Politics, polling and psephology

Polling and analysis of voting behaviour

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.

 Read more

Sally Gainsbury

There has been speculation recently that the government is planning to divert millions of pounds in NHS funds from deprived urban areas in the north, to leafy, Conservative voting constituencies in the south.

This stems from health secretary Andrew Lansley’s recent comment that “age is the principal determinant of health need” and that distribution of the £100bn budget for the NHS in England should “get progressively to a greater focus on what are the actual determinants of health need.”

Somewhere along the line, those comments were interpreted by a generally cheesed-off medical profession that Mr Lansley intends to introduce an “age-only” NHS allocation formula, switching substantial NHS funds from, generally younger, Labour-voting constituencies in north to the octogenarians who thrive in the Conservative-voting villages of the south.

It’s a good story, which might even contain elements of the truth, but the reality, as ever, is a little more complicated.

At present, five separate allocation formulae are used to divvy up different bits of the £100bn NHS pot to different areas of England. The largest share – the hospital care budget – is divided up using one formula, while four others – mental health, GP prescribing, health inequalities (more on that in a later post) and maternity – are each allocated using their own separate formula. (Think for a second about the demographics driving the demand for maternity services as opposed to, say, hip replacements, and you will grasp why this makes sense.)

Health economists and statisticians frequently tweak and argue over these formula in order to move, hopefully, ever closer to the Holy Grail: a distribution of health resources which is fairly distributed on the basis of health need. Read more

Martin Stabe

With more than a year’s worth of of data from our exclusive business sentiment poll, the FT/Economist Global Business Barometer, now available, some interesting longitudinal patterns are becoming apparent for the first time.

Most notable among them is the steady erosion over the past year in executives’ perceptions of the “business friendliness” three of the world’s biggest developing economies, India, China and Brazil.

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Martin Stabe

What we’re reading today in the world of statistics, open data and data journalism:

We like a good political choropleth around here, and Sunday’s European election extravaganza did not disappoint in the psephological cartography department.

A good map of the Greek results can be found at igraphics.gr, Le Monde has the obligatory map of the French presidential election par département, and Michael Neutze’s site Wahlatlas covered the results in the German state of Schleswig-HolsteinRead more

Keith Fray

Amid talk of how governments should measure ‘happiness’, we should perhaps note that ‘misery’ – at least economic misery – may have recently peaked.

This week’s releases of inflation data in the UK and US, and labour market numbers for the UK should see the ‘misery index’ continue to fall in both countries.

This index – simply the unemployment rate plus the annual rate of inflation – has seen a modest revival of interest among economists in recent years. Read more

The 2012 US presidential election is the first time that candidates have benefited from super-Pacs, which bring in millions of dollars that can be used to support someone’s campaign through advertising. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 loosened the restrictions on who can give how much to political action committees, giving rise to what has become known as “super-Pacs”. Direct donations to the candidates’ campaigns can only be up to $2,500. Donations to super-Pacs are often 10 or 100 times more than that.