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 info@gqrr.com.

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 politics.co.uk, 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 info@gqrr.com  

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 politics.co.uk, 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 politics.co.uk, 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 politics.co.uk, 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.

Is Labour’s strategy working? Possibly. Is it winning? No.

Is Labour’s strategy working? Possibly. Is it winning? No.

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


There’s a meme that seems to go round after every election, noisily touted by disgruntled backers of the losing side. You’ll see a pie chart with colourful chunks for each of the main parties (or sides, in the case of a referendum), but also a great expanse of white or grey: the non-voters. This grey mass squeezes all other contestants, diminishing the differences between them and making the victor look puny. The chart is held aloft as proof that the winners didn’t really win, because in fact the majority of the country didn’t vote for them.

Like all the best deceptions, this is built on truths. It’s trivial to show that in a referendum won, say, 52-48 on a turnout of 72%, only 37% of eligible voters picked the winning side. The message writes itself: how can there be a mandate for something that 63% didn’t vote for? It’s easy to leap from here to an even wronger conclusion - that all you need to do to reverse the decision is mobilise the non-voters.

In the summer of 2015, this idea seemed to provoke a certain giddiness on the left. The Tories had managed to squeak a majority in parliament with 37% of a 66% turnout (only 24% of eligible voters!) and tens, then hundreds of thousands of people were inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign to join the Labour party. If Corbyn could engage so many people, didn’t that mean there was demand out there among the non-voters for a Labour party that looked leftward?

The evidence is taking shape before our eyes. The average at Electoral Calculus has the Tories on 49 and Labour on 27; at Britain Elects it’s 47 to 29. As a reminder, that puts the Tories 10 to 12 points up on their 2015 result and Labour down by between 1 and 3. While it’s true that Labour has gained a few points since hitting a low on 21st April (a few days after the election was called), the Tories have gained the same amount since then.

What’s going on then? There are two problems with a non-voter strategy. The first is with our assumptions about what non-voters are like. The second is about what we can do about them.

First, what they’re like. The fact that a non-voter did not vote for your opponent is the weakest possible evidence that what they really want to do is vote for you. Your opponent can make a mirror-image of that argument with equal justification. A more reasonable a priori assumption is that non-voters are actually a bit like the people who did vote, just less motivated. So if they had to vote they would end up doing so in the same proportions as the voters, which gets you nowhere. A more detailed approximation might use non-voters’ demographics: do they look like the voters of one party or another? People on the left would note that non-voters tend to be younger and less well-off than voters, so there may be more potential Labour voters among them than Tory voters. Beyond this, research among potential voters can give you more. When we poll people and they tell us they don’t know who they’d vote for, or wouldn’t vote, we can use other questions to allocate them to one side or another: how they feel about the direction of the country, their basic sentiment toward the parties and leaders, any past voting behavior. Our experience is that low-propensity voters are usually minded to break against incumbents. But that’s the thing: even if the non-voting population is somewhat tilted in your favour, it still takes a lot of work to get them to the polls. Is it effort well spent?

This brings us to the second issue: how do we attract the non-voters? We need to come up with a message powerful enough to get them to break their non-voting habit and turn out for us. Not easy, as this requires overcoming two biases: toward default behaviours, and against doing anything when given the option to do nothing. But still: let’s imagine we have such a message. What will be the impact of this message on other potential targets? By choosing to target non-voters we’ve turned our backs on, for example, voters who could be open to switching to us from our opponents. We’ve also decided to ignore any of our own past voters who are vulnerable to being captured by the opposition. Let’s not forget that, if they’re smart, our opponents are actively trying to get our voters to switch to them. What if our powerful non-voter message turns some of our own supporters away? This is deadly: if every time we gain a supporter from the non-voter pool we lose one to our opponents, we’re going backwards. We have to win two non-voters for every voter we lose to the opposition just to break even. It’s incredibly hard going.

