The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘psephology’

Putting It In Perspective

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 3, 2010 @ 10:00

I have been wondering why I’m so frustrated with this election. Partly it’s the lack of substantive policy discussions, but mostly because I’ve been sorely tempted by what the polls have been showing.

Lib Dems in the high 20s. Such a result would be unprecedented in modern British politics.

And yet I’m still disappointed.

So this morning I’ve been trying to figure out why that would be. After all, if before this campaign someone had offered me the Lib Dems in a Royal Rumble for second place with Labour, I’d have bitten their hand off.

Because – let’s face it – the early polls, in the days leading up and after the election being called, looked a bit like this…

Or, in words, the Tories were floating around the 38% mark, with Labour just creeping over 30%, and the Lib Dems in a distant third with about 20%.

And now, with the polls as they are, I’m disappointed?!

I think, perhaps, my disappointment stems from two sources:

Firstly, that it’s not even better. After all, the best poll put the Lib Dems on 34%. That would be truly monumental. Not just a political earthquake, but an entire rearrangement of the tectonic plates. That got my hopes up just a little too highly. I knew it wouldn’t last, but it didn’t stop me dreaming.

But secondly, it is the fact that the polls have been cruel. Showing the Lib Dems safely above 30%, even showing them in first place, and then snatching it away again.

So I decided it was time for this reality check.

The Lib Dems are doing fantastically well. I always knew they would recover some support during the campaign – that is always what happens – but a year ago, when the polling was as bad as 15 to 18%, I thought all that would happen would be that they would just rise enough to ensure we aren’t destroyed. Here is my gloomy analysis from last year.

Instead, the Lib Dems have more than shown that they’re capable of winning voters from Labour and the Tories. That might just mean those LD-Con battleground seats, all of which I thought they’d lose, might just stick around for the fun. Oh please, let it be so. The loss of the legendary David Heath in Somerton and Frome would be a cruel blow!

The upshot of all this, the LDs are on course for a stunning level of support on Thursday. Of course, support does not equal seats, but it will help make the great case for electoral reform that might mean that, some day soon, I might actually cast a vote that counts for something.

That’s cheered me up a bit.

Now just don’t wreck it, Nick!

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Roll-y Poll-y

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 24, 2010 @ 23:42

There is a real danger in my poll projection methodology at the moment. The huge highs recorded in the Lib Dem share are estimating that the figure for “Others” could go as low as 6%, which is never going to happen. At the last election the three main parties achieved 90% of the British vote. That will not be lower this time, especially with the rise of the Nats.

So there is going to have to be some revision to my methodology. Again. Before that, the new numbers…

CONSERVATIVES: 33%

LIB DEMS: 29%

LABOUR: 28%

No changes from last time, because of the methodology change.

I have decided, because of the huge volume of polls coming through at the moment, on average three a day, to close the polling window down to just 10 days. 10 days of polls is roughly 30 polls, which is sufficient to get a good view of what’s going on. And, in light of the major developments in recent weeks, it’s important the averaging becomes a little more sensitive. 10 days will achieve that.

I have also decided that it would be wrong to use maxima and minima. Labour are not going get 23%, whcih is what the minimum would predict. It is not going to happen. The Lib Dems, much as they usually outperform the polling, are not going to get 34% this time.

So now we’re all on medians. All the above numbers are now the medians spread across all results from members of the British Polling Council.

It looks and feels a little closer to the truth. A major drop for the Tories, and a major rise for the Lib Dems. As the election enters its closing stages, this index will be regularly updated.

What do these results mean in terms of seats? Using our old, discredited friend – UNS – we get…

  • ukpollingreport.co.uk – Conservatives: 247 seats; Labour: 276 seats; LD: 96 seats: LABOUR 50 seats short
  • Electoral Calculus –  Conservatives: 258 seats; Labour: 265 seats; LD: 95 seats: LABOUR 61 seats short

Unfortunately, I can’t even try it with Andy Cooke’s version, principally because his system was designed in the bad old days when the Lib Dems knew their place.

