Caroline Lucas is the Green party's only MP and their former leader.
Show Hide image

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. 

For daily news, analysis and predictions on next year's election, follow May2015.com.

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.

Explore May2015.com.

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

Getty
Show Hide image

White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."