left behind’, but are people holding unambiguously and intensely negative views of politics and politicians. UKIP supporters are also much more firm-minded on this issue, with just 4% indicating ‘don’t know’ (a much lower figure than the average of 12% for the other parties). Not only are UKIP supporters more negative, they are surer of their views. They “know” that establishment politicians are serving themselves or their parties not the country.

Another notable finding, given the conventional wisdom about anti-politics, is that younger respondents (18-24) are in fact much less likely to think politicians are out for themselves. This is despite the popular claim that young voters are unengaged. It is older voters who are more cynical about the motivations of politicians.  So the decline in citizens’ willingness to back politicians to do the right thing by their country cannot easily be explained by a generational shift to more challenging, critical or cynical voters. It has got something to do with citizens’ judgement about how politicians and politics are presented and appear to them.

In that light it is worth noting that if your party is in power you might be more willing to give its politicians the benefit of the doubt. In our results, Conservative voters are most positive, with ‘just’ 34% thinking politicians are out for themselves, while 21% think they are out for their country (more than double the average). Curiously, Lib Dem voters tend not to think politicians are out for themselves (just 26% do), but 44% think they are out to do what is best for their party. This is perhaps a function of the party being in a coalition as well as the fact that Lib Dem voters are now something of a rump. Despite much celebration of the quality of Scotland’s democratic debate over independence, respondents from Scotland are more likely to see politicians as being self-serving than any other part of the country (with London and the South being more positive than the rest of the country).

Finally let us return to the original 1944 Gallup results. Remarkably, as war continued to rage across the globe, some 35% of respondents still believed that Britain’s politicians were out for themselves, 22% for their party, and 36% for their country. A healthy scepticism appears to have been ingrained in British citizens for a long time and will never be rooted out. But with only 10% of citizens now thinking that politicians try to act in the public interest it suggests that governing in a time of real crisis would be even more difficult. And those crises are potentially upon us, whether they are forging economic recovery, dealing with global warming or funding health care for an aging population. As David Runciman argues in his historical review The Confidence Trap, democracies have muddled through crises in the past but they may be losing the capacity to do so in the future. Our survey findings should give further reason for sounding alarm bells: if no one believes in elected politicians our ability to take effective collective action on issues that matter may be diminishing or disappearing.

 

Technical note: Total sample size was 2,103 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th – 21st October 2014.  The survey was carried out online. Figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Full cross-tabs of the survey can be found here.

Details of the logistic regression of UKIP vote intention comparing the effects of social predictors with political disaffection can be found here.

The Polling Observatory Forecast #5: Conservatives fading away?

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). The homepage of The Polling Observatory can be found here, and you can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


As explained in our inaugural election forecast, up until May next year the Polling Observatory team will be producing a long term forecast for the 2015 General Election, using methods we first applied ahead of the 2010 election (and which are also well-established in the United States). Our method involves trying to make the best use of past polling evidence as a guide to forecast the likeliest support levels for each party in next May’s election, based on current polling, and then using these support levels to estimate the parties’ chances of winning each seat in the Parliament. We will later add a seat-based element to this forecast.

Forecast 01-10-14

This month’s Polling Observatory reported largely stable electoral preferences during September, despite a turbulent month at the summit of politics.  The shares for Labour, the Liberal Democrats and especially the Conservatives declined slightly, the latter by 1.1%.  UKIP was the beneficiary, and gained 1.2%, almost exactly what the Conservatives lost.  The forecast based on these numbers yet again finds the two major parties locked in a statistical dead heat but with the Conservatives slipping back further, down 1.2% to 33.7%.  The gap between the parties widened a little less as our Labour forecast also fell slightly, and now stands at 2.5%.

The inability of the Conservatives to close the gap in voter preferences makes it less and less likely that they can overtake Labour.  Our forecast share for them has declined steadily because they are not making the gains in the polls history suggests they ought to be at this stage.  Time is running out for Cameron’s party, and unless they can produce a sustained recovery in their polling numbers our forecast will continue to decline.  However, it is worth remembering that swings in the polls are possible even very late in the day, and the gap between the top two remains narrow enough for our forecast to be a statistical dead heat.  All signs still point to a very close election.

Things are even worse for the Liberal Democrats, whose  forecast share drops again, by 0.4% to 8.7%.  Should the performance continue, there surely will be consequences for the share of the seats in Parliament as well, specifics of which we are planning to provide in our next (November) post.