While this election is most certainly more complicated than the simple model described above, what’s actually happening is pretty consistent with it. I pulled data from the seven most recent polls by different polling houses listed on Britain Elects (YouGov, Panelbase, Kantar/TNS, Survation, ICM, ORB, Opinium), to look at how people have changed their votes since 2015. While all the pollsters include data broken out by 2015 vote, only three of them (Survation, ORB and Opinium) show data for the 2015 non-voters. We need to take the numbers with a pinch of salt because the samples are small. Nonetheless, the 223 past non-voters in those three polls who said they will vote in the next election break 46% Labour, 32% for the Tories, 8% Lib Dem and 5% UKIP. A good sign?

Let’s look at the people who did vote in 2015. The Tories have retained 90% of their 2015 voters, while winning 11% of Labour’s voters, 21% of the Lib Dems’ and 48% of UKIP’s. Labour has retained just 77% of its 2015 voters, gaining only 4% of Tory voters, 16% of the Lib Dems and 8% of UKIP’s vote.

So if Labour really has chosen to pursue non-voters, the strategy is working. The party is winning more of them than the Tories. The trouble is, those gains are dwarfed by those of its opponent, who has chosen to go after the votes of people who - you know - vote.

The only way to make sense of Theresa May’s attack on Europe

The only way to make sense of Theresa May’s attack on Europe

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

On Wednesday afternoon the Prime Minister stood on the spot where she had announced the General Election two weeks previously and launched a paranoid, bitter assault on the EU. Her claims that her government’s negotiating position on Brexit was being misrepresented, that the Commission had hardened its own stance and that threats had been issued against Britain were mere buildup to her most extraordinary accusation: “All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June.”

There are a number of problems with this statement. First, its obvious falseness. It would be reckless for Brussels officials to try to influence a member country’s election – imagine the scandal if details of their plotting got out. More to the point, if the EU institutions have any interest at all in our election it is for it to result in (yes, sorry) a strong, stable government led by the same people it’s been dealing with for the past 9 months. Pause just a moment here. Imagine that the EU wants to have to negotiate with Jeremy Corbyn. It’s a stretch, right?

Second, these claims can only be counterproductive for the negotiations themselves.  Trust is reciprocal: now that May has declared that she believes the EU is plotting against her, it is much harder for her counterparts to take anything she says to them at face value.

Third, May has shown herself to have such a thin skin you’d have thought she got some coaching from Donald Trump during her visit back in January. Openly accusing an ostensible ally of plotting against you is hardly Prime Ministerial behavior. From that narrow perspective, the statement makes her look worse.

Why do it, then? The only angle from which this makes sense is the internal politics of the Tory party. She surprised most of her colleagues when she called this election. Her reputation is one of extreme caution. The polls look magnificent for the Tories, but they have created outsized expectations. A big election win is now priced into her colleagues’ perceptions of Mrs. May. Her authority will be diminished if she fails to get a significantly bigger majority than she has now. If she doesn’t she will be vulnerable both to her hard Brexit wing and any lurking soft Brexiters or closet Remainers. Commentators arguing that her statement was reckless when she’s bound to win anyway seem to miss this point. Yes, everyone’s central assumption has to be a Tory win with a big majority, but Theresa May is the one who now has to deliver on that. This is an election that she has to absolutely nail. She needs the best Conservative result since 1987.

And despite the state of the polls, that thumping win can’t be taken as read. While last night’s local election results should bolster Tory confidence that their poll leads convert to the hard currency of votes, there is still plenty of room for things to go wrong. There are several questions that should be occupying Theresa May and likely led to her big announcement this week.

First, have the pollsters overcorrected? All the major polling houses updated their methodology after 2015, with the goal of better modelling who would actually turn out in a future election. Because of the result in 2015, changes to the pollsters’ models can only have led to them reporting higher Tory numbers, even if the underlying reality is unchanged. But the new models haven’t been tested against a real election yet. While it’s unlikely that there have been no real shifts at all since 2015, those double-digit Tory leads could be offering false hope.

Second, will the CPS charge over 30 Conservatives including MPs and senior officials with offences relating to the 2015 campaign? Any charges would have to land before the election. May could lose control of the narrative right at the time when the country’s full attention will be on the campaign and undecided voters are finally breaking one way or the other. It happened to Hillary Clinton; it could happen here.

