America at the midterms

By Lord Ashcroft

With two months to go until the midterm elections, I have conducted a 6,000-sample poll of American voters to provide a snapshot of the national mood as the campaigns get fully into gear.

To start with the biggest-picture question of all, is the country heading in the right direction, or is it off on the wrong track?

Nobody will be surprised to hear that those who voted positively for Donald Trump overwhelmingly think things are going well, that those who did so reluctantly in order to stop Hillary Clinton are less sure, and that those who voted against him think things are going very badly indeed. Independent voters match the population as a whole – just over half say the country is on the wrong track, with 36% saying things are heading the right way.

What might be more significant is the change since we last ask the question nearly a year ago (more…)

How voters will judge whether Brexit means Brexit – and the two questions Ministers should ask about any deal

By Lord Ashcroft

Rarely can a Prime Minister have been so glad to see the back of her colleagues. As she left Westminster for a well-earned holiday last week, Theresa May knew that each one of the crucial votes she survived in a fraught parliamentary session only served to underline just how unenviable her task of shepherding any kind of Brexit deal through the House of Commons will be – if indeed a deal can be concluded that she is prepared to sign.

The fact that people on both sides of the Leave-Remain divide recognise the bind she is in and praise her efforts to produce a workable solution will be little comfort. So will any rueful reflections that her reasoning in calling an early election has arguably been vindicated: there is, as she warned on the steps of Number Ten fifteen months and an age ago, division at Westminster when there should be unity, and the “uncertainty and instability” she wanted to banish is inescapable. Oh, for the thumping majority that seemed to be in the script.

As it is, the PM is caught between those in the Conservative Party, let alone outside it, who would cheerfully exit the EU without a deal and those who want nothing to change, or as little as they can possibly get away with (more…)

Brexit, the Border and the Union

By Lord Ashcroft

The Irish border is at the centre of negotiations as to how we will leave the European Union. My latest research, published today, explores what people think about the issue on both sides of the border, how voters in Great Britain see the question in the context of the wider Brexit debate, and the potential implications for the union of nations in the United Kingdom. My report is called Brexit, The Border And The Union, so let’s take those themes in turn.

 

Brexit

Three quarters of Leave voters in Britain – and a majority of remainers – said they thought the Brexit negotiations and decisions about the UK’s future outside the EU were proceeding too slowly (more…)

Leave voters would rather lose Northern Ireland than give up the benefits of Brexit

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in the Telegraph

It seems ironic, when we remember the sound and fury generated on both sides of the referendum campaign, that the biggest sticking point in the Brexit negotiations – the Irish border – is one that was hardly mentioned before the vote. As with so much in politics, how you see this conundrum depends on who you are and where you sit.

My latest research finds that for Nationalists in Northern Ireland, the practicality of customs checks is almost beside the point: any kind of border in an island that they see as one country is unthinkable. For them, avoiding a hard border eclipses any other potential goal of the Brexit negotiations.

But most Unionists in Northern Ireland, especially those who voted to leave the EU, believe the border issue is being deliberately exaggerated (more…)

‘In Ireland, we’d have a second referendum to get the right result’: Brexit and the border, as seen from the Republic

By Lord Ashcroft

Yesterday I reported on what my focus groups in Ballymena and Belfast had to say about Brexit, the border and the Union. Today, the view from the South.

One thing that united our focus groups in the Republic of Ireland – Fine Gael voters in Dublin and Fianna Fail supporters in the north-western city of Sligo – was the conviction that by voting for Brexit the UK had made a terrible mistake which it would regret, if it didn’t already: “They misunderstood what they were doing;” “Places like the North East are wholly reliant on foreign investment. It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas;” “It was for all the wrong reasons. ‘We are Britain and we’re going to be great again, we’re not going to have the EU telling us what to do, we won the war’.” (more…)

Brexit and the border: the view from Northern Ireland

By Lord Ashcroft

The UK’s future relationship with the European Union increasingly hinges on a question that for many years seemed settled: the Irish border. I wanted to hear from the people on either side of it: what they hope for and fear from the Brexit settlement, and the consequences they see for relations between North and South and the future of the Union. Tomorrow I will report from the Republic, and I’ll publish further research on the issue in the run up to the European Council summit next month at which the question will supposedly be resolved. Today, though, we’ll start with my focus groups in Northern Ireland.