In the meantime, we are keeping a close watch on the polls in the wake of the party conferences.  Is there a lasting Conservative bounce coming after Cameron’s speech highlighting tax cuts and further reductions in the size of the state? Or will this prove fleeting, as the news agenda moves on to NHS strikes, health scares and foreign entanglements? Only time and the data it reveals will tell.

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

Polling Observatory #41: Opinion stable for now, but election battle lines are being drawn

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). The homepage of The Polling Observatory can be found here, and you can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This is the forty-first in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion 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. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

UK 01-10-14 anchor on average

This month’s Polling Observatory update comes after another tumultuous month in British politics – one that  began with the shock defection of Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to UKIP; followed by the frantic conclusion to Scottish Independence referendum campaign, which saw the highest voter turnout seen in a post-war British election, and  immediately kicked off a new constitutional battle over ‘English votes for English laws’. After all this drama, party conference season was likely to feel anti-climatic and an anodyne Labour Party conference featuring tired activists and a flat leader’s speech delivered on this expectation. The fireworks soon began flying again, however, as Nigel Farage’s insurgents used their conference to declare war on Labour in Northern constituencies, and unveil a second Conservative defection right on the eve of the main governing party’s conference. Rumbling in the background through all this has been the steadily worsening Middle East crisis, leading to a recall of Parliament and a return of Britain to conflict in the region.  Summer silly season is definitely at an end.

Our latest report covers polling data up to October 1st – just prior to David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, which was widely heralded in the media for its promise of jam tomorrow (future tax cuts). We therefore miss any possible conference ‘bounce’ from the speech – hinted at by three polls, two in succession by YouGov and one by Lord Ashcroft – putting the Conservatives ahead. As ever, we would be cautious about over-interpreting sudden and large movements in the polls, not least as two other polls have shown Labour maintaining their lead – and the latest YouGov poll puts Labour back two points in front. We shall see next month whether Cameron’s supposed conference ‘bounce’ holds up once the news cycle has moved on.

The big movers in September were UKIP, who gained 1.2 points, rising to 15.2%, and the Conservatives, who fell 1.1 points, down to 30.1%. The defection of two Conservative MPs – Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless – to UKIP may therefore have led some of their fellow partisans to make a similar switch. Victories for one or both of the defectors in their new party’s colours, and the positive media coverage that would doubtless follow UKIP’s first Parliamentary wins, could encourage further moves in the polling. With constituency polls for both Clacton and Rochester & Strood currently pointing towards UKIP victories, Nigel Farage’s rebels look set to keep up the pressure on the Conservatives over the next couple of months.

Despite a lacklustre conference, our estimates see Labour stable on 34.4%, with no change from last month. As a result, Labour have preserved their fragile poll lead for another precious month. Indeed, the lead as estimated just prior to the Conservative conference was the highest we have recorded for six months, though it remains within the narrow 3 to 5 point band that it has been stuck on for most of 2014. The Liberal Democrats still face a daunting electoral challenge, with their support down 0.3 points on 8.3%.

It will be interesting to see whether the apparent conference bounce for the Conservatives is sustained at all. It is worth remembering that an 8% swing over the course of just a matter of days implies that over two million people have adjusted their voting intention in response to a single speech The empirical evidence of post-conference bounces in the polls is weak, and there is very little chance of these lasting through to election day. Most of the effects of events on public opinion are gradual and slow-moving. In this respect, it may be the tone set by Cameron’s speech – with its focus on tax cuts for middle and higher income earners and further reductions in the size of the state – which may matter most. The speech draws clear battle lines over taxation and spending for the coming election, perhaps the clearest seen for twenty years, but may also imperil the Conservatives’ hard won reputation for fiscal responsibility, as shown by the criticism of the unfunded tax cut announcements by trusted sources.  So while we are sceptical that Cameron’s speech alone has changed many minds in the last few days, it could nonetheless usher in a new phase of public opinion dynamics as voters react to the newly drawn divides between the parties.

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

Why being in government will cost the Tories in 2015. So far UKIP is picking up the spoils

Diptic

By Jane Green and Will Jennings. Jane Green is Professor of Political Science at University of Manchester (Academia.edu, Twitter) and Will Jennings is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at University of Southampton (Academia.edu, Twitter). You can read more posts by Will Jennings here.


Cross-posted at the APSA British Politics Group Blog.