Third, how much will the Lib Dems bounce back? They went from 57 seats to 8 at the last election, with 27 of the losses to the Tories. The Lib Dems are up a couple of points over 2015 in the polling averages, but historically they outperform national polls by focusing hard on local campaigns. It would be astonishing for the Tories to hold on to all of their 2015 Lib Dem gains, making their task in Labour marginals that much harder.

Fourth, what if Labour’s plan works? The past few weeks have seen the party start do something on policy: universal free school meals for primary pupils, a rise in the minimum wage to £10 and support for small businesses plagued by late payments from bigger clients all went down well. Corbyn is back to campaigning, clearly a far happier habitat for him than management. He is finally guaranteed press coverage of what he wants to do in power, rather than internal dramas. Voters could warm to his style. He could have a brilliant policy up his sleeve. Labour polled 30.4% in 2015. You might have seen some big headlines about Labour vote shares of 24 and 25. But the current average at Britain Elects has Labour on 27.6 and at Polling Observatory they’re on 27.8. He only has to do as well as Ed Miliband to put May in an uncomfortable position.

None of this is a serious case for the Tories actually losing the election. But for Theresa May, defeat isn’t just not losing: it’s ending up as a David Cameron mark II, beholden to the many people in her party willing to cause her trouble. Her latest intervention gave her another news cycle dominated by Brexit; splashes across the press of her looking tough; more adulation from the Daily Mail; other parties gasping for oxygen. Control of the narrative. Ultimately, she hopes, control of her party.

There will be plenty of time to sit down and make friends with the EU after the election – and if she has another 100 MPs at her back the frosty reception she gets will seem well worth it.

Targeting the Message: How Parties Use Polls in a Campaign

Targeting the Message: How Parties Use Polls in a Campaign

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

 “You all got it wrong, didn’t you?” This, and less polite variations on it, is the kind of thing people say to me when I tell them I’m a pollster[1]. It’s been a rich couple of years for conversations like that, what with GE 2015, Brexit, and Trump. Despite the fact that the final average of polls in each of those elections was within margin-of-error of the result, plenty of people have decided they’ve had enough of the polls; if you’re one of them, I doubt I’m going to persuade you otherwise.

On the other hand if you do believe the polls, and you’re reading this website, you probably already know that Labour appears on course for an historic defeat. You’ve seen that the Conservatives could win the most seats in Wales for the first time since the 1850s; that Labour is doing even worse in its own seats than the national polls show; that it looks like it will be the Tories, not Labour, who finally peg the SNP back; that for the past 6 elections the polls 50 days out overestimated the Labour share of the vote; and that Theresa May has the highest rating as most capable Prime Minister recorded by Ipsos MORI in the 38 years they’ve been asking the question. You know all this.

So instead, I want to talk about how campaigns use polls. While media coverage is getting a lot more sophisticated, it still tends to fixate on the horse race. Of course, parties pay attention to this and it can make a real difference to how they behave. Throughout the 2010-15 Parliament, publicly available polls gave Labour substantial leads over the Tories, enough to convince a lot of people in the party that it was doing and saying the right things. But, as my old GQR colleague has written, our private polling was always more pessimistic than what appeared in the papers. We thought the party needed to shift its position on spending and immigration if it wanted to win a majority, but our bad-news polls could always be set against a weight of public polling that said everything was fine. We all winced when the audience on Question Time a week before the election hammered Ed on Labour’s spending record. Any chance to neutralise it had gone years before.

But again, the horse race is only the beginning of what a campaign uses polling for. More than anything, politics is a persuasion business. This goes for the activist knocking on doors as much as for the leader standing at the despatch box, in a private meeting with their Parliamentary party or going on Marr. And to persuade people, you need a message. This isn’t a line or a paragraph or an essay, it is a story: about how the world is today, what needs to change and why you – not any of the other candidates – are the one to achieve this. Campaign research, then, is all about identifying, testing and honing these messages. Doing it right takes a lot of things, but four are chief among them.

