Politics, polling and psephology

Polling and analysis of voting behaviour

John Burn-Murdoch

Projected results of future EU referendums, based on modelled population and age-structure. A Remain victory becomes probable in 2021

A week on from Britain’s historic vote to leave the EU, some of the most frequently asked questions have concerned turnout levels across different age groups.

Early cries that the young had been betrayed by older voters were countered with claims that it’s young people’s own fault for not voting in sufficient numbers. Some have asked how the UK’s age-structure itself impacted the vote: is the population so top-heavy in age-terms that the odds were always stacked against the younger generation? And then there is the question of whether David Cameron missed a trick in not giving the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, who would have been expected to lean heavily towards Remain.

We have dug into the best available figures on turnout by age from the EU referendum, and combined them with various public datasets which allows us to answer these questions with the benefit of historical context, or even a glimpse into the future. Here’s what we found. Read more

John Burn-Murdoch

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The chain of events that led to Brexit will be examined in great detail — and much anguish on the Remain side — for years to come. Rapid changes in the UK’s political climate undoubtedly played a part, and global events including the Great Recession and recent European migrant crisis have left their mark.

But for now we can focus on what we know in the immediate aftermath of the vote: the distinguishing characteristics of the areas of Britain that voted for either side. Read more

John Burn-Murdoch

Polling has dominated coverage of the UK’s EU referendum for the last month, with the focus shifting between the polls’ reliability following their 2015 misfire, the methodological challenges pollsters face, and the Remain vs Leave race itselfRead more

Kate Allen

Political journalists have become exceedingly wary of pollsters since they called last year’s general election wrongly. Are they right to be? The performance of major polling companies in this referendum could make or break their reputations – get it wrong again and the fury of Fleet Street will be unconstrained.

But there’s good reason to feel that hacks should have learned some lessons too – the first being, properly understand what it is that you are reporting. Here are a handful of key points to bear in mind when in the coming days we consider the pollsters’ performance in this referendum. Read more

Kate Allen

In the next four months Britain will be inundated with opinion polls. As the Leave and Remain camps gear up for Britain’s first referendum on its relationship with Europe for four decades, the stakes are high.

But this time last year the nation also pored over an array of polls during the general election campaign, and yet those polls proved unreliable.

How should a cautious FT reader know what to make of polling about the EU referendum? Here are five points to bear in mind …

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In the aftermath of the financial crisis the world saw an increase in the number of street protests. Many inspired by perceived connections between the political elite and business interests; Occupy Wall Street and Los Indignados in the west to the Arab Spring and the protests against Victor Yanukovich in Ukraine. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research presents evidence on their power.

Daron Acemoglu, Tarek Hassan and Ahmed Tahoun examines the correlation between street protests in Egypt and the stock market returns for firms connected to former president Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP), the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military. Read more

Migration from the European Union is a pretty controversial issue in Britain. Particularly in politics: the strength of the anti-EU UK Independence Party and the anxiety it causes for the two major parties is thought to be linked to public antipathy towards the high-levels of migration that followed the accession of eight eastern european countries to the EU in 2004 (EUA8).

Others have pointed out that perhaps something else is going on. The British public tend to overestimate the proportion of the country who are migrants and have been in favour of lower levels of migration for the past 50 years, even when the country was experiencing net emigration. So perhaps migration is just a vehicle for other concerns.

So I thought I would look at the relationship between the number of migrants in an area and public opinion about migration. Read more

The US went to the polls yesterday for the congressional midterms and the Republicans swept to victory and took control of the senate. Turnout tends to be much lower when there’s no presidential election to accompany the congressional vote, on average about 13 percentage points. Exit polls revealed that minority and younger voters were much more likely to stay home this year than they were in 2012.

By John Burn-Murdoch and Aleksandra Wisniewska

Scotland voted on Thursday to remain in the United Kingdom, with the pro-union camp securing 55.3 per cent of the vote. Read more

Ukip leader Nigel Farage (left) and Conservative MP for Clacton-on-Sea Douglas Carswell who has announced he is defecting to the eurosceptic party

A “seaside strategy” is being deployed by the UK Independence party in the run-up to next year’s general election which will see the eurosceptic party target seven seats in faded coastal areas of the UK.

Of the leaked list of 12“most wanted” seats where Ukip will concentrate its campaigning, half include seaside resorts, including South Thanet – where party leader Nigel Farage is standing – plus Skegness and Great Yarmouth. The addition of Clacton-on-Sea, whose Tory MP Douglas Carswell announced his surprise defection to Ukip last week, makes seven.

All seven constituencies produced impressive victories for the Conservative party in the 2010 general election – on average, the Tories achieved a 23 per cent majority and a 49 per cent share of the vote. Where Ukip fielded a candidate, its average share was just 6.3 per cent.

