Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to vote?

11:30 am - November 18th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    

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Here is a rather stark figure from yesterday’s Ipsos-Mori poll that I believes deserves a post of its own.

Polling companies have to weight their results by people ‘certain to vote’, rather than how people generally feel about those parties, for various reasons.

But look how stark the difference is.

Overall, Labour is ten points ahead. It’s only when ‘certain to vote’ is factored in that Labour’s lead is cut to just 3pts.

Doesn’t this suggest Labour’s key problem is many voters sympathetic to the party just cannot bring themselves to vote for it?

According to the data tables, the percentage of people certain not to vote are biased heavily towards Labour: 45% to 37% (Con).

I may be interpreting this wrongly, but that’s what it looks like to me. Thought I’d put it out there anyway.

Update: Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report explains what lies behind the figures.

While I certainly wouldn’t dispute the importance of parties getting their votes out, things are a little different from how they appear, largely because of some of the differences in MORI’s methodology compared to other companies. MORI take account of likelihood to vote in quite a strict way – they ask people how likely they are to vote on a scale of 1-10 and take only those who say they are 10/10 certain to vote. People who say they are 9/10 or 8/10 likely to vote, for example, are excluded. This means MORI’s filtering by likelihood to vote has quite an extreme effect – as you can see from Sunny’s post, this month the filter increased the Conservative level of support by 3 points and reduced the Labour level of support by 4 points.

The whole post is quite interesting on polling methodologies.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

This is not news. Labour’s problem has always been a lower turnout among our core vote than the other parties’.

The relatively poor tend to be less likely to vote – but when the vote more likely to vote labour – so this is not surprising.

Likewise younger people are less likely to vote than old people – and tend to be more left wing.

Interestingly though – it may also be that the figures above are slightly more severe than normal.

Labour has seen support rise significantly recently – presumably in large part among people who are upset at the party they voted for last time.

Those people are perhaps more likely to feel disenfranchised and so perhaps more likely to say they might not bother voting in future.

so – compulsory voting anyone?

Define “core vote”? Other than party members (who *must* vote Labour) I have great trouble over an assumption that a particular stereotype will always vote Labour. Isn’t everyone expected to read the manifestos and decide what will be best for them and their families and for the country?

Personally, I would like Labour’s policies to be such that you’ll have to be plain stupid not to vote Labour. My campaigning at the last election was “if you vote Tory at this election then we’ll lose the NHS, (and that would be plain stupid)”. Unfortunately even though I am right, I don’t get to write slogans for the party.

Getting them to wash would be a start….


The crocodile tears of the right about the global financial crisis ought to suffice to wash the grime of poverty away.


As Tony Blair said – Labour’s core vote should be everyone in the country.

Coming from the centre-left, the thing that is more likely to make me not vote Labour is a shift of the party towards the ‘old left’.

Given the general rise of the right, I doubt that any significant shift leftwards that many on this blog-site promote, would gain the party power at the next GE.

This is not really news. There’s such a strong, long term link between socio demographics and likelihood to vote and a socio demographic link with party support.

The extent to which that gap closes (or opens) over time is the interesting thing for Labour because it gives a better indication of both support in key groups and whether certain groups are motivated to vote or not.


I’d say I was centre left too, and certainly wouldn’t advocate veering toward the days of Old Labour, but in the end do you REALLY think New Labour were “of the left” at all? I have my doubts about that, and they remain with respect to “Newer” Labour too.

A lot of the New Labour policies and positions which people found so distasteful, which are now being continued and amplified under the Coalition, should be “easy wins” for a centre-left opposition. You don’t have to be a Bennite or advocate a return to the days of the longest suicide note in history, to see that it is possible to formulate a progressive, radical stance which puts clear water between the centre left and the Coalition.

The trouble is the current Labour party isn’t doing that.

“Getting the vote out” was what made the difference in some of the races in the US Mid Terms. Prime example was Harry Reid in Nevada, who was being written off but saw off Sharron Angle by over 5%. His team got the vote out.

This was predicted by Keith Olbermann when he appeared on Letterman just before the poll. The breakdown of those who supported the Democrats versus the intention to vote was rather similar to the poll Sunny has pointed up.

