People Power - Dilemma of Democracy

People Power - Dilemma of Democracy

Back in 2014, a group of high profile Catalans, including FC Barcelona star Pep Guardiola and famed tenor José Carreras, penned an article making the case for the simple freedom to vote on whether Catalonia should be independent. They laid out the argument for holding an independence referendum and concluded by asking, “Who can be afraid of democracy?”

Democracy is nothing to be afraid of, but we should all be apprehensive about referenda.

Referenda are on the rise. In 2017 alone, over 15 countries will have held referenda on more than fifty issues. Last year, 25 countries held referenda on over 200 issues. From Brexit to Catalan to Iraqi Kurdish independence, coverage of these direct democracy votes fill the 24-hour news cycle and commentary floods our Twitter feeds.

The referendum wave comes at a time when populist leaders and parties are also on the rise. One in five Europeans (a total of 55.8 million people) voted for a populist party in 2016 or 2017, according to a summer study by the European Policy Information Center. And last month, Germany added to those totals when AfD went from zero to 94 seats in the Bundestag.

Although the causal connections are complex, the simultaneity of these two developments is no accident. Both movements purport to take power out of the hands of politicians and technocrats and put it directly in the hands of “the people.” Both tap into frustrations about globalization, job displacement due to trade, economic stagnation, income inequality, corruption, migration, and perceived resentments against perceived elitism and political disenfranchisement.

"Referenda often become a vehicle for a passionate minority to impose their will on the whole country"

Both are actively backed by the Russians, who view them as forces to undermine the stability and credibility of liberal democracy, particularly in the trans-Atlantic area. It is extremely telling that populism and referenda share not only wellsprings of frustration, but also secret funders and online helpmates. The spike in referenda mixed with the uptick in populism is a recipe for turmoil and instability.

Referenda are billed as giving a population the chance to have a voice and be heard, but often they become a vehicle for a passionate minority to impose their will on the whole country.

In this 2017 referendum on Catalan independence, the yes campaign used the simplest of slogans: “we want to vote.” Who could be against that? But wanting a voice and caring about the issue on the ballot are two different things.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that from Germany to France to Spain to Italy, majorities support holding a referendum on EU membership. But this does not mean people want to leave the European Union. For example, while 61 percent of French respondents want the chance to vote, only 22 percent would actually vote to leave. In theory, citizens want a say in their future. But that does not equate to a passion for or interest in the issue on the table.

Rather than “letting the people decide,” referenda are typically a recipe for “letting a minority rule.” In Catalonia, only 43 percent came out to vote.  In Colombia’s referendum on the FARC peace deal last year, just 37 percent cast a ballot. This makes it difficult to say the people have spoken.

Referenda create a distorted binary choice that voters are ill-equipped to decide. They take incredibly complicated issues and put them in the hands of people without the knowledge or capacity to make informed decisions. Not only are the policy issues at stake complex, the wording of the question on the ballot is often technical. Therefore, campaigns often hijack the issues at hand and reframe the intricate policy decisions into binary, emotion-laden choices.

Campaigns play on these emotions – both fears and aspirations – but often fail to responsibly debate the practicalities of the result. Only after the Brexit vote did people start having a real discussion about the hard practical truths of leaving the EU. In the days after the Catalan referendum, there was equal confusion about what happens next and what an independent Catalonia looks like in terms of EU membership, trade, and families who would be separated.

"Should human and civil rights issues ever be put to a popular vote?"

For decades, California has offered the world a warning on the perils of direct democracy. With 17 ballot measures last year alone, $473 million was spent on these direct democratic campaigns that have become a blessing for special interests and extremists pursuing laws with murky ramifications. These ballot measures also devalue representative democracy by sidestepping lawmakers who were elected to deliberate over complex issues in favor of decisions via mass gut impulses.

Proponents say direct democracy engages citizens. They say referenda can bring attention to issues that are in gridlock. Some could argue that without a referendum, the hard discussions in the UK or Colombia and now Catalonia would never have happened – the vote forced difficult issues to a head and brought opposing factions to the table. Some also point to the 2016 vote on same sex marriage in Ireland as evidence that referenda can progress human rights issues with a popular stamp of approval. It was the first time a country adopted marriage equality by national referendum - it was an inspiring and important milestone in the world’s changing attitudes on the issue. 

But the very next year the voters in another island country, The Bahamas, decided against enshrining gender equality into their constitution.

This begs the question: should human and civil rights issues ever be put to a popular vote? Majorities can give rights, but then they can also take rights away with direct democracy. That should give some pause to “the people” and make us all afraid.


This article was originally published in Europe's World Online

Kristi Lowe is a Partner at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a global polling, strategic communications and campaign management consultancy

Brexit: Single Market membership may be possible, but the barriers are significant

Brexit: Single Market membership may be possible, but the barriers are significant

GQR insights published over the past week show the scale of the political challenges of Brexit. For those hoping to see an economically rational, trade-preserving “soft” Brexit, there is some hope to be had in public opinion, but key aspects of such a deal face serious threats. Here are four opportunities and two threats that pro-EU campaigners should be aware of.


Concern about Brexit is rising

The context for the current round of talks is increased public concern about the consequences of Brexit. The proportion of voters saying they are more worried than hopeful about Brexit has risen from 41% in March to 47% now. Support for a second referendum that could keep Britain in the EU once the Brexit deal has been negotiated has also risen, although it still stands at only 34%. Strong Remainers will hope that as Brexit comes into focus through the talks, that concern solidifies.

Voters agree Britain needs a deal

We also found strong support for Britain to make a deal. Only 34% agree with the Prime Minister’s assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” compared to 52% who agree that leaving without a deal “would be a disaster for Britain”.

Focus on trade and Northern Ireland

Trade is seen as more important than control. We described the European Economic Area as “the closest trading relationship possible with the EU”, and asked voters to choose between this and Britain having either more control over its laws, or being able to control EU immigration. In both tradeoffs, EEA membership was more popular, winning 51-34% over “stop accepting EU laws and regulations” and 48-37% over “full control over immigration from the EU”.

In a further sign of Brits’ reluctance to change the status quo, 47% said it would be unacceptable to introduce border and customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic, compared to only 31% saying this would be acceptable. Unlike most of our questions on Brexit, this result was consistent across Labour and Conservative voters – neither side wants to see a new hard border in Ireland. Even people who voted Leave in the referendum were evenly split on the issue.

Keeping EU regulations unlikely to be a problem

Our polling for CHEMTrust and SumofUs should set aside the notion that the Brexit vote was for an “offshore” Britain where companies can escape from EU regulations. We found strong majority agreement among both Remain (73%) and Leave (62%) voters that “There should be no reduction in regulatory standards that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals when the UK leaves the EU.” This mitigates in favour of Britain keeping the regulatory harmony with the EU that permits low-friction trade.


Legal jurisdiction is a challenge

The obstacles to Britain remaining in the EEA are big. British voters reject the continued jurisdiction of European courts, which are essential to regulating disputes between EEA members. 59% of Brits agreed that after Brexit, Britain should not be bound by the decisions of European courts, compared to only 25% saying the country should accept their judgments on disputes with EU organizations.

The bill is another stumbling block

Continued payments to the EU are desperately unpopular, and even if the government negotiates a big discount, it probably won’t be enough. A majority of 61% would reject paying the EU £50bn as part of a Brexit deal, while just 23% would pay. If the cost were just £30bn, 54% still would not pay compared to 29% who would.