So we’re in bizarre territory. Potentially Labour coming third in share of the vote, and yet getting the most seats. And thus getting the first crack at forming a government. God bless FPTP!

But UNS can’t possibly be a useful guide in such a close election. It cannot cope with a genuine third party “surge” like this. It’s going to make some of these predictions look very bad come results day. Unless, that is, the Lib Dems do fail to consolidate their vote in the key marginals, and instead lift up everywhere, potentially gaining very little as a result. That is my worry.

And yet, these numbers sort of feel right. Perhaps they may be transposed; maybe the slightly greater swing to the Tories in the key marginals will mean the Tories get roughly what we think Labour will get in such a close scenario. Either way, both parties are way, way short of a majority.

All this can change so easily. A couple of percent either way will make the outcome more decisive, and bring in lots of other scenarios, potentially involving other parties than the Lib Dems.

But if we get stuck here, there will only be one winner: the Yellow Peril. The Lib Dems will get the choice of government. Or neither, precipitating another election. That would be highly dangerous. I sense a lose-lose situation for them.

So many scenarios. So much still to play for…

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That Elusive Labour Share

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 14, 2010 @ 09:15

It’s time to stick my finger in the air and sense the mood. Here’s the latest Monster’s Poll…

CONSERVATIVES: 38% (N/C)

LABOUR: 26% (N/C)

LIB DEMS: 23% (+2%)

On the surface, there’s something not right here. These figures are now being taken across a 30 day window. The changes listed above are from last time, which was over 20 days ago.

That means, because over 2/3rds of the polls in this sample are new, that the polls are still not showing much movement. Except to the Lib Dems, but one expects that during a campaign. That’s why we always take their maximum, even if many intervening polls show them lower.

If we look instead at medians (bearing in mind that the Tory share above is already the median) the Labour Party are on 31% and the Lib Dems on 19%.

That is closer to the mark, but it hides a huge degree of volatility, particularly in the Labour share. Within the past week, they have been as low as 26% and as high as 33%. Yes, we’re comparing apples with oranges, as they are from different pollsters with different formulae, but when you look at the Tory share in the last week, their range is narrower, from 36% to 40%. As a proportion of their actual share, the Labour volatility is much higher.

So, as I have agonised about why it’s so hard to get a sensible reading for the Labour figure, the pollsters are in the same boat. They all have their own weird ways of assigning “don’t knows” based on why they voted for last time, or who they say they lean towards, or how certain they say they are going to vote… but whichever way you look at it, the Labour share of the vote is a true toss up. 26% will result in a Tory landslide. 33%, depending on how the Tories do, might just mean Labour remains the largest party in a hung parliament.

Perhaps Labour support is indeed solidifying, and the perceived closeness of the election will encourage more and more of their supporters to the polls. But what if all of those Labour loyalists live in solid Labour seats anyway? That is no use to them.

The marginals are all that matter, and as the specific marginal polls keep showing, the Tories are doing better than the national trend there. In some respects then, that distortion would have a similar effect to a lower national share for Labour, and projecting the result based on that may be more accurate after all.

Here’s hoping we see the classic poll convergence in the coming weeks. Cos right now, I ain’t a betting man.

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FPTP: Frankly Pathetic; Totally Preposterous

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 12, 2010 @ 18:12

We Lubs Disproportionate Results!

One of the great defences of our shit electoral system is to say that it is “simple” for voters to both understand and to use. Just get your ballot paper, smear it with a cross (or a smiley face; Returning Officers are very tolerant!) in the appropriate box, and you’re done. Later, we count them up, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Easy!

Proportational representation fans are sometimes flummoxed by this assault. We let the other side get free-hits by saying things are so complicated they have to be counted by computers, and that explaining the counting process is impossible without a degree in mathematics.

But we do ourselves a disservice.

