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YouGov Poll on Leadership: treat with caution

The YouGov poll for the Sun on the Labour Leadership election provides the best detailed data on the election to date. Above all, this poll demonstrates conclusively that this is ultimately a race between the brothers Miliband. The headline findings are that David Miliband leads on first preferences amongst party and trade union members as well as MPs, with his brother Ed well ahead of the field in second place in all sections and, in the final stage, the poll predicts a 54/46 victory for the elder brother. There are important questions about some aspects of the poll, however, which means the contest is undoubtedly too close to call.

The first preference results are:

David Miliband — 37
Ed Miliband — 32
Diane Abbott — 12
Andy Burnham — 11
Ed Balls — 11

YouGov commentator, Peter Kellner, rightly raises four issues:

  1. the impact of union recommendations on voting (previously discussed here);
  2. the impact of turnout (previously discussed here)
  3. the uncertainty about MPs (especially second and subsequent preferences)
  4. Transfers and the difficulty translating poll evidence into predictions about lower order preferences.

The polls findings about union preferences need particular scrutiny. I believe that union recommendations in this contest with no clear front-runner will have some weight (as arguably they did in the last Deputy leadership contest but didn’t in the Blair/Prescott/Beckett or Benn/Healey contests where ballots were held). Crucially, I think that the combination of those recommendations and union members’ experience of Labour’s attitude in Government to trade unions and business will lead them to somewhat different conclusions than poll respondents who, before being asked which way they’d vote, were asked several questions about who was most likely to win, would make the best prime minister etc.

Differential turnout on the other hand will be a major factor — it was for Jon Cruddas in the last deputy election where some union leaders worked hard to get his vote out (which is why I think the effect of the recommendation is only “arguable”). Absolute turnout will be low which raises a major question about the validity of a poll which doesn’t ask about likelihood of voting or whether they’d previously voted in such a poll. The poll does exclude the 60% who said they are not Labour supporters, but many of these may still pay the political levy, will get ballot papers and some of them will vote. Some of them were not Labour supporters precisely because the Blair-Brown governments were seen as too business friendly and anti-union. I would hazard a guess that few will vote for David Miliband.

Transfers which depend on second and subsequent preferences will be critical in this contest. The poll’s prediction for the final round are based on the answer to the question “If you had to choose between David and Ed Miliband, which would you support?”  This is not a reliable predictor of who will state sufficient preferences for their vote to transfer into the final round — especially in the unions where 41% of those who express a first preference prefer Abbott, Balls or Burnham. Nineteen percent of Balls supporters, 7% of Burnham’s and 23% of Abbott’s in the unions don’t express or wouldn’t cast a second preference (7% of the total vote). A further 20%, 40% and 37% respectively would  cast it for one of the other bottom three.

I can throw no more light on the uncertainty amongst MPs (though nor does the poll). They have departed for the summer and will receive their ballot paper even before parliament reconvenes in September. Their voting may well be more affected by their reflections on the beach than any further lobbying.

There are some interesting other findings in the poll. The most reassuring for Left Futures readers will be the fact that Peter Mandelson is thought to be a liability by 61% of both party members and trade unionists, by a very long way the most unpopular of Labour politicians.

Party members and trade unionists supporting every candidate position themselves well to the left of the candidate they support — except Abbott supporters who, on average, vote absolutely in accordance with their principles.  Peter Kelner argues that’s because ” today’s party members are more interested in electability than ideology” but I think it may also be because they value experience (in spite of the fact the neither Blair nor Cameron had any prior experience of government).

Although Andy Burnham and the two Eds are seen as broadly seen as in the centre of the field, Burnham is seen as slightly to the left of the others in the centre — which must surely be as a result of the way he’s positioned himself in the campaign rather than his actions in government.

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