Archive for April, 2004

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Are ICM’s Guardian polls including too many non-voters?

Friday, April 30th, 2004

make votes count
A big issue for political gamblers in the UK is how you do distinguish between the two polling organisations that were most accurate with the 2001 General Election and who both claim to be “Britain’s most accurate pollster” ICM and YouGov?

    Is ICM, the Guardian’s pollster, overstating what Labour will get at the General Election because it is giving too much weight to people who say they are not certain whether they will vote?

This is a critical question for political gamblers for currently ICM is showing a split of LAB-37,CON-32: and LibD 22%. This is by far the biggest Labour lead and contrasts sharply with YouGov which is predicting a Conservative lead which, as we showed last week would make a dramatic difference to the way the next House of Commons looks.

At the moment, at least, the spread betting markets seem to lean more towards the YouGov view than ICM.

Understanding how ICM produces its figures is important in order for political gamblers to determine how much significance to attach to the firm’s monthly findings.

Each ICM interviewee is asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 their likelihood of voting with 10/10 being “absolutely certain”. This was the detailed response in the April survey:-

  • 235 said LAB: 10-52%; 9-6%; 8-13%; 7- 6%; 6-4%; 5-10%; 4-1%; 3-4%; 2-1%; 1-0%
  • 196 said CON: 10-65%; 9-11%; 8-8%; 7-5%; 6-1%; 5-6%; 4-1%; 3-2%; 2-0%; 1- 0%
  • 136 said LD: 10- 55%; 9-%; 8-11%; 7-8%; 6-2%; 5-7%; 4-2%; 3-3%; 2-2%; 1-0%
  • Looking at the detailed breakdown it is clear that Conservatives say they are much more likely to vote than Labour supporters. The critical thing is the weighting to attach to these answers. The Mori polling company asks a similar question for its political monitor and only includes those responses from people who say they are “certain”.

    With the April ICM survey a totally different picture emerges if you just include those who are “absolutely certain” or are 90% sure. Politicalbetting.com has done that recalculation and this is how it would look:-

    LAB 33.5%
    CON 36.8%
    LIB D 21.5%

    What is remarkable at the moment is that whichever pollster is carrying out the survey or however you crunch the numbers the result for the Lib Dems is, within a very small margin, the same.

    We have raised thepoints in this post directly with ICM and will publish its reply.

    Illustration – www.makevotescount.org.uk



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    Spread markets moves mean that the Tories could come top in England

    Thursday, April 29th, 2004

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    The intriguing possibility of Labour winning the next General Election by a very small majority but with the Tories holding most seats in England is raised this morning by a further softening of the Labour position on the spread betting markets. The latest spreads are:-

    LAB 327-337 seats
    CON 243-253
    LDs 52-57
    Total seats in next House of Commons 646

    Taking the mid-points in the spread a Labour total of 332 would give Tony Blair/Gordon Brown just nine more than is required for an overall Common majority. The Tory mid-point split of 248 would comfortably take them over the 245/245 target to have more MPs representing English seats than Labour. They would still, however, be 17 seats short of the 265 target that would give them an overall majority of English seats.

      With the possible exception of the fuel crisis in September 2000 this is, we believe, the highest ever point the Tories have been on the spread markets.

    Given, as we have shown repeatedly on politicalbetting.com, that it requires a political earthquake for the Tories to secure a Commons majority the objective of winning England might be one that Michael Howard would be happy to accept. It would also create an extraordinary situation whenever Scottish Labour MPs sought to vote on England-only matters.

      The spread markets are worth following because political gamblers are not just people who have opinions. These are individuals who are prepared to back their judgements with cash so the spread price is based on decisions of hundreds of punters who are digging deep into their pockets to support their position.

    In spread-betting a punter wanting to back the Tories would “buy” at the top of the spread – 253 seats. The winnings would be the stake multiplied by the number of seats the Tories actually win above 253. So if they got 275 seats and the stake was £50 the winnings would be 22 times £50 = £1100. But if the Tories only managed 230 seats the punter would lose 23 times 50 = £1150. The same works in reverse with a sell bet. If you do not believe that the Tories will achieve the total at the bottom of the spread, 243, you sell and if they ended up with 230 you would win 13 times £50 = £650.

