The 650 | 8th June 2017

How Labour could confound the polls

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While (almost) no one expects Labour to win a majority, a hung Parliament could give Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn the chance to form a coalition government.

After all the excitement about a Labour surge, the pollsters have released their final numbers – and it’s not exactly red roses.

On the eve of the election, YouGov gave the Tories a lead of seven points and ICM gave them a lead of 12. But Survation put Labour just 0.9 percentage points behind the Tories.

But as anyone who has been paying attention over the last two years knows, the polls don’t tell the whole story. So what are the factors that could tip the odds in favour of Labour?

1. Youngsters getting out of bed

In 2015, one reason pollsters failed to predict the Tory majority was that the young people they interviewed were far more politically engaged than the average kid on the street. So they changed their methodology.

Some pollsters now assume young people are just as much of a lost cause now as in 2015. Others, like YouGov, still take young people seriously, but have tried to talk to those who are less interested in politics instead.

YouGov has found that these young people are more likely to turn out this time, and for Labour. In a blog, YouGov’s Anthony Wells wrote: “It’s possible that, come Election Day, all that young enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn will translate into real votes, leading to a close election with perhaps a small Tory majority or even a hung Parliament.”

If they don’t, though, the Conservatives win “a large or landslide majority”.

2. A well-distributed vote

For all the obsession over the polls, all they tell us is a party’s national vote share, which is not particularly helpful in a first-past-the-post electoral system, where a winner takes all. So, for example, the ICM poll puts both the Scottish National Party and Ukip on 5 per cent of the vote share. But the SNP are almost certain to win more than 40 seats, while Ukip will be lucky to win one. This is down to the simple fact that the SNP’s vote share is geographically concentrated – when just Scottish voters are surveyed, the SNP enjoys between 36 per cent and 41 per cent vote share.

As Stephen Bush has written of Labour voters, “the difficulty is that these voters live together”. Based on what happened in 2015, it’s quite possible that Labour MPs in big cities will increase their majorities, but those in small town England will have a catastrophic night.

On the other hand, if Labour’s vote is distributed more efficiently around the country than last time, the party could have a better night than expected.

3. Pensioners getting angry

For every ten years older a voter is, their chance of voting Conservative rises by roughly 8 per cent, and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by 6 per cent, according to YouGov. This helps to explain why the Tories have been so kind to pensioners while in power, most notably by protecting pensions while cutting working-age benefits.

Theresa May has bucked that trend. The Conservative manifesto included measures that made some sense in policy terms (why should Mick Jagger get subsidised winter fuel?) but backfired spectacularly politically. Most damningly, a plan to reform social care funding was dubbed a “Dementia Tax”. Meanwhile, Labour has mounted an emotional defence of the elderly.

Pensioners were also more likely to vote for Brexit, so in theory they should be drawn to May for her clear stance on leaving the EU. But there is always a chance that they care less about constitutional sovereignty than the sovereigns in their pocket.

4. Ukip voters returning to Labour

In 2015, Ukip enjoyed a 12.6 per cent share of the vote and received 3,881,099 votes. Most polls – and observers on the ground – believe its vote share has now collapsed. In other words, it’s up for grabs.

With her mix of anti-immigrant and economic protectionist rhetoric, plus the promise to deliver Brexit, May has targeted these voters from day one. The Tories’ success in the local elections suggested this message has worked.

However, many of these Ukip voters are former Labour voters. Tom Baldwin, who was Ed Miliband’s director of strategy, believes that Labour should in theory be able to recapture these votes.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard that some Ukip voters are returning to Labour. In a straw poll I conducted of left-wing Leave voters, 57 per cent told me they were voting Labour, compared to 17 per cent who would choose the Tories. For all that Corbyn has been pilloried for his lacklustre Remain campaigning, the impression that he is a Eurosceptic in all but name may finally work in his favour.

5. Tactical voting

Although the idea of a progressive alliance was abandoned almost as snappily as the election was announced, there are still deals being struck on the ground. In Ealing Central and Acton, where Labour MP Rupa Huq is defending a majority of 274, Lib Dem grandee Vince Cable popped up to urge voters to “think and act in a constructive way”.

When the election was called, pundits predicted a Tory landslide, which may help to persuade supporters of smaller parties to pile in behind Labour. As well as Huq, Labour incumbents that could survive thanks to Lib Dem support include Chris Matheson in the City of Chester, Margaret Greenwood in Wirral West and Halifax’s Holly Lynch. The Mirror has a full list here.

6. A Scottish surprise

When Labour lost Scotland to the Scottish National Party in 2015, the defeat was devastating. The first question for the general election 2017 was whether Labour’s last remaining MP, Ian Murray, would even keep his seat.

In fact, as James Millar has written, Labour is enjoying a bit of a stealthy comeback in Scotland. Of course, it’s nothing like the old days of Pax New Labour, but there’s a chance it could hold three seats come 9 June 2017 (although my Scottish Labour source admits this would be “a stretch”).

And if none of these things happen? Check out my guide on how to cope with the result.