The common thread is, as ever, persuading those whose instinct is to support centre left parties, but don’t believe that voting will make any difference, or are otherwise disillusioned at politics in general. With the Coalition in power, that may change.

Its key problem is that its poll lead depends on the absence of its leader.

@ 9

New Labour was a mixed bag, much like my politics. some of it I liked, some of It I didn’t, but I still believe that it was a better fit than the Tories or LD’s. Individuals politics are more diverse, contradictory and in my opinion don’t conform with the labels of the past. How to get the vote out is the question, a recession and an unpopular leader usually do the trick. Otherwise apathy and status quo.

Labour voters are idle shiftless layabouts!

Film at 11!

This has been a fairly serious problem for Labour since the 1970s or so, although it has certainly got a lot worse over the past decade. Though your interpretation of the problem is wrong; most people aren’t political enough to think like that. Not now anyway. But I suppose it’s better to be right in the wrong way than entirely wrong.


I wish you’d stop pretending films are shown at 11. They rarely start at that time.

The important thing at the moment is winning the narrative, getting people thinking on the right lines, and that is definitely on track. The certain to vote factor will be more important the closer we get to an election.

@ 15….it’s from US TV news shows. To get you to watch the next news show they’ll break in with a little 10 second ad “Labour voters idle, shiftless, layabouts”. We’ll have film for you in our 11 o-clock bulletin!

Given the general rise of the right, I doubt that any significant shift leftwards that many on this blog-site promote, would gain the party power at the next GE.

What specifically are you talking about?

But this isn’t about them being ‘layabouts’ either.

I’m thinking if that is an enthusiasm gap for voters who sympathise with Labour but just don’t like the party enough to vote for it


“Its key problem is that its poll lead depends on the absence of its leader.”

It’s funny because it’s true.

Presumably this is why the Milliband Elect remains in hiding, even during PMQs.

That, and the fact that he’s on paternity leave, you bloody oaf.

‘I’m thinking if that is an enthusiasm gap for voters who sympathise with Labour but just don’t like the party enough to vote for it’

It isn’t really an issue of liking the Labour Party or not. You’re assuming that ordinary people are more political than they actually are. The problem for Labour is that a large number of people who would vote Labour if they actually voted are completely cut off from the political process in a way that they weren’t even thirty years ago. It isn’t an issue of simple discontent – even if that played a big role during the last decade of the Blair/Brown government – it goes further and deeper than that. It is not a matter of choice, at least not as conventionally understood. The things that tied ordinary people to the political process are far weaker than they used to be, and this is particularly true of working class people. You only need to look at how depoliticised popular culture is these days, or how low (by historical standards) the memberships of Labour-affiliated Trade Unions are. Or at the decline of civil society and local government.

‘Labour voters idle, shiftless, layabouts’

Do you actually think that or are you just trolling?

No, Labour’s key problem is developing policies that working people can see are worth voting for.

All the rest of it is a boring and pointless game.

@18 Hello HS

I was talking generalities, but a little more specifically, moving away from free-market, private enterprise towards greater public ownership. A more Socialist agenda. Not that the Labour Party has been that since before John Smith. Some of your regular contributors occasionally and unashamedly state their Marxist past and their threads reflect that background. I don’t think the centre ground shifts all that much in the UK and to be in power the LP needs to occupy it if wants to be elected.

Can I just point out that the presumption that it is the poor (and the young) who want to vote Labour but might not needs a fair bit more work to be proven. It is a working assumption, but speaking as someone whose family is only first generation middle-class (and therefore unbearably snobbish etc… 🙂 ) I would suggest to assume that the poorest are those least likely to vote betrays a certain amount of middle-class prejudice without some evidence.

What is to stop the balance of the figures being mumsnet inhabitants who voted Conservative last time but don’t like the ‘cuts’ and now are flirting with the idea of voting for Labour, but aren’t really committed to the idea at all? It is an equally viable idea and needs exactly the same sort of consideration.

Overall, the sections of society that are more likely to vote Conservative, older, wealthier, voters, tend to have higher than average levels of turnout.