    The spreads are set by the spread-betting companies in response to what real punters are doing. So the more money going onto a position then the chances are that the spread-price will move accordingly. The attraction of spread betting is that the more you are right the more you win.

    There are huge down-side risks and this form of betting is only for the very bold.



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    Why are women voters spurning Blair and Bush?

    Wednesday, April 28th, 2004

    women voting

    A big gap is opening up on both sides of the Atlantic between men and women over their support for the incumbent political leaders. Both Bush and Blair are supported more by men than women and in recent months this trend has become more pronounced.

    A BBC report this week quoted Deborah Mattinson, Opinion Leader Research as saying that many older female voters were disillusioned with the political process and the Labour government in particular.

      “Back in 1997 it was basically the older women who won it for Labour,” she told Today. “I think that this spells a potential difficulty ahead for the government because it’s quite clear that women are much less enchanted by the government currently than men are.

    The electoral significance of this is magnified because UK women 4% are more likely to vote than men and 35-64 age group is 18% more likely to vote than those below.

    This trend is echoed in the US where the pollster Zogby International regularly publishes a gender breakdown. This is the latest:-

    Men:- Bush 49% : Kerry 44%
    Women:- Bush 39% : Kerry 50%

    What’s even more remarkable is that the difference between the sexes in their attidude to Bush is wider than ever. Kerry’s figure tops 50% with women and the Bush total is the first time he’s been below 40%. Just a month ago the male-female margin between Bush and Kerry was just one per cent.

    In the UK the question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the job Tony Blair is doing as prime minister?” in the April ICM for the Guardian has the following gender split:-

    Satisfied:- Male 41% : Female 34%

    Dissatisfied:- Male 56%: Female 59%

    Just like in the US the male-female gap has got larger in recent months and it seems to be widening with each poll. Much of this might be due to the Iraq war where male support in both countries has been higher amongst men than women. As things have got worse in Iraq in recent weeks the polls have shown less female support for the leaders.

      But in the UK the disillusionment amongst women with Tony Blair has not translated itself into a switch to the Tories.

    The same ICM poll had Labour 5% ahead of the Tories – the biggest lead for months. This might change in the coming months when the campaign to win the support of women, particularly those in the older age groups who have much higher turnout rates, looks set to be the battle-ground where the next General Election will be won or lost.

    Illustration – US Postal Service



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    How Charles Kennedy could be replaced

    Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

    logo ld
    Sunday’s telephone call by Charles Kennedy to the David Frost TV programme to say that he was definitely staying as Lid Dem leader has sparked more activity on the betting markets. This was not the move of a man confident of his position.

    In all the talk on Charles Kennedy’s future the question always arises as to what circumstances would lead him to go. No one can envisage the LDs doing what the Tories did to IDS last autumn. The only way that Charles Kennedy could be replaced as leader would be if he voluntarily stood aside and his call on Sunday indicates that he probably won’t.

    But there is another scenario that a number in the party are talking about. Firstly everything will be put on hold until after the “Super Thursday” Euro, local and London elections on June 10. The party’s whole platform for the General Election is based on establishing even further its credibility on that day. With its poll standings higher than at any time for two decades the LDs look set to make a huge breakthrough.

      In the June post-election euphoria the leadership issue could be raised because the opportunity facing the party would be enormous and the desire to hold and build on the expected successes would put the focus on Charles Kennedy. What could the Lib Dems achieve if the leader was someone who had real gravitas such as Menzies Campbell?

    Nobody can dispute that the party has made huge progress under Kennedy and it would be ironic if a move on the leadership took place in the aftermath of such good election results. But would the party have done better with somebody else?

    The central figure here would be Lord (Chris) Rennard, the party’s Campaign guru who directed Liberal Democrat parliamentary by-election successes from Eastbourne (1990) to Romsey (2000), was responsible for the party’s target seats campaign which resulted in 28 gains at the 1997 General Election, and with Lord (Tim) Razzall was in charge of the party’s successful 2001 General Election campaign.He became Chief Executive last October.

