Election replay with the experts: looking back at the 2019 general election

luke_moore1_500x625_0.jpgThe 2019 general election is now complete, but there is still plenty to say about the campaign, the rules that governed it, and the new parliament it has produced. Luke Moore summarises the contributions at our final seminar of 2019, where Unit staff were joined by other experts to dicuss the lessons of the election.

On Monday 16 December the Constitution United hosted an event entitled Election Replay with the Experts, at which four leading political scientists, including the Director and Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, looked back on the 2019 general election. The issues discussed included polling, women’s representation, the rules of the electoral game, and the effect of the election on the new parliament. The event was chaired by Unit Research Associate Lisa James

Ben Lauderdale – polling 

Ben Lauderdale, Professor of Political Science at UCL, started the evening by discussing the performance of polling at the election. During the election campaign Lauderdale had been involved in producing the much-discussed ‘MRP’ (multilevel regression and post-stratification) polling used to predict constituency results. His central message was that after two general elections — in 2015 and 2017 — in which some of the polls proved to be significantly out of step with the results, polling for the 2019 election is largely a non-story, as most pollsters were on target in their predictions. Further, the accuracy of the polls meant that the media was (in retrospect and in Lauderdale’s view) discussing the right topics during the election campaign. The most important of these was the prospect of a Conservative majority, but also the specific demographic and geographic weaknesses of the 2017 Labour coalition. While the terminology was a bit reductive and silly, it was not wrong to have focused on the vulnerability of Labour’s ‘red wall’ and Conservative appeals to ‘Workington man’.  Continue reading

Final EU referendum forecast: Remain predicted to win 52-48

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Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick have developed a method for forecasting the outcome of the EU referendum based on current vote intention polling and analysis of opinion polling from previous referendums in the UK and across Europe. Their final forecast, taking account of polls published up to yesterday evening, suggests that Remain will win 52-48. However, there is a lot of uncertainty and a Leave victory can certainly not be ruled out.

The polls this week have been better for Remain than they were last week. Since this is our final forecast it makes sense for us to restrict our sample of polls to include in our polling average just the most recent poll from each company (or company-mode combination) over the last week. If we do this then our polling average finds Remain at 51 per cent after setting aside don’t knows. This is up two points from our polling average on Sunday. The two-point difference is partly due to restricting the sample from two weeks to just one, partly rounding error and partly to the fact that more of the polls than previously include Northern Ireland. So it is not clear whether the apparent movement towards Remain is real or not.

Our forecast share of the vote is 52 per cent for Remain, 48 per cent for Leave. This reflects an expectation of a 1.5-point rise in support for the status quo, based on the change that is visible on average between the final polls and the actual result in previous referendums in Britain or on the EU elsewhere. While this reflects the average historical experience we have explained here and here why the average may not be a very reliable guide.

The unreliability means there is a lot of uncertainty in our forecast. The 95 per cent prediction interval is considerably narrower than it was at the beginning of the week. But at ±10 points it is still very wide. So wide that Remain could reasonably be expected to get anywhere between 42 per cent and 62 per cent of the vote. Neither a comfortable Remain victory nor a comfortable Leave victory can be ruled out.

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Do people tend to vote against change in referendums?

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During the EU referendum debate it has often been asserted that people tend to be risk averse and so vote against change in referendums. But does the evidence justify this claim? Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick have collected data on over 250 national referendums held since 1990 and found that the change option has won a majority of the votes case in 69 per cent of them – though only 40 per cent actually passed due to the presence of additional requirements for a result to be counted as valid. The authors have also looked at the relationship between final polls and the eventual result and found that, though there is on average a small swing to the status quo, there is no reason to believe that a late swing will necessarily ensure a Remain win tomorrow if Leave are ahead in the final polls.

It is commonly asserted by people commenting on the EU referendum that people tend to be risk averse and so vote against change. The Prime Minister appealed to people not to ‘roll the dice’ on their children’s and grandchildren’s future. Daniel Hannan in his book Why Vote Leave accepted the idea of risk aversion in referendums, and then argued that people should see remaining in the EU as more risky than leaving.

But is it really true that people tend to vote against change in referendums? There are certainly several examples in Britain where people have rejected change, the most prominent examples include the referendums on Scottish independence, the alternative vote electoral system, and, in 1975, the UK’s membership of the European Community. But it is also true that people in different parts of Britain have voted for change in referendums on numerous occasions. They voted for a Scottish Parliament (and separately to give it tax varying powers), a Welsh Assembly (and later for it to have more power), a Greater London Assembly, and the Good Friday Agreement. Setting aside referendums at the sub-regional level, the change option has won in six out of the thirteen referendums that have been held in the UK.

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EU referendum forecast update: probability of a Remain win now 52 per cent

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Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick have developed a method for forecasting the outcome of the EU referendum based on current vote intention polling and analysis of opinion polling from previous referendums in the UK and across Europe. The probability of a Remain win is now 52 per cent.

Our polling average now has Remain at 49 per cent after setting aside don’t knows.

From this we forecast Remain to get 50 per cent of the vote.

The 95 per cent prediction interval is only a little narrower than ±12 points. So Remain are forecast to win between 39 per cent and 62 per cent of the vote.

The probability that Remain will win the referendum is now 52 per cent.

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EU referendum forecast update: probability of a Remain win slides to 51 per cent

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Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick have developed a method for forecasting the outcome of the EU referendum based on current vote intention polling and analysis of opinion polling from previous referendums in the UK and across Europe. This week the forecast has taken a dramatic turn with the probability of a Remain win falling from 68 per cent last week to just 51 per cent.

Our forecast has taken a dramatic turn. Last week our polling average had Remain at 51 per cent after setting aside don’t knows. It has this week dropped a further two points to 49 per cent. This means Leave is ahead in our polling average for the first time, with 51 per cent.

The forecast share of the vote for Remain has correspondingly dropped from 53 per cent to slightly over 50 per cent.

The 95 per cent prediction interval is still ±12 points. So we are now forecasting that both Leave and Remain will win between 38 per cent and 62 per cent of the vote.

The probability that Remain will win the referendum has fallen from 68 per cent last week to just 51 per cent this week.

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Referendum polling in the UK has historically overstated support for change

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The differing outcomes produced by online and telephone polling during the EU referendum have led to a debate about the merits of each method. But perhaps neither is a good indicator of the final outcome. Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick suggest that there is often a trend towards the status quo during referendum campaigns in the UK, and that even polls in the final week before a referendum have often shown more support for change than the result.

As online and telephone polls for the EU referendum continue to tell different stories about the contest, there is increasing debate about the relative merits of each method (e.g. here, here and here). Much of this debate is focused on which of the two modes is more accurate. Does Remain have a comfortable lead, as phone polls suggest, or is it too close to call, as the online polls indicate?

Perhaps neither is a good guide to the final outcome. In this post we reflect on the historical experience of polls for referendums in the UK. The graph shows the levels of support for the change option (excluding don’t knows) in polls and the final outcome for all ten referendums in the UK for which there was more than one poll in the final 30 days of the campaign.

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