However, that doesn’t explain the apparent discrepancy in the MORI poll. MORI, like other polling companies, are aware that if you sample voters at random, you oversample Labour supporters. No one is certain why this should be the case, but it could be that it’s easier to find people who’ll respond to you in big urban areas (if polling face to face); or (if polling by telephone) richer voters are more likely to have answerphones, or be out in the evening when pollsters call.

MORI attempt to correct for that by applying a very harsh turnout filter, only including the replies of people who say they’re less likely to vote.

Companies like ICM, Com Res, and Populus also weight by turnout, but much less harshly. They try to get politically balanced samples to start with, by asking how people voted at the last election, and then weighting towards the result (althogh they also assume that there is an element of false recall – people tend to say they voted for the winner, even if they didn’t).

Yougov, OTOH, have a vast panel. They weight responses to how panel members said they they were going to vote in previous surveys (and inter alia, by newspaper readership) and don’t weight by tunout at all.

“less likely to vote” sorry “100% likely to vote.”

I was talking generalities, but a little more specifically, moving away from free-market, private enterprise towards greater public ownership.

You’ll have to be clearer than this – what specifically? as far as I remember, about the only thing we have advocated for is nationalising railways – which is highly popular.


Oh please. This stuff about ‘paternity leave’ may have worked as an excuse for the first week or so, but nobody takes it seriously any more.

Party leaders from David Cameron to Charles Kennedy have all had children whilst in the job, but none of them felt the need to go to ground for weeks on end.

So the question is this. Given that Ed doesn’t have the balls to stand up to Woolas’s little shower of shits then how on earth is he going to stand up to anybody else?


He’s on paternity leave for two weeks, starting ten days ago. Cameron did the same. Now stop your pathetic vendetta and put some kind of coherent argument together if you want to disagree with the party leader.

31. gastro george

@23 – Correct. A few policies that were relevant and attractive to the “core vote” might help, after new Labour’s wilful ignoring of it.

There is very little evidence that voting for Labour would mean voting for an alternative to the neoliberal consensus that has dominated politics in the west since the elections of Thatcher/Reagan. Bliarites are just as toxic as orange book Liberals, and they are still present and influencing the party. Unless Ed Milliband expressly denounces the politics of Blair, both “humanitarian interventionism” and pro freemarket privatisation by stealth, I wouldn’t feel comfortable trusting him with my vote.

“Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to vote?”

I’ve done some statistical analysis of the general election results (wake up at the back of the class) and from what I can tell, the answer to your question is no.

Or least, it has less of a problem with its core vote than it does with those swing voters in marginal seats. In those seats where Labour polled 35-40% at the election, analysis suggests that turnout for Labour-inclined supporters was around 40%, whereas Tory-inclined turned out at around 85%. There were 76 35-40% seats, Labour won 44. If the swing voters had come out for Labour, they could well have won nearly all of those 32.

I think I’ve found an interesting research topic here…


No, Cameron and Kennedy carried on doing at least some of their job in the two weeks after they had their kids.

As to disagreeing with your Great Helmsman, that’s impossible. From Woolas to Ireland the man’s completely clueless.

No wonder Alan Johnson is calling for a change in the way that Labour elects it’s leader!


I find it surprising that you don’t recognise the left of the party and those on this site, advocating a general shift in position of the Party. I think my point is adequately illustrated by Dave Osler’s posts; most recently on the link between the Labour Party and trade unions.

“…It’s a case of round up the usual suspects; Alan Johnson, Alan Milburn, Margaret Hodge, Andy Burnham, Tessa Jowell and Mandy…”

Whilst the Party should go through a period of reflection and evaluation of future direction, if the result is a move from the centre, the Labour Party will experience decades in the wilderness, again.

I don’t believe that there is any appetite for nationalising railways in the country despite your claim that it is highly popular, the electorate is fickle when it comes to opinion on single issues and when confronted by the cost of implementing this sort of measure as part of a wider manifesto.

Many in the Party seem to forget that it was the Blairites that delivered three election wins.


“Many in the Party seem to forget that it was the Blairites that delivered three election wins.”

Yes. Yes it was. How’s that worked out for us all? Much of the good that was achieved in the eyes of many is more than outwieighed by bad. Before anyone gets too carried away about the success of New Labour, don’t forget it had little effective opposition, that is squandered a chance to bring about real progressive policies by heading up an authoritarian dead end, and was complicit in creating the current economic mess.