      Rennard is the man who has made the modern Liberal Democrats and holds great sway. If he felt that the party could capitalise more fully on its position with Campbell as leader then he could raise the issue with Charles Kennedy. In those circumstances there is little doubt that Charles Kennedy would step down.

    But does Rennard hold this view and would he have the conversation? We’ll have to wait until after June 10 to find out.



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    Monday Call – April 26 2004

    Monday, April 26th, 2004

    podium
    Last week’s calls proved to be reasonably robust in spite of new polls in both the UK and US. Please note that next week’s Monday Call will not be published until Monday evening because of the UK public holiday.

  • Could both Blair and Kennedy be going before the General Election?
  • There’s continuing speculation over the future of both the Lib Dem and Labour leaders that is attracting coverage and could be the focus of most betting activity. Our LAY call on Blair/Kennedy on the current 1.85 in the party leaders at the General Election market remains. The referendum has led to more speculation about Tony Blair’s short-term future. We’re not convinced that either Blair or Charles Kennedy will go – but there’s a good chance that one of them might. By laying the two to still be leaders at the General Election you win if either or both go. The latest Kennedy story does not suggest he is very confident about his position. Laying Blair/Kennedy at 1.85 offers better value than laying Blair alone at the current 1.64.

    What’s attractive about this bet is that the any upward price movements will be dramatic and large while downward movements will be gradual allowing you to bail out at not too great a loss.

    There is no “Will Kennedy Step Down” market so the only place that you can bet is on the party leaders market. This is complicated because the option “Tony Blair only” is also in doubt. The option “None” has seen a price tumble.

  • “Super Thursday” Elections – June 10
  • The biggest test of UK public opinion before the General Election takes place on June 10 when there will be the elections on a PR basis for the European Parliament, local elections in many areas and the London elections including that for mayor. The Conservatives launch their campaign this week to be followed by Labour and the LDs a few days later. This will be the first electoral test for Michael Howard since he became Tory leader.

    On the betting markets there is little activity apart from one bookmaker who is making a market on the individual regions in the Euro vote and, of course, the London Mayoral Election. We expect more markets to be created as we get near the date. There have also been very few opinion polls.

  • London Mayoral Election – June 10 2004
  • We stick by our call that the market price on Ken Livingstone is far too low and does not reflect the true situation.This is probably because of three key facts that many punters have not fully appreciated.

    The result is based on the aggregate all-London vote so that outer Tory and LD areas with much higher turnouts will have a hugely disproportionate influence.

    Because of this effect Labour was out-voted by the Tories in the all-London local elections in 2000 and 2002 even though it was upto 20% better off in the national polls than it is today.

    The second preference Liberal Democrat votes last time went to Norris by a big margin – not Ken as is widely assumed – and this is likely to happen again.

    It’s easy to call the 1-5 favourite in a contest. It’s much harder to say, as we are, that this might be wrong. This call against Livingstone might be out – but not by more than 2-3% and certainly not by a margin to justify prices of 1.2 on Ken and 9-11 on Hughes and Norris. The layers are out there so BACK both Hughes and Norris if the prices remain at current levels.

  • US Presidential Election November 2 2004
  • The latest opinion polls have shown a move back to Bush and there is very little betting value about. UK prices range from 1.53 – 1.73. The Kerry prices range from 2-2.37. We can’t see any major movements in the coming week and perhaps the best strategy is not to tie your cash up longer than is necessary by betting on either man now. Also we will get a clear idea of whether Bush is really recovering. DON’T BET.

  • UK General Election
  • The main “who will win” markets seem to have shrugged off the latest opinion polls from ICM and Mori which reported slight declines in Tory support. But will this indifference continue if the April YouGov poll on Friday follows suit? The Tory betting exchange price has, as predicted, moved from 4.3 to 4.2. We were suggesting short-term gains here but now you should wait until the YouGov figures are out. Our overall view remains – Labour are almost certain to win most seats. DON’T BET at the moment – you will get better value on Labour after the June 10 Euro and Local elections.

