Wednesday, August 02, 2017

What Are You Signalling When You Post, Share and Like Online?

In the online world everything that you post, comment, share or like is a signal. Consciously or unconsciously you provide cues and signals to others online.

What does our online signalling behaviour mean for political discussion, engagement and sharing on social media? Does it lead ineluctably to more division and extreme views? There is some academic evidence that it does.


Online signalling

In navigating the world we use signals and cues to inform us, for example, is someone nice, trustworthy, employable, etc. We may use visual signals such as someone's clothes, height or age as much as what they say. Increasingly though we only know someone people online and have never met them in real life.

According to academic research in a real life personal network the number of people "varies from the low 30s (Hogan, Carrasco, and Wellman, 2007) through to the upper 60s (Boase, Horrigan, Wellman, & Rainie, 2006; McCarty, Bernard, Killworth, Shelley, & Johnsen, 1997) to upwards of 150 (Roberts, Dunbar, Pollet, & Kuppens, 2008), but rarely if ever above that." Bernie Hogan, The Presentation of Self.  However, many people these days have more than 200 friends online, some may have thousands.

We make judgements about these people we only know online, and also about the people we have met in real life, using online signals. These signals may include how many friends someone has, who their friends are, how they interact with their friends, how often they post, what they share, the words they use etc. These cues and signals help us form an impression of someone even if we have never met them.

Online authenticity

Social signalling expert Judith Donath describes online authenticity as actions that which were not intended to signal something or manipulate our impressions.  In judging whether something is authentic, it seems we assess whether it is being done for its own sake i.e. for reasons other than making an impression.

If we want to be seen as authentic or genuine this may lead us to consciously, or unconsciously, try to make our online actions look like they are not signals. In the case of politicians or marketers they may use say a video of a 'real user' or user generated content or ask influencers to share content so that the content sharing appears authentic.

Virtue signalling

The reverse of authenticity is something called virtue signaling. This is where someone shares something or expresses an opinion to demonstrate their good character or standing within a group. Academic studies have shown that people will share a charity fundraising page without actually donating themselves. The purpose of their online activity is primarily about communicating they are a good person. What is interesting is whether this is also true in politics, for example, might people share an article supporting a political position even if they themselves do not actually share the same view.

Tribal signalling and reinforcement

Tribal sharing is where someone shares to enhance their standing in a group or to simply to show they are part of the tribe. I have a concern that the tribal dynamics of social media may be shaping political discussion and activity, and not for the better.

For example, when sharing or liking content for the purpose of tribal sharing, it is possible that more extreme content may be the most effective in signaling you are a member of the tribe. As Judith Donath explains in this CNN article it doesn't matter so much if the story is fake or dubious if it reinforces your place in the tribe. What matters is that the act of sharing cements your position in the tribe. In fact sharing a false or questionable story may actually enhance your standing as it shows your faith and commitment.

Proving you are a member of a tribe can also lead to more extreme views. For example, posting a balanced comment saying there are some good points in the other camp's position or viewpoint is not the best way to reinforce your position in a tribe. If you want to signal your tribal commitment it may be better to post something along the lines that you hate what another politician or party is doing, or you are outraged by their decisions.

Echo chambers and extreme views

I am personally not taken with some of the arguments about echo chambers. There is evidence that people are exposed to a wider range of views via Facebook for example, than in their local community or reading a particular newspaper. However, there is evidence that your views can become more extreme if you do live in an echo chamber where all your social media friends have similar views.

Cass Sunstein in his book 2002 book, Risk and Reason analyzed information cascades and group polarization. He observed that in a group a person may want to earn social approval or avoid disapproval. In such a case if a group is alarmed by something say Brexit or Fracking Or immigration or the election of Trump, Sunstein argues individuals may not voice their doubts about whether the alarm is merited, simply in order not to seem obtuse, difficult or indifferent. He says "sometimes people take to speaking and acting as if they share, or at least do not reject, what they view as the dominant belief. .. the outcome may be the cleansing of public discourse of unusual perceptions, arguments, and actions."

I think more importantly Sunstein observed that when like-minded people are talking mostly to one another their discussions will move them, not to the middle, but to a more extreme point of view. He says "If members of a group tend to believe that for cancer, the serious dietary problem lies in the use of pesticides, those same people will tend, after discussion, to have a heightened fear of pesticide use." This is an example of group polarization which Sunstien describes as "a process by which people engaged in process of deliberation end up thinking a more extreme version of what they already thought."

The political impact of online signalling

It does appear that both tribal signalling and participation in like-minded social networks (even if not true echo chambers) can lead to the sharing of more extreme political viewpoints and the sharing of content of dubious origin or false content.

I am not sure if this is correct but it does appear consistent with my experience of social media and political discussions.

So what are you signalling when you share, comment or like a post on Facebook? Do you share to be part of a tribe? Or to support members of your tribe?  Is your social network full of like minded people? Do you stay quiet when you have questions? Is political discussion more polarised or is political disagreement avoided?

I think these are questions for all of us to consider.





Saturday, July 22, 2017

How The World Is Changing

This week I read two articles which outlined very clearly how the shape of the the world is changing. The first was by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. The article used six charts to show how the developed world was losing out to the developing world. The second was Harvard Business Review's new global digital competitiveness index.

I have set out below just three charts from these articles which demonstrate how the balance of world economic power is changing.

