Is Boris Really Coasting To Victory?

by Jackie_South on April 30, 2012

ImageAccording to the most recent polls, the damage the government is doing to itself is not playing out in the London elections.  Today Populus published a poll showing Boris Johnson 12 points ahead of Ken Livingstone on both the first and second rounds.  That is double Boris’ winning margin in 2008 in the second round.

Now, at the risk of having to eat my hat again Bradford West style, I am going to put my gut instincts on the line and call that nonsense.  Other polls have been closer (YouGov’s poll today shows a more credible 4% lead for Johnson).  Before explaining further, let’s look at what happened in 2008.

First, how the first preference votes fell last time:

This translated to the following in the final round:

And finally, where those votes came from: the map below shows the first round results at a borough level (final round results by borough were not tallied in the count).

Comparing this to 2004, it looks as if turnout is key.  Turnout in the 2004 mayoral election was 37%; this increased to 45% in 2008 to Johnson’s benefit.  The chart below shows that both Livingstone and the Tories gained votes from the increased turnout, but Johnson gained far more.

The map below shows the borough results from the first round in 2004.

Comparing the map, what is clear is an intensification of the 2008 Tory vote in those places that voted Conservative in 2004, and less shift in stronger Labour areas.  Indeed, In strong Muslim areas such as Newham and Tower Hamlets, Labour did better in 2008.

That said, there were a few odd ‘wins’ for Boris in 2008: most notably Greenwich, but also Hounslow and Merton where Livingstone won by over 10% in 2004.

One thing I think few commentators are doubting is that turnout will be down this time on 2008.  The temperature of the contest is a lot cooler this time around: none of the candidates has shined and although the Evening Standard came out today in support of Johnson, there has been no where near the level of anti-Ken vitriol on its front pages that disfigured the 2008 contest.

That lower turnout would look to harm Johnson more.  Polls of course measure the intentions of voters, not whether they actually get to vote – the turnout work of parties will be critical, and the Conservatives are not in a good place to do that in the current climate.

This is not just guesswork: we have heard reports from well-informed sources that the early postal votes opened in one inner-London borough looked surprisingly good for Livingstone and certainly at odds with what the polls are showing.  Such a significant swing from Johnson to Livingstone is very different to the narrative illustrated by the polls.

Now, there are all kinds of reasons why that sample might not extrapolate across: perhaps the sample was unrepresentative, or there is a better turnout operation for Labour there, or there is further polarisation going on between inner and outer boroughs.

But it does suggest that the election is not all over yet.  The election will be a lot closer than the Populus poll suggests.

I’ll follow up with a separate post on the London Assembly elections tomorrow.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East May 1, 2012 at 7:02 am

Boris by double figures wouldn’t surprise me at all, though I’d love to be proven wrong.


Mike Killingworth May 1, 2012 at 8:09 am

I agree with you, George.

Ken has run a poor campaign, or at least one that made an early catastrophic error. This was his approach to fares. He seems to have forgotten that Londoners over 60 have free travel so a platform of cutting fares by cutting investment in tubes and buses is not really the most sensible way of pitching for their votes. Also he looks tired and there is the persistent question of whether he can always handle his drink.

I am hopeful that Jenny Jones can indeed sneak into third place and by so doing save her party’s Assembly seats.


Nick Evans May 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

Surely Ken’s catastrophic error was to have a go at tax avoidance while knowing full well that his own arrangements could be seen as just that.

Or, indeed, in standing again and so asking London’s voters to make a choice that they’ve already made. Sadly, I can’t see him changing their minds this time.


Geoff Elliott May 1, 2012 at 9:51 am

Terrible campaign this time around and a terrible choice of candidates. London deserves better.

Despite this it’s a no brainer for me. Labour first preference, Greens second.

I agree with Nick (I’ve heard that before somewhere…), London doesn’t want Ken back.


George_East May 1, 2012 at 9:59 am

The tax issue was a disastrous avoidable error. It made Ken look hypocritical, it made the (accurate) Boris is a mayor for wealthy Londoners line of attack all but impossible and it sucked up an enormous amount of campaign and media time. I think it was a winnable election in the current climate – which makes it all the more frustrating.
Dreadful campaign all round, but I’m with you Geoff at the end of the day a no brainer. Ken it is.


George_East May 1, 2012 at 10:26 am

The ‘Boris brought it up’ excuse on the tax issue just does not wash. Ken was stupid to rise to it yes, but what Boris accused Ken of was true. It was a perfectly legitimate point to take, particularly in the current climate. No one made Ken set up a limited company through which to channel his income. It may well have been prudent tax advice but it was bonkers politics knowing he was going to stand again.


Ray_North May 1, 2012 at 10:27 am

I’m glad I live in Wrexham!


Geoff Elliott May 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm

It’s Wrecsam Mr North, get it right.


Mike Killingworth May 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Its Wrecsam in Welsh and Wrexham in English. It’s Venice in English and Venezia in Italian. I could go on…


Dr Henry Potts May 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

By making reference to the results of postal vote counts before the official election count, you are probably in breach of the law.


Ray_North May 1, 2012 at 3:49 pm

No, it’s a reference to what he’s heard – not, what he knows – no breach of electoral law here!


Dr Henry Potts May 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

See page 8 of Whoever told the author of the blog this information is breaking the law. I hope names and details of the individuals involved will be given to the Returning Officer, but I doubt that’s going to happen! I hope they are at least pointed to the regulations.

I think it has also been established that repeating the information is in breach of the law, but I’m not certain of that. There was a case last year but I can’t remember the details.


Dr Henry Potts May 1, 2012 at 4:32 pm
Ray_North May 1, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Congratulations Doc – first, you’ve completely misunderstood the thrust and spirit of this blog; second you’ve failed to appreciate what an excellent piece it is; and third, you’ve posted the single most pompous comment by anyone I’ve ever seen on these pages.
Tell me, do you surf the web looking for articles that may be, if you turned them upside down and wore strange sunglasses, potentially, sub-judice?


George_East May 2, 2012 at 8:24 am

Quite the contrary, the comments were extremely helpful, factual and devoid of anything resembling pomposity.

(1) Jackie South has now amended the post to err on the side of caution

(2) I know more about electoral law than I did yesterday (though Ray clearly doesn’t know the meaning of sub judice)

(3) Please do pop by again

Not sure why Ray was in such a bad mood last night but it may have had something to do with Liverpool losing (again).

Nick Evans May 2, 2012 at 9:39 am

s.66A of the Representation of the People Act 1983: “No person shall … publish before the poll is closed (a)any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted”

Best to err on the side of caution.


Ray_North May 2, 2012 at 11:20 am

First, sorry, Doc – on closer reflection, your comment wasn’t pompous and I was wrong to accuse of being anything other than helpful – George is right, I had just come back from Anfield, where the football was dire!
Second, as for Sub-judice George (you cheeky barrister!), I did wonder at the appropriateness of that particular phrase in the course of my rant – the link I make is that elections are quasi-judicial and therefore any ongoing elections could be technically termed sub-judice – the point I was making, as you well know, was a suggestion that Dr Potts might somehow delight in a rather pompous practice of pointing out potential legal pitfalls from well-meaning blog pieces (oops, there look, I’ve said it again).
As for the Jackie’s piece, if he is prosecuted – I’ll defend him pro-bono, as I work for free anyway, it won’t make any bloody difference.

John Murphy May 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Thank you for a very interesting piece. It will indeed make the election more interesting than it first appears.


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