The UK June 8 national election divergence in projections from pollsters is making the result hard to call and one of the key factors at the heart of the variation is whether younger and less well-off voters will turn out, and in what numbers. To achieve an upset, Labour are going to be hugely dependent on the trend that says younger and poorer voters, who appear to be rallying behind party leader James Corbyn, don’t actually vote come polling day.
In the 2015 general election, for example, 18 to 24 year olds were almost half as likely to vote as those aged over 65 (43% vs 78%). In the Brexit referendum the disparity was less pronounced but still significant — 64% of 18-24s registered to vote, compared with 90% of over 65s.
“In many ways, it has become the defining feature all of a sudden in the difference in the polls,” said Martin Boon, director of ICM Research, “with us basically disbelieving — I guess is the right word — the sudden surge in turnout likelihood among those who traditionally have not turned out in great numbers, and those polling companies who have taken it at face value.”
Since the debacle of 2015, when all the pollsters called the election wrong, overstating the Labour vote and underestimating Conservative support, polling companies have been working on ways to improve their findings.
That has led to a variety of responses from different companies. The key difference now emerging between companies’ methods is how they model turnout; in other words, how likely they think the people they survey are to actually go out and vote, and how heavily their voting intention should therefore be “weighted” in the final findings.
Those polling companies — such as YouGov and Survation — that are finding the biggest Labour vote shares and the narrowest Tory leads are also the ones that place a heavier emphasis on self-reported likelihood to vote, experts said.
All companies are also taking heed of how demographic status — youth versus age, rich versus poor — has affected likelihood to vote in previous elections. But some, such as ComRes and ICM Research, are weighting their findings more heavily on these factors. No surprise then that these are the companies giving the Tories’ bigger leads.
Other variations in the way different pollsters conduct their surveys and choose their samples are at play, but turnout modeling now appears to be the key point of difference leading to divergence in the Conservatives’ lead in different polls.
“Some of [the divergence in the polls] is undoubtedly to do with presumptions about turnout among younger voters,” said John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and one of the U.K.’s most respected polling experts.
“My reading is that ICM and ComRes are making pretty tough assumptions, YouGov and Survation certainly making weaker assumptions, ORB in-between,” he said.
Boon of ICM Research agrees. “The companies which have remained with the old way are showing lower Tory leads and higher Labour shares. The companies like us that have adopted an assumed probability model are showing higher Tory leads and lower Labour shares,” he said.
In short, if the Tory lead is to be as narrow as polls by YouGov and Survation suggest, the youth turnout is going to have to be big. The Survation poll, which gives the Tories a slender six-point lead, is based on 82% of 18-24 year-olds voting or having already voted.
But those close to the Labour leader are talking up the chances of the party’s mass membership — which has more than doubled since 2015 — getting through to young voters that have remained untouched by previous campaigns.
A senior Labour campaign official said: “Our campaign has inspired huge numbers of young people. It’s absolutely vital that we turn that enthusiasm and excitement into votes in the ballot box on June 8. Our huge on-the-ground campaign, building on the work of our over half a million members will mean our efforts for getting out the vote will be larger than they’ve ever been before, and that should assist particularly in getting harder-to-reach groups, such as young people, out to vote.”