Polling – how I started, and why it’s a force for good: my Anglia Ruskin lecture

ARU lecture2

By Lord Ashcroft

This is the text of a lecture I gave last night at Anglia Ruskin University, explaining why I began political polling, and why (used properly) it can help bridge the gap between the politicians and the people.

Good evening and thank you all very much for coming. It is a great honour for me to have been asked to speak to you on a subject in which I have developed a consuming interest over the last ten years. Indeed I stand before you not just as Anglia Ruskin’s Chancellor but, at least according to the New Statesman, as “the nation’s Pollster-In-Chief”.

Whether or not such an accolade is deserved, I thought I would use this occasion to talk about how I came to be involved in polling in the first place; why I think opinion research is a useful and indeed vital part of the political process; its limitations; and finally, what I think current research tells us about prospects for the general election (more…)

No predictions from me – but here’s a whole gallery of snapshots


By Lord Ashcroft

Last week, along with various colleagues from the polling fraternity, I was asked by the Independent on Sunday to make a prediction about the election. At the risk of looking like a spoilsport I declined, as I always do when faced with such a question. I felt my usual answer – “I think it’s going to be quite exciting” – was not exactly what the editor would be looking for.

As was clear from the answers of those who bravely or recklessly did take part, nobody is very sure exactly what to expect (more…)

Eight things we learned from my research in 2014

Salience v. performance chart

By Lord Ashcroft

My research in 2014 has included a weekly national telephone poll, surveys in over 100 marginal seats, two rounds of my Project Blueprint research on the quest for a Conservative majority, a detailed study of voters’ attitudes to Europe, polling-day surveys of voters in the European elections, five by-election polls, and regular updates on the state of the parties. Here are some of the things we have learned: (more…)

Ed Miliband and Doncaster North: a correction (and apology)

By Lord Ashcroft

One of the most important principles behind my polling is transparency. All the data from my polls is published for all to see. This is important as it shows the research is done properly, and allows anyone who is interested to get the maximum possible value from the work.

The slightly more uncomfortable but nonetheless crucial side of transparency is that people can see when a mistake is made. Unfortunately that was the case last week in my poll of Doncaster North. (more…)

A tale of two by-elections – and why polls are snapshots, not predictions

By Lord Ashcroft

On 28 August Douglas Carswell announced he was leaving the Conservative Party and joining UKIP. Five days later I published a poll of the Clacton constituency that put his support in the resulting by-election at 56%, with the Tories on 25%, Labour on 16%, and the Lib Dems and Others on 2% each: a 32-point Carswell lead.

The results on by-election day six weeks later were remarkably similar to those in my survey. (more…)

The pollster’s predicament – and my plans for the year

By Lord Ashcroft

There was no shortage of comment last week to mark the start of the one-year countdown to the election (indeed I offered a few observations of my own). Predictions, however, were rather harder to come by.

One striking and rather cheering exception was the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, who feels many serious political analysts are unable to see the obviousness of a Cameron victory because they struggle to grasp “the sheer scale of Ed Miliband’s political incompetence and stupidity”. Other commentators were rather more circumspect about the likely winner – though equally bold, in their own way, were the academic team at the Polling Observatory. They concluded from their analysis of long term polling trends that the result is on course to be a draw, with Labour and the Conservatives each winning 36% of the vote.

I am not in the business of predicting vote shares, but the political dynamics do suggest a humdinger. (more…)

Counting the ‘Kippers


By Lord Ashcroft

How are UKIP doing in the polls? Well, it depends which polls you look at. At the end of last month, one survey put the party on 7%; the following day another poll from a different company had them at 19%. In an article in the Independent on Sunday, Nigel Farage has accused various pollsters, and me in particular, of underestimating his party’s support and trying to reinforce the idea “that a UKIP vote is a Tory vote”. (more…)

If the Tories are returning to comfort polling, that’s a bad sign

By Lord Ashcroft

Conservative Campaign HQ is in optimistic mood, according to Dan Hodges in the Daily Telegraph. Despite Labour’s stubborn lead, he reports, Tory strategists believe voters find Ed Miliband unconvincing and that an improving economy will eventually translate into higher living standards. They are also confident in their campaign team, both at the centre and in target seats, and in their use of data to reach key voters.

All this was very cheering until I got to the part about the Tories’ private polling. (more…)

Don’t tell me… It’s him off the telly


By Lord Ashcroft

What proportion of people in Britain can correctly identify a picture of the Prime Minister? Yes, you at the back – correct. 94%. This is as close to a unanimous response as you get in political research, but still means that more than one in twenty of our fellow countrymen and women could in theory bump into David Cameron and not be at all sure who he was. (This ought to be a salutary thought for those in the political world who imagine that the rest of the electorate follow events in Westminster as closely as they do.)

Who, then, is Britain’s second most recognised politician? (more…)

Oborne strikes again

By Lord Ashcroft

For the second time in a year I find myself under attack from Peter Oborne. Last June the redoubtable Telegraph columnist claimed I had been against the formation of the coalition from the start, which was wrong, and that I was trying to push the Tories to the right, which was also wrong. I was very happy to correct his misapprehensions.

Peter’s new assault is equally wide of the mark, and I am pleased to be able to set him straight once again. He now asserts I am “engaged in an open, menacing and extremely public campaign against David Cameron”. (more…)