First Past The Post may make it easy to cast a vote, but it is blunt. It allows no nuances, and it certainly doesn’t care how many candidates are in the race.

Voting is something a lot of people take a lot of time over. They umm and ahh about who they should go for, often proceeding on a least-worst option. How can I hurt the candidate I don’t want to win the most? Which one of these candidates do I hate the least? Their preference can change daily.

But in the end, if you have FPTP, none of that thinking matters. You get one chance. If you’re not thinking like everyone else, your vote could be wasted.

So you go back to the drawing board. You try to think like everyone else. You see where the zeitgeist is headed. Which national party has the big momentum. You balance all of these factors, and you end up with what psephologists call tactical voting.

Tactical voting. It doesn’t sound very democratic, does it.

That’s because it isn’t. FPTP limits your choice. It forces you to try to think like everyone else. It squeezes you into a box. It doesn’t allow you to express your real preference, because you don’t want to be one of those wasted votes, do you? It’s a two-horse race, don’t forget.

Tactical voting, and its associated thought processes, actually make FPTP one of the most difficult electoral systems. The poor voter is left with a multitude of factors to weigh up, and that’s assuming they even know what the result was last time. Not everyone knows that you can get the result from last time in seconds off Wikipedia. And then there is the prospect of local parties spinning different election results in different ways to try to prove that they are “the only alternative”. Lib Dems, I’m looking at you…

The culmination of all this is utter confusion, a muddled mess that we expect each and every voter to have to work through in their heads. A purportedly democratic system that only allows people the choice they actually want if they fortunate enough to live in a constituency that allows it. The rest of us live our lives in glorious perpetual safeness, never feeling that joy of being part of a campaign that really could decide the future of the country.

A preferential system, on the other hand, would give everyone the chance to have their vote be worth something. And not only that, they really could express a truly democratic choice, of having their vote fully reflect their beliefs.

So the next time someone says First Past The Post is “simple”, why not remind them just how difficult the choice actually is for the average voter…

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Beaten By Mugabe? Oxford East Lib Dems Celebrate!

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 17, 2009 @ 09:57

Peter Tatchell after Mugabe's thugs had their say...

Now that’s such a mean title…

But the last part is definitely true.

The news yesterday that Peter Tatchell will not be standing for the Greens at the next election in the seat of Oxford East will, I’m sure, have raised a wee cheer at Lib Dem Towers in Cowley Street.

Tatchell says his reasons for not standing are related to a beating he was given by Mugabe’s thugs several years ago, which has left him with long-term effects. That is very sad, of course, and I wish him all the best.

But, wearing my partisan hat, I believe this is good news for the Lib Dems. Oxford East is a squeaky Labour-Lib Dem marginal, which Labour just about kept hold of last time with a majority of of just 963. Boundary changes since then have, according to Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report, made this even more favourable to the Yellow Peril.

There is, in my mind, no doubt that a strong Green campaign in this seat would have affected the result next time. After all, in 2005 the Green candidate got 1,813 votes – twice the majority. It’s not a huge leap of imagination to suggest that if those 1,813 people were asked to recast their ballot in mind of what the result was going to be that many of them may have shifted over to the Lib Dems, particularly given the position of the parties on Iraq and top-up fees, which were massive issues in seats like this one.

Next time, Peter Tatchell’s mere presence, never mind his formidable campaigning skills, would have given the Greens a bigger profile. Maybe he was even standing as a spoiler to the Lib Dems chances. After all, he’ll probably never forget that by-election in a hurry.

But now he’s gone. And this, if you’ll pardon the historical pun, will be yet another straight choice for the people of Oxford East.

In the balance of things, it is a seat that the Lib Dems should obviously win against a failing Labour government. Nick Clegg will surely visit the constituency. He probably hopes all of the marginal battles were like this one. And it should be enough. If they cannot win a seat like this, then it will be an extremely bad night: and a seat total of 30-40 would be expected.

