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…)

How the polls went wrong – and why they are still worth listening to

By Lord Ashcroft

The preliminary results of the British Polling Council inquiry into the general election polls have been published. The findings give the industry plenty to think about.

According to the inquiry team, led by Professor Patrick Sturgis of Southampton University, the main reason the final polls did not reveal a decisive Tory lead was that polling samples – the people who took part in the surveys – were not sufficiently representative of the voting population. For example, the team highlighted evidence from the polls they examined that in the oldest age group, those aged 65 and over, too many participants were at the younger end of the scale, and not enough were aged over 75. (more…)

Reflections on the election polls – and creating a Conservative Party people need not be shy about supporting

By Lord Ashcroft

This is the text of a speech I gave last night at the Post-Election Conference, jointly hosted by Conservative Home, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Business for Britain and the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Good evening. You might think it’s a bit much to kick off this post-election conference with, of all people, a pollster. If so, I can understand your scepticism. After last week I’m not sure whether it’s worse to be a pollster or a Liberal Democrat. But as I will explain, it would be a mistake to dismiss the polls out of hand, or to think there is nothing we can learn from them. (more…)

My speech to Turcan Connell and Charlotte Street Partners in Edinburgh

By Lord Ashcroft

This is the text of a speech I gave last night in Edinburgh. I was introduced by Chris Deerin.

Thank you, Chris, for that kind welcome, and can I say what an honour it is to be introduced by Scotland’s Columnist Of The Year? Those of you who read Chris’s work will know that the accolade he received at the Scottish Press Awards was thoroughly well deserved, and that his writing is always brilliant – provocative, honest, thoughtful and original.

While I’m at it, I might as well add that such is his incisive grasp of public affairs, any of you who are not retaining the services of his company should have your people call his people first thing in the morning. (more…)

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

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

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…)