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UK: Strong support for banning pesticides that harm pollinators

UK: Strong support for banning pesticides that harm pollinators

Over three quarters support a ban, across the political spectrum

Polling by GQR for SumofUs and PAN, the Pesticides Action Network, shows very high support for a ban on pesticides that harm pollinators. In our survey, 77% agreed that “Pesticides that harm bees and other pollinators should be completely banned.” There is little political partisanship on the issue, with 80% of Labour supporters behind a ban and 79% of Conservatives, while Remain and Leave voters back the ban by 81% and 78% respectively.

GQR polled 1203 adults in Great Britain between 11 and 13 September 2017. The survey was fielded online and results were weighted to be nationally representative of the adult population by gender, age, region, social grade, education, ethnicity and past vote.

Data tables are available for download here

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

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

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


Concern about Brexit is rising

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

Voters agree Britain needs a deal

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

Focus on trade and Northern Ireland

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

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

Keeping EU regulations unlikely to be a problem

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


Legal jurisdiction is a challenge

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

The bill is another stumbling block

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

What next

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


Other coverage of this polling

CHEMTrust/SumofUs on chemicals regulations

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

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

o   GQR: Data table

Politico coverage on Brexit

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

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

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

o GQR: Data tables

UK: No deal is a bad deal

UK: No deal is a bad deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data tables for the poll are available to download here.

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

UK: No to Post-Brexit deregulation

UK: No to Post-Brexit deregulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Download tables of results here

Full results of the poll can be found here.

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

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

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

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


Download tables of results here.

Full results of the poll can be found here.


A good-but-not-great election for Labour

A good-but-not-great election for Labour

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By contrast, the following are shakier propositions:

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

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

There are also some major questions that remain unresolved:

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

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

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

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

Time to think about what happens next

Time to think about what happens next

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, 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, 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, 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.

Selling flexible immigration to a sceptical country

Selling flexible immigration to a sceptical country

It’s hard, but harder for the Tories than Labour

Brexit, so we were told, is about taking back control. The restoration of sovereignty; the repatriation of powers. Parliament will be in charge once again. Of course most MPs from all parties didn’t actually want these powers to come back to Britain, they were quite happy with the old arrangement. One reason for this is that possessing certain powers means people expect you to wield them.

The newly-acquired power to cut immigration is surely the most testing such case. Expectations for reduced immigration post-Brexit are enormous, yet without migrants British industry would face serious problems. The British car industry’s representative body the SMMT says the sector is currently trying to fill 5,000 open positions. Perhaps in an ideal world there would be enough Brits with the necessary skills to fill those jobs; we don’t live in that world. The SMMT is adamant that free movement between Britain and the EU must continue.

The government has to choose between what’s good for our economy and what people want it to do, because among the British public the idea of cutting immigration is remarkably uncontroversial. When we ask if people agree or disagree with the statement “It is essential for the immigration system to reduce the number of migrants coming to Britain,” 58% agree and only 18% disagree. It’s not just Brexiteers either: there is net agreement with this principle among both Remain and Leave voters. Also Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters; men and women; the 18-34s, the 35-54s and the 55 pluses; all the social grades from A to E; white people and ethnic minorities; the people of Scotland, Wales, the North, Midlands and South; Londoners, for goodness’ sake.

And yet politicians seem to be edging toward a position where migration will not be cut. On 27 March, speaking on the BBC’s Question Time, David Davis said "I cannot imagine that the [immigration] policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest. Which means that from time to time we will need more, from time to time we will need less.” This is a strong message to industry that their interests will be protected, but risks disappointing voters. Over the next couple of years Davis and his colleagues will have to find a way to sell continued high migration to a country that thought it had voted to get rid of it. For the Conservatives in particular this is a liability. It might be an opportunity for Labour, if the party is prepared to take it.

Years’ worth of focus groups and polling for the Labour party and others showed us how hard it is to shift British people’s certainty about cutting migration. In our latest poll we wanted to find out whether there were any circumstances under which people would accept immigration going up as well as down. We designed it to take account of the pushback we’ve heard so many times when testing immigration policy ideas: “sure, sounds good, but let’s get the numbers down too!” So for each of five possible controls on migration we asked people to choose between two statements: “As long as [we implement this policy], the overall number of immigrants should be able to go up or down as needed,” OR “[We should implement this policy], but the overall number of immigrants should also come down.”

We tested five different ideas like this, and the short answer is: the government faces serious trouble. For all five, more people thought we should still cut migrant numbers than felt comfortable with numbers going up as well as down:

But the political breakdowns tell another story. On “make sure that people who come here have a job and skills that we need,” Labour voters picked flexible migration over cutting the numbers by a 51-38 margin. On “As long as employers are not allowed to use migrant workers to undercut British workers' wages,” they picked flexibility over cutting numbers 53-34. These are solid margins. Conservative voters by contrast prefer to cut migrant numbers in either case (by 55-41 in the case of the jobs/skills policy and by 59-34 for undercutting). But Conservative voters who would consider Labour (they do exist, believe it or not) are in favour of flexible migration under the jobs/skills scenario.