It has been described as one of the most important unanswered questions in political science: why governments regularly and predictably lose popular support over their time in office. Such is the regularity of ‘costs of governing’ that it appears that governments are simply ‘passive observers’ of their diminishing support, leading to the suspicion that these trends may be almost wholly independent of the performance of a government in office.[1] The implication of costs of governing is stark: it seems to matter little what a government does in office, its decline in popular support is all but guaranteed. Here we consider the implications of costs of governing for the 2015 British general election and summarise our answer to the question of why governments experience these all-important governing costs.

The Implications of Governing Costs for 2015

The Conservatives began their period of government without a majority. What this means, of course, is that the party has to increase its popular support between 2010 and 2015 (and how that is translated into seats) to have a chance of winning a majority in 2015. David Cameron has to buck the ‘costs of governing’ trend if he is to win back support before 2015.

That isn’t looking likely. Vote intentions towards the Conservatives since June 2010 have followed the predictable pattern of governing costs that we identify in all countries for which regular polling data are available. The following two figures show (a) the decline in vote intention for the Conservatives since June 2010 (the average of all available polls for each month), and (b) the decline and curve that best fits the data for governing party support across 79 government lifecycles in 31 countries. The first figure plots vote intention for the Conservatives over the course of this parliament by month, the second plots vote intention over often much longer time periods by year.

(a) Conservative Party vote intention June 2010 – August 2014

VOTE_CON

(b) Governing party vote intention (79 governing periods, 31 countries)

COG

The high level of support (or honeymoon) at the start of Conservative-Lib Dem government in 2010, and the loss of support thereafter, is consistent with the trend we find exhibited in the largest collection of cross-national over-time poll data it is currently possible to analyse.

UKIP are the beneficiaries

What is striking to us is that the only pattern in the last four years which doesn’t entirely fit our conventional expectations is the following. Whereas we would usually expect the major party of opposition to be the beneficiary of declining trust and support for the government, it is UKIP rather than Labour that appears to be capitalising on the costs of governing for the Conservatives (the Liberal Democrats’ support collapsed early in the parliament and has been flat lining around 10% or less since). The following figures display (c) vote intentions for Labour between June 2010 and August 2014, and (d) vote intentions to UKIP in the same period (again taking the average of all polls in both cases). We can see that although Labour received a boost to its support in the first 2-3 years of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition – a pattern we would have predicted – it has steadily lost that support since 2013. UKIP, by contrast, has witnessed a significant gain in popular support over the same period.

(c) Labour Party vote intention June 2010 – August 2014

VOTE_LAB

(d) UKIP vote intention June 2010 – August 2014

VOTE_UKIP

A reading of recent British public opinion data may be interpreted simply that Conservative voters are moving over to UKIP due to UKIP’s policy and rhetorical appeal, and latterly Labour voters too. But looking at these data in the context of cross-national and over-time trends in costs of governing suggest something more profound may be happening. The Conservative Party should have been expected to lose its support. That support could have gone to the Lib Dems, to Labour, to UKIP or to being undecided. It is a signal of the distrust in mainstream politics that the predictable costs of governing have resulted in rewards to UKIP. Labour would have been the beneficiaries under usual expectations but on the face of public opinion alone, the trends point to UKIP as the classic party of opposition. This is in a context whereby the Liberal Democrats cannot pick up those opposition party spoils. The anti-politics mood in Britain may be fundamentally shifting the winners and losers of some of the most important and conventional trends we are aware of in political science.

The Conservative Party may experience an uptick in support as we near the 2015 election. The tendency of some incumbent parties to experience an uptick can be seen in the modest U-shape curve in Figure (b) above. But any uptick to the Conservatives won’t reverse the fundamental trends that we highlight above.

Explaining Costs of Governing

Costs of governing are surprisingly poorly understood, despite their prevalence and their profound implications. The reason for this has been an absence of data on public perceptions of party and government performance. Our recent paper for the annual conference of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties specialist group of the Political Studies Association sets out new explanations for the decline in governing party support using a unique data set we have collated on subjective performance evaluations of governing parties by British, American, Canadian, Australian and German voters. This draws on over 10,000 individual survey questions asked over as many as 65 years (a measure we call ‘macro-competence’). For more information see http://www.competence-politics.co.uk.

The first explanation for costs of governing concerns the initial honeymoon period; the high from which governing costs occur. We find that the early period of a new government is characterised by blame to the government’s predecessor; an effect that lasts around one typical election cycle (of 4-5 years). This means that Gordon Brown’s government will have been blamed for the first years of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, with that effect unlikely to persist into and beyond 2015.