What next

It appears inevitable that most if not all voters will be disappointed with whatever form Brexit takes. Not only are Leave and Remain, Labour and Conservative voters’ demands different, they are also internally incompatible. There will be no close trading relationship with the EU without Britain accepting some influence from European courts; if we leave the EEA trade will suffer and there will likely be some form of new border controls in Ireland. Pro-EU campaigners and hard Brexiters are each trying to sell a package of some pain and some gain. Prepare for intense attacks from both sides, and for a long campaign: the Prime Minister’s push for a transition period after March 2019 means the final outcome will likely not become clear until 2021 or later.


Other coverage of this polling

CHEMTrust/SumofUs on chemicals regulations

o   CHEMTrust: What is the will of the UK people on hazardous chemicals?

o   SumofUs: Nearly two-thirds of Brits want to keep EU chemical safety standards after Brexit

o   GQR: Data table

Politico coverage on Brexit

o   Support grows for second Brexit vote: More than half of UK voters think a £30 billion Brexit divorce bill would be unacceptable.

o   UK public rejects ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario, new poll results say: Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated her view that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ last week.

o   Britain’s ‘have cake and eat it’ stance on Brexit: Leave and Remain voters are still deeply divided but agree on one thing — they don’t want to pay a Brexit bill (analysis).

o GQR: Data tables

UK: No deal is a bad deal

UK: No deal is a bad deal

GQR poll with POLITICO shows public disagrees with Theresa May’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” line on Brexit

GQR polling published today by POLITICO shows British voters disagree with Theresa May’s repeated claim that when it comes to the Brexit negotiations with the European Union, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Given a choice between two opposing statements, “Cooperation with the EU is essential to our economy. Leaving without making a new deal on things like trade and border controls would be a disaster for Britain,” or “No deal is better than a bad deal. If the EU will not offer Britain a good deal then we should leave without one,” 52% picked the former and only 34% the latter.

These choices are strongly associated with how people voted in the referendum: 61% of Leave voters chose “No deal is better than a bad deal,” while an overwhelming 79% of Remain voters picked the opposite, “Cooperation with the EU is essential…” The choice also splits along party lines, with Labour voters picking cooperation by a 67-24% margin and Conservatives picking no deal by 59-32%.

The poll also suggests the public are open to continued membership of the European Economic Area as a final outcome of Brexit. In another test, we offered the choice “After Brexit, Britain should stay part of the European Economic Area so it has the closest trading relationship possible with the EU,” and opposed it with arguments around sovereignty and immigration.

When faced with the sovereignty counter-argument, “After Brexit, Britain should leave the European Economic Area, reducing trade with the EU, so it can stop accepting EU laws and regulations,” 51% chose being part of the EEA and 34% leaving. When faced with a counter-argument on immigration, “After Brexit, Britain should leave the European Economic Area, reducing trade with the EU, so it can have full control over immigration from the EU,” 48% chose EEA membership and 37% chose leaving.

Data tables for the poll are available to download here.

For more information, contact GQR’s London Vice President Peter McLeod, on Twitter @mcleodp or

UK: No to Post-Brexit deregulation

UK: No to Post-Brexit deregulation

GQR poll with SumofUs and CHEM Trust shows support for maintaining chemicals safety standards after Brexit

Our latest UK poll, conducted for global consumer campaigning group SumofUs and CHEMTrust, shows strong support among voters for maintaining EU regulatory standards on chemicals after Brexit.

Overall, 63% of voters agree that “There should be no reduction in regulatory standards that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals when the UK leaves the EU.” Crucially, unlike some aspects of Brexit, there is no difference between Leave and Remain voters on this issue, with 62% of Leavers in agreement.

We also found voters in strong agreement with a key principle behind chemicals regulation – that chemicals identified as hazardous should be substituted where possible with safer alternatives. Again, support for this position cuts across political lines, with 84% of Remain and 83% of Leave voters opting for this view, rather than the alternative that companies may use any substance deemed to have low or manageable risk.

GQR conducted the nationally representative online poll of Great Britain between 11 and 13 September. The total sample was 1,203 adults aged 18 and over; data was weighted to the national profile by gender, age, region, ethnicity and social grade. Data tables are here.

For more information, contact GQR’s London Vice President Peter McLeod, on Twitter @mcleodp or

UK: doubts about Brexit

UK: doubts about Brexit

GQR poll with POLITICO shows increased worries about the outcome of Brexit and growing support for a second referendum, along with significant stumbling blocks to a deal

A new poll from GQR, published today by POLITICO, shows British voters’ worries about Brexit are gradually mounting, with concern up 6 points since March and support for a second referendum that could keep Britain inside the EU also up.

Several Brexit challenges will be difficult to resolve with the public. We saw strong rejection of a “divorce bill,” with a split-sample test indicating that even a big reduction in the size of the bill (£30bn compared to £50bn) would still see a majority reject it.

Neither do Brits want European courts to retain influence in the UK, 59% choosing “After Brexit, Britain should not be bound by the judgments of European courts” over just 25% picking the alternative “After Brexit, Britain should continue to accept the judgments of European courts on disputes it has with EU organizations.”

Yet Brits also do not want Brexit to introduce a hard border in Ireland. By 47 to 31%, voters chose “After Brexit, it would be unacceptable for there to be border and customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” instead of “It would be acceptable to introduce border and customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.”

Data tables for the poll are available to download here.

For more information, contact GQR’s London Vice President Peter McLeod, on Twitter @mcleodp or

TUC Survey of Working People

TUC Survey of Working People

GQR poll for the TUC shows 1 in 8 workers in the UK skipped meals to make ends meet

A major new study carried out by GQR for the UK’s Trades Union Congress shows the extent of financial hardship facing working people in Britain: one in eight workers have skipped a meal due to lack of money; one in six have gone without heating in cold weather; and one in four would not be able to pay an unexpected £500 bill.

In the midst of a growing cost-of-living crisis, the TUC commissioned this poll to gauge the impact on workers of stagnant wages and rising prices. GQR designed and carried out the survey of 3,287 working people in Great Britain aged 16 and over. Fieldwork was conducted online and the results were weighted to the national profile of working people by age, gender, region, ethnicity, full/part-time work, public/private sector and industry.

Data tables for the poll are available to download here.

For more information, contact GQR’s London Vice President Peter McLeod, on Twitter @mcleodp or

Messaging on the Russia Investigation: Findings from New Battleground Survey and Focus Groups 

Messaging on the Russia Investigation: Findings from New Battleground Survey and Focus Groups 

By Jeremy D. Rosner and Anna Greenberg


Results from a new survey and focus groups conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner provide guidance for all who are addressing the scandal enveloping the Trump administration regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. The research shows voters in 2018 battleground congressional districts want to protect the investigations into the scandal; they oppose any move by President Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller; and they reject the idea of Trump pardoning either himself or his top aides and family members. Although the Russia scandal is not the top concern, the research shows this issue is motivating to potential Democratic voters.

Even with the Russia investigation in its early days and the election more than a year off, Democrats already enjoy a notable enthusiasm edge in these battleground districts. Across the 99 districts sampled, 61% of self-identified Democratic voters say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting for Congress in 2018 (10, on a 0-10 scale), compared to only 48% of self-identified Republicans. Notably, the Democratic generic vote and the party’s enthusiasm edge over Republicans both rise even after a prolonged and balanced discussion of the Russia investigation.