Winning this seat, and seats like it, are part of the calculation for the Lib Dems to make up the ground that may well be lost in LD-Con marginals, where the temptation of voting for David Cameron will just be too great for the locals, fools that they are.

The only unknown. Will Labour take my advice and try to rally the core vote?

If they did, this is the kind of seat (believe it or not) where it might just work…

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Could 2010 Get Even Better?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 1, 2009 @ 08:30

"And not a lot of people know that" said Mr Rudd

Psephologically speaking, I mean.

Apparently, yes.

The Australian Liberal Party – who aren’t very liberal – have just elected a new leader. A new fall guy, perhaps, but certainly someone who thinks he can take the fight to the governing Labor Party.

And the key issue?

What other than that thing that gets conservatives across the globe hot under the collar: climate change.

The issue of whether to back Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plans for an emissions trading scheme has split the Liberal Party right down the middle. Previous leader Malcolm Turnbull had insisted his party supports the scheme, but the consequence of that is now plain for all to see. The final round of voting in the leadership election ended with Turnbull getting 41 votes, and new leader Tony Abbott getting a superb 42.

(Incidentally, it’s good to see the return of the smoke-filled room electing a party leader; clearly there wasn’t a vote of the membership, unless they really have just 83 members…)

So the Liberal Party is in complete turmoil. Meanwhile, the climate change legislation is popular, the government has excellent opinion poll ratings, Kevin Rudd is still the preferred Prime Minister and the Australian Constitution has a get out clause enabling a mega election – called a double dissolution – in which both Houses of the Australian Parliament are dissolved completely, rather than the usual whole lower House and half the upper House.

Is Rudd bold enough to take on the gamble? He has not been known for such an aggressive strategy in the past, but it would be foolish to rule out the threat of an early election as that is one way you keep both your party in line and place the opposition under further pressure.

There is also the unknown of whether the new Liberal leader will manage to unite his party and turn them into a credible electoral force. Rudd is very likely to wait until he gets the answer to that question before taking any decision.

However, if I was in Rudd’s position, I would ensure that the climate change legislation is once more put before the Senate and rejected, which then gives the government the double dissolution option. It also puts the incoming leader under tremendous pressure in the first few days of his new job. That will answer a lot of questions about him.

Then, consider the options in the New Year. Indeed, consider the option of not only making climate change the major issue, but opening up the possibility of much stronger legislation because – assuming electoral victory – he will no longer be forced to make concessions to an opposition controlled Senate.

Thus giving Australia a chance to position itself as the leader of the world in the fight against climate change.

Sure, that’s bound to piss off the sceptics and big business. But the world really cannot afford to continue this pretence of tackling the issue while doing absolutely nothing about it any longer.

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More American Elections = Fun, Fun, Fun

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 28, 2009 @ 10:11

The cheap way of doing things...

Psephologists worldwide are always excited when it’s a US election year. The main reason is that nobody does elections quite like the States. Big spending, big personalities, big media agendas, vast levels of polling data, unbelieveable detail in demographic targeting. And certain races catch the eye to become real battles getting the Hollywood treatment.

So next year we’re in for a treat. Not only will we see the demise of the Labour government, but later on in the year will be the first genuine test of how the USA will react to the so-called Democratic supermajority control of the legislature and the executive branches for the first time in some decades.

Elections to the US House of Representatives happen every two years. This pretty much means that as soon as they’re elected, the poor buggers have to go out and start campaigning again. Luckily, they’re helped by extremely favourable incumbency rates. But to some extent, they’re favourable for a reason: they work hard to bring home the bacon to their district.

With that in mind, the vast majority of Congress members will have been doing as much they can to raise the cash for next year’s election. However, certain races have the luxury of being the recipient of campaign cash from the national parties. And, at the moment, only one side of the aisle has the readies… at the ready. On top of that, certain races get lots of attention from the netroots, which can raise extremely large sums of money at the drop of a hat.

