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The poll dancer

Posted on December 17, 2013 by

There’s a rather strange article by Peter Kellner, CEO of polling company YouGov, in today’s Guardian. It makes a whole series of dubious claims, one of the most startling being the assertion that “Labour is the pro-welfare party-of-the-heart”, a view somewhat at odds with the party’s stated intent to be “tougher than the Tories on benefits”.

But perhaps most curious of all was the piece’s strapline.


Because the idea that Labour was winning any battle for the hearts and minds of the British public over public-sector cuts was quite dramatically contradicted the very same day by some data released by… YouGov.

“For the first time in three years, more people now say the way the government is cutting spending to reduce the deficit is good for the economy than bad.

In recent months, a new government line has emerged. Cuts are not only necessary to fix the economy, they say; they are part of a “fundamental culture change”, for a permanently “leaner” state. Those were David Cameron’s words in November, and in December the Chancellor carried them forward: despite upgraded growth forecasts, the theme of the autumn statement was that “the job isn’t done” – austerity is far from over.

For this new line to work, the government needs the public to stay on board with the austerity plan, not to expect more spending now that the economy appears to be on the mend. It seems they are winning that argument, for now.  

In the last six out of seven weekly YouGov economy trackers more have said that the way the government is cutting spending to reduce the government’s deficit is good than bad for the economy, making this a prolonged trend.”

The coalition government’s public-sector spending cuts are now supported by the electorate, when they were previously strongly opposed, and that’s a win for Labour?


That seems a somewhat counter-intuitive conclusion. If the public is “turning against the Tories” over cuts, wouldn’t their disapproval be growing, not shrinking? The poll data shows a remarkable turnaround of 20+ points over the last year or so, in favour of the government. It’s been accompanied by a series of voting-intention polls showing Labour’s lead falling to five points, or even – in the most recent case – as little as two.

(Around this time last year, YouGov consistently gave Labour a lead of 11-13 points.)

Kellner’s comments sound for all the world like an activist tweeting “We’re getting a great response on the doorsteps!” the day before their party is crushed in a landslide victory for the other side. Unless something is very awry in the gender balance of YouGov’s polling and women’s views are being massively under-represented, it shows the exact opposite of what he’s saying it does in the Guardian.

Dr Kellner might want to take a closer look at his own output.

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34 to “The poll dancer”

  1. JPJ2

    I really is a disgrace how such a committed Labourite as Peter Kellner is allowed to spin his own You Gov polls!

  2. Brotyboy

    Beautiful, Stu; just beautiful.

  3. cath

    It’s arguably a win for Labour if their welfare policy is actually the same as, or harsher than,  the Tories and all they care about is winning power. So yeah,  it’s arguably good for Labour. 

  4. Juteman

    What country is he talking about?

  5. Marian

    As this is the same Peter Kellner who is married to Baroness Catherine Ashton the Labour politician, how can we be certain that he is giving a completely unbiased opinion?

  6. Stevie Mach

    Is there any difference between the Tories and Labour now regarding welfare? One used to be a party of the right, the other a party of the left, now both seem to congregate that far right, they’re only slightly left of UKIP.
    Roll on next September and we can go our own way free of all Westminster parasite parties.

  7. Hazel Lewry

    As a regular filler-inner of YouGov polls – he’s obviously not listening to me. I keep telling them Westminster parties are rubbish, I don’t trust them and tomorrow I’d vote for independence … but, heyho. Leave them to their delusional outlook.

  8. Jamie Arriere

    After reading Kellner’s guff, I reckon there is one character that we have been getting whoever the UK’s voted for in the last 30 years – the tin scarecrow, brainless and heartless!! 
    Scarecrows, Project Fear, it’s beginning to make sense now…

  9. Les Wilson

    Stevie Mach
    I wholly agree with your comment!

  10. Juteman

    So Duncan is really Dorothy?
    I’m getting confused.

  11. Ken500

    The deficit is (supposed) to be cut by £10Billion this year ie BoE scam £6Billion + £2Billion = £8Billion £15Billion in 2014/15.

    The UK gov is raising £572Billion. Spending £693Billion.

