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July 09, 2019

What the UK polls are telling us - and what not

We will not know the official result of the Tory leadership election until July 22, but so far no event has intruded that would make this even a contest. The ballot papers have been sent out, and voting has started. Boris Johnson is on his way to Number 10.

Given the narrow majorities in the UK parliament, we see a rising probability of early elections this autumn. Most likely an election would take place before Brexit. There are several election scenarios: Johnson might propose an election during his first day in office; he might lose a vote of no-confidence, either immediately after taking office or in early September; he might lose a Commons vote on a re-negotiated Brexit deal, leading to elections. It is theoretically also possible for him to go for a no-deal Brexit election - lose a vote of no confidence and then put off the election until after Brexit, without asking the EU for an extension.

Opinion polling is very fickle at the moment because the four main parties are all roughly of equal strength in terms of the overall percentages. We note that Labour's vote share is yo-yoing violently. These polls don’t tell us what we need to now: how would the parties fare under different Brexit and electoral collaboration strategies? 

Labour trade unions yesterday came out in favour of a second referendum. The Labour party is gradually shifting in that direction - which makes sense to us given the debate about a no-deal Brexit within the Tory party. The key question is whether the pro-Remain vote would be split between Labour and LibDems, which are also currently holding a leadership election with the result due on July 23.

On the Tory side, we assume that Johnson will win and that - one way or the other - we will have a Brexit-delivery election in which he campaigns for Brexit by end-October, deal or no-deal. In this scenario, it will depend crucially on whether the Tories and the Brexit party co-operate, especially if Labour shifts to Remain.

In a narrow contest, it might matter the most which of the two sides can strike the better alliances. We think the Tories have a slight advantage here, as Johnson’s position on Brexit is more closely aligned to that of Farage’s than Jeremy Corbyn’s will be to the new Liberal leader's. 

In that context, we note a Comres constituency-level opinion poll which has a 40-seat majority for Johnson. We take all these polls with a grain of salt. In this particular scenario the Brexit Party would get zero MPs - so this is a scenario of successful non-cooperation. That’s a possible scenario but not the only one. We think that such an outcome is most likely in the event of an immediate election, rather than in a situation where Boris waits to present a renegotiated deal. 

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