1. Global GDP

This chart shows changes in the share of global GDP and a forecast to 2022. We can see a steep decline in Europe in particular but also other high income countries. We also see a decline in non-asian developing countries such as Africa. The big growth is China, India and developing asian countries.


2. Global Digital Competitiveness

The chart below is Harvard's digital competitiveness index. It plots current digital adoption against the rate of change in digital evolution. The analysis argues that in many European countries, along with Australia and South Korea, there is high digital achievement currently but a low rate of change. These countries face challenges in sustaining growth.


There is significant change taking place in countries such as China, Malaysia and Russia. Amongst current high achievers change is fastest in UAE, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel and the UK.

3. Global Population

This next chart shows global population shifts project to 2050. Europe has one of the biggest declines although China is also experiencing a decline. The greatest population growth is in sub-Saharan Africa (more details on Africa's population growth here) where we are also seeing a declining share of global GDP.  If correct this will likely result in further mass migration from Africa to Europe as people seek a better life and as Europe struggles with an ageing population and falling GDP.




Monday, July 03, 2017

Is Corbyn Right To Support The Pensions Triple Lock?

I am not a Theresa May supporter but her election pledge to end the pension Triple Lock was principled if suicidal, given most older people support the Conservatives. By contrast Jeremy Corbyn has committed to maintaining the triple lock until at least 2022.

The Triple Lock policy guarantees pensions rise by the same as average earnings, the consumer price index, or 2.5%, whichever is the highest. It is was clearly a policy designed to attract the voting power of baby boomers.

Average working incomes have barely risen at all in the last ten years. At lower levels they have been held down by low cost labour from Eastern Europe and immigration, job insecurity and the gig economy, low unionisation and public sector pay cap policies. By contrast the triple lock has increased pensions.

In 2011 the median disposable income of pensioners crossed that of working people, as shown in the chart below.


However, the real issue here is not the Triple Lock but the very low incomes for working families. The lock has had the very real benefit of reducing pensioner poverty, which is to welcomed.

There is an important concern about inter-generational inequality. Over a lifetime people acquire two main assets, their pension and a property. Young people are unlikely to acquire the same pensions or the housing wealth of previous generations.

Young people will pay through their taxes to support the unfunded public sector pensions of the NHS, teachers and civil servants. These liabilities have been estimated at up to 1.85 trillion pounds, so young people can expect to be paying taxes to support these public sector pensions for some time to come. These same young people are unlikely to benefit from the same defined benefit schemes that baby boomers enjoy. They will also be unable to retire in their 50's and 60's as boomers can.

Furthermore the cost of unfunded public sector pensions is deliberately understated. Pensions expert John Ralfe says the boomer "generation of taxpayers is not paying the full cost of the public services it uses, but passing it on to be paid by future generations — taxation without representation on a massive scale."

In private companies the wages of the young will be held down to pay contributions to the deficits of generous former pension schemes. Ironically many of these schemes are now closed to younger people.

In addition to the cost of unfunded public sector pension schemes young people will also need to pay taxes to fund the rising cost of state pensions and increases in health spending, caused in large part by growing numbers of older people. See estimates from IFS below.



When it comes to housing, the failure of recent generations to build housing, combined with tax discounts for landlords, has increased the cost of housing and priced many young people out of the market.

As a society we urgently need to address the issues of inter-generational inequality, however, we mustn't blame policies such as the Triple Lock. There are more fundamental drivers of this inequality.

Maybe greater voting by young people will finally force the government to give these issues some serious attention.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Corbyn and the Single Market

“I vote against the Maastricht treaty again tonight, primarily because it takes away from national Parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community.” 

These were the words of Jeremy Corbyn in the 1993 parliamentary debate on the Maastricht Treaty. Some may see his words as prescient with youth unemployment still at 24% in France, 35% in Italy, 41% in Spain and 45% in Greece. (source: Statista)

The Maastricht vote was ten years after Corbyn was first elected as an MP. At the 1983 election he campaigned vigorously for the Labour Party manifesto commitment to leave the EEC. The party manifesto argued that the EEC was a clear obstacle to the implementation of the radical socialist policies which the then leader Michael Foot proposed.

It has long been the view of the radical left, such as Tony Benn and Corbyn, that the EU and its institutions including the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice are designed to be beyond the reach of democratic accountability and to support the needs of global companies in a capitalist market. This is not to say that don’t care about human rights but that the needs of companies come first.

The left would quote many instances where the ECJ has ruled against worker collective agreements and imposed limits on strike action by unions. For example, in a case with Lewisham Council they ruled that trade union collective agreements incorporated into the contracts of employees should not be protected when the service was privatised and transferred.

They would also quote cases where the ECJ has protected the rights of companies to transfer work to lower cost European locations and impose the conditions of a cheaper jurisdiction, such as the Viking case. In this case the ECJ also ruled the right to strike could infringe a business's freedom of establishment under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union article 49.

Corbyn does recognise the benefits of trade agreements and single market tariff free access and has argued strongly for access to the single market. However, radical left politicians such as Corbyn do not want to be part of the single market. They are critical of single market rules to force ‘open public procurement' and competitive tendering within the EU. These rules are enshrined in the EU's Lisbon Treaty, and promote privatisation in public services. It has also been argued that the First Railway Directive which promotes 'liberalisation' and competition for railway and freight services in the EU, would prevent Corbyn renationalising the railways.

Corbyn’s proposals for more state intervention and to protect fledgling businesses would also test single market rules and may, or may not, be allowed by the ECJ.