    What happened to the £30Billion (+ £10 liability) Royal Mail sell off + Pension fund? Looks like the UK gov is spending even more.

    Scotland raises and spending £60Billion. Excluding £4Billion debt repayment (for monies not borrowed or spent in Scotland) If the deficit is being cut £15Billion, Scotland should only be paying £1.5Billion.

    Conflict of interest from Peter Kellner.

  12. faolie

    Labour are trapped. No way they can win except by emulating (or being worse than) the Tories, with perhaps some kind of loose pledge to change the bedroom tax, ie don’t repeal it and put off the blue and yellow vote, but change it sort of to retain their socialist veneer.
    Meanwhile, the Scots are vote fodder. In any case, what matter if they vote? Thank goodness we won’t need to care.

  13. Bugger (the Panda)

    I just, a few days ago, was invited to take part in a You Gov Poll.The first question was for who did I intend to vote in the 2015 WP election. I said SNP / Plaid.

    A few minutes later I was directed into a labyrinth about radio listening habits, which I already given then two or three times before.

    I wonder if I was pre-deselected for something political, to be published later showing that the No voters are winning hands down?

    I don’t trust the barstewards.

  14. Bill McLean

    Don’t buy newspapers and don’t answer pollsters – leave them all confused! Unfortunately, still can’t persuade the wife to allow me to ditch the TV licence – but am still working on the project!

  15. James Kelly

    Bugger : Yes, YouGov always used to use responses to questions like “Do you watch Newsnight regularly?” as critical factors in their weighting.  To be fair, they put their house in order to some extent with the last two independence polls (removing the dodgy preamble and weighting by 2011 Holyrood vote), but given Kellner’s known bias on this subject there’s no guarantee that they won’t regress again.
    In their Westminster VI intention polls, I’m fairly certain their methodology is understating the SNP’s support, which probably means Labour are being slightly flattered at a GB-wide level.

  16. CameronB

    Pollsters are essential to manufacturing and then maintaining a consensus.  Are we really puppets-on-a-string, that can be so easily manipulated?

  17. scottish_skier

    don’t answer pollsters – leave them all confused! 

    Oh don’t worry, that’s pretty much exactly what’s happening (putting aside methodology issues). If you look in detail, there’s no other explanation. Scots are being ‘polite’. I mean even Alistair Carmichael can see it.

    We have the hilarious situation e.g. in MORI polls where apparently Scotland is becoming more British in national identity, yet support for No is dropping and Yes rising…

    Was looking at SSAS Moreno identity changes 2002-12. Fascinating. The strongest correlation (in terms of one rising while the other falls) is between people who say ‘Scottish not British‘ and ‘Equally Scottish and British‘ (r2 = 0.8). You might ask WTF? How can someone be Scottish not British one day then equally British another? Why not go to the half way house of more Scottish than British? It’s because they are being polite. Likewise people planning to vote Yes say No to pollsters sometimes and Yes at other times (again strongest swing correlation is direct from No to Yes and vice versa). Depends who’s asking and when…

    Elect SNP in 2007. Media backlash. Scotland suddenly becomes more British? Scottishness then creeps back up again as the dust settles. SNP landslide – immediately Scotland is suddenly more Scottish in the post win euphoria. Then the massive media backlash begins again at full throttle. Scotland suddenly becomes much more British again… Not. National identity isn’t changing with such events; what people are saying when asked is.

    People don’t change their national identity on such short time-scales, if ever. They lie all the time though, even if it’s just little white ones.

    The reason the pro-union campaign are bricking it is that they are not ahead. At best, they have rough parity right now but a Yes win is considerably more probable and is only going to become more likely as we get closer to the time.

    It’s not about the economy, the EU, the £. These are minor concerns and they all tend to balance out. It’s about the fact Scotland is a country / nation and that’s ultimately what will decide things. Matt Qvortrup has said essentially the same as it’s the reason countries exist.

    Forced (British, Scottish or other) national identity 2000-2012 average = 75% Scottish. 1997 Q1 referendum result = 74%

    Census ‘Scottish only’ or Moreno ‘Scottish only + More Scottish than British’ average = ~62%. 1997 Q2 (max devo / ‘indy’ on offer) result = 64%

    Coincidence? Not at all.