    The seat number markets with the spread-betting firms have moved down slightly from LAB 332-342 to 330-340, perhaps in response the point we have made that they have ignored the reduction by 13 of Scottish Westminster seats at least 10 of which will be Labour. As was pointed out by politicalbetting.com on Saturday the two pollsters who were most accurate at the last General Election are now putting forward figures that would produce a huge difference in the number of Labour seats. YouGov would have it at 300 – ICM at 380. This market is only for the very bold and unless you are very confident that one of these top pollsters is totally wrong then DON’T BET.

    The “Which year will the General Election be?” market on Betdaq has not moved and still nobody is laying 2005. If they do above 1.5 – BACK.

    A potentially interesting Betdaq market links who will win with which party leader. The main options are:-
    Labour led by Tony Blair 1.4
    Labour led by another 2.4
    Conservative led by Michael Howard 4.8
    The only value bet is Tory/Howard which is substantially better than the 4.33 on the Tories alone that two bookmakers are offering. As we’ve said before – the way the Westminster seats are distributed make it very hard to contemplate anything other than Labour coming out on top. The problem with all Betdaq markets is the lack of liquidity. If you want to back the Tories this is the place to do it.

  • Euro Referendum
  • It might be that one of the bookmakers will open a market on the planned Euro referendum. If this happens do not be tempted to bet either YES or NO. Without a referendum date you could by locking up your stake for a long time and a lot can happen in the intervening period. We don’t know yet what the final Euro-deal will be or how other countries react to it. Our guess is that the UK referendum will be hugely influenced by the way other countries in Europe who are having referendums vote. DON’T BET.

    NOTE: When we make a call we are stating that we believe that the chances of something happening are better than the odds that are available.
    All prices quoted are as at time of posting.
    Because of the UK Public Holiday – next week’s Monday Call will be published on Monday evening



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    A hung Parliament or Labour majority of 114 – which pollster do YOU believe?

    Saturday, April 24th, 2004

    question mark
    Political gamblers seeking to call the next UK General Election are faced now with totally different pictures from the two opinion poll firms that were most accurate in predicting the 2001 General Election.

      On the one hand is YouGov that is suggesting a vote split that would lead to a hung Parliament with Labour 23 seats short of an overall majority. On the other there is ICM which is predicting a vote split that will lead to Michael Howard’s Tories gaining just 6 more seats than next time and that Labour would have an overall majority of 114 seats.

    This is the latest ICM poll with a seat prediction from Martin Baxter’s General Election calculator.

    LAB 37% 380 seats
    CON 32% 171 seats
    LDs 22% 65 seats

    RESULT Labour overall majority of 114

    This is the last YouGov poll – again with a seat prediction from Martin Baxter’s General Election calculator.

    LAB 34% 300 seats
    CON 39% 271 seats
    LDs 22% 46 seats

    RESULT Hung Parliament – Labour short by 23 seats

      The ICM scenario would be disastrous for Michael Howard and he would not be able to survive. The YouGov “result” would see the Tories winning an OVERALL MAJORITY OF SEATS IN ENGLAND and, no doubt, would claim this as some sort of victory.

    But how do political gamblers choose between the two opinion polls? The Populus poll is showing the Tories and Labour on 34% each while Mori shows a slight improvement for Labour this month on 36-34%. The big difference between ICM and YouGov is that the former is showing a significant drop in Tory support while the latter has been putting the Tories at 39-40% consistently this year.

      The Websites of both YouGov and ICM firms make the same boast “Britain’s most accurate pollster”.

    Understanding these polls is going to be the secret of a profitable General Election for political gamblers. The market price on the Tories continues to tighten.



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    New speculation that Blair will stand down in the summer

    Friday, April 23rd, 2004

    blair

    There’s speculation by Simon Carr in the Independent this morning that Tony Blair might be planning to step down in the summer – after his 10th anniversary as Labour leader. This date has been mentioned before and in December there was much talk of some deal being done with Gordon Brown at that famous reconciliation dinner hosted by John Prescott after Gordon Brown returned from maternity leave.

