The Brexit Party’s pullout demonstrates a problem for pollsters

27 November, 2019| Analysis, GE2019|Ben Walker Ben Walker

The Brexit Party’s pullout demonstrates a problem for pollsters

The Brexit Party’s decision to stand down may have boosted the Conservatives in the polls, but it’s difficult to predict how many of those votes will actually materialise on polling day.

Photo: Getty Images

The announcement earlier this month that the Brexit Party will not stand in any of the 317 constituencies won by the Conservatives in 2017 was welcomed by Tory activists, who saw it as improving their chances of taking a number of marginal seats from Labour. Since then, national polling has seen a boost in Tory fortunes to the detriment of the Brexit Party. But it remains to be seen if this will materialise on the ground. Will Brexit Party voters will turn out as enthusiastically for Boris Johnson as they did for Nigel Farage in the European elections in May? How many of those voters will vote differently in a general election – and how many, in this election, will turn out at all?

To answer some of these questions, it is worth knowing how polling companies tackled the issue of the Brexit Party standing in less than half of the country.

Here’s how it works: when there isn’t an election campaign happening, pollsters typically include all of the popular parties active in the country among the options available in the voting intention questions. So, before it is known which constituencies the Green Party will stand in, the Greens are offered as an option to all respondents. Since the Brexit Party was formed in January, pollsters included the party in their initial list.

Once an election has been called and the candidates are known, pollsters then change their methodology: the voting intention question broadly goes from “if there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?” to “there is a general election happening on [X date], which of these candidates, who are standing in your constituency, would you vote for?”

YouGov, the most prolific of all pollsters, offers only the candidates standing in the constituency where the respondent lives. Survation and ICM have adopted the same method, and ComRes and BMG have indicated they will be doing similar in future polling.

This shift in methodology affects how smaller parties are seen in the polls, as their share of national voting intention is reduced by the reduction in the number of seats in which they’re standing.

The Brexit Party is an especially interesting example of this. By halving the number of its candidates, it went from being a national party to a small party overnight, and the share of its voting intention in the polls has plunged. But this does not tell the whole story. While the Brexit Party now polls at less than 5 per cent nationally, its share in the seats where it is standing may be two or three times higher. The same is true of the Greens.

Other pollsters, including Ipsos MORI, Kantar, and Panelbase, address this to a certain extent by asking respondents for their second preferences. Those who select the Brexit Party as their initial voting intention, but live in a seat where the party is not standing, have their second preference used instead.

However, there is no guarantee that voters who are unaware that their first choice isn’t standing will commit to their second preference. It may be more likely, when they discover their chosen party isn’t standing, that they decide not to turn out. The Brexit Party’s pull-out may have given the Conservatives a boost in the polls, but predicting how many of those votes materialise on polling day is a harder problem.

Attitudes to immigration are relatively similar across the union, despite Brexit divisions

12 November, 2019| Analysis

Attitudes to immigration are relatively similar across the union, despite Brexit divisions

Like the English, a majority of Scots (58%) support reduced immigration to Scotland. Conor Kavanagh from the Immigration Advice Service writes for Britain Elects.

Photo Credit: Rex Features

There is no doubt that immigration was a key issue during the Brexit referendum, with many believing it was a general vote against immigration rather than one against the European Union. However, the UK’s general attitude towards immigration is complex, with age and region thought to have a considerable bearing on how people view the issue. While 68% of Leave voters said the amount of immigrants coming to Britain was a key driver behind their vote, general attitudes to immigration have softened since the referendum result.

Attitudes Towards Immigration Around the Time of the Referendum

An Ipsos MORI report was carried out during 2015-2016 on attitudes towards immigration. The underlying message was that people generally wanted immigration reduced. From February 2015 to October 2016, the view towards immigration remained consistent, with six in 10 people (60%) wanting to see a reduction. In spite of this, people have generally become more positive about immigration’s impact. Since the start of the study in early 2015, the rating of immigration as a positive force for Britain went up to 46%, with the percentage of those who viewed it negatively dropping to 34%. Roughly 39% of those who held a negative view of immigration in October 2015 had moved to feeling either neutral or positive. In contrast, only 22% of those who held positive views about immigration in October 2015 had switched to saying immigration’s impact was either neutral or negative one year later.

