Who Runs Britain? Poll, 11 October 2013

The results of the first Who Runs Britain? opinion poll of the year are as follows:

If there were a general election tomorrow which party would you vote for?

Party

Number

%

Conservative

22

35

Labour

26

41

Liberal   Democrat

2

3

Green   Party

6

10

UK   Independence Party

3

5

Some   other party

4

6

Don’t   Know

3

4

I   would not vote

3

4

The other parties supported gained one vote each. They were: the Pirate Party; Libertarian Party; The Monster Raving Lunatic Party; and “Just Nick Clegg” which as far as I know is not a party, but may well be after the next general election.

The figures were calculated as follows:

In calculating the percentage support for each party the responses Don’t know and I would not vote were excluded, ie the total used was 63 not 69.

In calculating the percentage of Don’t know and I would not vote responses, the figure for all responses was used, ie the total used was 69 not 63.

What does the poll tell us?

Important health warning: we should be careful about drawing any general conclusions from this poll beyond what it tells us about the voting intentions of those studying the level 1 politics module, Who Runs Britain? at the University of Lincoln in October 2013. Professional polling organisations carrying out similar polls generally use a sample of around 1000 people, from across the UK, weighted to reflect factors such as sex, age and social class.  Not only is the sample used in our poll very small, it is also somewhat unrepresentative of the rest of the population in a number of ways including: it is younger, it is not balanced according to gender, and probably contains few homeowners, people in full-time employment or indeed taxpayers, but consists entirely of students, and moreover, students who are interested in politics. In short it is in many respects rather unrepresentative of the population as a whole.

Moreover, even if we set aside problems with the sample, because of the nature of the British electoral system it is difficult to assess what a result such as this would mean if it were reflected by voting in a general election. The system of  first-past-the-post, which is used to allocate seats in British general elections means that the proportion of the vote won by each party is less important than the number of seats won. Under this system the country is divided into 650 constituencies of roughly equal size (in terms of population) each of which elects one Member of Parliament. The winning party is the one which wins the most seats. In order to win a seat a candidate merely needs to attract more votes than any other single candidate. This can, and often does, mean that a seat is won by a candidate with less than 50% of the vote, as long as the remaining share of the vote is divided between more than one other candidate. It also means that party’s can, and usually do, win a general election with less than 50% of the popular vote and that a proportion of the vote which is some way short of an absolute majority is usually transformed into a large majority of seats in parliament. For example, in the 2005 general election, Labour won about 35% of the popular vote, but won 55% of the seats in parliament, in the 2010 general election the Conservatives won 36% of the vote but only 47% of seats in Parliament.

The Who Runs Britain? poll does not reflect voting across the country and does not take account of the different constituencies in which those polled may be voting. It is impossible therefore to derive any concrete figures about what this result would mean in terms of seats won in a general election. Nevertheless, it may be fun to indulge in some speculation about what these results might mean by comparing them with other polling data.

The National Picture

Despite all the caveats above, perhaps the most striking thing about this poll is that it is remarkably similar to recent national opinion polls (see table 1 below). In the latest YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, which was taken on the same day as our poll, Labour polled 39% of the vote and the Conservatives 34%. The fate of the other parties was somewhat different than in our poll. The Liberal Democrats only managed to attract two votes, 3% in our poll, compared with 9% in The Sunday Times poll. Although Liberal Democrat fortunes have fallen significantly since they polled 23% in the 2010 general election, with poll ratings often in single figures, it has never fallen as low as 3% in national opinion polls. However, there may be very particular reasons why they have polled so badly in this poll, more about that below. For much of the last 18 months the Liberal Democrats have been battling it out for for fourth place with UKIP, and UKIP also attracted slightly more votes than the Liberal Democrats in our poll, although 5% of the vote is somewhat lower than the level UKIP have been achieving in recent national polls. The Green Party also did relatively well in our poll. The Green Party won 1% of the vote in 2010, which was enough to secure them a seat in Parliament. However, although their fortunes have increased a little since then, they are still polling in the low single figures in national polls. The relatively high level of support for the Greens in our poll, perhaps reflects their key support among young voters.

Table 1: Comparison with YouGov/Sunday Times poll of 10-11 October 2013

Party YouGov/Sunday Times Poll  11/10/13 Who Runs Britain? poll 11/10/13
Conservative

34

35

Labour

39

41

Liberal Democrat

9

3

UKIP

11

5

Green

3

10

Other Parties

5

6

The Local Picture

It is also interesting to compare these results with some more local data (table 2). In the 2010 general election Labour lost the seat of Lincoln to the Conservatives with a 6% swing from Labour to the Conservatives. This was the first time since 1997 that the seat of Lincoln had changed hands, reinforcing the impression that Lincoln is a ‘bellwether’ constituency, that is a constituency which reflects what happens in the rest of the country, i.e. win Lincoln and win the general election. Obviously, the indeterminate outcome of the 2010 election might lead us to qualify this somewhat. Nevertheless, Lincoln is a key marginal seat, the current Conservative MP, Karl McCartney, has a majority of 1048 and Lincoln is 18 on Labour’s list of 106 target seats for the 2015 general election.