Corbyn would recognise the importance of the single market rules in protecting health and safety through common standards and workers rights. However, many on the left would argue that these rights, including maternity rights, were won by workers and unions, and many existed prior to the EU. While many are fearful that a Tory government would reduce workers rights outside the single market Corbyn would look to go further.

Corbyn remains very critical of the EU’s austerity policies, as he was in 1993, and would cite evidence that these austerity policies increase inequality by redistributing wealth from workers to asset owners. This evidence points to significant increases in the wealth of the elite while the poor get poorer, which appears self-evident.

Finally, Corbyn is aligning himself with working people. The detailed polling by Lord ashcroft shows that the majority (64%) of working class C2,D and E voters in the referendum voted to leave. Only in the AB social group of professionals and managers was there a majority who voted to Remain.

For all of these reasons it seems likely that Corbyn will continue to call for access to the single market but not to be part of it.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Africa's Population Growth

I listened to a podcast from the London School of Economics last week about the end of globalisation. However, what really caught my attention in the talk from Stephen King, senior economist at HSBC, was the level of population growth in Africa. This prompted me to look at the data.

According to the UN's 2015 projections the median world population projection scenario in 2050 is as follows:
By 2050 the population of Africa will increase by an estimated 1.3bn. This is far higher than other continents and is due to higher fertility rates (average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime) as we can see below from the CIA's 2015 world factbook data.



Life expectancy in Africa has increased from 36 to 57 years of age since 1950. At the same time birth rates in Africa have not fallen as fast as experts anticipated. In Niger the average number of children a woman is likely to have in her life is still more than seven. The country’s current population of 21 million is projected to grow to 72 million by 2050. It is forecast to continue growing by 800,000 people every 18 weeks to over 200m by 2100.

This population growth creates many different challenges. Stephen King talked about potentially high levels of migration to more developed countries when populations grow. The UN projects the net number of international migrants to more developed regions during 2005–2050 to be 98 million. However, in these more developed regions deaths are projected to exceed births by 73 million in the same time period.

Thus the overall population numbers in the developed world may not rise significantly, but there are likely to be large changes in the make up of populations.

The big challenges will be in Africa itself as rapid population growth puts pressure on infrastructure, housing, health and education. However, Africa also has the potential to be an economic powerhouse through access to education, investment and good governance. Optimistic economists believe the continent is going to benefit from a “demographic dividend”, a rapid increase in economic growth which often occurs when the number of people employed is significantly higher than the number of children and old people.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Labour Lead For First Time In Survation Poll


Survation's latest poll now shows Labour support at 44%. This gives Labour a national lead for the first time, 3% ahead of the Conservatives.

Survation was the most accurate polling company during the election and predicted a Tory lead of just 1%.

Macron Wins Parliamentary Majority But Not Popular Support

In the first round of the Presidential election Macron came top with 8.656m votes, 24% of the votes cast or 18% of those registered to vote. Macron's big challenge was to build on this victory and grow support for himself and his party En Marche.

Despite winning a large majority in Parliament yesterday, Macron failed to grow his support. Just 7.26m voted for En Marche yesterday, in an election where turnout was historically low. In total 8.93m people voted for En Marche and their partners the Democratic Movement. This represents just 18.76% of those registered to vote. This is up on the 18% he won in the first round of the Presidential election but only marginally.

A detailed look at the votes

In the second Presidential round Macron was up against just the far right leader Le Pen. He won this comfortably with 66% of the votes cast to Le Pen's 34%. However, a large part of this vote was a vote to keep Le Pen out and not a vote for Macron. An Ipsos Mori poll found that 43% of those voting Macron did not support him but voted for him in order to keep Le Pen out.

This implies 12.1m were positive votes for Macron. A significant step up from the 8.656m votes he won in the first round and a sign of growing support.

In the first round of the Assembly elections Macron and his coalition partners the Democratic Movement won 32.2% of the votes cast but only 49% of the population voted. Thus Macron's En Marche only won 6.4m votes or 7.323m votes with the DM. This larger total is still less than he received in the first round of the presidential elections or 15.4% of those eligible to vote.

In the second round of the Assembly elections, which is only contested by parties with larger support, Macron's En Marche party won 43% of the vote and their allies the Democratic Movement won 6% of the vote. This translated into 60% of the Assembly seats, see the table below, so a substantial parliamentary majority.

However, only 42% of people voted, an historic low. Thus En Marche won just 7.8m votes, still less than Macron won in first round of the Presidential election. Macron and the DM together won 8.93m votes which was only 300,000 more than Macron won in the first round of the presidential election. It represents 18.76% of the 47.3m there were eligible to vote in the election.




Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Decade of Declining Wages

74.8 per cent of all working-age people in the UK are now in work, 31.95m people. Unemployment is just 4.6 per cent, the lowest since 1975. On the surface this might indicate that people are benefiting from the economic growth of recent years. However, employment is no longer a good indicator of prosperity.

In March 2008, the average basic weekly wage, excluding bonuses, was £473. The average basic weekly wage, adjusted for prices, is now £458. So almost ten years on, average wages have declined.

According to the Resolution Foundation, the 2010s are on course to be the worst decade for wage growth since 1805.

Employers have ruthlessly squeezed the wages of average workers. Some initially put this down to the financial crash and public sector wage restraint. Others have pointed out to the free movement of people from the EU which effectively provided employers with an abundance of low wage workers from Eastern Europe.