This follows a similar trend found in previous work. In an Ipsos Global advisory survey carried out in 2011, only 19% of participants viewed immigration as positive. This number had increased to 35% in 2015. In 1994, just 5% of respondents to a similar survey thought immigration was a major concern. The level of concern rose steadily in the years that followed, reaching a peak in September 2015, when 56% of the public held this viewpoint. In order to understand why immigration grew in salience over this period, it is important to note that the timeframe saw several waves of immigration from newly accepted EU members- such as Poland in 2004. However, this alone cannot be used to explain the change in attitudes. Interestingly, concerns about immigration have dropped off significantly since the EU referendum. 48% of those surveyed viewed it as a key concern in June 2016, compared with just 21% in December 2017. This is in part due to a growth in concerns regarding our relationship with the EU.

A Breakdown of Different Attitudes Throughout the UK

The EU referendum revealed how split the countries within the United Kingdom were regarding our relationship to the EU. The voters in England and Wales clearly favoured Leave, with 53.4% and 52.5% voting to for this option. The picture in Northern Ireland and Scotland was drastically different. Northern Ireland voted 55.8% to Remain, with 62% of Scots voting the same way. The difference highlights how these two parts of the UK see our relationship with the EU in a different light to the rest. The EU and immigration are inextricably linked within the public consciousness, largely due to the principle of free movement. Yet as closer analysis shows, positive attitudes towards the EU do not necessarily translate into positive attitudes towards immigration.

Just like the rest of the UK, the majority of Scots (58%) support reduced immigration to Scotland, however, more people in Scotland think immigration is a positive for the country (41%), than a negative (31%). This is interesting, as numerous governments have attempted to tackle the issue of the declining Scottish population by implementing schemes such as the ‘Fresh Talent Initiative’, which enabled non-EEA migrants to work in Scotland after attending university. Similarly, the Scottish government wants more devolution of immigration powers so it can pursue a more liberal immigration policy than the rest of the UK. At present, non-EEA workers require both sponsorship from an employer and a salary of £30,000 per year. Altering criteria such as this would enable Scotland to grow its working-age population.

As mentioned, Scotland’s vote in the EU referendum was hugely different to England’s. Despite this, a study from NatCen shows that attitudes towards immigration are almost identical on both sides of the border, with differences in stance stemming from other aspects of demography, notably age. Older people in Scotland are much more likely to look on immigration’s impact in a negative light, whereas 52% of those aged 18-34 view immigration as beneficial to the Scottish economy. The figures for these demographics in England are similar, with 54% of 18-34 year olds and 53% of 35-54 year olds believing that immigration is good for the economy. The proportions stay roughly the same in relation to the impact that immigration has on British culture.  The notable difference is that only 45% of those aged 35-54 in Scotland see it as positive, in comparison to 53% in England and Wales. Those aged over 55 across Britain have a far more negative view of immigration. Just 36% of this age group in Scotland believe it is good for the economy, a figure almost mirrored by the same age group in England and Wales.

Despite the divisions outlined by the Brexit referendum, it is clear this is not the best indicator of how certain countries within the UK feel about immigration. Age is a far more accurate means of gauging one’s stance on the matter, with millennials looking upon its cultural and economic impact far more favourably than those aged 55 and above.

Nigel Farage could move three in ten Labour Leave voters over to the Tories

21 September, 2019| Polling, Analysis, GE2019

Nigel Farage could move three in ten Labour Leave voters over to the Tories

New research suggests electors will be voting tactically in the coming election, with Leave voters open to persuasion from Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage.

Photo: Jessica Taylor, Official House of Commons Photographer

New data from ComRes, commissioned by Britain Elects, has suggested tactical voting may play a decisive part come the next general election, with a significant proportion of Leave voters indicating they’d be willing to change their vote depending on which Brexit-supporting candidate is endorsed by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. Among these figures, a sizeable proportion of Labour Leave voters have indicated they’d be more likely to vote for a Brexit-supporting Conservative candidate if in the event of an endorsement from Farage.