First, targeting. You need to know who you’re trying to persuade. Some people will love a particular message, but would never vote for you anyway. You want swing voters, and for that you need a poll with a big enough sample to delve into each party’s voters and pick out those who a) aren’t convinced about their current choice, and b) haven’t ruled out voting for another party. Depending on the circumstances, you might be more interested in your opponent’s weak voters who would potentially vote for you, or your own voters at risk of being wrested away by your opponent. But once you’ve isolated your targets, start filtering out what the rest think. Right now, Theresa May rightly thinks that she should be targeting huge chunks of Labour’s vote. That’s one reason her attack is so narrowly on Corbyn: she would risk alienating some of her targets if she attacked Labour and its values more broadly. That narrowness is a signal of her ambition.

Second, your subject. You have to find out what your targets care about: you might have a brilliant message on class sizes in primary schools but if the people you want to win are more anxious about the NHS, find something on that instead. The Tories have decided that their winnable voters care about leadership and Brexit. There’s no doubt their research is telling them this. So even when they talk about other things, they will still be talking about leadership and Brexit.

Third, what options do you have for what you will actually say? Write it all down and test it. Your tests can range from the macro (do we advocate a second referendum? Quitting the European Court of Justice?) to the really quite micro (does “strength and stability” or “capability and competence” work better?). It all gets put through the wringer – in focus groups, in polls, in A/B testing on social media.

Fourth, how do we do against the other side? Messages must be tested against what other parties and candidates say: if your target likes what you say but likes what others say even more, you better change what you’re saying. Another trap is to find a message that works wonderfully just so long as no one challenges it. Fail to stress test your message, and this can happen.

By now, most of the heavy lifting should have been done: the parties know who they’re trying to reach, which of their buttons to push, how to package their offer and how to fend off attacks. They’ll track how they’re doing, especially in marginal seats, run quick tests on how to respond to ups and downs in the campaign, and look to tweak their messages for a last late push. But the core message is already brightly polished and ready to spring to life.

Finally: I might have given the impression that campaigns and the research that goes into them are a cynical exercise, all about politicians telling voters what they want to hear. I know plenty of people think that – they say so in focus groups. The reality is that our role is not to tell candidates what to say to make people like them; instead, it’s to show how they can talk about their own ambitions for the country in a way that people understand and relate to. We like to think that this contributes to the democratic process.


[1] There’s also a weird variation sometimes when people think I’ve said “upholsterer,” but that’s another column.

These recent elections show that polling isn’t, and never was, broken

These recent elections show that polling isn’t, and never was, broken

By Anna Greenberg and Jeremy D. Rosner


This article appeared in the Washington Post Outlook section May 7th, 2017. See it here. 


Global financial markets and European Union leaders heaved a sigh of relief after the first round of the French presidential election last month. And so did the polling profession. It turns out the polls were not broken in France, as they were said to have been in the American presidential election and the British Brexit vote.

But in truth, France wasn’t a departure. The polls in the United States and Britain generally worked well. As a new report this past week from the American Association for Public Opinion Research pointed out , national surveys in the U.S. election “were generally correct and accurate by historical standards.” Although polling faces real challenges, nobody has repealed the laws of statistics: When polling is done well, it continues to produce reliable results.

Here, nationwide polls accurately predicted Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the popular vote. She won by 2.1 percentage points, while the average polling margin on Election Day was Clinton by 3.2 points. In Britain, our poll for a think tank showed a narrow initial preference to “remain” in the European Union across likely voters but an advantage for “leave” — the winning result — after voters listened to arguments on both sides.

Yes, polling in recent years has had to grapple with major challenges, from low response rates to non-response bias , in which some groups choose not to participate (there is evidence of this to some extent among Trump voters). But none of these problems means that the basic science behind survey research has failed or that we can no longer produce high-quality, accurate data. The problem is that too many people are misusing and abusing polls — in three ways in particular.