The chart below shows UK average weekly wages from the Office of National Statistics.


The latest official forecasts suggest that even by 2021 the average worker will still earn less than they did in 2008.

The reality is that employers started squeezing pay before the financial crash particularly in the US and are continuing to do so. The chart below shows US GDP and median household incomes. In essence despite GDP increasing, median incomes have fallen, as the benefits of economic growth are not evenly shared.



Far from economic wealth being shared equally employers are reducing pay and benefits. Back in the 1960s families were able to live off a single wage, there was relatively secure employment with reasonable pensions. Today wages continue to decline, there is more job insecurity in the gig economy and pension schemes have been cut back significantly.

Economist theories about wages growing as the economy improves are just that, theories. Private sector employers continue to pay low wages despite the fall in the jobless total. An increasing number of workers are negotiating individually without any collective bargaining. Trade union membership fell by more than a quarter of a million last year to 6.2m, the largest fall in more than twenty years. UK employers can tap into a large pool of European unskilled, deunionised, insecure workers.

The Bank of England’s latest forecasts predict that inflation will recede next year and wage growth will strengthen to 3.5 per cent thanks to the tight labour market. However, along with many economists I remain sceptical.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Women In UK Parliament

I was apprehensive about seeing more women in Parliament in the UK at the start of the election, partly because there were over 100 constituencies where there was no female candidate for any party.

However, there has been a small increase in the number of women MPs in Parliament following the election. This at least continues a trend towards more equal representation but we still have a situation where over two thirds of MPs are men.



The Labour Party now has 45% women MPs more than double the percentage of Conservative MPs.




Monday, June 12, 2017

May and Macron: A Tale Of Two Electoral Systems


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Charles Dickens introduction to A Tale of Two Cities could be used to describe Macron's and May's feelings following the UK and French elections this last week.

Macron is set to win up to 440 of the 577 seats in the French National Assembly, an overwhelming majority. By contrast May lost her majority, winning 318 of the 650 seats in the UK parliament.

However, in terms of vote share:

  • Macron won 32.2% of the votes cast in France on Sunday, where 49% of the population voted.
  • May won 42.4% of the votes in the UK election, where 68.7% of the population voted.

When Macron won the second round of the French Presidential election, 43% of those that voted for him stated they were voting to keep out Le Pen. This meant that Macron potentially only had support from 12% of those eligible to vote. At the time I commented that Macron's biggest challenge would be to grow this support.

Sunday's results appear to show that Macron and his allies won votes from just 15.8% of those eligible to vote. Under the French electoral system this will deliver around 75% of seats in the French Parliament. This is in part due to the vote split and the poor performance of other parties, Les R├ępublicains won 21.56% of the vote cast, the Front National won 13.20% and the Socialist party won just 9.5%.

Clearly political parties have to campaign and work to their electoral system. Translating votes into seats varies significantly from system to system. However, the raw vote share results in France show that Macron actually won far less support than either May or Corbyn. This suggests that Macron will need to wield his majority sensitively in the new Assembly.

It is also worth remembering the full quote from Dickens in A Tale Of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness."






Saturday, June 10, 2017

10 Key Insights From The UK Election Backed By Data

This weekend's newspapers will be full of hyperbole about the UK election results and what happened. In my view it is important to cut through opinion and look at the data to provide a clear context.

Here are ten key data backed insights about the UK election:

1. Despite a poor campaign the Tories increased their votes and vote share

The campaign run by Theresa May has been roundly criticised by all sides. It is claimed the campaign was the reason why May only won 318 seats, 12 less than David Cameron won at the previous election. However, May significantly increased the Conservative votes and vote share as we can see below.


May's vote share is exactly the same as that Margaret Thatcher achieved in her 1983 landslide victory.

In 1983 the vote translated into 397 seats because the opposition was split. Labour received just 27.6% and the SDP received 25.4%.  This time Labour attracted votes from all other parties and achieved 40% of the votes which allowed them to take seats from the Conservatives and reduce their majority.

Put into this context despite all its shortcomings the campaign did increase both absolute votes and vote share, It is difficult to know if even a great campaign would have increased the vote share above what Thatcher won at the height of her popularity.

2. Labour attracted votes from all parties and particularly young people

While May did well to increase her votes and vote share, Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour's votes and vote share by a far greater extent.


Corbyn performed significantly better than Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband. In fact Corbyn almost matched the 40.7% Tony Blair achieved in 2001 and much better than Blair's 35.2% in 2005.

Corbyn was able to reach across parties to attract votes from UKIP, Lib Dems, Greens and the SNP. What he also did was mobilise and gain support from young people in a way that has not happened before. Which leads us nicely on to ....

3. Age is the big divide in UK politics

I previously reported on a YouGov survey that found that for every 10 years older a voter is, their chance of voting Tory increases by around 8%. See the chart below.


The Financial Times published a chart yesterday which showed how polarised the age divide has become in recent years.


This is not a surprise as the young generation is feeling increased like the left behind generation. While we don't have the youth unemployment of European countries, younger people feel they have been disadvantaged. Their parents could expect free higher education, secure jobs with good pension schemes, access to housing both social and private, and to retire in their 60s, some in their 50s. These days younger people have to pay high tuition fees, have less secure employment, poorer pension schemes, difficulty in accessing housing due to high prices, rents and deposit requirements, and having to work into their seventies.

