Shape of the polls

This data visualization was picked up and used by Matt Chorley at The Times for his inaugural edition of Red Box. It resulted in me being commissioned to write for Red Box, and is the very beginning of the road that would eventually see me working for YouGov.

Something never sat right with me in the run up to the 2015 general election. The polling showed Labour doing well, yet you would rarely hear a good word said about Ed Miliband. No-one seemed to think he was Prime Ministerial, or that he was a good leader, or that he would be capable of running the country. Despite the parliamentary reality, the way people think about voting tends to be more presidential – based on who they want to be Prime Minister, rather than their constituency MP. So why was Labour doing so well in the polls?

In the end something had to give, and it turned out to be the polling data. Given that polling of voting intention has proved unreliable twice in recent memory now, maybe there’s a better way to present political opinion polling? Here’s what I came up with:


Satisfaction with party leaders levels have correctly predicted the outcome of the general election each time since polling on the matter began (see below). Adding leadership satisfaction to the mix allows distinction during circumstances that might otherwise be described as neck-and-neck (the 1991-92 data is a prime example – the voting intention numbers are roughly the same, but the leadership satisfaction ratings reveal a huge gulf, one which makes the result of the 1992 election far less surprising). Leadership satisfaction polling is also probably more reliable than voting intention – it’s not subject to any certainty to vote issues, for instance.

I also thought it would be helpful not just to chart position, but also provide an indicator as to whether a party is in a position where it is likely to win the next election. Using the results at each general election (see below), I’ve highlighted a “Winning Zone”, outside of which no party has ever won a general election.

Parties and leaders video variant elections only-01

Given the humiliation of pollsters in May, maybe it’s time for a rethink of how we display polling?

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