But money is obviously not the most important factor. Maybe we should be grateful of such a small mercy. In mid-term elections, enthusiasm is critical. How motivated are your base to come out when the big draw of the Presidency isn’t around? When the “coattails” effect isn’t in action…

Well, this survey (bottom of the post) gives us an answer. 40% of Democrats say they’ll either be “not likely” to vote, or definitely won’t vote. On the other side, just 14% of Republicans say the same. And when you consider that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, that’s a lot of apathy amongst the Democratic base.

Generically, Democrats still hold the lead. But there are a lot of people who are very upset with both parties in Congress. Democrats can only hope that they either don’t vote at all, or choose not to take their anger out on the Democrats by voting Republican, in the usual protest vote strategy that one normally sees at a mid-term election.

In any case, elections aren’t fought generically. They are personal battles. And in the heart of the Republican party right now is an ideological one as well. This is very likely to result in much more conservative candidates than usual. Will that appeal to mainstream America? Or will the fired up nature of the Republican base get the Democrats out in force too?

And yet, while Democratic popularity has taken a nosedive over the last few months, courtesy of Congressional failures to get healthcare reform rolling, and a resurgent Republican party lying about every issue under the sun, they haven’t covered themselves in glory. Americans have extraordinarily unfavourable views of the Republican leadership – and a 70% unfavourable view of the Republicans in Congress in general.

How, in such circumstances, could the Republicans possibly gain?

The answer lies in whether Obama can find it within himself to deliver the goods to the nation. He seems to be forgetting that just a year ago his agenda was given a very positive reception by the American people. An agenda that was far more progressive than what is currently making its way through Congress.

He is wasting his mandate by not insisting on the policies that the American people actually voted for, and which continue to be popular in national polling.

Healthcare reform is key, but so is the environment, and, of course, getting the economy up and running again. Which means getting people into work.

Governing is a far more difficult job than campaigning. But what’s disappointing so many of us Obama fans right now is that we believed that if anyone could thread the needle, if anyone could use their leadership skills to bring Congress on his side, it would be Obama.

A year to go, and there’s all to play for. But if Obama messes the 2010 election up, his presidency will be effectively over before it’s even started.

America can do without that.

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Perhaps All Is Not Lost?

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 16, 2009 @ 19:38

Welcome to Bedford (Prison)!

Welcome to Bedford (Prison)!

Lo! What news from Bedford?

The Liberal Democrat candidate has been declared the newly elected mayor of Bedford after beating the rival Conservative candidate in the run-off.

Intriguing. That will doubtless put a spring in the step of the staff at Cowley Street for the next week at least!

Yes, it is a by-election. And by-elections don’t always follow the trend. Indeed, if recent council by-election results were anything to go by, it would be a very promising sign that perhaps the Lib Dem vote is going to hold up well in the face of the Tory onslaught after all…

The interesting thing about this result, too, is that the very nature of the ballot, the Supplementary Vote with its second preference votes, makes this a very real test of tactical voting – with sufficient voters for the other candidates being prepared to support the LDs. But the fact that this was not FPTP should give us pause before drawing too many conclusions from it.

Clearly, the elimination of the two independent candidates, the Labour and the Green candidate, did more to benefit us Lib Dems – as we picked up over 4,000 votes in the “second round” compared to 2,438 for the Conservative. That is a very promising sign that Labour voters – and others – will be prepared to lend us their vote.

Because this was what I fear most at the next election: a straight battle between us and the Tories, with a Labour vote that has already been seriously squeezed. The presence of the Indies makes things even more complicated. But either way, both Tory and Lib Dem first preference votes held up extremely well – both achieving around 9k compared to 10k in the previous election in 2007. Those second preferences – and future tactical voters, hopefully – made the critical difference.

It does bode well, but we have to be wary about extrapolating too heavily here. When the government of the country is at stake, you can be sure the turnout will be much greater.

But, let’s face it, surveys have shown consistently that those most likely to vote are generally Conservatives. Indeed, LD voters are notorious for saying they may not actually vote at all, sometimes worse than Labour voters. Tory turnout is always good, regardless of the election on offer. It is usually ours and Labour voters that play much harder to get.

