Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Labour surges into contention for UK general election

With two weeks to go until the 8 June UK general election, current polls give the Conservatives about 45%, followed by Labour on 34%, the Liberal Democrats on 8%, and the UK Independence Party has fallen below 5%. While the Conservative 11-point lead is large, Labour has risen from about 25% at the start of the campaign, and three polls conducted last weekend gave the Conservatives 8-9 point leads.

The Manchester terror attack on Monday night was expected to help the Conservatives, but the first poll taken since that event, a YouGov poll, has their lead down to just five points, 43-38.

There are 650 seats in the UK House of Commons, so 326 are needed for a majority. The UK uses the First Past the Post system. At the last election, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats.

At the 2015 UK general election, the Conservatives won 36.8% of the votes and 331 of the 650 seats including the Speaker, while Labour won 30.5% of the vote and 232 seats. Owing to seats won by the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Northern Ireland and Other parties, the Conservatives barely won a majority on a 6.3 point lead over Labour. A five point Conservative popular vote win would probably result in the loss of their majority.

Labour’s vote first increased when its manifesto was leaked two weeks ago. This manifesto promised to nationalise the railways, gas companies and Royal Mail, while increasing taxes on the rich and corporations. Although Labour’s manifesto was derided by the right wing media, it gave those on the left who did not like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a reason to vote Labour.

On 18 May, the Conservative manifesto was released. The manifesto proposed that people with assets over £100,000 ($AU 174,000) including their homes would have to pay for their social care, a change from the current £23,000 but excluding homes. After a backlash from senior citizens over what has been dubbed the “dementia tax”, PM Theresa May backtracked on this commitment on Monday, announcing an unspecified cap on the amount someone could be charged for social care.

The YouGov poll that gave the Conservatives a five-point lead also had favourable ratings of the parties and leaders. In the April poll used in comparison, the Conservatives had a 23-point lead. The Conservative party has a net favourable rating of -7, down five points. Labour has a net -8 rating, up 19 points. May has a net +1 rating, down nine points. Corbyn has a net -16 rating, up 26 points.

The two-day G7 summit will be held in Italy starting today, and will feature the leaders of Italy, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, the UK and the US. If May appears to be too close to Donald Trump, that could reflect badly on her in the UK electorate.

The UK Conservatives support Brexit, and May has invited Trump to make a state visit, probably in October. In recent Dutch and French elections, parties tied to Trump have gone backwards in the final weeks, then underperformed their polls on election day. The UK Conservatives are a mainstream party, not a far right party, but they are associated with Trump.

I believe Labour has made huge gains in the polls for three reasons: the Labour manifesto had popular proposals, the Conservative manifesto had a highly controversial proposal, and the Trump factor. In Australia, it is well known that state parties do better when the opposite party is in power federally, and vice versa. Trump’s unpopularity in much of the developed world may affect parties that are connected to him. Such parties may find elections harder than they anticipated.

Even though the Conservatives had a clear majority in the last Parliament, this election was called three years ahead of schedule so that the Conservatives could massively increase their majority. If instead they lose their majority, it will be an utter disaster for the Conservatives.

This election has been disappointing for the Liberal Democrats. As the only significant explicitly pro-Remain party, they should have been able to appeal to the 48% who voted to Remain at the 2016 Brexit referendum. Instead their vote has fallen from 10% at the start of the campaign to 8% now.

Despite assaulting reporter, Republican wins Montana US House by-election

The day before the by-election in Montana’s at-large Congressional District (CD), Republican candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed The Guardian’s reporter Ben Jacobs. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanour assault.

Despite this assault, Gianforte won the by-election today by a 50-44 margin over Democrat Rob Quist. Trump had won this CD by 20 points in 2016, so there was a solid move to the Democrats, but not enough to win. About 2/3 of the vote was cast prior to election day.

Although Republicans have retained their seats at by-elections in Kansas and Montana, there have been strong swings to the Democrats in both seats. The Democrats have a good chance of gaining a seat when Georgia’s sixth CD holds a runoff by-election on 20 June. Democrat Jon Ossoff won 48.1% in the first round, and a recent poll had Ossoff leading his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, 51-44.

Canadian British Columbia election shows need to dump First Past the Post

Federally and in most Canadian provinces, the Conservatives are the right wing party, and the Liberals are centre left. However, in British Columbia (BC), there is no Conservative party. The BC Liberals are the centre right party, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) are their main opponents. The BC Liberals have governed since 2001.

The BC election was held using First Past the Post on 9 May, but final results have only been released this week. The Liberals won 43 of the 87 seats, to 41 for the NDP and 3 Greens. Popular votes were 40.4% for the Liberals, 40.3% for the NDP and 16.8% for the Greens. So a total vote of 57.1% for the two left parties gave them only a one-seat combined majority.

Under any other widely used system, such as preferential voting, proportional representation or two-round elections, the left parties would have won a landslide majority.

I was disappointed when Canadian PM Justin Trudeau ditched his promise to reform the First Past the Post system in February. At some stage, maintaining First Past the Post will haunt the Canadian left as the Conservatives are the only right wing party, while the Liberals, NDP, Greens and Quebec Bloc fragment the left vote.

At the May 2011 election, the Conservatives won 54% of the seats on just 39.6% of the votes, leading to 4.5 years of right wing government under Stephen Harper before the October 2015 election.