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As expected, Greens fall back to 5 per cent in Ashcroft’s weekly poll

Today’s poll blast: the Greens fall back below the Lib Dems, as we forecast last week.

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Last Monday we looked at how Lord Ashcroft's weekly poll was probably putting the Greens too high at 8 per cent.

"…we should be wary of the finding: Ashcroft’s data suggests 28 per cent of 18-24 year olds are now planning to vote Green.

"There are only 56 weighted 18-24 year olds in Ashcroft’s poll – so we can’t say 28 per cent of them are actually going to vote Green.

"…this is only one poll. We should hesitate to say 8 per cent of the population are now converts. … We can only take sub-breaks seriously over time. And YouGov’s have shown the party’s youthful support at far lower levels than today’s poll implies."

This didn't stop the Guardian declaring a poll "surge" for the party, and talking of multiple "polls" putting them on 8 per cent. John Harris' anti-establishment roadshow was duly dispatched to Bristol West, which the party is targeting.

Now Ashcroft's weekly poll has put the party back at 5 per cent.

So much for the surge.

The Greens shouldn't be ignored, and perhaps should be in the leaders' debates, but last week was a case study in the way some pundits can blow up the modest findings of pollsters.

The full data tables for each poll can be found here (last week) and here (today).

This is how the percentage of each age group supporting the Greens changed over the two polls:

This explains why the Greens have dipped back down to 5 per cent.

Last week's poll gave a headline of "8 per cent Green" because 42 of the 517 weighted respondents backed the party. 16 of them were 18-24 year olds (out of 56 weighted respondents – i.e. 28 per cent – but this is based on 38 actual replies. Only 11 18-24 year olds would have actually said they would vote Green but the age group's poor response rate meant they were made into 16).

This compares to 4 out of 44 18-24 year olds this week (35 actual replies), and 28 out of 511 respondents overall (i.e. 5.4, or 5, per cent).

These are clearly small numbers, and scarcely ones that should be shaping column inches. The margin of error for 500 respondents is nearly 5 per cent. The data is useful over time. The fault isn't with Ashcroft or any other pollster (we looked at how YouGov's Scottish sub-polls were distorted by the Mail and Breitbart last week), but the way polls are reported.

For a more in-depth look at the Green vote, Peter Kellner today looked at how three weeks of YouGov samples have put the party on around 5, rather than 8, per cent.

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How austere will Philip Hammond be?

The Chancellor must choose between softening or abandoning George Osborne's approach in his Autumn Statement. 

After becoming Chancellor, Philip Hammond was swift to confirm that George Osborne's budget surplus target would be abandoned. The move was hailed by some as the beginning of a new era of fiscal policy - but it was more modest than it appeared. Rather than a statement of principle, the abandonment of the 2019-20 target was merely an acceptance of reality. In the absence of additional spending cuts or tax rises, it would inevitably be missed (as Osborne himself recognised following the EU referendum). The decision did not represent, as some suggested, "the end of austerity".

Ahead of his first Autumn Statement on 23 November, the defining choice facing Hammond is whether to make a more radical break. As a new Resolution Foundation report notes, the Chancellor could either delay the surplus target (the conservative option) or embrace an alternative goal. Were he to seek a current budget suplus, rather than an overall one (as Labour pledged at the last general election), Hammond would avoid the need for further austerity and give himself up to £17bn of headroom. This would allow him to borrow for investment and to provide support for the "just managing" families (as Theresa May calls them) who will be squeezed by the continuing benefits freeze.

Alternatively, should Hammond merely delay Osborne's surplus target by a year (to 2020-21), he would be forced to impose an additional £9bn of tax rises or spending cuts. Were he to reject any further fiscal tightening, a surplus would not be achieved until 2023-24 - too late to be politically relevant. 

The most logical option, as the Resolution Foundation concludes, is for Hammond to target a current surplus. But since entering office, both he and May have emphasised their continuing commitment to fiscal conservatism ("He talks about austerity – I call it living within our means," the latter told Jeremy Corbyn at her first PMQs). For Hammond to abandon the goal of the UK's first budget surplus since 2001-02 would be a defining moment. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.