The research findings are especially notable since both the survey and focus groups are based only on voters in battleground House districts – with 79 of the 99 districts sampled in the survey now represented by Republican House members. That means the survey results lean more Republican than a full nationwide survey, and provide guidance on how to communicate this issue in some of the toughest and most competitive settings.

Overall, two messages dominate across the potential Democratic electorate; the first is particularly effective with broad audiences, while the second is most effective with Democratic audiences, including the Democratic base (below, we discuss why these messages work and the building blocks for effective messaging):

The research highlights 10 key points that inform why these two messages have power, and how Democrats and progressives should structure their messages on this set of issues:

1. Stress the need to protect the investigation. Voters want the facts behind this scandal to come out, and strongly reject moves by Trump to cut off the investigation or potential prosecutions. By a two-to-one margin, 60-29%, survey respondents say they would disapprove if President Trump and his team fire Special Counsel Mueller in the coming weeks; this includes 44% who strongly disapprove. Even in the 79 districts that are now Republican-held, the margin is essentially the same, 59-30%. If he were fired, by a 67-26% majority, they would support Congress naming a Special Prosecutor in his place.

2. Do not invoke impeachment. Most voters feel it is premature to talk about impeachment. Voters feel less favorable about a message when it includes a call for Trump’s impeachment –that is equally true among Democratic voters, and even base Democrats. As noted below, however, findings by Mueller against Trump and his team could quickly generate majority support for impeachment.

3.  Draw a line against pardons. An overwhelming 86-10% majority says Trump should not be allowed to pardon himself from criminal prosecution – a possibility the President and his team reportedly examined. Even among self-identified Republicans, an overwhelming 74-19% majority objects to the idea of the President pardoning himself. Respondents also oppose the President pardoning his aides and family members by a strong 69-27% margin.

4. Note that Russian hackers attacked voting systems in 39 states. This emerges as the single most troubling fact from the scandal so far, and strikes at the heart of people’s perceptions of the democratic system. As a man in one of the focus groups says, “If we lose track of our votes we’re pretty much screwed.”

5. Call out the Russia-related lies by the Trump team. Voters are also irate about Trump’s aides and family repeatedly lying about their many interactions with various Russians. Told about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, a woman in the focus groups asks, “If they lied about this one incident what else are they lying about?...What were they covering up?”

6. Stress the national security implications. Voters – particularly swing voters – are sensitive to the scandal’s national security implications; 74% in the survey expect Russia and other countries to try to interfere in future US elections; many worry that next time it could be North Korea.

7. Advocate for a bipartisan commission. A 64-33% majority favors creating an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Russia scandal. Many in the focus groups are drawn to the idea that such a commission would include members who come from outside of Congress, and would have a responsibility to report to the public at large. If Trump were to fire Mueller, support for such a commission rises even higher, to a 72-22% majority.

8.  Advocate for a law against foreign campaign meddling. There is also strong 66-26% support for enactment of a new law to bar foreign governments or entities from interfering in US campaigns. Many focus group participants are stunned that such a law does not already exist.

9. Stress the need for bipartisan action. Focus group participants respond strongly when Democrats say both political parties should unite on this issue, since Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election threatens the interests of the country as a whole.

10. Be aware that new events may significantly change the landscape. This is a fluid issue, and voters show a strong inclination to shift their position as new facts emerge. Presented with a hypothetical that Mueller finds members of Trump’s team illegally worked with the Russians to undermine the 2016 elections, and that Trump personally was involved, a 62-34% majority declare their support for Trump’s impeachment. This is one of many indications that new developments in this set of issues are likely to create significant changes in the messaging terrain.

The survey results are based on 1,000 telephone interviews with likely 2018 voters in the country’s 99 most competitive congressional battleground districts (79 currently Republican held; 20 Democratic held), conducted July 27 to August 1, 2017. Half of the interviews were conducted by landline, and half by cell phone. The results are subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. In addition to the survey, the research included six focus groups in battleground districts, conducted July 18 to July 20, 2017, in Orlando, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas. The survey and focus groups were designed and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and funded by a coalition including: American Bridge; End Citizens United; MoveOn; and Stand Up America.


Click here to view the original memo. 

UK politics may look unpredictable, but four signals can show us a great deal

UK politics may look unpredictable, but four signals can show us a great deal

GQR Vice President Peter McLeod writes occasional columns on UK politics for, where this article first appeared. GQR was pollster to Labour at the 2015 UK general election but does not work with the current leadership.

After an election campaign that saw an unusual (but not unprecedented) amount of movement in the polls, things have settled down somewhat. Labour has maintained a narrow lead since the election, averaging 42-45%, with the Conservatives back on 40-41%.

But the current stability feels very much like the eye of the storm. It’s difficult to think of another time when there has been such uncertainty in our politics. By the next election the Tories will have a new leader and the Article 50 Brexit negotiating deadline will probably have passed. But whether we have secured a transition arrangement, extended the negotiating deadline or crashed out of the Union with no new agreement at all, the full consequences of Brexit will barely have begun to take effect.

The identity of the new Tory leader and the twists and turns in the Brexit negotiations will of course have enormous impacts on the next election. So in the context of such uncertainty, what can the polls and wider events of today really tell us about the parties’ electoral prospects? There are four signals I’d pay particular attention to.

First, let’s remember not to be stupid: it’s the economy. The untold story of June’s election is that, with growth weak and real incomes falling, no sensible politician would have called it. The Tories seem to have thought that Brexit combined with Corbyn’s catastrophic (at the time) personal ratings gave them a holiday from political reality; it turns out there’s no such thing.

It’s not just that headline economic numbers were poor, voters were really feeling it. On June 9th we went into field with a poll for the TUC, similar to one we did straight after the 2015 election (and following the EU referendum last year). Whereas in 2015 voters were upbeat about the economy, this year’s survey showed they thought it was getting worse, not better, by 54-32%. More important, more voters said their own finances were getting worse (46%) than better (35%). Compare that to the 2015 election, when only 26% thought the economy was in decline and 60% that it was improving, while 39% had their own finances worsening and 44% improving. Looking ahead, uncertainty due to Brexit will continue to be a drag on the economy; if the numbers do carry on getting worse, especially real incomes, the Conservatives’ prospects at the next election will become yet grimmer.

Second, the impact of the Brexit negotiations on the Conservatives. A surprising fact about the election, given the result, is that to some extent Theresa May got what she played for. Voters who rated Brexit and Britain’s relationship with the EU as one of the three most important factors in how they voted plumped for the Tories, rather than Labour, by 62-22%. May’s problem was that not enough of the electorate bought her framing of the election – only 52% rated Brexit a top-three priority. Among the other 48% Labour won 62-24%.

The danger for the Tories is that the negotiations could begin to erode the advantage they enjoy among people who rate Brexit as important. This week’s row over American chlorine-washed chicken opened a divide between leading Tory Brexiteers Liam Fox and Michael Gove. There are surely much more serious disputes to come. Between 2015 and 2017 the percentage of voters rating the Conservatives “competent” dropped from 57% to 49%. It had been one of their key advantages over Labour, but the gap has narrowed. More of the same around Brexit and they will be in real trouble.

