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18 June 2015

Here’s why most polls about the Labour leadership race won’t tell us anything

A new poll of Labour voters shows Yvette Cooper just behind Andy Burnham - but likely tells us little about the mood among party members. 

By Stephen Bush

A new IpsosMori poll shows Andy Burnham in the lead among Labour voters, with 23 per cent to Yvette Cooper’s 20 per cent. Liz Kendall is way back in third place on 11 per cent, while Jeremy Corbyn is hot on her heels with nine per cent.

Does it mean anything? Probably not.

At the beginning of June 2010, YouGov polled Labour voters on the race. David Miliband was way ahead on 22 per cent of the vote. Ed Balls was in second on 13 per cent of the vote. Ed Miliband was in third on seven percent, Diane Abbott was fourth with just five per cent of the vote. Andy Burnham – remember him? – was fifth, with four per cent of the vote.

The final result among party members was rather different: David Miliband came first, with 44 per cent of the vote. In second place was his brother with 30 per cent. In third place was Ed Balls with 10 per cent of the vote, and in fourth place was Andy Burnham with 8 per cent. Diane Abbott came dead last, with just seven per cent of the vote.

Never forget that Labour party activists are completely different from Labour party voters, let alone the country at large. At no point did Ed Miliband get anywhere near the 30 per cent of first preferences – let alone the 45 per cent he achieved in the final round – in a poll of Labour voters, although a YouGov poll of party members called the final result exactly right.

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It may be that when party members vote they do put Burnham first, Cooper second, Kendall third and Corbyn fourth. But surveys of the public at large aren’t any more representative of how Labour activists will vote than, say, the leaves at the bottom of a tea cup.  These polls are, effectively, a “tell us who you have heard of” question. That Stewart Lewis – a false candidate that IpsosMori have used in their polling for decades – is on 6 per cent shows how unrepresentative of Labour members these surveys will be.

The one thing that is interesting, considering their small profiles on the national stage, is that both Kendall and Corbyn are either above or just below double figures., just ten points behind two heavyweight veterans of the last Labour government. That’s a far stronger position than Ed Miliband was in five years ago.

But even that could just be noise. 

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