    Of course there is cross-over (some Scottish only will vote no, some British only Yes etc) but in the end it will balance out, just as it did before.
    If people keep up the efforts they are putting in, then we will get >60% Yes. Up to 70% yes possible. So no complacency, but a big win is there for the taking. Just go out there knowing destiny awaits.

  18. sneddon

    He’s as delusional as the people who think cutting welfare and public spending is good for the economy

  19. Caroline Corfield

    Scottish Skier, I agree, and I don’t think it’s simply a matter of politeness: lots of things might be going on behind the scenes if Westminster thinks they’re losing, things that will be after the fact come the negotiating period. They’re probably at it already. I think people are trying not to give the game away.

  20. Alan MacD

    Cheers Scottish Skier.
    A big bit of positivity after a long shitey depressing shift.

  21. gordoz

    Rev – dont know if this has been raised yet (apologies if it has)
    Nice tip of the hat from NNS about WoS and Yes crowdfund.


  22. theycan'tbeserious

    Is there any truth in our establishment? Is the whole system rotten and self serving? Answers on a postcard!

  23. Macart

    Amen. 🙂
    I was saying something similar to dorice on CiF just the other day. I would so love to have a peek at the oppositions private polling just now. I’m sure it would indicate enough movement yeswards to generate squeaky bums all the way from BTHQ to Whitehall.

  24. ScotFree1320

    O/T I see that Jim Murphy’s attempting to distract with faux outrage!  I’ve commented but I doubt it’ll appear in a publication so blatantly pleased to seek and headline this kind of smear!

  25. Brotyboy

    @Scottish Skier
    Thanks again for your contributions here.  When I read what you say I feel a welling up inside me, as I envisage the day we gain our Independence.  What you say tells me it will happen.  You can’t begin to know how valuable your contributions have been for our morale.  

  26. Ian Brotherhood

    @Brotyboy –
    Hear hear to that – one of these days Prof Curtice will look in the mirror as he’s combing his crowning glory, ask it who’s the fairest psephologist of all, and it’ll say ‘scottish_skier’.

  27. scottish_skier

    Scottish Skier, I agree, and I don’t think it’s simply a matter of politeness
    Polite is the best word I can think of. Scotland is a human being; just one with 5.3 million minds. It can be happy, sad, angry, rebellious, nice and of course polite…
    When you look at polls, surveys, the census over the past 10-15 years+… and you try to tie them all together at first they can seem all over the place. But then we’re dealing with a human so of course they are. To understand them, you need to see them as representing one person who is the sum of all; then they start to make sense somewhat.
    When I say ‘polite’, I mean that Scotland doesn’t want to offend or cause clear friction with the rest of the UK at all. It is Scotland though, reserves the right to be so, and will vote for that, even if up until the last moment it continues to pretend to an extent it won’t.
    Presenting Scottish independence as something ‘nasty, anti-English, all about braveheart, a separatist fantasy utopia’ etc, as the pro-union campaign does, doesn’t win people to their side, it just makes people in Scotland more likely to be quiet about what they plan to do.
    And that is exactly what has been happening; it’s all there in polling data if you look beyond the headlines. It has happened time and again in response to events, be it the devolution referendum(s), the iraq war and fall of New Labour in Scotland (by 2003 it was already over), the SNP win in 2007, the 2011 win, the confirmation of the date with destiny in the form of the Edinburgh Agreement…
    Scotland won’t vote No. It won’t start an open fight though; just quietly tick Yes.
    I’m looking forward to Friday and the joint UK-Scottish Government statement. Might be delayed, but will be soon as it can’t be any other way. Game changing? Certainly, but only really to an extent part of what is already happening.
    </post office Christmas lunch post>

  28. ronnie anderson

    Bill McLean, teel your wife im on my 4th letter from bbc licence fee dept, they are in breach of their public broadcaster licence  not being impartial, its not a criminal offence, you are paying for a service that tells you lies, there are plenty of examlples on record, but there is no chance of you having to appear in any court