28% of Labour Leave voters told ComRes they’d be more likely to vote Conservative in their constituency if Nigel Farage recommended they do so “in order to deliver a Brexit supporting MP”. 56% of Leave voters in Wales and the East Midlands are also of this opinion.

ComRes also asked Tory and Brexit Party supporters whether they’d support a pact between the two parties, and the results point to majorities on both sides being in favour: approaching two thirds of those intending to vote Conservative (63%) and four in five intending to vote Brexit Party (79%) agreed with the view that a pact should exist between the two parties.

Ben Walker, Founder of Britain Elects, says:
“The data we have commissioned offers further evidence to the fact British politics is experiencing a realignment where a number of Labour Leave voters are considering voting Conservative in order to see a Brexit supporting candidate win.

“What the data also shows is that Nigel Farage, once the stepping stone for sending former Labour voters gone UKIP over to the Conservatives, has sizeable influence in pushing Leave voters in a certain direction. This, and the willingness for a pact from both current Conservative and Brexit Party voters is significant insofar as it suggests the Leave vote could be less likely to fragment between the two parties in a constituency than we previously thought.”

Question 1: The best chance Brexit has of happening is for the Conservative Party and The Brexit Party to form a pact where each respective party will stand aside (on a constituency by constituency basis) in favour of the party that has the best chance of winning that seat (Asked of all voters)

Total (%)
NET: Agree 37%
NET: Disagree 18%
Strongly agree 14%
Somewhat agree 24%
Neither agree nor disagree 20%
Somewhat disagree 7%
Strongly disagree 10%
Don’t know 24%

Approaching two thirds of those intending to vote Conservative (63%) and four in five intending to vote Brexit Party (79%) agree the best chance Brexit has of happening is for the Conservative Party and The Brexit Party to form a pact where each respective party will stand aside (on a constituency by constituency basis) in favour of the party that has the best chance of winning that seat.

Approaching three in five 2016 Leave voters agree the best chance Brexit has of happening is for the Conservative Party and The Brexit Party to form a pact where each respective party will stand aside (on a constituency by constituency basis) in favour of the party that has the best chance of winning that seat (57%).

Question 2: Imagine a situation where the party you normally voted for did not have a realistic chance of winning in your local area. Would you still vote for that party, or would you instead vote for a different Brexit-supporting party with a better chance of winning? (Asked of leave voters)

Total (%)
I would vote for the party in favour of Brexit that had the best chance of winning 60%
I would vote for the party that I would normally vote for, irrespective of their chance of winning 27%
Don’t know 13%

Question 3: If Nigel Farage endorsed a Brexit supporting Conservative Party candidate in your constituency in order to deliver a Brexit supporting MP, would that make you more or less likely to vote Conservative? (Asked to leave voters)

Total (%)
NET: More likely 43%
NET: Less likely 11%
Much more likely 24%
Somewhat more likely 19%
No more or less likely 39%
Somewhat less likely 2%
Much less likely 8%
Don’t know 7%

Nigel Farage has the best chance to make people “more likely” to vote Conservative with a personal endorsement of a Brexit supporting Conservative MP in Wales (56%) and the East Midlands (56%).

28% of Labour leave voters say they would be “more likely” to vote Conservative in their constituency if Nigel Farage endorsed the Brexit supporting Conservative candidate.

Methodology Note: ComRes surveyed 2,050 British adults on 18th – 19th September 2019. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. All questions were also weighted by 2017 past vote recall and EU Referendum past vote. Voting Intention is also weighted by likelihood to vote. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at

Alternative Realities - What if the 'Status Quo' Makes a Comeback?

26 May, 2019| Analysis

Alternative Realities – What if the ‘Status Quo’ Makes a Comeback?

The range of possible vote shares for both Labour and the Brexit Party from the latest polls are enormously wide...

If consensus opinion it to be believed, then the European Parliamentary Elections here in the UK will deliver a clear victory for Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party, while the traditional ‘main parties’ of British politics get something of a hiding – particularly so the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats and Greens seem set for very positive outcomes, while UKIP – just as the BNP before them – will be wiped off the map by a new anti-EU, populist-right party. Change UK are expected to struggle to secure even one MEP, while Labour could even be squeezed into third by their staunchly-Remain Liberal Democrat opponents, and are already wheeling out an expectation game to match.

