Belfast Telegraph

Bill White: If there is a UK election, will Jeremy Corbyn win?

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

By Bill White

We've often complained about the way the media present poll results, and it is true that the reporting sometimes falls short in terms of accuracy and clarity.

But sometimes, it’s the impression or atmosphere that is put into the public psyche by the media, over a period of time, about a possible outcome (e.g. an election) that becomes the problem.

Then when that outcome proves to be off the mark – the media turn around and say the polls were wrong.

This happened with the EU Referendum, when for whatever reason, the media seemed to assume the result was going to be Remain, and then when it wasn’t, blamed the polls (even though at the end most of polls were predicting a narrow Leave win).

Similar scenarios occurred with the US election. These things happen, and may be all be part of an unconscious narrative that just naturally filters into the media over a long period of time, particularly with long running issues like Brexit. And maybe there’s nothing that can be done about it.          

However, interestingly, I now see a similar narrative creeping into the media over a possible UK general election. That being if there is one, Corbyn will win.

This is what we constantly hear and get from all the major radio talk shows, and politics shows.

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Just recently, Gerry Kelly said the DUP are bluffing over not supporting the Conservatives – Why? Because if there was an election they would get Corbyn. This now has become a media narrative – its mentioned all the time, and everyone just accepts this now as truth. A new election – Corbyn will win. But is this the case?

Let’s get some facts across here.

The current polls are not that good for either Labour or Corbyn. Under these current conditions such as Brexit uncertainty, with a not exactly smooth running government, and at this stage in a parliament, Labour should be regularly about 10pts ahead in the polls. They aren’t, their lead is averaging 1-2%.

Plus, in terms of the mechanics and structure of the UK election system, the key fact about any new election is that it would be very hard for either the Conservatives or Labour to get an overall majority.

Prof John Curtice (British Polling Council) summed up the current British election situation on Sky News on the day Theresa May called the June general election, indirectly casting doubt on her decision.

He said the number of English and Welsh marginal seats (i.e. winnable seats for any of the three big UK parties) was declining, Scotland at that stage was ‘out of the game’ as the SNP were so dominant (although when the actual election occurred the Conservatives did make a bit of a comeback), and of course Northern Ireland was out of the game.

Basically, he said the British parliamentary system, and the first-past-the-post election system, was firmly in hung parliament territory. Yes, the polls at that point were all firmly pro-Conservative, but Prof. Curtice said that if they started to drop during the campaign, which they then did, then we were heading for a hung parliament.

But people forget that this sort of analysis also applies to Labour. It's practically impossible for Labour as well, to get an overall majority under the current boundaries and election system.

Even if Labour were 10 points ahead in the polls, and Corbyn had a storming election campaign, the best Labour result would be to get around 290 – 300 seats.

Corbyn would then have to try and put together a coalition with the SNP and Lib Dems to see if he could get to an overall majority of 326 seats. He may be able to do this, and scrape into Downing Street, but as I say, at this stage this is the best outcome Corbyn and Labour can hope for.   

Bill White, is managing director of Belfast based LucidTalk Polling and Market Research. You can follow LucidTalk on Twitter at @LucidTalk.

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