With that in mind, if the election outcome can, somehow, be put back in the balance, for it to be close enough to be all to play for, it might motivate Labour voters in Con-LD marginals to get out there.

Perhaps it might even be counter-productive for Cameron to overplay the uncertainty of the election result. There can be no room for complacency, of course, but trying to argue it’s exceptionally tight when it isn’t (as the polls are showing) could be the push that gets Labour and LD voters to the ballot box.

Maybe that’s what we saw here too. It had long been predicted that the Bedford result would be on a knife edge. And so it came to pass. The electorate really do love a closely-fought election which could swing either way. Makes it far more dramatic and entertaining!

That’s what we’ve gotta provide then…

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Boring Norwich North

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 27, 2009 @ 00:33

The depressing image of the future of British Politics. Young. Fashionable. Smooth. Give me old warhorses like Dennis Skinner and Sir Peter Tapsell any day!

The depressing image of the future of British Politics. Young. Fashionable. Smooth. Give me old warhorses like Dennis Skinner and Sir Peter Tapsell any day!

It has taken me some days to find anything interesting to comment on from the Norwich North by-election. But that won’t stop me trying…

The reason being quite simple: it was blindingly obvious that the Tories were going to win. So my right call – and they don’t come along too often so you’ll excuse my celebration – a whole month ago was entirely vindicated.

In many respects, these are the worst by-elections of all. They aren’t exciting or relevant because the result is a certainty – and yet they should be the complete opposite given the fact that the governing party have just lost a key seat on a huge swing. If a by-election were held in a government stronghold, which they win as easily as falling off a log, that would be equally dull. But at least then we’d understand why it got so little attention.

Instead, this one is frustrating. Indeed, in the run up to it there was so little coverage that we might have been forgiven for thinking there was no more need for politics in this country.

It was a simple result with a simple explanation. Tory voters came out to vote; Labour voters all found something else to do in droves.

Now, this has led to much comment. After all, the newly minted Tory MP received less votes as an absolute figure compared with the 2005 General Election. Consequently, elections “expert” Professor John Curtice assures us that the result should give David Cameron “a moment’s pause”.

Here’s my reasoning why it shouldn’t do anything of the sort.

Elections are about winning by any means possible. If you lose votes, but your opposition loses even more, and you come out on top, then you have done what needs to be done.

The argument goes that these Labour voters will return when the General Election comes around. It’s always been the same. For some reason, it is damn near impossible to get Labour voters out of bed when the government of the country is not at stake. We see it every time, local, European and by-elections; they’re just lazy bastards.

If the argument is true, then Labour should reclaim Norwich North at the next General Election. After all, they got 21,097 votes last time, 7,506 more than Chloe Smith received and won.

But I don’t think it is true any more. Some Labour voters will indeed return. The rest are, I believe, lost for good. The middle classes have already moved to the Tories. The working classes will never vote Tory: but they will sit on their hands or vote elsewhere (BNP?) as a protest. They have had it with Labour. They’ve always been prepared to overlook the middle-of-the-road tendencies required to win power, viewing it as a necessary evil to schmooze with the City and big business.

But the recession, the credit crunch, and the MPs expenses scandal have changed all of that. They no longer identify with the Labour Party in the way they did. They have – finally – woken up and realised that, in those immortal words, “they’re all at it”.

In other words, their behaviour has no excuse, and they’ve been caught with their hands on the till – and all these events taken together have been the straw that’s broken the camel’s back.

The absence of Labour voters almost gives Cameron a majority without him even doing anything. When you add in the middle class switchers, the next election is such a shoo-in that we might as well forgo the election process and hand Cameron the keys to Number 10 now.

Norwich North wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. But, in the same way Wirral South was for Tony Blair in February 1997, it was just another sign that the inevitable was drawing ever nearer…

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