What is more of a surprise is that there has not been a reaction from younger people before. In this election young people appear to have become more engaged and to have voted in much larger numbers.

4. Young people have become more engaged and voted in higher numbers

I previously wrote about how young people could increase the Labour vote significantly. Traditionally younger people have not turned out in the same numbers as older generations. As we can see below only 43% voted in 2015.


The Evening Standard ran a survey before the election which reported that 63% of 18-24 year olds said they would vote this time and that 68% of them would vote Labour.

There have been reports of much higher turnout of young people this time. Figures such as 72% have mentioned by David Lammy MP but there is no actual data to back this figure at this time. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from constituencies of higher turnout and an expectation we will see higher figures. The overall turnout was 68.7%, the highest since 1997.

However, while we wait for the numbers there is little doubt that younger people became far more engaged in this campaign and it is likely that turnout of 18-24 year olds was well north of 43%.

5. Social media matters and reaches parts of the electorate that other media cannot reach

This election has seen a lot of discussion about the role and impact of social media. There are questions over how much impact social media posts and sharing have on voting intention. However, what is not in doubt is that people engage with political posts and content on social media. Below are some of the most interacted with posts on social media, data from BuzzSumo.



The Jamie Oliver rant about the Tories school meals policy got over 100,000 shares and 10m views. The Stormzy video mash up got over 8.5m views. By contrast the BBC One Show with Theresa May had approximately 5m viewers. Remember also the highest ever number of viewers for the BBC's Question Time was 8m viewers back in 2009.

Facebook pages such as Another Angry Voice gain tens of thousands of shares and millions of views. BuzzFeed named the author the most influential UK political journalist and I previously covered my views on why this site's content goes viral with its clever memes and tribal reporting. In a similar way The Canary is highly tribal and gets huge engagement with young Labour supporters.

Jeremy Corbyn is also very popular on Facebook, 1.2m people have liked his page and his post yesterday got over 254,000 likes, shares and comments. Already over 5.5m people have viewed his video. His page is the most popular UK political page on Facebook. If this was a Facebook election Corbyn would have won comfortably.

A 2016 YouGov survey found that 28% of 18-to-24-year-olds got their main news from social media, compared with 24% for TV. My instinct is that this is increasing.

Social media has become a way that young people engage with politics and Corbyn and Momentum have become very effective at using the network with clear messages, live video, and memes. Another effective tactic has been rebutting scare stories in the Mail and the Sun with Facebook posts. This post below was used to effectively to mock stories of Corbyn's previous meetings with terror groups. It was shared over 60,000 times on Facebook.


6. There is a cultural divide reflected, but not defined, by Brexit

While not quite as marked as the age divide there is a cultural divide in the UK which is not the traditional class divide, which you might characterise as Labour being the party of the working class and the Tories being the party of the middle class.

At this election the Conservative vote increased by no fewer than nine points in seats with the highest proportion of working class voters. This is linked to the Brexit issue where Leave voters were overwhelming working class.

There is a cultural divide rather than a class divide. David Goodhart has controversially attempted to define two groups he names the 'anywheres' (roughly 50 per cent of the population) and the 'somewheres' (around 20-25 per cent of the population).  The New Statesman feels this distinction broadly works.

'Anywheres' dominate our culture and society, are university educated, have professional careers, live in metropolitan areas including London and overseas. “Such people have portable ‘achieved’ identities,” Goodhart says, “based on educational and career success which makes them . . . comfortable and confident with new places and people.”

'Somewheres' are more rooted in their geographical identity, older, less well educated and find the rapid changes unsettling. “They have lost economically with the decline of well-paid jobs for people without qualifications and culturally, too, with the disappearance of a distinct working-class culture and the marginalisation of their views in the public conversation.”

Whatever your views on this theory there is a clear education divide. The survey from YouGov below shows that more educated voters are more likely to vote Labour or Lib Dem.


The FT has done some initial analysis of the actual election results and found a correlation between seats that had a swing to Labour and the number of adults with a degree. See chart below.


You could argue older people are less likely to have a degree and this just reflects the age split but when you adjust for just people over 50 they found a similar pattern.


Education had a particularly marked effect in seats that swung Labour or Conservative.

As the FT says "In short: better-educated people tend to vote for leftwing or centrist causes, while those who never went to university are more likely to vote for rightwing or populist parties."

7. People don't want more austerity and inequality

Polling by Ipsos Mori at the end of May 2017 asked people to pick out multiple issues that are facing Britain.
  • 61% highlighted the NHS 
  • 45% Brexit
  • 27% education/schools
  • 25% immigration
When asked to pick a single issue the NHS ranked second after Brexit. The latest British Social Attitudes survey found 93% of people recognise that the NHS is facing a funding crisis – and increasing taxes was seen as the single most popular solution.

There appear to be clear concerns about the ongoing impact of austerity cuts on public services. Labour's manifesto tapped into these concerns but implied these could be reversed, along with building hundreds of thousands of new homes and scrapping tuition fees, by just increasing tax for the top 5% and borrowing. I personally still have a concern that people in the UK want Scandinavian public services without Scandinavian taxes which is unrealistic. There also a limit to how much you can raise taxes without actually reducing tax revenues.

When it comes to income inequality the British Social Attitudes survey found that over 80% thought the income gap had become too large. The Labour Party's core message "For the many. Not the few." resonated with people and was used well in their campaign messages.


This brings us nicely on to....