Table 2: Comparison with results in constituency of Lincoln in 2010 general election

Party

Lincoln 2010

 

Who   Runs Britain?   poll

Conservative

38

35

Labour

35

41

Liberal Democrat

20

3

Other parties

7

21

Another interesting thing about Lincoln is that the University and most of its students are located within a single constituency. If one considers the size of Mr McCartney’s majority and the fact that there are over 10,000 students at the University of Lincoln  the student vote could prove decisive. If the results of our poll were replicated across the University, Labour would get 664 more votes than the Conservatives. Although this looks like a significant chunk of Mr McCartney’s majority we do need to bear in mind that we don’t know how students in Lincoln voted in 2010. Moreover, this is based on the assumption that all students will vote and will vote in Lincoln, when in reality turnout amongst students is generally quite low, and students have the option of voting in the place they are studying or in their home constituency if these are different, which means the student vote tends to spread out across the country and is rarely decisive in particular constituencies. Nevertheless, it may be that in the wake of the introduction of increased tuition fees, the student vote will be more organised in the next general election in which case in seats in places like Sheffield, Bristol, Cambridge and Lincoln, it may prove decisive.

Previous cohorts of Who Runs Britain? students

Perhaps the most interesting comparison, for me if not for anyone else, is with previous cohorts of students on the Who Runs Britain? module. I began polling first year students on this module in 2009. I polled each cohort at the beginning of their degree, and then on four further occasions throughout the year. The table below compares this poll with the previous four cohorts polled in October. The Who Runs Britain? Tracker Poll shows the result of every poll I have conducted since 2009. As a cohort, the 2013 intake is considerably less left-wing than last year’s intake, and is perhaps closer to the national opinion polls than any previous cohort at this point, although the 2009 intake did track pretty close to national trends throughout the year. 

Table 3: Comparison with previous Who Runs Britain? cohorts polled at the same time

Party

Oct 2009

Oct 2010

Oct 2011

Oct 2012

Oct 2013

Conservative

39

25

40

30

35

Labour

30

48

37

60

41

Liberal Democrat

12

15

2

5

3

Green

-

-

12

-

10

Other

6

13

8

5

11

If we look at the tracker poll, perhaps the most striking thing in these polls has been the decline in support for the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats enjoyed a high level of support amongst the 2009 intake and their support increased in the run-up to the 2010 general election. In the final Who Runs Britain? poll before the 2010 general election the Liberal Democrats secured 28% of the vote, six points ahead of the Conservatives. However, from this point Liberal Democrat support went into terminal decline. They still managed to secure 15% of the vote in October 2010, but the announcement in November 2010 of the introduction of £9000 tuition fees, which the Liberal Democrats had promised to oppose when in Opposition, appeared to seal their fate, at least among students on this module. In the final three polls of the 2010 cohort (February, March and May 2011) only one student voted Liberal Democrat, and only once (in March 2011). The Liberal Democrats have fared little better since, no more than three students have voted Liberal Democrat in any individual poll since  November 2010, and then only once. In last year’s polls the Liberal Democrats never managed to attract more than two votes and by the time of the final Who Runs Britain? poll of the year, in May 2012, Liberal Democrat support had once again evaporated completely.

It is hard to know who exactly has benefited from this decline in Liberal Democrat support in these polls. There has certainly been an increase in support for other smaller parties, most notably the Green Party, who in this poll pushed the Liberal Democrats into fourth place, as they did throughout last year. But there is also some evidence that opinion has drifted back to the two main parties, particularly in last year’s polls. However, the significant support for smaller parties in this poll suggests this may be an interesting year.

WRB Tracker Poll

 

Turnout

Perhaps not surprisingly given that this is a poll of politics students, only three people declared that they would not vote if there were a general election tomorrow, and only three were  undecided. This suggests a turnout of over 90% which is much higher than at any general election since the Great Reform Act of 1832. Turnout at general elections in the UK since the Second World War has generally been between 70%-85%, although in recent elections it has been lower. Turnout at the 2010 general election was 65% up from a record post-war low of 59.4 in 2001. What is also quite reassuring is what this poll says about turnout at lectures for this module. 69 people voted, and according to my records there should be 77 students studying on this module, which suggests that turnout for the lecture was around 90%. This is considerably higher than the 65% turnout for this poll last year, which perhaps says something about the University’s new attendance monitoring policy!

 

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