Unless Labour wants to find itself in the same position as the Tories after 1997, it needs to come up with something a whole lot more intellectually and politically convincing than New Labour Lite.

It doesn’t need to head left and advocate re-nationalisation and a return to the 80’s, it DOES need to come up with a coherent, radical, progressive programme. We’re still waiting.


I don’t disagree with much of what you say except that I do think that despite the horrors, errors and the wasted opportunities, the benefits outweigh the negatives of the Blair tenure. The improvements to the NHS and health outcomes, education spending and outcomes, crime reduction, devolution, Northern Ireland, women in politics, LGBT equality, a general increase in national prosperity (although I may be one somewhat dodgy ground with this one and the recession)… Whilst I wouldn’t attribute all of these directly to government and some are an evolution from previous administrations It’s my firm conviction that things are better than when NL took over. TB like Thatcher will be remembered with mixed feelings and I think a balanced retrospective of that period has yet to be established.

I agree that we require a coherent, progressive programme though not necessarily a radical one, and that we are still waiting and probably will be doing so for some time yet. My point on this thread though is not to vacate the centre ground of British politics.

I read this article with interest. It’s premise is true, but the real problem is not with Labour getting its base to vote, it’s with the coalition getting Labour’s less-inclined-to-vote supporters to stay at home.

With the worst cuts since the 30’s, and the prospect of future generations faring less well and being treated less fairly than those in power, people are angry. Take this with the disastrous news from Ireland and their failing austerity program that the coalition so admires and seeks to emulate, and we have the prospect of the Tories suffering crushing defeats that could leave them out of power for a generation, and the Liberal Democrats being annihilated.

Re: Rail renationalisation see this opinion poll:

Shows it it has widespread public support.

Furthermore, renationalising the railways would largely be a paper exercise. Network Rail is effecively nationalised anyway (although it pretends not to be) as its debts are underwritten by the government.

And the train operating companies only own the franchises on short term leases. When those leases expire they could be taken back into the public sector at no cost to the taxpayer (such as the East Coast franchise).

So the notion that taking the railways back into the public sector would be some hugely expensive exercise is a myth.

Secondly. The “privatised” (I use scare quotes because it’s a bit of a sham as government is still hightly involved in the running of the railways) railway is far less efficient and vastly more expensive to run than it was under British Rail, as vast amounts of taxpayers money is wasted on funding the profits of private companies. So taking it back into the public sector could well save the taxpayer a lot of money.


Interesting, I keep hearing lots of talk about ‘keeping to the centre ground’ but what exactly does that mean in 2010? what exactly IS the centre ground these days?

Until a few years ago it was a byword for not deviating a millimetre from Thatcherite dogma of privatisation and deregulation etc, so enthusiastically embraced by the New Labour establishment.

But now much of that now in ruins, and with genuine public anger towards the antics of the banks, and towards the cuts, the public mood is different from what it was five or even ten years ago. Yet the Blairite types appear to have nothing to offer except more of the same bankrupt agenda they were peddaling a decade ago.

Maybe Labour’s “core vote” would be more inclined to turn out to vote if they felt that the Labour hierarchy gave a toss about them, instead of expecting them to turn out dutifully to put a tick in the Labour box just because the Tories are undoubtedly worse.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to vote?

  2. Hazico_Jo

    RT @libcon: Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to vote?

  3. Rooftop Jaxx

    RT @libcon Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to vote? <<that'd be its *former* base; & who answers polls anyway?

  4. sunny hundal

    Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to go out and vote, rather than popularity?

  5. UK Polling Report

    […] Hundal asks a very sensible question over on Liberal Conspiracy having looked at the figures from MORI’s latest political monitor and seen the massive […]

  6. bat020

    interesting bit of data >> RT @sunny_hundal: Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to go out and vote?

  7. Habib Rehman

    Is Labour’s key problem getting its base to vote?…

  8. blogs of the world

    Is Labour's key problem getting its base to vote? by Sunny Hundal November 18, 2010 at 11:… #base

  9. blogs of the world

    Is Labour's key problem getting its base to vote? by Sunny Hundal November 18, 2010 at 11:… #base

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