The third sign to watch is public services. In our TUC poll, the one issue that more people said was critical to their vote than Brexit was the NHS. Labour’s pledge to give it £30bn extra funding over the course of the next Parliament was by far its most important – even among its newer, younger supporters. Seven years of cuts have taken their toll on the Tory brand, and Labour’s decision to run an explicitly anti-austerity campaign was a good one.

A crucial enabling factor was Theresa May dropping the Cameron-Osborne mantra of a “long term economic plan.” They had managed to maintain this justification for austerity since before the 2010 election, but May’s abandonment of it opened up political space for Labour to promise more spending without sounding fiscally irresponsible. Labour will look to highlight cuts and the damage they’ve done as often as possible; if they are backed up by big scandals and stories about hospitals and schools failing Britain, the Tories’ position will look extremely weak.

The fourth thing to watch out for is Jeremy Corbyn’s performance. To get to its 41% vote share Labour relied heavily on bringing in new voters – nearly 1 in 6 Labour voters had not turned out at all in 2015. This group’s continued enthusiasm is by no means guaranteed. Labour’s new voters are strongly anti-establishment so besides his enthusiasm and confidence as a campaigner, Corbyn’s other great asset was his clear outsider status. But those voters are also pro-EU: 59% voted Remain, 39% Leave. This means there are two risks inherent in the party’s current divide over Brexit. The first is simply that it puts the leadership at odds with many MPs, party members and voters; the second, more subtle risk is that the struggles to define and then redefine Labour’s Brexit position make Corbyn look more and more like a standard-issue politician. It will be much harder for him to whip new voters into a revolutionary fervour if he appears to be taking positions out of expediency rather than conviction. The risk here is not so much that these voters switch to another party as that they switch off altogether: watch the numbers for “certain to vote” among the under-35s for signs that the Corbyn-as-outsider effect is wearing off.

As ever, a flurry of good or bad headlines still has the capacity to change a party’s fortunes. But if three or four of these signals are all pointing the same way, that’s a good indication of which way the tide is moving.

To Short-Circuit Populism, Start by Fighting Corruption

To Short-Circuit Populism, Start by Fighting Corruption

By Jeremy D. Rosner

This article appeared on HuffPost August 7th, 2017. See it here

Around the world, concerned citizens and leaders are looking for ways to push back on the populist wave that threatens to wash away progressive priorities, such as compassionate treatment of migrants, rights for ethnic and religious minorities, and more integrated global responses to trade, climate change, and other transnational challenges. The Brexit vote, the Trump victory, the rise of illiberal regimes in Hungary, Poland and Turkey, the strong results for far-right nationalists in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere – all these raise the question of what can be done to ease the anger and distrust that voters appear to be feeling worldwide.

Given that imperative, one major solution oddly continues to get short shrift: a stronger global fight against corruption. It is one of the most important things world leaders could do today to improve living conditions, reduce growing wealth and income inequalities, and restore trust in public institutions.

Voters are plenty focused on the problem. According to Pew and Gallup, corruption is a top concern worldwide. And recent country-specific studies – from the US, to the EU, to Mexico, to Russia, to China, to India, and many other countries – all show high public outrage over national corruption.

Voters’ outrage makes total sense. The Panama Papers revealed how aggressively the world’s ultra-wealthy and ultra-criminal elements use secret accounts to hide and shield their riches. The Odebrecht scandal, which has touched a dozen different Latin American countries and contributed to an impeachment in Brazil, involved hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes in the region, in order to help the company get billions in construction projects. All told, the World Economic Forum estimates that the cost of corruption could equal 5% of global GDP; today, that would mean as much as 3.7 trillion dollars stolen from average citizens around the world each year.

This isn’t only a moral offense. Global corruption is a major factor dragging down living conditions – and therefore driving up public outrage and susceptibility to populist rants. According to the World Bank, government corruption drives up tax evasion, undermines efforts to reduce poverty while increasing income inequality, distorts decision-making in public projects, encourages inefficiency in the private sector, wastes human resources, scares away investors, delegitimizes government institutions, and fuels other kinds of crimes.

The policy solutions for corruption depend on the individual structures and problems in each country; to paraphrase Tolstoy, all corrupt countries are corrupt in their own ways. But our work in global elections suggests there are overarching tactical and communication strategies that leaders around the world can successfully adopt in the fight against corruption. Up to this point, populist leaders have often been the quickest to use these. But there is no reason mainstream parties and leaders should cede this ground to the anti-systemic; if progressive leaders truly want to bring economic prosperity to more of their people, they need to tackle corruption head on. A few points of advice on doing so:

Start where citizens are; sequencing and coordination matter. There is no silver bullet when it comes to the fight against corruption. For example, some analysts call for increasing wages for public sector employees to fight corruption. Sometimes that is the right step; but it may not automatically lower the flow of bribes if other powerful interests are present. In Pakistan, for instance, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation found that wage raises had no effect in the country’s problematic forestry sector. Rather, despite their higher salaries, officials were still able to extract extra fees on the promise of preferential service to well-funded elites.

In addition, leaders must prioritize which actions should come first, depending on the country’s specific problems. Governments that are too large may lower their rates of corruption by shrinking in size and eliminating bureaucracies. If the problem is high-level corruption, where certain functionaries are building vast wealth, the aim should be to lower gains from corruption. In the case of Odebrecht, this could mean applying oversight to bidding on projects that exceed a certain cost.

Sequencing is also a communications issue. Donald Trump, for all his faults, knew this. Before he promised to Make American Great Again, he told voters he understood how the system works. The early days of the Trump campaign focused on his background as a businessman, suggesting he did not need to enrich himself through politics or public office. He regularly bragged about his own campaign contributions to both sides (including to Hillary). Trump knew that corruption and dirty money can be an entry point to dissatisfied voters. Few moderate candidates start here, but leading with a harsh critique of a corrupt or compromised system may help to reach disaffected voters and take some of the wind out of the populists’ sails.

Bold moves to make progress and signal seriousness. Some problems require a more absolute approach. Where corruption is endemic, variations on shock therapy may not only be needed, but welcomed by weary publics.

In India, with a large informal economy, Narendra Modi won the 2014 election with a promise of anti-corruption efforts to promote economic growth and development. He took dramatic steps with the process of demonetization, promising to remove “dark money” from the Indian economy and push out corrupt dealings. This required all Indians to deposit their 500 and 1,000 rupee notes into bank accounts or exchange for smaller bills. It may still be too soon to tell how effective the measure was, and there is much about Modi’s policies and politics that is worrisome, but early polls suggest Indians, despite the massive inconvenience and in many cases lost savings, may reward Modi for his bold actions. Eliminating bank notes may have been costly or time consuming for many of Modi’s constituents, but in doing so, he declared to voters that he takes anti-corruption seriously.

Another example is the Republic of Georgia’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili. In 2005, Saakashvili fired the entire traffic police force (and then pursued selectively rehiring) as a precondition to breaking the back of corruption. The move not only showed he was serious about fighting corruption, but it ensured that a post-Soviet era culture of extortion and bribe-taking was not passed down to new recruits, who would now be receiving training from US agencies. The action, as well as its symbolism, was key in restoring public trust in one of the most influential sectors of Georgian society.

