Caroline Lucas is the Green party's only MP and their former leader.
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Have the Greens really overtaken the Lib Dems in the polls?

Today's numbers rely on nearly one in three young voters backing the Greens - we need more data before we can confirm today's spike. 

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Earlier this summer we looked at how the Greens, despite the media’s likely appetite for a fifth major political party, seemed to be pegged at 5 per cent in the polls.

Their support skews disproportionately towards the young. One in eight voters aged 18-24 back them, but less than 5 per cent of those older than 40 do – and they make up two-thirds of the electorate.

That story hasn’t changed in YouGov’s polls. Their four Tue-Fri polls for the Sun last week showed the party still at around 5 per cent, and appealing to 10-12 per cent of young voters.

But today’s weekly national poll by Lord Aschcroft has suggested Britain’s most left-wing party just jumped from 5 to 8 per cent.

Breaking that result down by age group shows why 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.

This would be far beyond the level of support suggested by anyone, including the party.

The data is not nearly robust enough for Ashcroft to actually be saying this. His poll surveys around 1,000 people – as all must to be within 3 per cent of accuracy – but, by the time he has ironed out those not planning to vote or undecided, he is down to around 500.

By the time he breaks the data into age groups he is weighing less than 100 people. The margin of error becomes untenable under around 200 people, when it is 7 per cent.

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.

Ashcroft isn’t trying to, but the point is that this is only one poll. We should hesitate to say 8 per cent of the population are now converts. Despite the party’s protestations to the contrary, the Greens have consistently polled below the Lib Dems, who have been at around 8 per cent for months.

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. If Ashcroft's numbers had shown only 12 per cent of 18-24s backing the Greens in today's poll (7 rather than 16 of the 56 18-24s), the party would have managed 6, rather than 8, per cent overall (32 rather than 41 of the 517 in the weighted sample).

Until Ashcroft continues to show the Greens really have captured a third of Britain’s youth, or other pollsters start to agree with him, renewed calls for Natalie Bennett’s inclusion in the leaders’ debates should be postponed.

But today’s poll does show some movement, and is a frank example of what we discussed this morning: the polls can be shaped by the media. After a week of press coverage following Bennett’s exclusion from the broadcasters’ proposals, the party seems to have won a poll spike.

Now the polls will in turn probably shape the press. The Greens could win another round of coverage, potentially driving them up in the polls yet again.

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Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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