notes from JK

Brighton Pavilion: A graphing battleground

Which graph do you think best describes the chances of parties in the fight for Brighton Pavilion constituency? The most recent election, poll or perhaps the last general election in the constituency? In their attempts to woo voters both Labour’s Nancy Platts and Conservative Charlotte Vere are making some interesting choices with their graphs.

Why do election graphs even matter? Because our perverse electoral system means you just need a majority of one vote to win the seat. Many people don’t want to see their votes get wasted by voting for third or fourth parties who don’t have a chance of winning. So we have tactical voting – people voting for the least worst winnable option in their opinion. As a result all the parties vie to show how good their chances of winning really are.

Personally I think you’re only as good as your last electoral test. Yes different voting systems and types of election will influence how people vote – for example, UKIP do vastly better in Euro than local elections. However, for the same place, each election does build a picture of the relative strengths of local parties.

So let’s look at the tale of Brighton & Hove Green Party’s support in the Brighton Pavilion constituency. In 2005, when all the parties had different leaders (Blair, Howard, Kennedy and Greens yet to elect their first leader) and Brighton Pavilion had a different boundary, Keith Taylor brought home a record 22% of the vote for the Greens.

2005 General Election result, Brighton Pavilion

The May 2007 council elections saw us just beat the Tories into first place across the constituency. The December 2007 by-election in Regency ward (which elected me to the council) saw the gap between Greens and other parties widen dramatically. This was repeated in the 2009 Goldsmid by-election, but as it falls outside of Brighton Pavilion is not included here.

May 2007 Council Election results, Brighton Pavilion
December 2007, Regency council by-election result

Next we saw the June 2009 European Elections. Unfortunately we don’t have constituency-level results for these but city-wide Greens came top, beating all the parties for the first time, a feat we repeated in several other cities across the country.

June 2009 European Elections, Brighton & Hove city-wide result

Finally in December 2009 the Green Party commission an ICM poll which showed the same pattern once again – Greens in the lead followed by Tories then Labour.

December 2009 ICM Poll Result, Brighton Pavilion

Some have criticised the poll result – yes it was commissioned by the Green Party – but ICM are a member of the British Polling Council and so are bound by its standards. It’s not like they bucked the trend – the graphs above show results have been pointing in this direction for quite some time. Furthermore the new boundary for Brighton Pavilion includes all of Hanover & Elm Grove ward, which is represented by three Green councillors and has had a strong Green vote for a very long time indeed.

All this to say that the electoral statistics are not easy to address for Caroline Lucas‘ opponents. Still it’s interesting to observe how they handle the challenge. Labour’s Nancy Platts goes for ignoring 5 years of history and suggesting that a Green vote will let the Tories in.

Graph of 2005 General Election result in a 2010 Labour leaflet from Nancy Platts
2005 Election Results, from Nancy Platts' website

This is Nancy’s only option, the most recent graph which shows Labour ahead in the constituency. Sadly, if anything, thanks to our electoral system a Labour vote is likely to let the Tories in this time around. Labour have been trying the old ‘Green vote lets the Tories in’ trick for years in Brighton & Hove, I think people are pretty sick of being told something which evidently hasn’t been held out in recent elections.

(On a side note in writing this post I’ve noticed that different online sources cite the 2005 Green result as either 21.9% or 22.0% — it’s not just a rounding issue, the actual voter numbers differ e.g. BBC vs UK Polling Report. Not a massive difference but just wanted to flag up that I’m aware of it.)

Charlotte Vere treads a rather unusual path with her graphs. First this gem from her most recent leaflet:

2005 General Election result, from 2010 Charlotte Vere leaflet

My scanner may not be the best in the world, but the graph really is that jagged and blocky on the leaflet itself! Notice anything missing from the graph? Yes – Green and LibDem votes! In my view, it really is an extraordinarily misleading graph.

The same leaflet also includes a graph showing remarkable levels of support for the Conservatives:

Pulse GP poll, from 2010 Charlotte Vere leaflet

Pulse, a news rag for GPs, conducted a poll of some of their readers. I’m told by GP friends that the paper is heavily funded by pharmaceutical companies and isn’t considered much of a serious news-source. Regardless, given that most GPs are well into the top tax bracket it’s no surprise they support Tories. But unless there has been a rush of GPs moving to live into Brighton Pavilion, this poll is unrepresentative and bears no relation to what’s happening in the constituency. Is it there for any reason other than to mislead?

While we continue to suffer under our simplistic, winner-takes-all electoral system I’m afraid these kinds of graphing horrors are likely to continue. Whoever people finally cast their vote for, I hope they do so informed by facts and not the graphing skills of the local Labour or Tory activists.

UPDATE: Of course all this talk backed by GP polls from the Tories about being the party of the NHS is deeply misleading as they’re planning to break it up into further private ‘marketisation’ so when they say ‘NHS’ they mean something completely different to what most people understand – more info

11 replies on “Brighton Pavilion: A graphing battleground”

Yes, indeed. One of my favorite election time activities is looking through the polls of each party and working out who is most misleading. Normally it’s pretty easy – the Lib Dems. It’s telling that they don’t register in Brighton Pavillion – presumably they’ve given up.

Congratulations Jason on a breathtaking lack of context! The LAB/CON graph was illustrating a point about changing the Prime Minister – and I am pretty sure that a Green vote would not help to get rid of Gordon Brown – and the second graph, the GP graph, was illustrating a piece about the NHS.

nearly every leaflet that comes thorugh our door is recycled,
we get on average 2 labour and about 6 from conservatives. seems like labour count house numbers and cons count windows.
the postman was quite upset last time when i refused the “post” as despite not wanting it/refusing, he said there was no return address so they couldnt deal with it.

Adam — LibDems don’t have any councillors in the constituency so they’re not up to much in the area as far as I’ve seen.

Charlotte — It’s ironic to be accused of a lack of context when it’s your graph which fails to include the Green or LibDem vote share.

I included the two most popular parties in the last General Election, who incidentally are currently the two most popular parties nationally, as a vote for either the Conservatives or Labour at the next General Election will directly impact who is the next Prime Minister of the UK and therefore who sets the tone for our nation. Greens and Lib Dems contested the last General Election and came third and fourth respectively, but a vote for either now will not mean getting rid of Gordon Brown – it should also be said that I did not include UKIP, Alliance for Green Socialism and Socialist Labour Party either.

Charlotte, a Green victory in this constituency would be counted as a Labour loss by all but the most blinkered commentators.

It would be interesting to see if the Tory leaflets were as ‘streamlined’ in constituencies where the 3rd-placed party trailed by miles, or indeed in constituencies where the Conservative came third or lower (admittedly not a common occurance).

Charlotte – your talk of the PM ‘setting the tone’ for the nation belies what most voters in Bton believe – that Cameron and the ‘new’ Tories are about style over substance. Real politics is about more than mood boards and buzz words …

Which graph do you think best describes the chances of parties in the fight for Brighton Pavilion constituency? The most recent election, poll or perhaps the last general election in the constituency?

They’re all legitimate and offer differing aspects for the voter to consider. The only bar chart here that is completely out of bounds is that Pulse poll.

If Labour think the 2005 result points to a two horse race rather than a three way marginal though, they are sadly mistaken.

Charlotte, you use a graph from freebie magazine pulse to show GPs are more likely to vote Tory than any other party. What is your point? As this blogger has said, virtually all GPs are in the 40% tax bracket and some will be in the new 50% tax bracket. Higher earners are more likely to vote Tory, how is that news?

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