In Ballymena, in the Democratic Unionist Party stronghold of North Antrim represented in parliament by Ian Paisley Jr, as it was by his father before him, many of our participants were pleased that their party held the balance of power at Westminster (more…)

You can guess what people think, or you can find out – why polling is a force for good

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in India’s Sunday Guardian

It’s been a bumpy few years for the pollsters. Surveys overestimated support for Angela Merkel’s party in last September’s German elections, having correctly identified Emmanuel Macron as the front runner in a competitive field in France earlier in the year. In the last two national contests in the UK, most pollsters expected a knife-edge result in 2015 and a comfortable Conservative victory in 2017, but got precisely the reverse. Before our 2016 referendum most surveys suggested the country would vote to remain in the European Union, and a few months later many received a second shock with the election of President Donald Trump.

Forecasting election results has become trickier. Electorates have become more unpredictable, strength of support and people’s likelihood actually to turn out and vote is harder to account for, and busy people are more reluctant to take part in polls. But polling is more than a slightly wonky crystal ball for predicting what people will do at the ballot box (more…)

Brexit Britain won’t forget its old friends

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in The Times Of Malta

Britain’s friendship with Malta is so long and so rich that it would be easy to take for granted. The award of the George Cross in 1942 by King George VI to bear witness to the nation’s “heroism and devotion” following the second siege of Malta is only the best-known episode in a story that spans the centuries: the joint enterprise of ridding Malta of the French garrison in 1800, the islands’ part in the British Empire, their crucial role as a supply station in the First World War, their valiant endurance against the Axis powers in the Second, their long service as the home of the British Mediterranean Fleet, and accession to the Commonwealth on gaining independence in 1964 are testament to a true partnership.

These bonds of history and affection are not confined to the past. In a survey I conducted before the EU referendum I was pleased to see that fondness for Britain among Maltese people lives on (more…)

Do not doubt Donald Trump – he could easily be re-elected

By Lord Ashcroft

This piece was initially published at TIME.com

If in November 2020 we are looking back on how Donald J. Trump came to be re-elected as President of the United States, those undergoing a second round of horror and dismay will find themselves reflecting on how seriously, and how often, they underestimated their foe.

The left has history when it comes to looking down on, and therefore underrating, its opponents. Ronald Reagan was derided as a genial but bumbling movie actor but was elected twice to govern both his state and his country. As was George W. Bush, who seemed to inspire a kind of hysterical contempt in his adversaries: Haha, he’s so stupid. He says words like “misunderestimate.” Oh, he’s beaten us. Again.

Donald Trump, by the same token, was surely too erratic and offensive and vulgar and narcissistic and unqualified to get his party’s nomination, let alone run an effective campaign. Let alone win.

You might think that the anti-Trumpists would have begun to learn from this long series of events, but apparently not (more…)

‘We didn’t elect him to be a saint, we elected him to be a leader’: my latest American focus groups

By Lord Ashcroft

Last December the voters of Alabama did something they had not done for twenty-seven years – they elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. The extraordinary result prompted some to wonder whether the political tide could be turning, even in the Republican strongholds of the South. Last week I held focus groups in two neighbouring states, Tennessee and Mississippi, to take the temperature in the region, and to assess the current mood of American voters, especially those who had put Donald Trump in the White House.

 

Blue tsunami?

Phil Bryant, the Governor of Mississippi, was sanguine about the Alabama upset when I interviewed him in Jackson, the state capital. “I think it was an anomaly (more…)