Institutional strengthening. In many cases, increasing transparency and reinforcing the judicial system is crucial to combat the sense of impunity that invites rent-seeking and outrages average voters.

In Nigeria, PM Muhammadu Buhari observed how lawyers managed to undermine the judicial process, due to weak criminal procedures and poor communication between institutions. Buhari limited the use of appeals in criminal trials, increased coordination among judicial institutions, and allowed for a faster start to substantive trials. This was a move in the right direction, but despite increased coordination, a lack of protocols for competing institutions specializing in prosecuting corruption has slowed down implementation.

A free and transparent media also plays a large role in ensuring those elected to office are held responsible; by increasing reputational penalties, the cost of corruption for public officials significantly increases. Social media and other new communications technologies can make this easier than before. This week, audio of a former Odebrecht executive was leaked, suggesting that Ecuador’s Vice President Jorge Glas requested bribes from contracting companies on numerous occasions. Despite an unbalanced media environment in Ecuador, the scandal rapidly spread online. President Moreno’s campaign promise to perform “surgery” on corruption was put to the test, and he stripped Glas of all authority as VP.

The remedies will be different in each place. But mainstream leaders who want to get ahead of the populist surge, and show concern for the well-being of their publics, would do well to make anti-corruption a higher priority.

(Greenberg Quinlan Rosner VP Jessica Reis and Assistant Analyst Martin Molina contributed to this article.)

New Swing District Poll: Strong Opposition To Firing Mueller, Pardons

New Swing District Poll: Strong Opposition To Firing Mueller, Pardons

Battleground House District Voters Oppose Trump Firing Mueller by 2-1 Margin
74% of Republicans Oppose Trump Pardoning Himself
Democrats Much More Enthusiastic About Voting For Congress in 2018

WASHINGTON — Today, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner released a new poll of the top 99 battleground congressional districts for 2018 that shows overwhelming opposition to President Donald Trump firing special counsel Robert Mueller and pardoning himself. 

The poll was designed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and commissioned by a coalition including Stand Up America, American Bridge, End Citizens United and MoveOn.

Read the USA Today article about the poll here

The full memo can be found below.



Post General Election poll for the TUC: the full results

Post General Election poll for the TUC: the full results

At 10pm on Thursday 8th June, the polls closed in Britain’s snap General Election and results began rolling in. We quickly learned that the Conservative government had lost ground while Labour increased its vote share and number of seats. By morning, the result: a hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party. On that same morning, 9th June, GQR began fieldwork on the Trades Union Congress’s post-election poll of Great Britain. It captured the views of over 3,000 people on the state of the country, the main parties and the key policies discussed during the election campaign.

Today we publish full results from the poll, which offer a deep and detailed look at the attitudes behind how people voted, and point toward some key areas of policy debate in the coming Parliament; not least austerity and public spending, workers’ rights and the Brexit negotiations. We hope you’ll find the results of interest and that this evidence makes a positive contribution to ongoing discussion and debate about the direction of the country.

The project was led by Stan Greenberg and Peter McLeod, and advised by James Morris of Edelman.


·         Click here for an interactive portal where you can create customized charts of the results.
·         Download a detailed presentation of key findings, here
·         Download the questionnaire with topline data, here
·         Download data tables, here


Coverage in the Huffington Post

Some key results from the poll have been covered by the Huffington Post:

·         Tory Voters Want An End To The Public Sector Pay Freeze, New GQR/TUC Poll Shows
·         What Jeremy Corbyn Must Do To Become The Next Prime Minister
·         It’s (Still) The Economy, Stupid! Jobs More Important To Voters Than Immigration, New Poll Shows


Past surveys

GQR ran post-election polls for the TUC following the 2016 EU Referendum, and the 2015 UK General Election. Results from those studies were also published:

·         2016 EU Referendum post-election poll results
·         2015 General Election post-election poll results


For more information, please contact Peter McLeod, on Twitter @mcleodp or  

GQR polling for NDI in Iraq shows improved security situation creates new opportunity for cooperation across sectarian lines.

GQR polling for NDI in Iraq shows improved security situation creates new opportunity for cooperation across sectarian lines.

GQR’s most recent national survey for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) shows a dramatic positive shift in Iraqi views toward their security situation and their military, creating a tentative willingness to repairing cross-sect relations. Both Shia and Sunni in Iraq praise the Army and Popular Mobilization Units for its progress in the fight against ISIS, even as the battle continues for Mosul, although security still remains a daily concern.  Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi also receives much of the credit for the success against ISIS outside Kurdistan; however, he faces several substantial challenges, including: determining the status of the country’s various militia groups, growing frustration over corruption and unemployment, and the pending referendum for independence in Kurdistan this September.

For the first time, our research in Iraq also includes findings from a set of additional interviews of people who have lived under ISIS for at least one year.  Iraqis know that ISIS succeeded due to a combination of threats, offers for a better life, and poor conditions in these areas. In liberated locations, some worry that Iraq’s commitment to helping these areas is still uneven, at best, and some Iraqis worry that ISIS or other extremist organizations could return. Engaging these groups early with clear steps toward reconstruction and addressing their concerns head on is the best way to ensure they do not.

The survey fielded in March and April 2017, based on 2020 face-to-face interviews, with an additional 400 interviews among those who have lived under ISIS for at least 1 year. The survey builds on 12 focus groups in February, primarily among those who have lived under ISIS.  The findings are being presented in Iraq to party and government leaders to increase their responsive to voters, in addition to US and foreign stakeholders. For the full report and reaction from the Iraq Caucus in the US House of Representatives see link here.  GQR has conducted focus groups and surveys for NDI in Iraq since 2010, in cooperation with JPM Strategic Solutions and IIACSS. 

Post-Election Poll for the TUC: Voters prioritise economy over immigration controls in Brexit deal

Post-Election Poll for the TUC: Voters prioritise economy over immigration controls in Brexit deal

As reported today in the Huffington Post, our post-election poll of Great Britain for the Trades Union Congress shows that voters want Theresa May to prioritise protecting jobs and the economy over controlling immigration during Brexit negotiations.

The TUC commissioned this project by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, led by Stan Greenberg and Peter McLeod, advised by James Morris of Edelman.


Download tables of results here.

Full results of the poll can be found here.

Post-Election Poll for the TUC: How Labour can move forward

Post-Election Poll for the TUC: How Labour can move forward

As reported today in the Huffington Post, our post-election poll of Great Britain for the Trades Union Congress shows how Labour can kick on and make inroads among Conservative voters at the next election. Although Labour increased its vote significantly at the June 8th poll, to win next time it will need to address challenges around economic credibility, patriotism and welfare.

The TUC commissioned this project by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, led by Stan Greenberg and Peter McLeod, advised by James Morris of Edelman.


Download tables of results here

Full results of the poll can be found here.

Post Election Poll of Great Britain for the TUC: Voters Support Ending the Public Sector Pay Freeze

Post Election Poll of Great Britain for the TUC: Voters Support Ending the Public Sector Pay Freeze

As reported today in the Huffington Post, our post-election poll of Great Britain for the Trades Union Congress shows strong support among voters for an end to restrictions on pay increases for public sector workers. Read more on HuffPo UK, and look out for further results from the poll to be published later in the week.

The TUC commissioned this project by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, led by Stan Greenberg and Peter McLeod, advised by James Morris of Edelman.


Download tables of results here.

Full results of the poll can be found here.