However, the deprived demographics of Britain’s coastal towns mean that Ukip is finding increasing support beside the seaside. Fast forward four years, and the eurosceptic party took the greatest share of the vote in May’s European elections in all seven of the seaside towns where it has pledged to fight the Tories on the beaches. Read more

It’s impossible to know just how seriously to take the polling for the Scottish independence referendum. Pollsters haven’t had the same opportunity to calibrate their forecasts through trial and error while observers don’t have a past record to go on, and as we reported yesterday, there’s a lot of disagreement between them. Read more

The 2013 British Social Attitude survey, released today, mainly focuses on questions of national identity and alongside asking everyone about questions on immigration and Britishness, asks Scots specifically a set of questions about their attitudes to nationhood and independence. Read more

by Nassos Stylianou and John Burn-Murdoch

Between May 22 and 25, some 400 million people will be eligible to vote in the European Parliament elections. But how many of them will actually turn up at the ballot box?

Following 2009 treaty changes, the European Parliament will for the first time have a more direct role in electing the president of the European Commission , the EU’s executive arm, giving May’s election added significance.

Despite the increasing influence of the European Parliament, the percentage of those voting to elect its members has fallen in every election, from 62 per cent in 1979’s inaugural direct elections through to 43 per cent in 2009.

At the last European elections five years ago, less than half of those eligible voted in 18 of the 27 member states. In six countries, the turnout was below 30 per cent. In one country, Slovakia, less than one in five of those eligible voted.

Turnout in Germany, France and Italy – founding members of the common market – has eroded by more than 20 percentage points since then. In the UK, turnout was already low at 32.3 per cent in 1979 and levels have remained consistently below 40 per cent ever since.

However, several of the newer member states such as Estonia, Latvia and Bulgaria recorded a surge in turnout in 2009.

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In an article written last Wednesday for Church Times, an Anglican newspaper, David Cameron claimed that Britain was a “Christian country”. In response fifty-five assorted public figures including academics, scientists and comedians wrote a letter to the Telegraph newspaper on Easter Sunday saying that it was no such thing and in fact: “repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.”

That depends on how the question is asked. The results of the 2011 census supports Cameron, with narrow majorities in England and Wales, and Scotland and an overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland identifying as Christian. Yet the 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) places Christians in the minority comprising only 46 per cent of the population. Read more

Chris Cook

Last week, I went to Wolverhampton where I spoke at a local debate, organised by the university and Pat McFadden, the local MP, about the local authority’s school. I was the warm-up act for Lord Adonis, former schools minister, setting the scene about the city’s education system before his talk on lessons on school improvement.

It was interesting event – and the city is clearly considering its future and the role of education within it. There is – judging by my inbox – serious and deep interest in improving schools in the city. One of the things I sought to do was set out Wolvo’s position in relation to the rest of the country – and what statistics about the city tell us.

Here is my presentation: Read more

Nate Silver’s success in predicting the winner of the US election symbolises a generational shift in political analysis, from qualitative to quantitative, rendering an intermediate class of skilled labour obsolete. It is a shift already seen in other fields, such as finance. Read more

When we started these posts for the 2012 election season, the goal was to give a purely numbers-driven look at the presidential election – a respite from the noise. Not that the media coverage isn’t useful, however it can be occasionally useful to turn off the noise and just look at the data.

Let’s get a sense of the polls for the last month and a half. Each of these graphs looks at the race(s) from September 1 to mid October.

Real Clear Politics (RCP)

Now that’s what I call volatility. After being in a dead heat in early September, Obama built a lead that hovered in the 3-4 point range for much of the month. The October 3 debate was seen as an important turning point, giving Romney some sorely needed momentum. It is important to note, however, that he had been trending up in the days preceding the event.

To the market!

Iowa Electronic Market (IEM)

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It has been a rocky road for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney since we last checked in on the polls, and the money is starting to lose faith in the challenger.

The Iowa Electronic Market from 8/23 through 9/25:


As of the end of trading on September 25, the disparity in contracts between Romney and US President Barack Obama was at an all-time high. The polls tell a similar, albeit more muted, story. Read more

The first major development in the 2012 US presidential race was handed down by the US Supreme Court on June 28 which found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional.

Did Obama receive a bump in the polls, or did the ruling galvanize voters toward Romney? And what about the betting market? (I explain the background to the betting market in this post on the 2008 election.)

Not earth shattering, but it does seem there was a little movement. The Iowa market saw Obama receive a bump from $55.40 to $57.20 – a legitimate increase taking Obama near the top of his range since the beginning of June. Romney, meanwhile, took a hit from $46 to $43.20.

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