    It will be recalled that Brown returned to work with a series of TV interviews in which he was more forthright than ever about the occupant of 10 Downing Street. Prescott called the dinner and since then all has been quiet – but was there an agreement whereby Blair would step down?

    For a few weeks the change in mood of Brown was noticed by many at Westminster and people were concluding that a deal had been done. Could they be right?

    This is how Carr concludes his article on Blair:-

    He’s had his lows, especially in the summertime, so maybe this is coincidence. But he is dealing with a slump in credibility, he has made a mistake over the referendum, and his 10th anniversary is coming up.
    If he were to hand over power to Gordon Brown after the next election we would all recoil, would we not, at a Soviet-style breach of the democratic process. Ken Livingstone came to power in the GLC all those years ago without being elected. I don’t think Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would sink to such a stratagem.
    So the blinding insight is this: they’re going to do the decent thing. Ha! The column that dares to say what others daren’t think!
    The handover in the summer, the installation at the party conference, the election early next year.
    Oh, and the punchline to all of this is: Gordon Brown loses. They haven’t seen that coming.

    The quip about Gordon could send a flurry through the betting markets – if not Brown who? Currently Blair is 1.49 to be Labour leader at the General Election and Brown is 3.9. After that it is Jack Straw and Peter Hain – both at 50.

      For a long time we have been saying that the best political bet about at the moment is laying Blair & Kennedy in the Party Leaders at the General Election market on one of the betting exchanges. If either or both go decided to you win and there’s enough speculation about both men to make this a good value bet. This was one of this week’s Monday Calls on politicalbetting.com.

    We do not think that anything will happen with Charles Kennedy until after the June 10 local, Euro and London elections. Elections are the oxygen that drives the party and nobody wants to interfere. If he has decided that enough is enough then an announcement would come afterwards. If the LDs do well, as looks very likely, then his position is reinforced – but this, conversely, could make it easier to stand aside.



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    Why is Blair running scared of June 10?

    Thursday, April 22nd, 2004

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    Given the core mathematics of the next UK General Election that make it so difficult for him to lose why is Tony Blair making such a big deal of the June 10 elections for the European Parliament? Why is he mortgaging his short-medium term political future with the commitment for the referendum on the Euro constitution?

    Sure June 10 2004 is not going to be a good day for Labour. The last time the Euro seats were fought, in 1999, Labour had an unmitigated disaster. The opinion polls had them at 56%, to William Hague’s Tories on just 25%. Yet when it came to real voters putting real votes in real ballot boxes Labour could only manage 28% – or HALF what the pollsters were saying. The Tories, written off by everybody got 35.8% – admittedly on a very low turn-out.

    Sure the political climate has changed since 1999 – the opinion poll leads are smaller if non-existent, the Tories are more sure-footed and credible under their new leader and the LDs are enjoying their highest poll ratings since the heady days of the Alliance before the Falklands War in 1982.

    Sure Tony Blair must be worried that if Labour could not get it supporters out in the favourable climate of 1999 then it is going to be much tougher this time.

    But he has been able to take some measures to ameliorate the situation – tinkering with the election time-table so that the 2004 local elections take place on the Euro day will boost turnout as will forcing through postal voting in parts of the country even though there have been strong warnings about fraud; and of course he’s ditched the Labour party’s own rules to bring Ken Livingstone back into the party as candidate in the London Mayoral Election.

      But who cares about the European Parliament? William Hague’s 1999 triumph had no impact at all on the General Election two years later. And as we’ve been saying repeatedly on Politicalbetting.com it is very hard for Tony Blair to get beaten on 05/05/05 – the suggested General Election day – because of the way the Westminster seats are distributed.

    The Euro referendum is going to dominate the UK political scene for a long time to come and it is by no means certain that the strategy of trying to paint the Tories as extremists who just want to be out of the EU altogether is going to work. Michael Howard, as we saw in the Commons yesterday, is so much smarter than previous Tory leaders and is not going to let them get away with it.

    The question of what will you do if the referendum says no is hard for Tony Blair to answer. Referring to the Irish experience in such a situation just makes him look even more slippery.

    One thing is for sure – we need some new political betting markets