A good-but-not-great election for Labour

A good-but-not-great election for Labour

GQR Vice President Peter McLeod wrote a weekly column on the UK general election for, where this article first appeared. GQR was pollster to Labour at the 2015 UK general election but does not work with the current leadership.


The fallout from the UK’s (first?) general election of 2017 will go on for months. Theresa May has gone from commanding to crumpled, and the Conservative Party’s reaction to the loss of their Parliamentary majority will be fascinating if uncomfortable to watch – and worrying for the process of Brexit. In the meantime Jeremy Corbyn, his team and the wider Labour party exceeded expectations. When the election was called perfectly reasonable people believed that Labour could poll below 25%; they hit 40. That’s remarkable.

Nonetheless, Theresa May swiftly announced the formation of her new minority government backed by the DUP. Of course she was perfectly within her rights as a May government, with those 10 DUP MPs voting with them, commands a working majority the same as they had before Parliament was dissolved. Labour excitement at a huge gain in vote share and modest gain in seats is justified; Labour satisfaction with a result 64 seats short of a majority is not.

While there will be a tremendous amount more to learn from this campaign, it’s worth taking a moment to, as the Bayesians say, update our priors. The following now seem like more solid truths than they were before:

·         Snap elections are inherently risky. The two elections of 1974 could both be considered “snap,” and resulted in a loss for the incumbent followed by an extremely narrow win for the new incumbent. Gordon Brown’s decision not to go for an election in Autumn 2007 looks a lot more solid now than it did then.

·         It’s difficult to win with a bad economy. Governments don’t tend to do well when they go to the polls amid falling real wages. The polls told the Tories they could buck that trend, but reality has caught up with them.

·         Moreover, it’s a bad time globally for incumbents. Following losses for the US Democrats and French Socialists, the Conservatives are another party diminished by voters’ frustration with the establishment over weak economic growth, migration and terror.

·         Parties need to make clear offers to the electorate that tell them a story about how they will make the country better. Labour did this and gained votes and seats. The Tories offered vague, empty slogans accompanied by a palpable distaste for the entire process of getting themselves re-elected, and went backwards.

By contrast, the following are shakier propositions:

·         Young people and former non-voters don’t turn out. We need more data on who really showed up to the polls before we can say this conclusively, but it’s difficult to see how Labour got the numbers it did without a big increase at least in youth turnout. It’s another question still whether future party leaders can rely on this: Corbyn seems to have a certain magic with this demographic and you can see them slipping away from Labour again without another very inspiring campaign.

·         Campaigns don’t matter. This is a fairly fashionable view and as discussed above, the economic background to the election can’t be ignored. Perhaps it’s usually true because most campaigns are roughly equal in competence. But we learned on 8th June that when there’s a dramatic difference in message, narrative, execution and enthusiasm, campaigns can make huge impacts. Don’t forget that at the local elections Labour had a projected national share of 27%.

There are also some major questions that remain unresolved:

·         UKIP as a “gateway drug.” One of the more obvious stories of the election was the collapse in UKIP’s vote share. This was expected to benefit the Tories, with even former Labour voters who had gone to UKIP in 2015 potentially drifting onward to Theresa May’s party. This clearly did not happen to the extent the Conservatives needed it to – if it happened at all.

·         Can Labour win from the left? The question of how Labour kicks on from here is consuming. The party is 64 seats short of a majority. Even if it won back the rest of Scotland from the SNP, it would still be behind. Tacking to the centre risks losing the young people’s votes that helped so much. But those hoping to restore the party to government need some strategy to win back English seats from the Tories. They will need to work out whether they have hit the ceiling of what a left wing proposition can deliver, or whether there’s more still to come.

I wrote on the eve of the election that Labour had not solved its problems around trust on public spending and leadership, while immigration could return as an issue depending on how Brexit goes. An election loss means these are all still real issues. Labour was right to be prepared for an election this year and it should remain in a state of readiness as goodness knows what lies round the corner.

Finally, a note on the pollsters: YouGov and Survation emerge with the most credit. The former built a seat and vote share prediction model based on huge quantities of fieldwork (7000 interviews per week) plus the now-famous Multilevel Regression and Post-stratification (or MRP) that converted that data into seat-by-seat estimates. As the results came in, it was quickly apparent that the model was picking seat outcomes with uncanny accuracy, especially in England and Wales. MRP clearly has a future, although don’t expect to see the standard newspaper voting intention poll using a sample of 7000 any time soon. Meanwhile Survation stuck to its guns on a final poll showing a 1-point Tory win in terms of vote share compared to the 2.4-point actual margin. It was the only pollster to pick Labour’s share of 40% and it missed the Tories’ by only a point. The next-best final poll with a standard methodology was YouGov’s giving the Tories a 7-point win. The problem for the other pollsters seems to be that they were correcting for the errors of 2015 rather than measuring the race as it stood at the time. The challenge next time around will be not to replicate Survation and YouGov’s methods, but to pick up on the most decisive factors for the next election. This is of course far from trivial.

Time to think about what happens next

Time to think about what happens next

GQR Vice President Peter McLeod has been writing a weekly column on the U.K. General Election. In this final piece he predicts the most likely outcome and looks back on what went right and wrong for the Labour Party over the campaign. 


What has in many ways been a remarkable campaign looks set to end quite unremarkably. Despite Labour's poll surge the Tories should win on Thursday with an increased majority, most likely in the 80-100 range. An unelected Prime Minister who enjoyed a huge polling lead converting that lead into her own electoral mandate will be the big non-story of 2017. The real news will come in the second half of the year as Brexit starts in earnest. The most historic aspect of the election itself may simply be Labour losing among its C2DE working class base for the first time. The party should start thinking about how to win it back. 

This column covered the reasons I think the Conservatives will win comfortably at some length already, but this week we have new data to back that up. The key poll of the past week was not from any of the usual media pollsters, but from NatCen (the National Centre for Social Research), which doesn’t generally get involved in election polling. NatCen has a robust panel built through face-to-face recruitment off the back of the massive British Social Attitudes Survey. It spent a month on the fieldwork to make sure it got every demographic properly represented, so in theory the data is not subject to differential response bias, wherein supporters of a party become more enthusiastic about taking surveys when their candidate’s campaign appears to be going well.

NatCen’s survey did not measure voting intention but it measured likelihood to vote and found that under-30s will not turn out in significantly greater numbers than in 2015. If this turns out to be true, those pollsters like ICM and ComRes that weighted their results to reflect turnout in past elections will be the ones that get closest to the final result. Beyond the polls, canvassing returns from Labour foretell real trouble, even a possible wipeout outside the big cities, reflecting both the effectiveness of the Tory campaign at targeting swing seats and the limitations of a Labour strategy that focused on young people who cluster in big cities.

While the new government sets about its daunting agenda, Labour will need to reflect on a mixed campaign in which it has made a lot of the running without ever really looking like winning. The campaign operation itself was a success, coming up with a series of strong, memorable retail offers and making the most of Corbyn’s ability to draw big crowds for impressive-looking events. The leader’s image problem was addressed in two ways: his team got him to put on a smart suit every day, and he came across as natural, passionate and charismatic on the campaign trail and in the media. It helped that the election meant the media focusing on policy not management, but it also helped that Labour had policies out there; for too much of the past two years it had too little to talk about. The party was also sharp in reacting to campaign events like the Tories’ manifesto u-turn disaster, picking up and running with the diabolically effective “dementia tax” label for May’s social care plans. Labour also found a smart way to counter the inevitable attacks on Corbyn’s record in the wake of the two awful terrorist atrocities, tying police numbers into their wider narrative about Tory cuts.