First, many people treat polls as predictions instead of snapshots in time based on a set of assumptions about who will turn out to vote. Ron Fournier, the publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business, for instance, has argued that Nate Silver got the election wrong because he awarded Trump only a 34 percent chance of winning. Pollsters make judgments about the composition of the electorate based on historical experience and levels of interest in the current election in order to pull a list of voters to interview. But if those assumptions are wrong, then the polls will be wrong on Election Day. The polls in the Midwest that predicted a Clinton victory generally did not anticipate that, in key industrial states, more rural and exurban white working-class voters would turn out to vote than in past presidential contests.

The tendency of elites to underestimate working-class anger is a real and global problem. The United States and most other major democracies are grappling with intense and historic levels of public grievance related to slow growth; income inequality; and resentments over trade, technology and immigration. That has made voter turnout among specific blocs less predictable worldwide. But that’s not a problem with survey research methodology. Rather, it puts a bigger premium on listening to voters and picking up on who is particularly angry or energized.

Second, the rising cost of collecting high-quality data — because of declining response rates and the increased use of cellphones — has led many researchers to cut corners. Rather than spend more to address such problems, some organizations skimp on practices such as call-backs (to people who didn’t answer) or cluster sampling (to make sure small geographic areas are represented proportionately). They may also use cheap but sometimes unreliable data collection methods such as opt-in online panels or push-button polling (interactive voice recognition) that systematically exclude respondents who primarily use mobile devices.

Indeed, according to “Shattered,” the new book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the Clinton campaign relied heavily on “analytics” surveys rather than “old school polling” to track the candidate’s standing because the former were cheaper. Analytics surveys are used to gather data for building voter targeting models. They tend to have large sample sizes but skimp on common practices that make traditional polls more accurate. The book quotes a Clinton pollster acknowledging as much on election night: “Our analytics models were just really off. Time to go back to traditional polling.”

Third, good polling requires good listening. Powerful new techniques in big data modeling make it possible to segment and target voters in ways that were undreamed-of a decade ago. Yet voting is an inherently human activity that defies being completely reduced to formulas. The best polling has always been accompanied by directly listening to people, face to face, in their own words.

Many campaigns and media organizations miss opportunities or succumb to polling errors because they do not invest in simply listening to voters. Focus groups are invaluable, as are other ways of listening, such as conducting in-depth interviews, reading online discussion boards or even systematically monitoring conversations on social media.

Open-ended listening can reveal the need to reword survey questions; for example, our recent focus groups suggest that “globalization” is all but meaningless to many voters. Open listening can cast doubt on things that may have become conventional wisdom in a campaign; for instance, we have worked in many races where the “front-runner” was actually quite weak, but that was more evident in focus groups than in standard survey measures of favorability or job performance. Direct listening can also show that all polling numbers are not created equal: While we did not poll for last year’s Clinton campaign, we conducted many focus groups across the country in which it was clear that voters were willing to overlook or tolerate concerns about Trump, while they could not do the same with Clinton (e.g., “I just don’t trust her”). Direct listening revealed that low favorability ratings meant different things for the two candidates. These are qualitative tactics that many media polls and campaigns skip or skimp on, partly because of the cost.

Polling had a good day in France two weeks ago, and with sound practices it could have another good day this weekend. Whether it has more good days, or instead becomes an increasing target of skepticism, will depend less on math and more on old-fashioned matters of hard listening, wise budgeting and human judgment.


Three Keys to Stemming the World’s Downward Democratic Spiral

Three Keys to Stemming the World’s Downward Democratic Spiral

By Jeremy D. Rosner

Liberal democracy is facing severe challenges worldwide. The signs are well known: the success of Donald Trump’s nationalist/populist campaign; the Brexit vote; the emergence of illiberal governments in other EU states such as Hungary and Poland; President Erdogan’s power grab in Turkey; the surging assertiveness of authoritarian regimes in Russia and China; the popularity of leaders, from the Philippines to Kenya, who flout human rights norms; and more. 

All these raise the question of whether the world’s “third wave” of liberal democratic expansion, which began in the 1970s, has now reversed into a downward democratic spiral, and whether we are witnessing a mounting rejection of the ideas that made it possible for liberal democracies to thrive, including economic globalization, norms of protection for those fleeing oppression, an internationalist stance by the US and of its community of allies, and a widespread preference for systems of popular rule with strong protections for procedural and minority rights.