  29. Patrick Roden

    It’s another ‘people are scared to speak out’ lie from BT, but Jim is the one who is lying, as his blog says their are no comments, when I definitely commented a few days ago.
    I basically pointed out to Jim that all of the tweets were accusing him of betrayal and that this accusation is sticking because like a lot of Labour people he is releasing statements through the press, which is then examined on sites such as ‘Wings’ and people can only see lies and misinformation.
    Since Labour people are lying, then it can be presumed they know that the truth would cause the People of Scotland to vote ‘Yes’ as Scotland would be so much better off.
    In other words, Unionists like Jim, know full well that Scotland will be better off Independent, but they also know that they themselves will lose out, so they lie to their own people.
    That is a complete betrayal of your own people and deep down inside they know it.
    So any Labour lacky’s looking in, you are working for a bunch of ("Tractor" - Ed)s who are protecting their own grubby positions of power and prestige, funded by rich Tories, all of whom have no interest whatsoever in the wellbeing of the working class or any other class of Scots.
    I mentioned to Jim that if this wasn’t the case that he was betraying his own people he should stop the press releases and go in front of an audience and tell the people why Scotland is better together with the Tories.
    I won’t hold my breath.

  30. Patrick Roden

    The Polls.
    has anyone else noticed that the polls showing ‘Yes’ at around 25 to 27 % are always released just when a positive momentum looks to be building or is in danger of building in the ‘Yes’ camp.
    No polls for months, then Wings Panelbase poll showing a healthy Yes% and BAM suddenly theirs a few youguv /mori polls with yes at 25%.
    The White paper has BT squirming around and BAM mori/youguv have Yes at 25%.
    They are lying to us (why are we surprised?)
    If you look at the small print and examine the trends you start to see why BT are so  shrill.
    People are moving towards Yes, the latest swing being 5%, with more women than men in that number who have went from No to DK or Yes.
    The female vote is a game changer and the white paper has some excellent ‘mother friendly’ policies included so it might take a wee while longer for the full impact to be reflected in the polls.
    All this is happening in spite of Scottish Skiers analysis above, showing why peoples natural desire to empathise with others means that they will tend to say what they think the very nice friendly pollster who is asking, wants to hear.

  31. Patrick Roden

    @ Scottish Skier
    ” Presenting Scottish independence as something ‘nasty, anti-English, all about braveheart, a separatist fantasy utopia’ etc, as the pro-union campaign does, doesn’t win people to their side, it just makes people in Scotland more likely to be quiet about what they plan to do. ”
    Brilliant! I had never thought about it that way, but it makes so much sense. 🙂
    Your a star bud.

  32. Patrick Roden

    Sorry about this Rev, but,
    Can I just give a heads up to James Kelly’s blog ‘Scot Goes Pop’ he does some great stuff on polls in writes it in a way that is easy for a beginner to understand. 

  33. aktiebolaget

    Are Scots “too polite” so polls show poorer results for YES? Kind of I think. Good article, my experience of discussing Independence/ politics in general with Scots is that “- Many Scots lack confidence in discussing politics in general but Independence in particular.

    It needs to be remembered that Scots have had 300 years of various forms of media informing them that English is better, more intelligent,  more sophisticated,  cool, suave and Scottish is……not!

    So when a nice wee girl with a London accent comes on the phone asking for your opinion (Instant Intimidation! )

    For some that intimidation goes soul deep, Coatbridge,  Airdie it is tangible! For others it is a sense of being nervously self aware, inconfident but at the same time “I know what I think and Scotland comes first”

    This would perhaps explain why (apart from the results being buggered about with) Polls don’t seem to match up with the “feeling” of what is going on around us?

    What I am confident of, is that were it not for Internet and easy online access, then we’d be heading for a “No”  As it is my feeling is @ 60/65% YES. My views formed from face to face ( I’m not one of the shy ones) conversation and online experience. 
    A lot of people recently ( noticeably) are going online to the forums seeking information. YES forums as one might expect are very helpful.  “NO” forums are quite beligerent and quickly ban users if there are any challenges to No advocacy ( it’s hard yo be friendly when your message is a negstive I guess)

    Of course these are my subjective views and let me say I’m an ardent YES. But without doubt, there is something very wrong between the media polls and what’s happeing on the ground and online.

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