8. Campaigns and manifestos still matter 

As we noted above, May's campaign was roundly condemned although Conservative support finished fairly much where it started at the beginning of the election, as we can see from the Daily Telegraph poll tracker.


However, the Labour campaign made a significant difference, increasing support from below 30% to 40% over the course of the campaign.

The Labour manifesto has been widely praised as tapping into key concerns while the Tory manifesto was seen as a disaster. You might be surprised therefore when you look at the responses to YouGov's survey results when they asked people which manifesto policies they supported. Four of the five most most supported policies were actually from the Conservative manifesto.


The real issue for the Conservatives was that many of their manifesto proposals were deeply unpopular and these were the policies that got media attention, both mainstream and social media. For example, their policies on paying for social care and taking away school meals (we have seen Jamie Oliver's response got over 10m views).

Thus it appears that unpopular policies have a far greater impact than popular policies but it also raises a real issue about campaign communication. The Labour Party cut through with the 'For the many, not the few' message and with a clear vision about investing in public services by raising taxes for the rich.

9. Return of two party politics in England and no overall majority

In England we have seen the return of two party politics with a vengeance. 87.5% of votes went to the two main parties.


This explains why despite May doing better than Cameron, and even as well as Thatcher, and why despite Corbyn doing as well and better than Blair, neither won a majority. There is no longer a split opposition and if this persists it will make it very hard for either party to win a majority in future. 

In the UK 69 seats were won by minor parties, thus to get a majority the winning party has to get at least 69 seats more than the main opposition party and/or take seats away from minor parties, most notably the SNP.

It should also be noted that while things are different in Scotland, Northern Ireland has also become a two party state. Only two parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, won seats. This time neither the SDLP or the Ulster Unionists won a single seat. 

The Lib Dem vote was 7.6%, the worst since 1970.

10. Opinion polls need to change and YouGov point the way

I have covered extensively YouGov's attempt to build a new election model for predicting opinion and election results. A new model is required as the opinion poll companies got the result badly wrong again apart from Survation, who had a 1% Conservative lead. The average Conservative lead across the companies was 7.5%, some had the Conservatives with a 10 point lead.

Opinion polls shape the narrative around an election and must therefore be accurate and used with caution. Using widely inaccurate polls is akin to fake news in shaping public opinion.

YouGov has adopted data science techniques called Multilevel Regression and Post-stratification (or 'MRP' for short) for its new model. In simple terms they use the poll data from 50,000 people for the preceding seven days to estimate how a voter with specified characteristics will vote e.g. Conservative, Labour, or another party. They look at a wide range of respondent details including previous voting intentions, age etc.

Then using data from the UK Office of National Statistics, the British Election Study, and past election results, YouGov estimates the number of each type of voter in each constituency.

This model produced the most accurate seat estimates as we can see below.


Unfortunately YouGov lost confidence in this new model and the day before the election said the Conservatives had a 7% lead and would win an increased majority based on their traditional polling methods. This appears to be a classic case of opinion poll companies herding together, so at least they can say they were all wrong and not stand out as the one company that got it badly wrong.

Hopefully they will now have greater confidence and I suspect we will see more investment in these new data science approaches looking at the voter makeup and characteristics in each constituency.

One thing we have seen is that you cannot project national results based on uniform national swings or even regional based swings. A good example is Brighton Pavilion where I live and which I know reasonably well. A number of models had Labour winning the seat based on the national swing to Labour and the high numbers of students and young people in the constituency. However, there are many specific factors in the constituency, not least that Caroline Lucas is the high profile leader of the Green Party. In fact she smashed her previous result taking over 50% of all votes. There was actually a swing against Labour and the Conservatives.


I think there is something here about tribes. There is definitely a Brighton tribe and Caroline is the leader of the tribe. I loved Grayson Perry's analysis of UK tribes and culture, he was definitely on to something. Maybe he should become a political forecaster.

Finally...

For those who have stuck with it I am sorry this was such a long post. There will be more interesting insights we will gain from the election data as it becomes available but for now I hope this has been useful, possibly even insightful or at least given you pause for thought.

Friday, June 09, 2017

A Victory For YouGov's New Model As Traditional Polls Fail Again

The average Conservative lead across all polls in the last week of the campaign was 7.5%. The actual vote share according to the BBC, with 649 seats declared, was a 2.4% Conservative lead.


The most accurate poll was Survation's prediction of a 1% Tory lead. But overall the opinion polls significantly overstated the Conservative lead. I previously wrote about how polling companies were potentially overstating the Conservative lead by adjusting their raw results such as reducing youth turnout among other factors to produce much larger leads in their headline figures. Below are some examples.


You can see how turnout adjustments, particularly lower turnout for younger people, increased ICM's 2% Conservative lead to 11%.

It does appear that around 66% of 18-24 year olds voted this time, compared to 43% in the last election. The potential impact of young people was key, and I previously wrote about how higher turnout could add 1.7m Labour votes. It looks as if Corbyn managed to mobilise young voters in a way that no previous party has done.

In terms of seats the current numbers with one seat to declare are as follows:


The most accurate model for predicting seats was YouGov's new data model, which predicted a hung parliament, albeit projecting just 304 Conservative seats. YouGov are to take a lot of credit for this new model which it was brave to publish. However, they did appear to lose their nerve on the eve of polling and said their final prediction based on their traditional approach was a 7% Conservative lead and an increased Conservative majority.

Their new data model predicted the following seats.