The second explanation concerns how blame accumulates to the incumbent government. As a government continues its period in office, blame begins to stick, and the effects of negative information stick more than positive information. As governments are seen as performing badly, we show that this has a significantly greater effect on vote intention than positive changes in perceived government performance or competence. This negative information accumulates over a government’s time in office. Mistakes, policy disasters and scandals remain in the minds of voters long after politicians have moved on. In our paper we reveal that the addition of a new negative change in governing party competence, and another new negative change, each has a unique effect. The final innovative theoretical (and evidence-based) expectation is that there is a saturation point in the effect of competence evaluations. Negative competence effects begin to weaken after ‘shocks’ accumulate above a certain level, as voters make up their mind that a government cannot be trusted – and their attitudes become fixed in stone. In the case of the present Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, our analysis explains how information about bad performance has been weighed more heavily than information about good, and how this information accumulates until the electorate no longer has trust in the government to deliver on its objectives. This is consistent with the gradual decline in Conservative Party support displayed above between June 2010 and August 2014. It is also notable that the costs of governing have happened for the Conservatives very quickly in relation to the amount of time they have actually served in office. The early ‘omni-shambles’ and the unpopularity of austerity measures may well have contributed to this, as well as their relatively low starting point at from May 2010.

[1] Here we paraphrase the observations of Stimson (1976) in his analysis of declines in presidential approval.

What Is the Real Impact of Migration from Eastern Europe to the UK? A Look at the Evidence

By Dan Jendrissek, an interdisciplinary PhD student in Social Sciences and Modern Languages at University of Southampton (@jendrissek). Dan is currently on the job market.


When Poland joined the European Union in May 2004, only the UK, Ireland and Sweden decided to open up their labour markets and chose not to impose major restrictions on members of the ‘new’ EU8 states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia). Nonetheless, EU8 citizens had to be registered on the Workers Registration Scheme and in continuous employment for 12 months before they could claim income-related benefits like jobseeker’s allowance or housing benefits. Migration from EU8 countries to the UK, from Poland in particular, turned into “one of the most important social and economic phenomena shaping the UK today” (Pollard, Latorre, Sriskandarajah 2008: 7) and is still heavily influencing the immigration debate. Most of the political commentators on the impact of migration from Eastern Europe, however, are stubbornly ignoring the existing evidence.

At the time Poland joined the EU in 2004, the country’s unemployment rate was 19%, compared to 5% in the UK (Eurostat 2014). Furthermore, a youth unemployment rate of 40% in Poland had made employment in the UK, even in low-skilled jobs, an attractive option for young Poles. Given these numbers it is hardly surprising that migration from Eastern Europe to the UK inclined significantly after EU accession.

While in 2001 58,000 Polish citizens were living in England and Wales, this number rose to 558,000 in 2011 (Office for National Statistics 2001, 2013). Long-term international migration (LTIM) data shows that in-migration of EU8 nationals increased after 2004 and peaked in December 2007 (ONS 2014). Since then, numbers for EU8 in-migration have been declining and data from the Polish Labour Force Survey demonstrates that while degree level educated migrants tend to stay abroad, those with secondary and vocational level of education originating from rural areas are increasingly returning to Poland (Anacka & Fihel 2012).

Figure 1: Long-Term International Migration estimates by EU8 citizenship, June 2004 to December 2013 (ONS 2014)

jendrissek_plot

Rolling year (YE = Year Ending, p = Year includes provisional estimates for 2013)

 

Labour as well as Conservatives have identified immigration from Eastern Europe as a problem. In last year’s immigration speech, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasised the role of post-2004 migration from Eastern Europe for current immigration policies by arguing that “when new countries join the European Union it is important to put in place transitional controls and it’s wrong that this didn’t happen with Poland and the other countries that joined the EU in 2004.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s position is not far off. In a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in 2012 he claimed that his party had mishandled immigration from Eastern Europe and declared that “one of the areas where we had got things wrong and needed to change was immigration”; while there was “nothing wrong with anyone employing Polish builders”, there was a problem with “local talent” being “locked out of opportunity”. Mr Miliband has reiterated his position since: in a party political broadcast in 2013 he announced a crack-down on “low-skill migration” and called for “the maximum transitional controls for new countries coming in from Eastern Europe”.

In another IPPR speech the then shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant criticised UK retailer Next for using a recruitment agency that hired exclusively Polish workers for a warehouse in West Yorkshire. Mr Bryant said it was not illegal for agencies to target foreign workers, however, “when agencies bring such a large number of workers of a specific nationality at a time when there are one million young unemployed in Britain it is right to ask why that is happening.”