Flash back to 2014, and the Conservatives were finishing in third, behind a Labour Party in full belief of its ‘government in waiting’ position and an insurgent UKIP, very much headed toward the peak of their powers and influence. The Lib Dems were well down the line on their slide into electoral oblivion (which would bottom out at the General Election the next year), while the Greens were in the middle of what they dubbed the ‘Green Surge’, picking up in that year thousands of new members, gaining an extra 18 councillors at the locals, and winning a new European Parliamentary seat (taking their total to three).

That 2014 result was broadly in line with what was expected from the polling, but with the Conservatives ultimately doing a little better (in terms of vote share) and Labour, the Lib Dems, and UKIP slightly worse.

Let’s imagine though that the central set of expectations for the results tonight are misguided. Instead of a solid victory and a hatful of seats for Farage, decimation for the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats and Greens marching right up close to the traditional ‘top two’, what if a very different set of outcomes – but one completely possible with the range of opinion polling – comes to pass? What kind of election result would we be looking at?

Looking at the polls over the past couple of weeks (nod to Professor Will Jennings here), the range of possible vote shares for both Labour and the Brexit Party are enormously wide. Across all British Polling Council registered pollsters, the spread of possibilities is comprehensive to say the least.

For instance, Nigel Farage’s group could be anywhere from nearly 40% down to a little over a quarter of the overall share. Which is exactly where the high-end of the Labour Party’s expectations, according to the polls. Corbyn’s party could conceivable sit at anywhere between 13% and 25%, meaning – potentially, but rather unlikely – that we might even see a battle for 1st place emerging over Sunday night.

Party Minimum Share Forecast (POLITICO) Maximum Share
Brexit Party 27% 32.90% 38%
Labour Party 13% 19.10% 25%
Liberal Democrats 11% 16.00% 20%
Conservatives 7% 11.10% 15%
Greens 4% 8.60% 12%
Change UK 3% 3.80% 5%
UKIP 2% 2.80% 5%

Polling data comes from May entries in the Wikipedia archive of 2019 European Election voting intention polls for the UK. Central forecast courtesy of POLITICO.

If the Brexit Party did end up somewhere are the bottom end of their polling, this would be a pretty-much identical result to that which UKIP achieved in 2014. Back then, 26.6% was enough to win the party 24 seats across the 11 British regions. Similarly, a result at the top end of Labour’s polling would again be very close to their 2014 result, where 24.5% of the popular vote put Ed Miliband comfortably in second place, picking up 20 seats.

So even looking at the current polls, a result between the top two parties which closely matches what we saw in 2014 is very much a possibility. Is there any reason to think this might happen? Well, concerns have already been expressed regarding the potential of (particularly online polls) to be flooded with hyper-engaged, hyper-mobilised Leave voters filling up panel quotas – something which happened previously with UKIP. So yes, Brexit Party support could on average be very much overestimated. As well, in the last nation-wide ballot – the 2017 General Election – the average very much underestimated Labour’s voting intention. So yes, Labour could still be systematically lower in the polling average than they ought to be.

Moving on now to the other parties and their potential outcomes, the Conservatives in 2014 won 23.1% of the vote, coming in just behind Labour. Certainly the current polling puts them on average well down on that result (11% according to the POLITICO forecast), and indeed in very real danger of being pushed into fifth place by the Greens.

However, let’s continue to imagine a scenario where the 2014 baseline is a much stronger predictor of 2019 performance than currently assumed, and the Conservatives do end up toward the top end of their vote share – 15%. Perhaps it won’t all be as bad is as feared for the governing party, and that less voters than expected flocked to Farage’s outfit? 15% was enough to win Gordon Brown 13 seats in 2004, so the Conservatives may well be able to pick up the same amount with around one in 7 voters supporting them this time around.

Then, combined with the above, the pattern between the top three would look incredibly similar to how it did five years ago – Brexit/UKIP at the top and a couple points ahead of Labour in second, with the Conservatives again a little behind them (though with the gap down to third a little larger than last time).

And what about the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who both look to be very much up on 2014 according to central forecasts of current polls, with a strong chance (certainly in the case of the former) of overtaking the Conservatives?