This is a reasonably accurate seat projection. More significantly YouGov predicted Canterbury would go Labour and that Kensington would be very close. Kensington is the one seat outstanding as it is too close to call.

I think this new modelling approach will receive a lot of attention in the coming weeks as it models individual seat characteristics and demographics rather than uniform or regional swing models. It is clear that there has been no uniform swing or even a clear regional swing. The characteristics of individual seats has strongly affected the results thus southern Remain constituencies with large numbers of young people went heavily to Labour in excess of any national swings.

Maybe it is time for the BBC to retire their swingometer.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

YouGov Change Tack and Now Say Conservatives Will Increase Majority

Throughout recent weeks YouGov polling for the Times has been showing strong Labour support which will lead to a hung parliament. This forecast has been widely ridiculed but given the Times great headlines. Now on the very eve of the election they are furiously backpedalling.

Their latest poll reduces Labour support by 3%. YouGov now forecast the Tories leading by 7% and increasing their majority. This is quite a turnaround.

To be fair YouGov have been using a new election model which forecasts a hung parliament but now they are trying to have their cake and eat it. They are saying we might get a hung parliament based on our new model but we think we will actually get an increased Conservative majority based on our traditional polling method.

I have no problems with them trying new methods and being clear it is experimental but, and this is a big but... they have deliberately been providing the Times with national headlines of a hung parliament and a Labour surge.

There is something very wrong here, they have been shaping the election narrative and providing the Times with great headlines. Now they say: well we have two models and we think the hung parliament model is less likely to be right. They were not saying this before.




Final Seat Projection Has Some Surprises

Ok, I know I said yesterday's seat forecasts were final but I didn't include the University of East Anglia's Election Forecast. So for completeness here it is. These are very much in line with the seat predictions of Lord Ashcroft and Electoral Calculus.

The forecast includes some surprises when you look at individual seats. For example, they see Labour gaining Sheffield Hallam from Nick Clegg and Brighton Pavilion from Caroline Lucas, albeit by a whisker.


I am personally expecting Caroline to hold on in my own constituency of Brighton Pavilion but it will be interesting to see how close Labour are, given they have really put all their efforts into neighbouring Kemptown and Hove. UEA also have Labour gaining Kemptown. The full list of projected Labour gains are here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Final UK Election Seat Forecasts

Opinion polls tend to just give us the percentage of the vote for each party and not how this translates into parliamentary seats. Last time David Cameron gained 6.5% more of the votes than Labour which translated into a slim working majority with 330 seats.

Four companies have models that predict the likely number of seats based on polling data. Their final projections as at this morning 7th June are below.


The projections range from a hung parliament using the YouGov model to a hundred seat majority using Nigel Marriott's model.

YouGov's model uses a new methodology with a much larger sample (50,000) with multilevel regression and post-stratification analysis against constituency census demographics and British Election Study data. Their new approach has been praised but the predictions have been heavily criticised. It will be interesting to see how their individual seat predictions perform.

Nigel Marriott has the largest Conservative majority and he predicts Labour's worst result since 1935. He has produced a useful set of slides explaining the background to his predictions.

He is predicting a Conservative lead of 9.5% and a combined Labour/Tory vote of 81%. In his model the Lib Dems are reduced to just two seats. He believes there some realignments taking place due to Brexit and thinks Labour will do better in more southern Remain seats (eg taking Brighton Kempton and retaining Hove) but worse in more Northern Leave seats. He doesn't believe the assumptions of higher young people turnout that some polling companies have used.

There is a danger I think that the polls have created a narrative of Labour narrowing the gap which fits with the poor Conservative campaign and the strong showing for Labour on social media. Almost all of the most shared and most viewed posts are pro-Labour. However, this may simply reflect the younger cohort that supports Labour and the well organised Momentum social media campaigns. many older voters will be less active on social media and there is a question mark over whether social media posts do anything other than confirm existing viewpoints.

We shall have a better picture at 10pm tomorrow when the first exit polls are reported.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

And The Most Shared And Viewed UK Election Content Is ....


  • The BBC's One Show Interview with Theresa May?
  • The YouTube video of Liar Liar?
  • The opinion poll showing Tory lead cut to one percent?
  • A newspaper post on the dementia tax?
  • The Conservative video of Corbyn opposing anti-terror legislation?
The most shared and most viewed election content online are both videos. The first published on Facebook by Channel 4 and the second published on Facebook by @www.joe.co.uk (click images to view).

 

Jamie Oliver's despair at the Conservative school meals policy has been viewed over 10m times and shared over 180,000 times. The remix of Stormzy's Shut Up with Jeremy Corbyn doing the lyrics has had over 6.8m views at the time of writing. It has also had over 233,000 interactions on Facebook since it was published on 30 May.

The BBC One Show with Theresa May had approximately 5m viewers. The highest ever number of viewers for the BBC's Question Time was 8m viewers back in 2009.

Captain Ska's Liar Liar video on YouTube has had 2.4m views at the time of writing.







The Impact Of Young People Voting: Potentially 1.7m More Labour Votes


The Evening Standard published a poll three days ago that suggested 63% of 18-24 year olds say they will vote on Thursday and that 68% of them will support Jeremy Corbyn.

This would be a major change from the last election where only 43% of that age group voted, see chart above from IpsosMori.

Even if this was to happen would it change the election result?