Many respected experts seem to have decided liberal democracy’s best days are over. The US National Intelligence Council’s influential quadrennial Global Trends report, published in January, struck a decidedly gloomy tone for the liberal democratic order. It suggested the next decades will feature “an inward-looking West and erosion of norms for conflict prevention and human rights,” slow economic growth, rising tensions among countries, and increased “populism…on the right and left, threatening liberalism.”

Similarly, the American geo-strategist Robert Kagan has suggested we are in “the twilight of the liberal world order.” In a recent Foreign Policy article, he argues that, akin to the West’s disastrous retreat into isolationism in the 1920s, the world may have already missed its chance to defend the ideas that made it possible for liberal democracy to thrive in the post-WWII era, such as democratic norms, respect for borders, economic integration, and human rights:

The weakness at the core of the democratic world and the shedding by the United States of global responsibilities have already encouraged a more aggressive revisionism by the dissatisfied powers [principally China and Russia]. That, in turn, has further sapped the democratic world’s confidence and willingness to resist. History suggests that this is a downward spiral from which it will be difficult to recover, absent a rather dramatic shift of course by the United States.

There are plenty of recent data points to suggest the world’s liberal democratic order is struggling, and much reason to worry about the Trump administration’s retreat from America’s traditional global advocacy for democracy, human rights, open trade, and strong alliances. It is very possible that the liberal democratic fabric, particularly in the West, will continue to unravel. The upcoming elections in France, Germany, and Sweden will be important indicators.

Yet there is reason to question whether liberal democracy is doomed to keep waning. In many cases, the skeptics’ observations, while well rooted in geopolitics, overlook some dynamics of domestic politics that could alter the picture. Indeed, there are at least three major reasons, linked to internal political dynamics, which suggest how progressive leaders and states can still pull the world out of the downward democratic spiral we observe today.

1. With better campaigns, closely divided electorates could send a different message. While there is no mistaking the populist/nationalist trend in key recent elections, many of those victories were quite narrow. Kagan, in an earlier article, argues that, “With the election of Donald Trump, a majority of Americans have signaled their unwillingness to continue upholding the world order.” Even leaving aside that Trump failed to win a plurality, much less a majority of the vote, this draws too definitive a conclusion – especially given that American voters mostly made their choice in 2016 based on domestic issues, and also given that the result was so mixed.

After all, Hillary Clinton – a strong internationalist – actually won the popular vote. And if just 40,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin had been cast for her rather than Donald Trump, the narrative would now be more about the US bucking – or even blocking – the global trend away from the liberal democratic order. Similarly, a shift of just 650,000 votes in Britain toward “remain” – out of more than 33 million votes cast – would have left people concluding that the EU was simply on notice, rather than on life support. 

In both the US and UK, better campaigns could well have reversed the results. In too many democracies, the established progressive parties have become complacent and insular. Many are run by long-time staff who keep their jobs whether their leaders win or lose, which gives them little incentive to listen hard to their electorates or risk new strategies. Those who fail to explore new approaches for communicating with voters are not likely to fare well.

But the closely divided nature of the electorates in many countries means that even marginally better campaigns can create very different results. Indeed, just this year, there have been some notable changes, such as the weak vote for hatemonger Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and a minor but notable Swiss referendum in favor of liberalized migration. The scattering of encouraging results does not mean the illiberal danger is past – only that it is not too late for smart progressive leaders and parties to raise their game and shift the apparent trend.

2. “The Trump Factor” and the rise of “antibodies.” Just as illnesses trigger antibodies, the ills plaguing liberal democracy may be starting to trigger popular and institutional checks and balances. Progressives who were apathetic enough to permit Hillary Clinton’s defeat last November are now full of passion, protesting by the millions, shouting down Republican members of Congress at town meetings, and contributing massively to liberal advocacy groups.