Much has been made of the reported turnout change across almost 150 councils which have declared such figures ahead of the count this evening. Turnout is most definitely up in more Remain-inclined council areas, but there are three important notes of caution to be made about jumping to conclusion that this turnout pattern is going to deliver the most Remain-supporting parties a solid result.

As outlined in my recent blog post with Professor Sir John Curtice, Professor Stephen Fisher, and Eilidh Macfarlane (the BBC psephology team for tonight’s show), (1) a good amount of the effect is also down to whether or not local elections were held in the authorities in 2014 and/or 2019, (2) problems of endogeneity mean that we can’t be sure if these are Remain voters or Leave voters turning out in greater numbers – the Remain vote could already be ‘baked in’ to the baseline turnout figures and instead the increase could be otherwise not-inclined-Leavers coming out to protest, and additionally (to the points made in the blog) (3) thinking in terms of the above scenario, what if those additional voters (to the 2014 baseline) are traditional supporters of the ‘main two’ parties ‘riding to their aid’ after seeing the state of the polling, having not usually engaged in European Election voting before?

Therefore, there is still a possibility that both the Liberal Democrats may not benefit in particular and to the expected extent from a big anti-Brexit voting surge. Evidence does strongly suggest at least some advances for both, so let’s say that these two parties end up somewhere in the at the lower-middle of their current expectations, settling in at 4th and 5th with around 14% and 8% of the vote respectively (switching places from 2014). A 13% vote share in 2009 gathered in 11 seats for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, so perhaps an additional percentage point could see Cable’s party continue their recovery and go one better than Clegg did in 2009. Meanwhile, if the Greens were to also end up adding one percent to their 2014 total, they may well add just one additional seat from 2014 (moving up to four from three). For argument’s sake, let’s assume the same of Change UK (median forecast of around 4% of the vote and one MEP).

Again, how probable is all of that? Well the same arguments regarding the over-engagement of Brexit supporters could be levied at supporters of Britain’s most overtly Remain parties, and perhaps the moves in the week leading up to the European Elections by Labour Party heavyweights to ‘talk up the possibility’ of supporting a second referendum in parliament may have been effective in stemming the leakage of anti-Brexit Labour supporters away to the Liberal Democrats, Greens, and Change UK.

Taken together, with adjustments made for the likely impact of higher-performing Liberal Democrats and Greens on the eventual D’Hont seat distributions for the top three, it is well within the realms of possibility according to the polling that we end up with results reflecting something along the lines of the below. The figures are naturally very rough (no modelling done at all within regions), but give some guide as to the potential outcome under the above scenario.

Party Potential Share Approximate Seats
Brexit Party 27% 21
Labour Party 25% 19
Conservatives 15% 13
Liberal Democrats 14% 12
Greens 8% 4
Change UK 4% 1
UKIP 3% 0

Potential share and seats may not round and exclude three a piece for Northern Ireland. Seat wins approximated by comparing similar vote shares and minor party aggregate support to previous seat distributions at the national level.

So in summary, after all this talk of Farage and the Brexit Party romping home to a decisive victory, and an anti-Brexit voter turnout surge pushing Labour into 3rd and the Conservatives into 5th, in fact a picture very similar to 2014 may well still emerge. With, of course, the addition of the Brexit Party (who it should be said would have every right to be happy with winning the first election they ever competed) replacing UKIP at the top and the Liberal Democrats recovering to something like their 2009 form. How likely? Not very, but certainly possible. But if it does happen, at least after reading this you can say you saw it coming.

How might the Brexit Party and Change UK influence the local elections from afar?

30 April, 2019| Analysis

How might the Brexit Party and Change UK influence the local elections from afar?

This week's council elections will not feature any Brexit Party or Change UK candidates, and yet their impact on the contests may be felt still

This week’s council elections are the among the most unpredictable and potentially the most exciting in recent memory. Across England and Northern Ireland, almost 9000 seats are up for grabs. With a healthy mixture of Non-Metropolitan Districts (mostly Conservative held/leaning), Metropolitan Boroughs (mostly Labour held/leaning), and Unitary Authorities (spread pretty evenly between the two), we will get a good chance to see how parties are currently performing across a range of different settings. And the hugely volatile currents in the British political air will serve quite the test for established parties looking to defend seats and councils across the country.

