Are Labour up or down today? Photo: Getty.
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How much attention should we pay to daily polls?

The daily numbers are interesting, but the trend tells the story.

This post was originally published on May2015.com.

How much attention should you pay to the polls? This week Labour have led comfortably, then drifted down, and now the Tories “lead”, according to YouGov’s overnight tracking poll.

This is – as some have pointed out – noise. The trend is what is worth watching, along with the results of each polling house, rather than just one. Reporting on the polls throughout the week relies on following the YouGov/Sun tracking poll, published from Monday through Thursday night.

But they are only one of the eight major, active British pollsters. We hear from some of them – ICM, Ipsos Mori – only once a month, or others – ComRes, Survation, Opinium – only every few weeks. Aside from YouGov, only two other pollsters poll weekly: Ashcroft, who often creates a mini-news cycle on Monday afternoon, and Populus, who poll on Monday and Friday mornings.

If you pay attention to YouGov’s daily tracker polls you can write a new headline almost every day. The real story is the trend across all eight pollsters over time. May2015‘s Poll of Polls is keeping a track of all the numbers each day. We like to keep an eye on our rolling four-day average:

If we just looked at the daily averages, we see a more muddled picture - especially in mid-week, when just YouGov are polling.

Daily polls become important over time. Or they can mean something if a number of pollsters show the same sudden shift, as Ashcroft, Populus and YouGov did on Monday, when all three put Labour ahead by at least 4 points. But that seems to have been about a post-Rochester Tory-to-Ukip swing, rather than any lasting change; Labour's vote share never really changed, and the Tories have now "recovered", at least in YouGov's numbers.

Polls are truly informative over months and years.

And while a four-day average is at least something of a trend, polls are truly informative over months and years, rather than days and weeks. Exploring the polls over the last 44 years - as you can do here on May2015, focusing in on any week or month since August 1970 - tells the story of post-1960s British political history.

Click through to track the rise and fall of the SNP, who led the polls for three months in late 1981, or the Blair and Brown years, and the Tories' long, slow, limited recovery since 1997.

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

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Expressions of sympathy for terror's victims may seem banal, but it's better than the alternative

Angry calls for "something to be done" play into terrorists' hands.

No sooner had we heard of the dreadful Manchester Arena bombing and before either the identity of the bomber or the number of dead were known, cries of “something must be done” echoed across social media and the airwaves. Katie Hopkins, the Mail Online columnist, called for “a final solution”, a tweet that was rapidly deleted, presumably after she remembered (or somebody explained to her) its connotations. The Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson wanted “a State of Emergency as France has” and “internment of thousands of terror suspects”, apparently unaware that the Nice attack, killing 86, happened after that emergency was declared and that nobody has been interned anyway.

It cannot be said too often that such responses play into terrorists’ hands, particularly if Isis was behind the Manchester bombing. The group’s aim is to convince Muslims in the West that they and their families cannot live in peace with the in-fidel and will be safe only if they join the group in establishing a caliphate. Journalists, striving for effect, often want to go beyond ­banal expressions of sympathy for ­victims. (It’s a mistake I, too, have sometimes made.) But occasionally the banal is the appropriate response.

Pity begins at home

Mark Twain, writing about the “terror” that followed the French Revolution and brought “the horror of swift death”, observed that there was another, older and more widespread, terror that brought “lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak”. The first, he wrote, we had been “diligently taught to shiver and mourn over”; the other we had never learned to see “in its vastness or pity as it deserves”.

That is true: more children across the world die each day from hunger or disease than could ever be killed in a terror attack. We should not forget them. Nor should we forget that the numbers killed in terrorist attacks in, for example, Baghdad far outnumber those killed in all European attacks of our times combined. In an age of globalisation, we should be more cosmopolitan in our sympathies but the immediacy of 24-hour news make us less so.

When all is said and done, however, pity, like charity, begins at home. We naturally grieve most over those with whom we share a country and a way of life. Most of us have been to concerts and some readers will have been to one at the Manchester Arena. We or our children could have been present.

Cheers from Highgate Cemetery

What a shame that Theresa May modified the Tory manifesto’s proposals on social care. For a few giddy days, she was proposing the most steeply progressive (or confiscatory, as the Tories would normally say) tax in history. True, it was only for those unfortunate enough to suffer conditions such as dementia, but the principle is what counts. It would have started at zero for those with assets of less than £100,000, 20 per cent for those with £120,000, 50 per cent for those worth £200,000, 99 per cent with those with £10m and so on, ad infinitum. Karl Marx would have been cheering from Highgate Cemetery.

Given that most people’s main asset – the value of their home – did not have to be sold to meet their care costs until death, this was in effect an inheritance tax. It had tantalising implications: to secure their inheritance, children of the rich would have had to care for their parents, possibly sacrificing careers and risking downward mobility, while the children of the poor could have dedicated themselves to seeking upward mobility.

The Tories historically favour, in John Major’s words, wealth cascading down the generations. In recent years they have all but abolished inheritance tax. Now they have unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly, who knows?) conceded that what they previously branded a “death tax” has some legitimacy. Labour, which proposes a National Care Service but optimistically expects “cross-party consensus” on how to finance it, should now offer the clarity about old age that many voters crave. Inheritance tax should be earmarked for the care service, which would be free at the point of use, and it should be levied on all estates worth (say) £100,000 at progressive rates (not rising above even 50 per cent, never mind 99 per cent) that yield sufficient money to fund it adequately.

Paul Dacre’s new darling

Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail editor, is in love again. “At last, a PM not afraid to be honest with you,” proclaimed the paper’s front page on Theresa May’s manifesto. Though the Mail has previously argued that to make old people use housing wealth to fund care is comparable to the slaughter of the first-born, an editorial said that her honesty was exemplified by the social care proposals.

On the morning of the very day that May U-turned, the Mail columnist Dominic Lawson offered a convoluted defence of the failure to cap what people might pay. Next day, with a cap announced, the Mail hailed “a PM who’s listening”.

Dacre was previously in love with Gordon Brown, though not to the extent of recommending a vote for him. What do Brown and May have in common? Patriotism, moral values, awkward social manners, lack of metropolitan glitz and, perhaps above all, no evident sense of humour. Those are the qualities that win Paul Dacre’s heart.

Sobering up

Much excitement in the Wilby household about opinion polls that show Labour reducing the Tories’ enormous lead to, according to YouGov, “only” 9 percentage points. I find myself babbling about ­“Labour’s lead”. “What are you talking about?” my wife asks. When I come to my senses, I realise that my pleasure at the prospect, after seven years of Tory austerity, of limiting the Tories’ majority to 46 – more than Margaret Thatcher got in 1979 – is a measure of my sadly diminished expectations. l

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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