This energy helped fuel the defeat of Trump’s central promise to repeal Obamacare. Trump’s attacks on federal judges may have played a role in the federal judiciary repeatedly blocking his Muslim-hostile travel bans. His attacks on the media have helped spur some of the best US investigative reporting since Watergate. And just in the past weeks, Trump has been forced by his own advisers and the stubbornness of reality to reverse previously held positions, including his campaign pledge to “rip up” NAFTA, his earlier charge that NATO is “obsolete,” and the green light his team initially gave Bashar al-Assad to remain in power.

Of course, not all political immune systems have the same vigor. In Russia, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Venezuela, and many other states, illiberal rulers have succeeded in eviscerating some combination of their countries’ legislatures, judiciaries, media, and civil societies. In the Philippines, President Duterte’s strong approval ratings have cowed the legislature, courts, and even parts of the media from criticizing the thousands of extrajudicial killings he has blessed.

Yet even when liberal institutions have been all but gutted, there can still be push-back; witness the strong (if unsuccessful) campaign against the Turkish referendum to concentrate power under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or the recent protests in Hungary against the government’s assault on Central European University. A great deal comes down to the creativity of those who seek to defend democracy. As nationalists rise, democratic leaders will have new opportunities to tap the resentment of progressive voters and activists – and if more of them succeed, the trends for democracy could be somewhat better than they now appear.

3. It is one thing to “throw the bums out”; it is much harder to outperform them. “Isms” are relatively easy to start; they are not so easy to sustain. When electorates are angry – especially after an economic slump like the one the world entered in 2008 – the ground becomes fertile for all manner of charismatic leaders, left and right, to claim they have found a better way.

But an electoral rejection of the old model doesn’t ensure success of the new one. Across Latin America, for example, a series of left-leaning populist leaders and parties now face protests and violence from dissatisfied publics. Hugo Chavez touted his “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela, for example, but once oil prices collapsed, so did his economic theories.

As many have noted, the reaction against liberal democracy is largely a backlash against the very openness that fuels its vitality – particularly against liberal conceptions of trade, migration, racial and gender equality, and sexual orientation. But no system has yet emerged that closes borders or restricts individual liberties without sacrificing competing goals, like economic growth, technological innovation, social peace, and political accountability. One opportunity for progressive parties and leaders will be to focus voters on the inability of nationalist/populist leaders, once elected, to deliver real improvements in living conditions, transparency, and justice.

None of this is cause for complacency. Liberal democracy really is under siege – in many cases, deservedly so. Mainstream progressive parties in the US and many other countries have offered only thin gruel policies in the face of widespread hunger for greater equality of income, wealth, and opportunity. Publics nearly everywhere are furious about rampant corruption – and their glimpses behind the golden curtain, as with the Panama Papers, confirm their worst suspicions. Progressive leaders have often failed to take seriously the dislocations working class voters feel due to accelerating flows of goods, ideas, and people (a problem in both the Brexit and Clinton campaigns). Many Western leaders – including both Presidents Obama and Trump – have done too little to challenge Russia’s and China’s ambitions to upend the liberal democratic order.

But liberal democracy has overcome such challenges in the past, and has resilience that is easy to underestimate. As the Economist noted a few years ago: 

Democracy has been on the back foot before. In the 1920s and 1930s communism and fascism looked like the coming things: when Spain temporarily restored its parliamentary government in 1931, Benito Mussolini likened it to returning to oil lamps in the age of electricity. In the mid-1970s Willy Brandt, a former German chancellor, pronounced that “western Europe has only 20 or 30 more years of democracy left in it; after that it will slide, engineless and rudderless, under the surrounding sea of dictatorship.” 

Those pronouncements of democracy’s weakness proved to be overstated. If progressive leaders and parties are able to rise to the challenge of populist nationalism, experiment with new strategies, run more creative campaigns, and mount stronger defenses of the virtues of liberal democracy, today’s gloomy assessments could prove to be overstated as well.

Dr. Rosner is a partner at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, in Washington, DC, where he manages the firm’s international campaign and corporate work. During the 1990s, he served as Special Assistant to President Clinton on the staff of the National Security Council, and as Senior Adviser to President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright on the enlargement of NATO.