Brexit is dominating the headlines, political discussion, and the mind-sets of many voters up and down the country. While neither of the Brexit Party nor Change UK – The Independent Group are standing candidates anywhere on Thursday, their impact will surely be felt as Leave (and what kind of Leave) vs Remain looks set once again to be the dominant voter dynamic.

Voters looking forward to backing Farage’s and Allen’s respective parties later this month in the Euros but for now forced to pick between already-established parties will be focus of this piece.

As I explored for the UK in a Changing Europe in a recent blog, both the Brexit Party and Change UK look set to have significant impacts on the upcoming European election contests – the former particular so.

While not fielding candidates for the local contests on Thursday, the impact of these two hardcore Leave and Remain (respectively) political parties could have sizeable consequences for voting behaviour at the ballot box in three days time.

Namely – what will voters do on May 2nd who are set on backing the Brexit Party and Change UK on May 23rd? The two new entries into the British political system have been driving voters away from the established parties (particularly Labour and the Conservatives), adding to the ever polarising and divisive debate, but where will they go now?

Supporters of Farage’s Brexit Party are, according to the polls for the moment, overwhelmingly backed Leave in 2016 and voted Conservative in the 2017 General Election. Will they return to the Conservatives briefly for the locals? Will they jump ship to Labour in protest at the government’s handling of Brexit? Or could they go elsewhere (if indeed they go out at all)?

Realistically, the circa 25% of the voting public expressing intention to back the Brexit Party are highly unlikely to move toward the more Remain-y end of the current political spectrum, given the ‘hard Brexit’ appeal of Farage.

As for the Conservatives, Theresa May and her party are the root cause of their current frustrations over Brexit, so it also seems fairly unlikely that many voters will return to the Tory roots later this week.

So, one of the slightly surprising beneficiaries of the Brexit Party moment instead could be UKIP. Many 2016 Leave and 2017 Conservative voters are very likely to have backed UKIP prior to those two events. Returning to them, as the original party of Brexit (they could very easily argue), or indeed moving to UKIP for the first time would seem quite logical. UKIP offers a very similar outlook on Brexit to Farage and his party, and in their absence could be well placed to capitalise on Brexit frustrations.

As such, UKIP may do surprisingly well in the coming local election, hold on to many more seats than in the previous two cycles (2017 and 2018), and perhaps also take a number of seats in previous areas of strength and Leave-supporting areas (watch out for Bolton, Oldham, Derby, and Sunderland).

On the other side of the coin, the 2016 Remain vote is currently fairly evenly dispersed mostly across four parties, according to current European and General Election voting intention. Each of Labour (with whom the current plurality of Remain voters lie), the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and Change UK are attracting at least 10% of Remain voters expressing intention to turn out on May 23rd. But what will these figures look like in the much-sooner locals?

ChangeUK will of course not be on any of the ballots, but their efforts to mobilise anti-Brexit voters present opportunities for other pro-EU parties who are contesting council seats. Labour’s current ambiguity and ongoing controversy of its backtracking on a confirmatory referendum (current party policy which is not featured in its election materials) means that, as with the Conservatives and 2016 Leave voters, Labour might struggle to hang on to its supporters who place high value on the issue of aborting Brexit and remaining in the European Union. Instead, the Liberal Democrats and Greens could be set to take advantage of strong pro-EU sentiments among many voters across different councils holding elections on Thursday.

Local authorities such as the Wirral, Wokingham, Trafford, St Albans, Liverpool, and Stockport all voted to Remain in the European Union on June 23rd 2016, and as such provide fertile ground for the two strongest advocates of remaining in the EU now (aforementioned Liberal Democrats and Greens) to pick up voters and win seats.

In all, the impact of Britain’s two newest political parties and the ever polarising and fraught political debate surrounding Brexit will undoubtedly have an impact on the upcoming local elections. Voters supercharged on pro-Brexit and pro-EU sentiments will, and particularly in the absence of the Brexit and Change UK parties, likely be driven toward supporting other non-traditional British parties in the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, and the Greens, who may well each have very pleasing news to wake up to on Friday 3rd.