There are approximately 6.7m 18-24 year olds living in the UK according to ONS. At the last election we know that 30% of 18-24 year olds were not registered to vote. So that meant only 4.7m were able to vote last time and 2m of them (43%) actually voted. According to IpsosMori 43% of those voting in this age group voted for Labour so 867,000 votes.

So what could happen this time? Let us assume that 90% of 18-24 year olds are registered to vote this time, so 6m of them. Let's assume that 63% of those registered actually do turn out and vote as they say, that is approx 3.8m voting. If 68% of these people do vote Labour that is 2.58m votes.

This means Labour would gain an extra 1.7m Labour votes compared to last time. That is still not enough to overturn the 2m extra votes that the Tories had at the last election but certainly enough to put Labour in serious contention.

Other factors also come into play such as the location of young people. Students tend to be concentrated in Labour leaning seats so the potential impact may not be that great if Labour just pile up votes in safe seats under our first past the post system. This has led to the promotion of apps that help students decide where to vote, as students can legally choose their home or university location, and to encourage students to register to vote in more marginal seats. These have been widely shared but whether they have made much impact remains to be seen.


Monday, June 05, 2017

Why Polls May Overstate The Likelihood Of A Conservative Government


In the 2015 election the opinion polls understated the Conservative vote. It was felt by many that this was due to under representation and also to a failure to adequately adjust for turnout. This time the opinion poll companies are adjusting the raw voting intention data from their samples and coming up with a headline number by adjusting for factors such as turnout.

As we can see above these adjustments tend to significantly increase the Conservative vote. Taking the average of the headline figures you get a Tory lead of around 7%. This many seem like a significant lead but at the last election the Tories received a 6.5% higher vote share than Labour which only translated into a very slim majority with 331 seats.

The latest YouGov current election forecast has a Tory lead of only 4% which means they would fall short of a majority by 21 seats. See chart below.


Given we haven't had any major boundary changes the Tories may need more than a 6.5% lead to increase their current majority. The average headline lead from all the polls is just 7%. If the poll adjustments are even slightly out we could see a hung parliament, as anything less than a 6% Tory lead means they may fail to get a majority.

Nate Silver, the US election analyst has recently reviewed the new polling adjustments and says "Given the poor historical accuracy of U.K. polls the true margin of error on the Labour-Conservative margin is plus or minus 10 points."

This is a large margin which means within the margin of error we could have a Tory lead of 17% or even a labour lead of 3%. So a Conservative win is still the most likely outcome but a hung parliament also appears to be a real possibility from the polling data.



Sunday, June 04, 2017

Opinion Polls Show Labour Support Increasing But...

The latest batch of opinion polls released on the 3rd June show that the Conservative lead has narrowed further. Overall they show that Labour support has risen since the campaign started whereas Conservative support increased initially but has fallen since the launch of their manifesto and their social care proposals. However, their support since the start of the campaign has not dropped below 40%.

The six opinion polls published on 3rd June have the Conservative led between 1% and 12%. However, all of them have the Tories polling at 40% or above. Equally all the polls have Labour below 40%.

ComRes -     CON 47%(+1), LAB 35(+1), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 4%(nc)
ICM -           CON 45%(nc), LAB 34%(+1), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 5%(nc)
ORB -          CON 45%(+1), LAB 36%(-2), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 4%(-1)
Opinium -    CON 43%(-2), LAB 37%(+2), LDEM 6%(-1), UKIP 5%(nc)
YouGov -     CON 42%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
Survation -   CON 40%(-6), LAB 39%(+5), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 5%(+2).

Whilst you could argue a random number generator may be as good as the polls in predicting the Conservative lead there are some clear consistencies:

  • Conservative support has always been above 40% (Cameron won in 2015 with 36.9% of the vote)
  • Labour support has increased during the campaign but remains below 40%
  • Smaller parties have been squeezed, UKIP support has fallen to 4-5% and Lib Dem support has failed to recover since their disastrous election in 2015
  • Young people 18-24 year olds appear to be very strongly in support of Jeremy Corbyn

However, the big unknown is whether younger people will turn out to vote in significant numbers to support Labour. At the last election just 45% of them voted. The difference in the polling estimates is in large part due to assumptions about the turnout of 18-24 year olds.

Will more young people vote this time? Official figures suggest that 1.05m 18-24 year olds registered to vote since the election was called in April 2017. Even if most do vote will they change the result? At the last election the Conservatives were 2m votes ahead of Labour, so young people alone are unlikely to be enough to propel Labour to victory, particularly as they also tend to be concentrated in areas where Labour won last time.

Based on poll averages everything points to an increased Conservative majority. Electoral Calculus currently predict a majority of around 70.

Friday, June 02, 2017

The Return Of Two Party Politics?


Things may be different in Scotland but in the rest of the UK the latest polls show a remarkable return to two party politics.

In 2015 the two main parties got 67% of the vote. In the latest Ipsos-Mori poll the two main parties have 85% (Conservatives 45%, Labour 40%).

The squeeze on the Lib Dem and UKIP vote has been marked. In 2010 the Lib Dems got over 22% of the vote. Today the latest poll has them at 7%. In 2015 UKIP got 12.6% of the vote, their current polling is down at 4%.

This is almost the exact opposite of what we saw in France where the two main parties failed to even make the second round of the presidential elections. George Eaton in the New Statesman argues that the dream of a new centrist party such as En Marche in France, is a pipe dream in the UK. We appear, if the polls are right, to have returned to two party politics at the present time.