In the above statements a connection is made between ‘Polish builders’ and ‘local talent being locked out of opportunity’, between immigration and youth unemployment. At first glance it may seem that there is nothing wrong with asking these questions and these discursive chains may make sense to a wider audience. However, two things are noteworthy in this context: firstly, statements like the above are almost identical to those uttered by voices from the supposedly other end of the political spectrum, be it the infamous think tank MigrationWatch establishing a connection between immigration and youth unemployment or UKIP’s Nigel Farrage blaming “the huge increase in supply of unskilled labour” from abroad to negatively influence wages and housing.

Secondly, and more importantly, these statements are ignoring a growing body of evidence. In fact, the connectedness of (youth) unemployment and immigration is far from self-evident. A study by the Bank of England, for example, reviews international and UK research and concludes that there is no evidence that immigration influences wages or unemployment. On the contrary, the authors argue that immigration is likely to have reduced the natural rate of unemployment in the UK.

Other studies come to similar conclusions. Eldring & Schulten (2012) compare data from Germany, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. They point out that cases of wage-dumping and even exploitation of migrant workers do exist in some sectors, but that at the macroeconomic level the effects of migration on wages are marginal, something connected to the existence of a national minimum wage.

Finally, Dustmann & Frattini (2013) investigate the contributions of immigrants to the UK tax and welfare system. According to their research migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) have put more money into the system than they took out; between 2001 and 2011 EEA immigrants contributed 34% more to the fiscal system than they took out, equivalent to a net contribution of around 22 billion GBP. Furthermore, recent immigrants are 45% less likely to claim benefits or tax credits than the UK’s native population. This can be explained by the age structure of recent immigrants and their educational credentials – especially Polish migrants are comparably young and highly qualified.

Data from the British Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows that EU8 migrants are more highly educated than people born in the UK. In 2012, around one in four UK born citizens was degree level educated. The number of Polish born LFS participants with degree level qualification was 37%, while another 20% were holding other work related or professional qualifications. Despite these high educational credentials, the majority of Polish migrants in the UK are working in rather low-skilled jobs in the manufacturing and hospitality sector. This ‘social downgrading’ often leads to a variety of problems for the individual (Trevena 2011, 2013) and constitutes a waste of human capital on the macroeconomic level. A recent IPPR report shows that a fifth of workers with higher education qualifications are doing menial, unskilled jobs in the UK and LFS data indicates that this situation is even worse for migrants from Eastern Europe.

To sum up, there is a growing body of research on the impact of migration from Eastern Europe to the UK. The existing evidence suggests that overall intra-European migration has been beneficial for the UK. Over the last decade, migrants from Eastern Europe have paid more money into the system than they took out. On average, they are young and well-educated, yet, they are more likely to end up in low-skilled jobs than UK born citizens. Furthermore, migration from Eastern Europe to the UK has been in decline since 2007 and some studies suggest that it is, in fact, the ‘best and brightest’ that decide to stay while those with a low level of qualification are increasingly returning to their home country.

While it has become commonplace to establish a link between immigration, unemployment and falling wages in public political discourse, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that one does not cause the other. With less than a year to go until the next UK general election and immigration likely to be one of the hot issues, it is important to get the facts right and to put the immigration debate on an evidence base in order to tackle a rather ill-informed political blame game.

Polling Observatory #39: Big two recover as UKIP fall back

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). The homepage of The Polling Observatory can be found here, and you can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This is the thirty-ninth in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion 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. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

UK 06-08-14 anchor on average

This month’s Polling Observatory comes after a month of political twists and turns – most notably with the resignation of Baroness Warsi over the Israel/Gaza crisis and the general election gate-crashing act performed by Boris Johnson. Last month we reported a slight rebound in the polls for Labour but were cautious over the presence of a ‘Junker’ bounce in Conservative fortunes, despite much fanfare in the media. This month’s estimates suggest the Conservatives have made some recovery, but despite one poll putting the Conservatives ahead, and another showing Labour in front by 8%, the underlying position remains a narrow but significant Labour lead.  The Conservatives have posted a solid gain in support in July, rising 1.2 points. They now are at 32.0%, close to their highest level of support since the beginning of 2012. However, Conservative support still remains within the 30-32% band they have settled into for over two years, a band they must break out of to have any prospect of being the largest party in 2015.

