The Constitution Unit blog in 2018: a year in review

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2018 has been an interesting year for the UK constitution, its institutions and those involved in studying or working within them. As the year draws to a close, blog editor Dave Busfield-Birch offers a roundup of the most popular blogs of the year, as well as a look at the reach of the blog through the lens of its readership statistics. 

Obviously, Brexit has made this a very interesting time to work in political science, and the blog has benefited both in terms of increased general interest as a result, but also because there are niche topics being discussed in public now that would have generated little interest in other years. Few, for example, would have predicted in May 2016 that whether or not a motion in the House of Commons was amendable would become a hot political topic.

Below are our most popular blogs from the past year, as well as two personal selections from me, at the end of my first twelve months as blog editor.

Editor’s pick

Gendered Vulnerability’ and representation in United States politics by Jeffrey Lazarus and Amy Steigerwalt.

This was obviously a tough decision, but if you were to ask me for my favourite post of the year, this would be my instinctive choice. Jeffrey Lazarus and Amy Steigerwalt discuss their new book, Gendered Vulnerability: How Women Work Harder to Stay in Office, which argues that women’s perception of a more difficult electoral landscape leads them to adopt distinct, and more constituent-oriented, legislative strategies than their male counterparts. It is a fascinating insight into the challenges faced by women in running for, securing and retaining office. A similar blog on the UK experience, entitled Strategies for Success, was written by Leah Culhane in November. Continue reading

How did people’s expectations of the consequences of Brexit affect their vote?

profile.steve.fisher.320x320 (1)alan_renwickAs the Brexit negotiations grind towards a conclusion, there is much talk of what it means to honour the 2016 referendum result, and of whether another referendum should be held once the Brexit terms are known. A new paper by Stephen Fisher and the Unit’s Alan Renwick sheds fresh light on these issues, examining what people thought they were voting for in 2016 and how that affected their vote choice. In this post, the authors summarise the findings and draw out lessons for today’s debates.

With increasing discussion of the possibility of the UK holding another referendum on its relationship with the EU, it is important to better understand what happened at the last one. Understanding how voters made up their minds in 2016 could provide insights into how another referendum might play out. Also, one of the key arguments against another referendum is to maintain respect for the outcome of the previous one. What it means to respect that outcome depends on understanding why the UK voted to leave the EU.

In our recently published paper in Acta Politica (available free-to-view here), we focus on the role of voter expectations of the consequences of leaving the EU. Following previous research by Sara Hobolt and John Curtice showing that attitudes to the EU, including expectations regarding Brexit, were the most powerful and proximate predictors of vote choice at the referendum, we wanted to investigate further how Brexit expectations mattered, and whether it made a difference if voters did not have clear expectations. In particular, we wondered whether, perhaps because of risk aversion, uncertainty about the implications of leaving the EU was associated with Remain voting.

In April 2016, before the referendum campaign, the British Election Study (BES) internet panel asked people what they thought would happen with respect to various different economic and political outcomes in the event of the UK leaving the EU. For most of the outcomes the modal response was to say that things would stay ‘about the same.’ These outcomes included the economy, unemployment, international trade, risk of terrorism, rights for British workers, personal finances, British influence abroad, and the risk of big business leaving the UK. There were just two exceptions. There was a slight tendency for people to think that Scottish independence would be more likely and a strong expectation that immigration would be lower after a Brexit. 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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

EU referendum forecast update: probability of Remain win falls for second consecutive week

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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. For the second consecutive week the probability of a Remain win has fallen and now stands at 68 per cent.

Remain have continued their gentle slide in the polls. Last week our polling average saw Remain drop from 53 per cent to 52 per cent. Now they are on 51 per cent after setting aside don’t knows.

The further one-point drop in our polling average has produced a one-point drop in the forecast share of the vote for Remain, from 54 per cent to 53 per cent.

The 95 per cent prediction interval is still ±12 points. We are now forecasting that Remain will win between 40 per cent and 65 per cent of the vote.

The probability that Remain will win the referendum is now down to 68 per cent.

The method behind this forecast is based on the historical experience of referendum polls and referendum outcomes in the UK and on the EU elsewhere, as discussed here.

Our polling average is constructed by taking the most recent poll from each company within the last two weeks. If a company uses both phone and online modes then both the most recent phone poll and most recent online poll are used. This applies just to ICM this week. The current average is based on the results of eight polls from seven companies, of which three were conducted by phone and five online. All polls are adjusted to account for the tendency for phone polls to be more favourable to Remain. This is done by adding 2.2 to the Remain share for online polls and subtracting the same amount for phone polls.

This post was originally published on Elections Etc. and is re-posted with permission.

About the authors

Dr Stephen Fisher is an Associate Professor in Political Sociology and the Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Trinity College, Oxford.

Dr Alan Renwick is the Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit.

EU referendum forecast update: probability of Remain winning falls to 73 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. Since last week’s update the probability of a Remain win has reduced from 79 per cent to 73 per cent.

The small shift towards Remain in the polls that we observed last week has been reversed. Setting aside don’t knows, our polling average for Remain has dropped back from 53 per cent to 52 per cent. Despite there being little difference between the headline figures for yesterday’s ICM phone and online polls, our estimate (and corresponding adjustment) for the typical difference between the two modes of interviewing has barely changed.

The one-point drop in our polling average has led to a corresponding one-point drop in the forecast share of the vote for Remain, from 55 per cent to 54 per cent. The 95 per cent prediction interval surrounding this estimate has again narrowed very slightly to ±12 points. So we are now forecasting that Remain will win between 42 per cent and 66 per cent of the vote.

Overall the probability that the Remain vote will be larger than the Leave vote has dropped from 79 per cent last week to 73 per cent now.

The method behind this forecast is based on the historical experience of referendum polls and referendum outcomes in the UK and on the EU elsewhere, as discussed here.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

EU referendum forecast update: 79 per cent chance of Remain winning

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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. Since the last update two weeks ago the probability of a Remain win has increased from 72 per cent to 79 per cent.

There has been a small shift towards Remain in the polls over the last two weeks. Excluding don’t knows, our polling average for Remain has moved from 52 per cent on 10th May to 53 per cent now. This figure is based on the most recent polls from each of seven companies: one from each but two from ICM (one by phone and one conducted online). The Remain share has been adjusted down by 2.15 points for telephone polls and up by the same amount for online polls to account for the relatively stable gap between these different methods in the levels of support they tend to give the two sides.

Using the historical experience of referendum polls and referendum outcomes in the UK and on the EU elsewhere, as discussed here, our latest forecast is for Remain to win 55 per cent of the vote in a month’s time. The 95 per cent prediction interval surrounding this estimate has narrowed very slightly to ±12.5 points. So we are forecasting that Remain will win between 43 per cent and 68 per cent of the vote.

Values closer to the middle of this range are more likely. Overall the probability that the Remain vote will be larger than the Leave vote is now 79 per cent, up from 72 per cent two weeks ago.

This post was originally published on Elections Etc. and is re-posted with permission.

About the authors

Dr Stephen Fisher is an Associate Professor in Political Sociology and the Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Trinity College, Oxford.

Dr Alan Renwick is the Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit.