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Why Did UK Election Polls Get it So Wrong?

May 8 2015

The British Polling Council, supported by the Market Research Society (MRS), is setting up an independent enquiry to look into why UK pollsters underestimated or completely missed the Conservative lead over Labour during the run-up to yesterday's general election.

Eventual winners in the 650 seatsOf the final eleven polls conducted, ten suggested that Labour and the Tories were neck-and-neck, which would have resulted in a hung parliament. By contrast, yesterday's BBC exit poll predicted that the Tories would get 316 seats and Labour 239. The latter poll proved to be surprisingly accurate, with the final outcome delivering 331 seats to the Tories and 232 to the Labour Party - 36.9% and 30.5% of the total vote respectively. The SNP won 56 of Scotland's 59 seats - also closer to the exit poll than the pre-election day efforts - with Labour, the Lib Dems and Tories each gaining one seat in the country. The Tories will now govern with an overall majority, a scenario regarded by the earlier polls as almost impossible.

Following the BBC exit poll, former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown said that he would publicly eat his hat if the exit poll forecast of ten Lib Dem MPs was accurate, while former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell said he wouldn't eat his hat, but would instead eat his kilt if the SNP got 58 seats.

As the results arrived in, YouGov CEO Stephan Shakespeare tweeted: 'A terrible night for us pollsters. I apologise for a poor performance. We need to find out why'. ComRes Chairman Andrew Hawkins said his firm would have to: 'continually review how to fine tune our methods to ensure we can achieve the granularity we desire and you expect'; while Populus, which is led by Tory Peer Andrew Cooper tweeted: 'Election results raise serious issues for all pollsters. We will look at our methods and have urged the British Polling Council to set up a review.'

In a statement released this afternoon, the Council said its enquiry will look into the possible causes of this 'apparent bias', and will make recommendations for future polling. Professor Patrick Sturgis, who is Professor of Research Methodology and Director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, has agreed to chair the enquiry, and its membership will be announced in due course.

Web sites: www.britishpollingcouncil.org and www.mrs.org.uk .

All articles 2006-19 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas.

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