UK Election Preview: Polling And London

Guest Post By Nathan Wurtzel

With only one week left until the United Kingdom’s snap general election, there is a heated disagreement over the state of the race. Unlike in 2015, when almost all pollsters incorrectly agreed the two parties were in a dead heat that would result in a hung House of Commons, herding (covered in our first installment) is not taking place. Instead, a significant divergence in modelling the electorate may be the cause of the dispute.

Following the blown call of 2015, the British Polling Society issued recommendations for ensuing elections. One of these suggested pollsters eschew self-reported turnout likelihood in favor of modelling based on proven numbers from the past, with allowances for possible demographic change. It appears many pollsters are not following this suggestion. Top companies like YouGov, Survation, and ORB continue to use self-reported data for turnout. Other pollsters like ICM, ComRes, and Kantar are using turnout models.

The differences in the results are significant. YouGov and other self-reporting model companies expect younger voters to turn out at the same rate or nearly the same rate as older voters, which has never before happened in a UK general election. Data compiled by American political consultant Patrick Ruffini and British political consultant Ian Warren show older voters continue to vote at a higher rate than younger voters by significant margins.

This causes significant differences in the results, as young voters overwhelmingly support Labour and older voters by a landslide support the Conservatives. YouGov unveiled its model yesterday to much ballyhoo, showing the Tories leading Labour by only three points, which would likely result in a hung Parliament with no coalition possible. Similarly, a new Survation poll (PDF) shows the Conservatives leading by six points, which would result in a similar Commons to the one that was dissolved for this snap election.

On the other hand, polling companies using turnout modelling based on past elections are finding Conservative leads of ten points (PDF) to twelve points (PDF). It’s always challenging to convert raw numbers to seats, but this would likely result in a 25-40 seat gain for the Conservatives, which interestingly is about the same as the current betting average, something not to be overlooked in the United Kingdom.

With the above taken into account, it is also undeniable that all polling has shown Labour gaining ground over the past month. We examined the “dementia tax” U-turn and the tin-eared Conservative Manifesto last week. To that we add Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn simply may not be as radioactive as expected (something American readers might understand very well) and that too large a number of UK voters agree with Labour on economics and values to ever give the Conservatives a true landslide.

If Labour is to stage a stunning comeback next Thursday, Greater London will play a very large part. We now move to the capital region of England in our final seat by seat examination of the 2017 general election.

Greater London

Greater London is comprised of the capital of England and its suburbs. It contains over eight million people, over two million of which were born in another country. The economy is based on financial services, professional, and service industries, as well as significant government employment. Income and cost-of-living are the highest in the United Kingdom.

Like any major world city, there are significant ethnic enclaves and demographic differences throughout London. Generally, the East End and North East is lower-income and has a higher population of immigrants, while the West End is whiter and wealthier. The areas south of the Thames are a bit younger and more transitional in income. These should be considered broad generalizations rather than hard rules.

Going into this general election, Labour holds 45 London constituencies, Conservatives hold 26, and the Liberal Democrats two.

The two best Conservative opportunities are in the Liberal Democratic-held seats. In Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith is back in the Tory fold after badly losing the race for London Mayor, resigning in protest over the proposed third Heathrow runway, and then losing a by-election. The Greens are not running a candidate. Goldsmith, though a “LEAVE” proponent in a “REMAIN” constituency, won easily in the 2015 general election and has to be considered the favorite.

The other Lib Dem-held seat is Carshalton & Wallington, which they just barely held on to in their 2015 wipeout, saved by a 15% vote for UKIP. As UKIP is not standing here in 2017 and the constituency voted 57% for “LEAVE,” Conservatives also must be considered the favorites here.

Five Labour seats, most of which the Conservatives narrowly lost in 2015, are within a swing of 1.3% to the Tories. Of these, Enfield North and Ilford North, which Labour won by completely collapsing the Liberal Democratic vote in 2015, have the highest “LEAVE” inclinations at nearly 50%. Brentford & Isleworth, Hampstead & Kilburn, and Ealing Central & Acton have significantly larger numbers of hardcore “REMAIN” voters and may be more difficult to swing.

Gareth Thomas’ long-coveted constituency of Harrow West requires a 2.4% swing from Labour to Tory, while Tooting, Westminster North, & Eltham require swings of 2.7% to 3.2%. While Eltham needs the largest swing, it also has a 52% “LEAVE” vote and no UKIP candidate standing, so it may be the best chance of this second group of targets.

The Tories finished third in the working-class East End seat of Dagenham & Rainham in 2015, with UKIP snaring an impressive 30%. These voters are more likely to be former and wayward Labour voters and UKIP is standing a candidate, so initial Conservative boasts of achieving the 9% swing required to capture this seat appear to be fantasy.

One of two pieces of low-hanging fruit Labour missed in London in 2015 was Croydon Central. “REMAIN” and “LEAVE” split evenly here and UKIP only scored nine percent, so this seat will heavily depend on national swing and candidate quality. With Labour only needing a few hundred votes switched to win, they enter the election as the favorites.

Labour’s other miss was Hendon. Tories expanded their majority in 2015 from just a few dozen votes to 7.5%. This is one of the few heavily Jewish areas of England and it is difficult to imagine a significant swing to Labour with Jeremy Corbyn as their party’s leader.

Labour requires five to six percent swings in Enfield Southgate, Harrow East, and Finchley & Golders Green, the last of which was once held by late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Strong “REMAIN” voter bases may aid Labour, but the absence of any further Lib Dem vote to collapse following the 2015 wipeout makes each of the three seats difficult to win.

Some optimistic models have Labour winning Battersea, but it would require more than an 8% swing in an area that has steadily moved Conservative demographically over the last two decades. Such claims must be looked at with great skepticism.

Liberal Democrats have a strong opportunity to recapture Twickenham from the Conservatives, as former Lib Dem MP Vince Cable is running again, as well as Kingston & Surbiton. Both constituencies have high “REMAIN” voter bases, and strategic voting could be used to further collapse the Labour vote. Swings of 1.7% and 2.5% will be enough to win these seats.

The seat of Sutton & Cheam requires a 4% swing for the Lib Dems to defeat the Tories. This seat has a relatively high “LEAVE” and UKIP vote, so this is a longer shot.

The Lib Dems also have an outside chance of regaining Bermondsey & Old Southwark, but it would require a 4.4% swing and a better national showing with hardcore “REMAIN” voters than they have displayed so far. It is much easier to get these voters to switch from Tory to Lib Dem than it is from Labour to Lib Dem, because of the ideological similarities between Labor and Lib Dem.

Overall, Conservatives will be fortunate to leave London even and could lose as many as five or more net seats. They could also gain as many as five net seats if the local swing is in their favor. Labour should gain at least one seat and could net five or more on a strong regional swing or a good national night, but could lose five seats on an unexpectedly bad night. The Lib Dems are most likely to swap two of their seats for two different Conservative seats, but could end up as many as three net seats ahead on a bad night for the Conservative Party.

Earlier 2017 UK Election Posts By Nathan Wurtzel

Introduction to the 2017 UK elections

Scotland and Wales 

The North of England

The Midlands

The South of England