Matt Singh Profile picture
Jun 23 36 tweets 11 min read
By-election night thread! Polls have just closed at the #Wakefieldbyelection and the #TivertonandHonitonByElection. Analysis follows


Load up on coffee as it's going to be a late one. BBC suggested earlier that declarations could be around 4am...
In terms of likely outcomes I'll have much more on this later, but little doubt that #Wakefield (for which polls have been published) is going back to Labour, whereas #TivertonandHoniton (where none have) is murkier, but Lib Dems I've heard from seem much happier than Tories...
I’ll be talking a lot about swing, and it’s notable that the national picture is somewhat murky too (part random variation aka margin of error, part systematic differences between pollsters aka house effects) but on average GB polls are showing about a 9% swing from CON to LAB ImageImage
Likewise historical comparisons – though note that win/lose stats you'll hear are highly sensitive to which seats happen to be up for election and when. For example:
So what is par for the course? The rule in by-elections is that governing parties lose vote share – the question is how much – on average it's been 13.5 points since 1983. Swings tend to be smaller when the challenger is the main opposition party, and bigger when it's vs the LDs
BBC now saying Wakefield might declare a bit earlier. We can hope...…
The first indications we'll get are turnout. You'll hear a lot of rubbish about this, so repeat after me: THE TYPE OF SEAT MATTERS. Wakefield is a lowish turnout seat (64% in 2019), Tiverton is a higher turnout seat (72% in 2019). A good rule of thumb is 2/3rds of GE turnout
So a par turnout (a benchmark, not a prediction) would be low 40s in Wakefield and high 40s in Tiverton and Honiton. Who benefits from higher or lower turnout isn't entirely clear. Conservative voters are clearly grumpier, so low turnout could mean it's them staying home. However
Higher turnout could mean they're coming out to vote for someone else, which would be even worse for the Tories. So take your pick...
Looking specifically at #Wakefield, Labour needs a swing of less than 4% to retake the West Yorkshire seat. This is a long-time Labour, Leave-voting, coalfield seat, and part of @JamesKanag's original Red Wall analysis (see link)…
And we have polls! In fact this is the first by-election since Rochester & Strood in 2014 where we’ve had them from more than one pollster. (Some incorrectly claim polls from both Survation and Focaldata at Hartlepool 2021, but the latter were an MRP projection, not a local poll) Image
And despite using completely different methodologies, they showed very similar numbers. By-elections are a pain in the neck to poll, and the polling was a few weeks ago, but if the indicated swing of 14 or 15% from Con to Lab were to materialise... would be the biggest by-election swing in that direction since Wirral South in 1997. This should not be overinterpreted – it is still not of the same order as some of the swings Labour was getting at the equivalent point in that parliament – but then that is a very high bar
Labour's 4 biggest postwar by-election swings were all during that period. So worth keeping these sorts of figures in mind for comparison:
Candidates not in the running may not affect the outcome, but can very easily impact on the margin of victory...
In any case, it seems that the long period of Labour weakness in by-elections, from the rise of UKIP until the end of the vaccine bounce, has come to an end. This is what an opposition party should be doing in by-elections, and probably even better…
Not sure what this translates to in reality. Worse than the polls? Or were they expecting to do better than the polls?
See also in Tiverton and Honiton. Tories sounding very gloomy about that one too:
In #TivertonandHoniton, unlike Wakefield, no polling has been published. I'm aware of one private poll, but so on in the campaign that even if I could share the results they wouldn’t be very predictive – the swing in this type of contest usually grows during the campaign
In any case, the Lib Dem briefings that it was neck-and-neck sound a lot like they were expectation management. Which is understandable because getting a 20% swing and losing really would not be a poor result...
But the fact is, the Lib Dems got a bigger swing in Chesham and Amersham (when the Tories were doing very well nationally) and a MUCH bigger swing in N Shrops. So an LDs win on a big swing is to be expected, the question is how big. Here's the record book:
In the #TivertonandHonitonByElection Lib Dems aren't just coming from third in 2019 and 2017, but in 2015 they actually came FOURTH behind Labour and UKIP
Like I said, this would be better for Labour than they've been managing recently. But do bear in mind that Ed Miliband got SIX by-elections swings over 10%...
Wakefield turnout 39.1% – pretty close to what you'd expect in a by-election in this type of seat
Tiverton 52%... So a bit above the benchmark, but unremarkable. Turnout is not the story tonight...
Watch how Labour does in Tiverton and how LDs do in Wakefield. By-elections, because of the intensity of the campaigning, tend to see a lot of tactical voting, but if they really crash, that implies tactical voting on steroids and worth keeping and eye on
This doesn't sound like it's going to a recount
Maybe Ed Davey should take the big hammer to the "polling" numbers the Lib Dems were briefing to the Guardian
#Wakefieldbyelection result sounds like about a 13% swing
12.7% swing to Labour – their biggest since Middlesborough in 2012
29.9% swing to Lib Dems at the #TivertonHonitonByElection – not quite North Shropshire, but still a huge swing
Labour lost its deposit in Tiverton and won Wakefield on a decent swing. Lib Dems lost their deposit in Wakefield and won on a huge swing in Tiverton. This is industrial scale tactical voting, and it's a big deal...
Not to anything like the same extent. But isn't need to. Even a relatively modest amount of Lib-Lab tactical switching would flip a lot of seats in a GE
IMO this is the most significant takeaway. 12.7% swing to Labour in Wakefield is the sort of by-election result they were getting 2010-14, suggesting it's got its act together in by-elections (and in general). 29.9% to LDs in Tiverton and Honiton is one of the biggest ever.
My (highly caffeinated) thoughts for @CapX on what to make of the by-election results, whether or not comparisons to the early 2010s make sense, and why tactical voting is such a big deal…