All this means that Labour could have a more economically and electorally viable immigration policy than the Conservatives. This of course assumes that Labour is interested in things that are both economically and electorally viable; on that, the evidence isn’t clear.

Politico has covered these results here.

Peter McLeod is a Vice President with GQR and runs the firm’s London office. GQR worked for Labour from the mid ‘90s until May 2015. We have no relationship with the party’s current leadership and are not seeking one.

The survey described in this article is a nationally representative online survey of Great Britain conducted from 8 to 10 March 2017. Results are weighted to be representative of the total population by age, gender, region, socioeconomic grade, ethnicity and past voting behaviour.

Download data tables showing the results here.

For more information contact or tweet Peter McLeod (@mcleodp).

GQRR Polling for the New Economics Foundation: Brexit can’t cure Britain’s crisis of control

GQRR Polling for the New Economics Foundation: Brexit can’t cure Britain’s crisis of control

A new poll, conducted by GQR for the New Economics Foundation, shows that the British public overwhelmingly lacks a sense of control over key institutions in their communities and country – and with Article 50 set to be triggered, those who feel least in control of their lives are more worried than hopeful about Britain’s reality outside the European Union.

Vast majorities of British voters report that they have little or no control over crucial organizations and areas of their lives, ranging from companies that provide them essential services (70% feel they have little or no control), to the Westminster government (81%), and aspects of their community including their local council (79%), public services in their area (79%), and neighbourhood (75%).

Moreover, people lacking control over their lives do not feel confident about Brexit: 48% report that they feel more worried than hopeful about how Britain will be after leaving the EU compared to 42% feeling more hopeful. This is in stark contrast to those who do feel in control over their lives – 58% are more hopeful than worried about the country post-Brexit, only 38% worried.

Further analysis of the results by the New Economics Foundation can be found here.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (GQR) surveyed 1,994 people in Great Britain online between 8 and 10 March. Results are weighted to be representative of the total population by age, gender, region, socioeconomic grade, ethnicity and past voting behaviour.

Download data tables showing the results here.

 For more information contact or tweet Peter McLeod (@mcleodp).

UK Poll Shows Public Rejects Hard Brexit

UK Poll Shows Public Rejects Hard Brexit

New polling data released by GQR today shows that Britain wants a “soft” Brexit. Voters would be happier with a Brexit deal that left Britain inside the single market and with continued free movement of people than with a deal that took the country out of the single market and gave it full control of the borders. But our analysis of the poll shows that if Theresa May focuses on key threats to the Conservative vote ahead of the next general election, she may take Britain out of the single market all the same.

As Peter McLeod, Vice President at GQR and head of the firm’s London office, writes at today:

The struggle provoking this predicament has been going on in the background for decades: Conservatives are split on Europe. David Cameron tried to resolve it by holding the Brexit referendum, and in the wake of that failure Theresa May faces a new version of the dilemma. Unlike the country as a whole, Conservative voters are evenly split on what would be the better Brexit. Soft Brexit would leave 48% of them happy, 42% unhappy; hard Brexit would leave 48% happy, 41% unhappy. So May is bound to leave a significant chunk of Conservative voters feeling betrayed. The challenge for her and her team is to assess the risk each scenario poses at the next general election. Our poll suggests it’s a knife-edge decision: Tory voters who would be unhappy with a soft Brexit are about as likely to turn to UKIP as those who would be unhappy with hard Brexit to jump ship to Labour or the Lib Dems.

Read the full article here

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (GQR) surveyed 1,994 people in Great Britain online between 8 and 10 March. Results are weighted to be representative of the total population by age, gender, region, socioeconomic grade, ethnicity and past voting behaviour.

Download data tables showing the results here.

For more information contact or tweet Peter McLeod (@mcleodp).

Populism & Culture - Lessons from Brexit

Populism & Culture - Lessons from Brexit

The UK referendum is another sign that economics is no longer the dominant issue in politics. This presentation given at the Global Progress conference in Montreal sets out key lessons from the EU referendum for politicians and campaigners seeking to answer public concern about migration and identity around the world. 

Click here to download the presentation. 

For more information contact or tweet James Morris (@jamesdmorris). 



The 21 things you need to know to understand why Britain voted Leave

The 21 things you need to know to understand why Britain voted Leave

As the polls closed for the UK’s EU referendum, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner put a poll into the field to understand why voters made the choices they did. Conducted on behalf of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it shows a nuanced picture. Britain is not divided into two tribes, immigration was central but so was sovereignty. The Remain campaign won the economic debate but it didn’t count for much with Leave voters.

Click here for the 21 things you need to know to understand the result.
The full questionnaire can be found here and data tables here.  

For more information contact or tweet James Morris (@jamesdmorris)