So besides the misguided focus on young and non-voters, what held Labour back? Listening to voters before and during the 2015 campaign it was clear there were three big problems: the perceived weakness of Labour’s leadership, lack of trust on public spending and immigration. These plagued the 2015 campaign and it’s fair to say the party never found a way around them. And looking at Labour now, it feels like it has gone backward on two challenges while the third has been neutralised through no especial effort of their own.

In 2015 those Tory posters showing Ed Miliband as Alec Salmond's puppet were as much about leadership as about the concept of a coalition. They simply crystallised the way people already felt about Miliband. Now, the party has stalled on leadership. Despite the improved appearance and effective performances, people do not forget that Corbyn and members of his core team have failed to answer basic questions about their policies in live interviews. People also know that he has an at-best equivocal attitude to some of the basics of defending the country and maintaining people’s physical security; and they know that most of his colleagues in Parliament did not want him as leader. These weaknesses overwhelm the positives of Corbyn’s performance over the past 6 weeks and explain why - despite Theresa May’s utterly lacklustre campaign - he is still miles behind in perceptions of who would be best Prime Minister.

In 2015, it felt like the rest of the nation was getting to experience a little bit of my job when this voter (at 1:10) on the BBC’s Question Time special tore into Ed over Labour spending. Focus group after focus group we had heard that Labour were the ones responsible for the state of the economy because they had spent too much money. The issue was not that people thought Labour had bad spending priorities: generally, people know they are for the NHS and helping the least fortunate people. It’s more that Labour is seen as the party that increases spending as the solution to whatever problem is put in front of it. This time around, Labour put a lot of effort into reassurance on spending, producing a supplement to the manifesto showing how they would raise all the money it promises to spend. This shows that they understood there was a problem, but they came up with the wrong cure. People don’t doubt that it would be possible for the government to raise more money through taxation: they doubt that Labour should be spending it.

The issue that did not hobble Labour in 2017 was immigration. Two years ago immigration was seen as a root cause of every problem from schools to hospitals to housing – and Labour as the lot who "opened the doors in the first place." We didn’t guess that just over a year later Britain would vote to leave the EU. Brexit has remade the immigration debate: when challenged on it, Corbyn can now simply say that when we leave the EU, free movement will end. He had a wobble against Paxman where he couldn’t promise lower immigration under Labour, but it felt far from a defining moment and there was no repeat in the subsequent TV setpieces on the BBC. In this respect, backing Article 50 and accepting our departure from the single market was smart, especially given that Corbyn only ever gave the EU a 7/10 anyway. The challenge in the coming years will be whether the party is prepared to seriously oppose the Tories’ economically ruinous immigration cap.

So without addressing fundamentals around trust in leadership and spending – and pending a resolution of the immigration question – it’s difficult to see how Labour can be elected anytime soon. The positives of this campaign and Corbyn’s performance must not be ignored, but it does not feel like more of the same message is what’s needed to be truly competitive again. It’s also hard to imagine the Tories running as bad a campaign next time around.

GQR Names Lindsey Reynolds Chief Operating Officer

GQR Names Lindsey Reynolds Chief Operating Officer

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner is pleased to announce the newest member of its senior leadership team, its new Chief Operating Officer Lindsey Reynolds. 

Reynolds joins GQR this month after 10 years with the Democratic National Committee, where she served as both Chief Operating Officer and Director of the Office of the Secretary. As the DNC’s COO, Reynolds worked with the Party’s Chair and CEO to manage over 150 staff, open scores of offices nationwide during the 2016 campaign, and manage the logistics of the Party’s 2016 convention and its participation in the televised debates. Earlier with the DNC, Reynolds served as Executive Director of Democrats Abroad.

Before working in Washington, DC, Reynolds served as Executive Director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, and as an independent consultant offering campaign strategy and fundraising expertise to a diverse group of clients in Virginia, DC and Maryland. Earlier, she served as Director of Finance for the Virginia Joint Democratic Caucus and was legislative aide and Deputy Campaign Manager to Virginia’s Democratic State Senator Stanley Walker for his 1999 reelection campaign.

GQR is excited about the high-level political and management experience that Reynolds brings to the firm, her lifetime commitment to progressive politics, and her extensive networks among top Democratic leaders across the country and around the world. 

GQR is a world-leader in public opinion research and strategic advice for progressive campaigns, governments, businesses, and organizations. Founded in 1980 by Stanley Greenberg, the firm has advised the campaigns and governments of world leaders including President Nelson Mandela, President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and US Senator Maggie Hassan – one of only two Democrats to beat a Republican incumbent in 2016. 

The polls may be all over the place, but expect a week of Brexit followed by a Tory win

The polls may be all over the place, but expect a week of Brexit followed by a Tory win

GQR Vice President Peter McLeod is writing a weekly column on the UK general election for, where this article first appeared. GQR was pollster to Labour at the 2015 UK general election but does not work with the current leadership.

Yes, the polls are going haywire. At the same time as YouGov and Survation put the race back to the 2015 result of a 5-7 point Tory win (disastrous for Theresa May, as I wrote a few weeks ago), ICM, ComRes and Panelbase have the Tories cruising to the 100-or-so seat majority that would make this election a success for the Prime Minister. Now YouGov, based on a complex multi-level regression model using constituency-level polling data, predicts a hung Parliament – despite the fact that their own poll of 50 marginal Labour-held seats taken in early May would have seen the Tories win every single one of them on a uniform swing. Poll watchers casual and professional alike are increasingly baffled. Meanwhile all the pollsters who have numbers out there will be increasingly nervous.

In defence of the pollsters, they are firing at a moving target at the same time as they try to correct for what happened in 2015. This is a genuinely unusual campaign featuring a shocking amount of movement: Sir David Butler, who has been covering election polling since 1945, says the polls have changed more over the course of this campaign than in any he recalls. Although the pollsters differ in the particulars, all of them show Labour gaining significant vote share while the Tories’ share deflates after an initial jump. Beside what appear to be real shifts in opinion over time, the different approaches the pollsters have taken to adjust their turnout models since 2015 are driving the huge variation in what they're currently reporting. Essentially what they disagree about is whether we should believe young people when they say they are going to vote: if we do, Labour polls fairly well; if we don’t (and history tells us we shouldn’t), Labour polls badly.

Personally I’m encouraged by the variation across polls: it shows innovation is happening. A variety of new ideas should produce a variety of different outcomes: if everyone was still producing the same results, you'd worry about herding and intellectual stagnation. The variation means several firms will inevitably miss the final outcome, but those that call it right will give everyone an idea of the best way forward next time. This is natural selection in action and the whole pollster population should get healthier for it.

Methodological drama aside, we’ve witnessed a strange May. Back at the beginning of the month I pointed out four campaign unknowns that should have been keeping the PM up at night: the pollsters overcorrecting their models in favour of the Tories; the CPS charging Conservatives over their 2015 election accounting, throwing the Tory narrative out the window; the Lib Dems bouncing back; and Labour coming up with a surprisingly good campaign.