Labour also gained significantly this month, up 0.7 points, at 35.3%. This blunts the impact of the Conservative rebound, and is the second significant gain in the row for the party, who are now about 2 points above their low ebb in the late spring, though still well below the high-30s range they typically enjoyed last year. Labour’s lead over the Conservatives is now 3.3 points – close to the all time low found in our March estimate.

The narrow gap at the top will give the blues a boost, but the Conservatives are still persistently behind the opposition and time is ticking away. Interestingly, these changes are in line with what we would expect from our forecasting model – with both parties expected to receive greater support in May 2015 than they are currently polling.

To some it is difficult to comprehend that Labour is holding a steady poll lead despite the strong negatives of their leader and the continued view from the electorate that the party is partly to blame for the continued economic travails of the UK. However, the reality is that Miliband’s negatives are already ‘priced in’ to Labour support, while Cameron also suffers from relatively anaemic leader ratings by historical comparison. Further, for all Labour’s negatives, the party retains the image of being well-intentioned if flawed and ineffectual, whereas the Conservatives are toxic with large parts of the electorate, and have done nothing to address this, aside from a few last minute electoral giveaways. With Boris Johnson on manoeuvres for the leadership of the party, and several MPs stepping down ahead of the election (including several of the 2010 intake), party discipline is in a fragile state – leaving Chief Whip Michael Gove with a crucial role before the general election.

After a sustained surge in support, UKIP have fallen back, down 1.5 points at 13.3%. This fallback is in line with what we saw in 2013, when UKIP surged after electoral success brought them media attention but fell back somewhat over the summer. Last year, the party retained quite a bit of its new support, levelling off at about 10%, several points above their level in 2012. Their current 13% share is well above where they were at this time last year, but only time will tell whether they are able to retain the new recruits won in the European campaign. The UKIP narrative surely will return to the top of the media agenda ahead of the May 2015 general election, providing the party with another possible  shot in the arm, and UKIP’s membership and political donations are currently at record highs.  Farage’s fox is not shot yet.

Despite their fall-back, UKIP remain well above the Liberal Democrats who are flat-lining below the 10% level, specifically, at 8.8%, with no change on last month. For both parties, however, the national share of the vote will be less important than their local strength in seats that they are trying to take or hold. The recent Ashcroft poll of Tory marginals revealed that UKIP is outperforming their national figures considerably where they have a strong local campaign – and where features of the constituency are in their favour. Earlier Ashcroft marginals polling suggests that the Liberal Democrats also do better in the seats where they are well entrenched and seeking to hold off Conservative challengers, though Clegg’s party is in deep trouble when Labour is the challenger.

The same story also applies, to a lesser extent, to the larger parties. Strong incumbents often enjoy a local bonus in support which can help them weather a national swing away from their party, while weak challengers can under-perform. The local social and demographic mix of a seat can also play an important role – as seen in 2014 local elections where Labour performed strongly in diverse London boroughs while UKIP surged in seats with concentrations of older, white working class “left behind” voters. The 2015 election is not a national popularity contest but 650 local popularity contests. As we roll out our constituency-level forecasts in the coming months, we will start to analyse how to translate the national picture into a map of the local constituency battles which will ultimately decide who governs after May 2015.

 

The Polling Observatory Forecast #3: Slow decline in Conservative prospects, but still too close to call

As explained in our inaugural election forecast, up until May next year the Polling Observatory team will be producing a long term forecast for the 2015 General Election, using methods we first applied ahead of the 2010 election (and which are also well-established in the United States). Our method involves trying to make the best use of past polling evidence as a guide to forecast the likeliest support levels for each party in next May’s election, based on current polling, and then using these support levels to estimate the parties’ chances of winning each seat in the Parliament. We will later add a seat-based element to this forecast.

Forecast 30-06-14 cropped

This month’s Polling Observatory saw a slight rebound in support for Labour, despite the sustained, now rather tedious, debate over Ed Miliband’s leadership credentials. Our forecast, which builds on the historical polling record alone to project forwards to next year’s general election, again puts Labour and the Conservatives in a statistical dead heat, although Labour has edged up to 36.2% and the Conservatives have fallen back slightly to 35.5%. This Labour lead of 0.7% is far too small to be statistically meaningful at this stage, with polls still providing a very uncertain guide to the outcome. This movement reflects the fact that Labour are holding their support, where the historical record suggests we should be expecting declines at this point. In contrast, the forecast for the Conservatives is on a downward slope, indicating that they are not making the gains that history would typically expect. Our colleague Steven Fisher has found similar trends in his model, which also builds on historical polling data. If the current poll lead continues into the autumn, the Conservatives may well need to start worrying – the accuracy of polling as a predictor of the general election outcome steadily increases as we enter the last six months. There is also bad news for the Liberal Democrats, who our forecast puts on 8.2%. Once we introduce the seats-based element to our model, the picture might not look quite so catastrophic for them, but our current expectation is for an extremely poor performance.

