Ask the Expert with Professor John Curtice

In our latest ESRC-sponsored Ask the Expert Seminar, Professor John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University and President of the British Polling Council, discusses how the political parties faired in the polls during the run up to the Election and on Election Day.

Campaign changes:

Professor John Curtice begins the discussion by looking at the polls pre-election and post-election. In mid-April the Conservatives had a 20-point lead over the Labour Party, however, throughout the campaign the position of the Labour Party changed and the gap between the two main parties narrowed. Historically neither the Conservatives nor Labour has experienced such increases in the opinion polls, election campaigns themselves are often uninfluential.

There is one figure that Prof. Curtice believes should have been in everyone’s mind during this election and that is that it took a seven-point lead in the polls to give the Conservatives the majority of 12 in 2015 that the Prime Minister since deemed inadequate. By the time we got to polling day a number of polling companies were suggesting a 7 point lead as support for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn increased. It was therefore possible for the Conservative’s to lose their majority, however a 50 seat majority was also within the realms of probability.

When we look at attitudes to the manifestos and campaign there are a number of policies on both sides that proved unpopular but it appears that on balance the labour manifesto had a number of policies that were viewed as more popular by the electorate. YouGov data shows that voters perceived the Conservative campaign as dishonest and negative. During Manifesto week the Labour position within the polls increased by 4 points.

Election statistics:

  • The proportion of 2015 Labour voters who voted Labour again was identical to the proportion of 2015 Conservatives who voted Conservative again. Concerns about Labour voters being unable to back their leader appear to have reduced during the campaign.
  • Both of the main political parties gained points from leave voters during the campaign, however when we focus on remainers the Labour party experienced a substantial increase in its polling position whereas the Conservative position weakened.
  • The Conservatives tend to do much better in Constituencies where there was a large leave vote in 2016. Three fifths of UKIP voters voted Conservative, it is important to note that whether UKIP stood in a constituency did not make much of a difference to the swing to the Conservatives.
  • Whilst this election is a return to two party politics we are seeing much less influence of historic voting determinants. Social class has less influence on whether an individual will vote Conservative or Labour since than has been seen since the post-war period.
  • Age is now the principal demographic division between the main two parties. Three fifths of 18-24 year olds voted Labour. Understanding the root of this change is a question that remains unanswered.
  • The Labour vote went up in areas where turnout increased the most, suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn was able to get the support of those who usually do not vote.

Where does this leave us for the next general election?

  • The Conservatives do not need a big swing to ensure a majority in the next election.
  • The uniform swing methodology overestimates how tough it might be for Labour to win the next election, suggesting they need a 5-point swing. Labour are likely to be closer to winning that we might imagine.


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