It's fair to say that the Lib Dem bounceback hasn’t materialised. But the pollsters are no longer providing the assurance they were a few weeks ago and, while the CPS didn't charge anyone, Theresa May wilfully tossed away her control of the narrative with her U-turn on the social care manifesto commitment.

It's difficult to overstate how much of a misstep that was: not only did it undermine the Conservatives' story about strength and stability, it clobbered the most reliable and enthusiastic part of their coalition, the over-65s. It had a real impact too: ICM's poll of 12-14 May gave May a 29%-28% lead over Corbyn as the leader most trusted on "Protecting the interests of pensioners;" in a poll that ran 24-26 May, Corbyn led 41%-24% on being trusted to "Look after the future of our pensioners." Among voters over 65, May went from a 43%-21% lead to a 30%-39% deficit (yes, the questions are worded differently – presumably because the two polls were done for different clients – but I don't believe for a second that that difference is enough to cause a change of this magnitude).

And Labour have indeed surprised with their campaign, underpinned by a manifesto promising enormous, universal giveaways like free university tuition. In that early May column I noted that Corbyn was back in his natural environment and this was clear in this week’s two TV set pieces. Especially on Monday night's May vs. Corbyn programme on Channel 4 and Sky News, Corbyn proved not just to be a more confident and fluent speaker than May; where he was really effective was in pivoting back consistently to his core message without sounding like a robot. When a small business owner challenged him on tax-and-spend, he talked about building a country where all kids can get a good education; when Paxman said he was weak because he couldn't get all his core beliefs into the Labour manifesto he affirmed his commitments to democracy and fighting for social justice. These play enormously well with Corbyn’s base and, although he has done the opposite of creating the reassurance on fiscal responsibility that Labour needs in order to win the centre, appear to be enough to bring 30%+ of the electorate with him.

Hammering home a prepared message while sounding like it's just occurred to you is one of the difficult, counter-intuitive skills that politicians have to master, and Corbyn's decades of vigorous campaigning have prepared him well. The relative success of Monday night cleared the path for him to appear on the BBC leaders' debate last night.

So a large part of the Tory campaign nightmare seems to have come true. Does that mean a hung Parliament – or even a Labour win? No. May’s non-appearance on the BBC and a series of awkward campaign encounters like the instantly-notorious non-interview with the Plymouth Herald have undermined her for sure. But it's difficult to envisage these setbacks amounting to the sort of disaster that would close the remaining gap between the two main parties.

Instead, take Amber Rudd’s approach last night as a template for the rest of the week: a concerted attack on Labour’s credentials on the basics of leadership, fiscal responsibility and Brexit. That ICM polling I mentioned showed that the three issues the electorate cares most about are the NHS, the economy, and Brexit. On the latter two, May has a 17 to 26 point lead over Corbyn even after the tribulations of the past few weeks. The Conservative hope will be to nail the final week and that, like with most stories, the audience will only really recall the beginning and the end of this campaign. That should lead to an increased Tory majority – but most likely not the blowout we expected a month ago.

Labour's poll bounce is too little too late. It needs to catch up to a changed country

Labour's poll bounce is too little too late. It needs to catch up to a changed country

GQR Vice President Peter McLeod is writing a weekly column on the UK general election for, where this article first appeared. GQR was pollster to Labour at the 2015 UK general election but does not work with the current leadership.

In the context of this election's polling, YouGov's latest for the Sunday Times was an earthquake. At 44-35 to the Tories is was the first poll of the campaign to show a lead of less than 10 points, and had Labour a full 5 points up on its 2015 result. But don't be moved by it. There's the usual caveat that any surprising poll is more likely to be a statistical outlier than herald of an undiscovered truth, but more to the point, this is a 9-point lead less than three weeks before an election. You don't blow these.

The same basic facts that applied at the beginning of the campaign apply now: UKIP's vote has collapsed and gone to the Tories; Theresa May's personal rating (a good indicator of how undecideds will break) is above the Tories' vote share while Jeremy Corbyn's is below Labour's share; Labour is relying on younger voters who are less likely to turn out; and Labour's vote is softer than the Tories' (i.e. they are more likely – by their own admission – to change their minds).

Amidst all the national polling you might also have noticed that a week ago YouGov did a poll of Labour marginals. The parties themselves will be spending more on this sort of targeted polling than on national surveys because of course the marginals is where the election is decided. And that poll found a bigger swing to the Tories than you see at the national level, pointing to an even bigger victory. Incidentally this aligns with stories that Labour's private polling and on-the-ground operations put the party on as little as 140 seats.

In other words, it remains extremely safe to say that the General Election will return a Conservative government. And a third election defeat in a row ought to prompt deep thinking for Labour on what it's for and who it represents, because the stories underlying this election are of realignments in how the country as a whole votes.

Back in 2005 when I was an intern at an outfit called Populus I was asked to find some statistics on the share of the population occupying the ABC1 social grades – broadly speaking, the middle class. These had formed the backbone of the Tory vote for decades, but someone had a hunch this was no longer the case, and it turned out to be true. As the number of people classified ABC1 had grown over the couple of decades prior, so the Conservative share of the vote in that group had fallen. They won ABC1s by 39 points in 1983, 32 points in 1992 and only 6 points in 2005. The early part of David Cameron's leadership of the Tories – exemplified by his abrupt embrace of green issues – was all about trying to win back those ABC1 voters. To an extent he succeeded, growing the Tory lead among ABC1s to 12 points in both 2010 and 2015.

At the same time, Labour was losing its core voters. At Blair's first landslide victory in 1997, Labour won the C2, D and E social grades by 31 points. By 2005, that margin had fallen to 15 points, and in 2010 Labour barely scraped a win among C2DEs. There was a basically negligible improvement in 2015, with Labour winning C2DEs by a point and a half. The current election looks significantly worse. Averaging across four polls from last week (YouGov, Panelbase, GfK and ICM), the Tories were beating Labour among C2DEs by 12 points. For reference, Thatcher's best result among this group was a tie, in 1983.

Labour's loss of working class votes has to be seen in the context of the Tories' struggles with the middle classes, because while Theresa May looks set to improve on Cameron's performance among ABC1s, she will still be far from achieving the 30+ point margins of the eighties. The real story is that class is a much weaker determinant of everyone's voting behaviour than it used to be. As the nature of work in Britain has changed – a focus group respondent pointed out to us last year that whereas a working class job used to be down a mine it's now in a call centre – so has the political identity tied up with it. In fact, in 2017 you will be much more likely to guess someone's vote by checking their age than the type of work they do. The Tories are 40 points up among the over-55s, but Labour is winning the under 35s by 18. You have to go back to 1974 to find an election where the social classes were as polarised as these age groups are now.

The relative lack of class polarisation in the electorate is reflected to an extent in what the parties are offering. The Tories have made an effort to burnish their credentials on workers' rights – taking on Ed Miliband policies like representation for workers on corporate boards – and pledged to intervene in energy markets to keep bills down. Meanwhile Labour has steered away from pitching policies directly to lower-income groups, opting not to reverse the freeze on benefits but instead offer universal free school meals and an end to university tuition fees. You can see how these might appeal to the 18-35 year olds – many of them middle class – who now form the party's most enthusiastic vote. The question is whether these voters will show up on polling day and, in the likely event their party is blown away, stick with it through the tough times to come.