Today, all the main parties are struggling to attract the level of support that would indicate a strong prospect of securing a parliamentary majority in 2015. The two-party share of the vote by Conservatives and Labour is as low as it has ever been.  All three of the established parties are still running below their historical averages, in part due to the rise in UKIP which has taken “none of the above” vote intentions to record highs.  The relative stasis in the polls is partly because the structural weaknesses of parties and leaders (Miliband’s poor ratings, the damaged Tory brand, and the Liberal Democrat betrayal) are all priced in to the polling numbers we have been seeing. This means that axioms such as that ‘oppositions need to be further ahead at this stage’ or that ‘governments will always be rewarded for a growing economy’ may not necessarily come to fruition given the listlessness of the polls. It is dangerous to assume that these sorts of factors will always lead to late shifts in opinion. Though there have often been late swings in opinion away from the opposition, or towards the government, this is a tendency not an iron law, as our table below reveals.

Election year Govt change last 12 months Opposition change last 12 months Swing from opposition to government last 12 months
1955 (CON) 4.5 -0.3 2.4
1959 (CON) 2.1 4.7 -1.3
1964 (CON) 4.9 -0.9 2.9
1966 (LAB) 3.7 -1.4 2.6
1970 (LAB) 13.9 -8.5 11.2
Feb 1974 (CON) 2.6 -8.4 5.5
1979 (LAB) -7.1 0.9 -4.0
1983 (CON) -2.6 0.5 -1.6
1987 (CON) 10.4 -5.4 7.9
1992 (CON) -3.0 -1.3 -0.9
1997 (CON) 2.1 -3.3 2.7
2001 (LAB) 1.1 -3.5 2.3
2005 (LAB) 3.0 -3.6 3.3
2010 (LAB) 6.6 -3.4 5.0
Average since 1955 3.0 -2.4 2.7

Our table, built from our polling historical database, shows how the polls move in the last year of a Parliament in each election cycle since 1955. There is a “swing back” tendency towards the government – on average the governing party picks up three percentage points in the last year, and the opposition loses 2.4 points. But there is a lot of variation around this mean. In some elections, such as 1987 and 1970 there is a dramatic swing back to the government (though note that, on these occasions, the sharp rise in government popularity may have helped trigger the election in the first place, something now impossible with fixed term parliaments). On other occasions, such as 1979 and 1992, the polls record a swing away from the government in the last year. So while an improvement in the Conservatives’ relative position is historically likely, it is not certain, and it is unlikely to be a dramatic shift.

This matters, because the current biases in the electoral system mean the Conservatives need a substantial lead to become the largest party in Parliament, and a hefty one to have any chance of a majority. If the swing back to Cameron’s party is in line with the historical average of 2.7 points, then we would expect the Conservatives to go into next year’s election with a lead of less than two percentage points, definitely not enough for a majority, and probably not even enough to be the largest party in Parliament (particularly if the Liberal Democrats hold up better in seats they are contesting with the Conservatives). A polling swing back would provide the Conservatives with a valuable morale boost, but thanks to the disadvantages of the electoral system, Cameron’s party still have a lot to do even if the tide of public opinion starts to turn in their favour.

Polling Observatory #38: Polls may bounce, but public opinion usually doesn’t

This is the thirty-eighth in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion 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 of public opinion can be found here.

UK 30-01-14 anchor on average

 

This was a bouncing polls month. Early on in June, several polls pointed to an unexpected rebound in Labour’s fortunes, leading to a brief flurry of speculation about a Labour surge. Then, right at the end of the month (and mostly outside of the window that our latest estimates refer to) polls started to show a slight recovery for the Conservatives, which was immediately labelled a “Juncker bounce” by the media, particularly the parts of it who approved of David Cameron’s fruitless campaign to prevent former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker from taking over as President of the European Commission.

