Poll tracker: The latest from France, UK and Canada

By Charlie Cadywould
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17 May 2017
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Welcome to State of the Left’s first international poll tracker. In this regular feature we will monitor the latest surveys of public opinion, and provide regular updates of the latest twists and turns in upcoming elections, the popularity of centre-left governments, and longer term trends in social attitudes and policy preferences. This week, we check in with three countries: France in advance of elections to the national assembly, the UK in the run-up to the 8 June general election, and Canada, where residents of British Columbia have been voting this week in elections to the province’s legislative assembly.

In France, new centrist president Emmanuel Macron faces his first big challenge in elections for the national assembly, to which Macron’s En Marche! party will field candidates for the first time. It faces a rush to find candidates for all 577 constituencies, with only a handful named by the time of the presidential run-off. It remains to be seen whether the socialist party’s performance in the presidential election will be repeated – by far the worst since its formation in 1969 – and whether it can recover from such a comprehensive defeat.

Like the presidential contest, candidates for the legislature compete across two rounds, with the top two first-round candidates entered into a run-off seven days later. One projection from Opinionway published before the runoff suggested that En Marche! could gain between 249 and 286 of the 535 constituencies in mainland France, mainly at the expense of the socialists, who could drop from 280 to just 30 or 40 seats. A Harris poll published this week for the legislative election first round puts Macron’s party on 26%, with 22% each for the FN and Republicans, 13% for the far left and just 8% for the socialists.

Of course, the incumbency factor could come into play, helping socialists to retain their seats against the national swing to En Marche!, but the prospect of defections from more centrist socialist deputies could help Macron’s party to gain a strong foothold in the Assembly, if not an outright majority. A fact worth noting, forgotten in the excitement or relief of Macron’s victory, is that the opinion polls significantly underestimated his performance in the second round – the error was roughly the same as in the Brexit referendum last year – showing it is not only candidates of the right that can be underestimated in opinion polls.

In the UK, Labour’s has consolidated its position to the high twenties, up three or four points since the period immediately after the election was called, and just two or three points short of its 2015 share. However, vote share doesn’t necessarily translate into seats under the first-past-the-post electoral system; the big threat for many incumbent Labour MPs is the collapse of the UKIP vote, which is disproportionately breaking to the Conservatives. Once again, Labour is effectively facing a united right while the progressive vote is likely to be split between a number of different parties. Moreover, polling from YouGov suggests voting UKIP has acted as a ‘gateway drug’ to eventually supporting the Tories for around 35% of former Labour voters who moved to UKIP in 2015, putting Labour seats where UKIP finished a strong third behind the Conservatives in jeopardy.

The Conservatives are also achieving miracles in Scotland and Wales, largely at Labour’s expense. In Scotland, the Conservative gained 161 council seats last week, and a recent YouGov poll has them on 28 percent, behind the SNP on 41 percent but eclipsing Labour (on 18%) as the main opposition to the nationalists. Remember, as recently as 2010 Scottish Labour had been completely dominant in Scotland, retaining 41 out of 59 seats.  In Wales, Labour faces losing a general election for the first time since 1918: a Welsh Political Barometer poll puts the Conservatives on 41% to Labour’s 35%, which would see the Conservatives gaining 9 seats at Labour’s expense to become the largest party.

Another unexpected story of the election so far is the lack of any sort of revival for the Liberal Democrats after their disastrous night in May 2015, where they fell from 57 MPs to just 8. Many commentators had predicted that as the only still-unapologetically pro-EU party, they would be able to hoover up a decent chunk of the 48 percent of voters. This simply has not happened so far. The Lib Dems are barely up from their 2015 share, and the fact that many of the seats in the south-west of England they were hoping to win back voted strongly to leave makes their path to any significant parliamentary representation even more difficult.

Finally, millions of Canadians went to the polls this week to elect representatives to the legislative elections in British Columbia. Here the preliminary results suggest that BC Liberals – not affiliated to Trudeau’s federal Liberal Party and the main party of the centre right in the province – may have finally lost their majority after four straight victories. The polls correctly predicted a close race with the New Democrats, who appear to have won 41 seats to the Liberals’ 43, one short of an outright majority (the Greens won 3 and could be kingmakers). However, the early projections don’t include absentee ballots, postal voters, and many others, and since the NDP reportedly won one riding by just nine votes, the final outcome remains uncertain.

The federal context for this election is that, to the envy of centre-left parties across the globe, Justin Trudeau’s party retains a significant polling lead of around 10-12 points, although this is down from the 15-20 point lead held for most of last year. The cancellation of a tax credit for public transit users, the end of Savings Bonds and the raising of taxes on alcohol in the most recent budget may have contributed to this decline.

Trudeau’s approval ratings have also declined, with one recent survey suggesting he now has net disapproval. However, he holds a commanding 30-point lead over interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose in preferences for Prime Minister, down from 36 points a year ago. Stephen Harper’s permanent successor will be chosen later this month. Former businessman and frontrunner Kevin O’Leary dropped out last month to endorse libertarian former foreign minister Maxime Bernier, who has an iPolitics poll lead over the younger and more moderate former speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer and former serviceman Erin O’Toole in a crowded field of 14 candidates.