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More from @MattSingh_

Mar 3
It's by-election night. Voting has just ended in Birmingham Erdington to elect a successor to Jack Dromey, who passed away at the start of the year. Here's how the constituency voted in 2019:
This is a seat contested between Lab and Con and has red since it was recreated in February 1974. However in strong Tory years it's been close (single-digit % Labour majorities from 1979-87 and 10% after 2019)
In a by-election that's a straight fight between government and opposition parties, you expect a swing from the former to the latter. In Old Bexley and Sidcup (pre-partygate) the swing was 10%, which is about par for the course. National polls have swung towards Labour since then
Read 11 tweets
Jan 2, 2021
1/ New year, new MRP model, and an inevitable raft of takes. Here are my thoughts…
2/ Equal seats is about what would be expected based on a 2-point Lab lead (its popular vote estimate) due no doubt to Labour continuing to pile up votes in its safe seats. And in turn a 2-point Lab lead is well within the range of what conventional polls were showing last month
3/ So the big picture is that Lab and Con seat totals ARE NOT A HUGE SURPRISE. Same for the SNP, who you would expect to win a huge landslide based on Scottish Westminster polling.
Read 10 tweets
May 3, 2020
🚨Case study in the ecological fallacy: Local authorities in England and Wales with more over-65s have LOWER #COVID19 death rates. If you only looked at this data, you might think it killed more young people. But we have robust individual level data, so we know it's the reverse.
Why is this the case? The obvious statistical explanation is that age is negatively correlated both with population density and especially with ethnic diversity.
(I suppose it might also be that younger people do the spreading and older people die from it, but that's the hypothesis you would want individual data in order to test...)
Read 5 tweets
Feb 10, 2020
Lord Ashcroft's report on Labour, based on a poll of 10,000 and 18 focus groups in seats Labour lost. Nothing in these two paragraphs is unexpected, but it's great that he's collected the evidence to back up what many of us have been saying for years.…
Top five reasons for Labour losing

According to defectors:
No longer represents its traditional voters
Undeliverable promises

According to Labour members:
Mislead by media
Mislead by Tories
Voters are wrong
Voters are racist
Reasons given by defectors for not voting Labour
Read 17 tweets
Jan 2, 2020
THREAD ON BOUNDARY CHANGES: Guido Fawkes is reporting that boundary changes will not now involve cutting the number of seats to 600. This is unsurprising given past rebellions, but if correct it will have a number of consequences. 1/…
Firstly, the reviews completed in 2013 and 2018 will have to be junked and the whole process started again with, presumably, 650 seats. That means changes to the legislation. Whether other aspects (the tolerances, protected seats, nation allocations etc) will change is unclear 2/
Secondly, the next review was due to start in 2021 with December 2020 electorates. But since it sounds like the legislation is going to be reopened anyway, it would make sense to start it immediately, given that a spring 2024 election would mean less time than usual 3/
Read 13 tweets
Nov 18, 2019
Oh great, here comes another polling conspiracy theory, regarding the latest Kantar poll. Long time followers will be able to guess how this ends, but here's the detail. 1/8…
Someone on Reddit decided to divide the turnout-plus-standard weighted by the unweighted counts to imply "turnout". In fairness, the OP did say "unless I've massively misread the tables", but of course the conspiracy theorists (the usual suspects) aren't being so cautious. 2/8
First of all, as several people on the thread pointed out, the maths is wrong. If you want to back out turnouts, you need to divide the compound weights by the nationally representative weights. Otherwise it's distorted by whatever falls out of the raw sample. 3/8
Read 8 tweets

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