The Polling Observatory’s method tends to have a more conservative view of moves in public opinion. Our estimates for the first of July put Labour at 34.6%, up 0.8 points on a month ago. While this is a modest rebound, it nonetheless represents a reversal of the downward trend evident for most of 2014 to date, and is the first significant up-tick in support for Labour since the autumn of last year. Conservative support is stable at 30.8%, down just 0.1 points on last month. However, this is without most of the alleged “Juncker bounce” polls collected in the first week of July, which, when added in, may push the Conservatives modestly higher than they were in late May – but this remains to be seen.

There is little evidence yet of a fall in UKIP support now the European Parliament elections have passed, confounding the expectations of pundits who believed the European election victory was the “peak UKIP moment”. Our estimates have Farage’s party at 14.8%, down just 0.1% on last month. The Liberal Democrats, however, continue to slide to new record lows. This month they register just 8.8%, down 0.5% on last month, and an all-time low under our new methodology.

While our model does register significant month-on-month, and even week-on-week, shifts in public opinion, these are never as dramatic as those shown in the polls which grab the most headlines. The truth is that such bounces are far too large to be plausible as real movements in public opinion — a 7 point swing, for example, would require 2 million people to change their vote preferences in a single week or month. This simply does not happen in the absence of a very powerful change in the political context. It is just not very plausible to believe that 2 million people switched to Labour at the beginning of the month, without any compelling reason to do so, or that a similar mass of voters were won over to the Conservatives by Cameron’s quixotic anti-Juncker campaign.

Once the polls are aggregated together, and the noise inevitably produced by random sampling variation is filtered out, the bounces in public opinion from month to month become much smaller. The largest weekly shifts in support we find to date in this Parliament mostly occur at the very beginning, when Lib Dem support fell by 1.5% in the second week after the general election, and then carried on falling at a similar rate for several weeks afterwards, while Labour support shifted upwards at a similar rate. In fact, almost half of the 20 largest weekly changes in public opinion in this Parliament are accounted for by the Lib Dems’ post-election collapse. This shift in preferences followed a hugely significant and largely unexpected event – the formation of a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Millions of Liberal Democrats who had regarded the party as an ideological stable mate of Labour saw their vote choices in a new light and changed their preferences accordingly.

Party Number of weeks since May 6, 2010 (week starting) Weekly change in vote intentions
Lib Dem 2 (13/05/2010) -1.5
Lib Dem 3 (20/05/2010) -1.5
Lab 2 (13/05/2010) 1.4
Lab 3 (20/05/2010) 1.3
Con 101 (05/04/2012) -1.2
Lib Dem 4 (27/05/2010) -1.2
Con 86 (22/12/2011) 1.2
Lib Dem 5 (03/06/2010) -1.0
Lib Dem 9 (01/07/2010) -0.9
Lab 4 (27/05/2010) 0.9
Con 102 (12/04/2012) -0.9
Lib Dem 6 (10/06/2010) -0.9
Lib Dem 8 (24/06/2010) -0.8
Con 100 (29/03/2012) -0.8
Con 159 (16/05/2013) -0.8
Lib Dem 7 (17/06/2010) -0.8
Lab 34 (23/12/2010) 0.8
Lab 86 (22/12/2011) -0.8
Lib Dem 10 (08/07/2010) -0.8
Lab 107 (17/05/2012) 0.7

The other major shift in voters’ preferences during this parliament (aside from a sharp, but short lived, rally in Conservative support immediately after David Cameron’s European summit veto in December 2011) came in the aftermath of the “omnishambles” budget of March 2012, with the Conservatives’ poll rating falling around a percentage point three weeks in a row, and. Even then, there are several different explanations for this dramatic shift in preferences (as we discussed at the time here), which may have combined to make something of a perfect political storm – wrecking the Conservatives’ reputation for competence, alienating previously supporting groups, and reinforcing negative stereotypes about the ‘nasty party’.

Events such as the formation of a governing coalition between two parties that were not regarded as natural allies can produce large swings in the polls, so can highly visible examples of incompetence or economic crises. However, the vast majority of political events are nowhere near as significant. This is why the correct initial reaction to any headline of the form “x produces bounce in polls” is “let’s wait and see”. In the vast majority of cases, the apparent realignment of voters is swiftly revealed to be a statistical phantom.

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

Student-Designed YouGov Poll on Aspirations of Young Adults

YouGov recently released results from a poll designed by students in PAIR2004: Research Skills in Politics and International Relations. One of the key findings?

“18-24 year olds are more likely to emphasise the importance of their career in the next 10 years – and much more likely to consider creating a bucket list than the older generations.”

Read the written report by Hazel Tetsill.