Ahead of Crucial Election, Brits Wonder Whether Opinion Polls Will Be Accurate This Time

By Kevin McCandless | December 10, 2019 | 11:24pm EST
(Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

London (CNSNews.com) – As Britain heads into yet another general election, one of the unanswered questions in political circles remains whether the opinion polls – after two previous poor showings – will be proven accurate this time around.

With the third general election since 2015 on Thursday, the ruling Conservative Party retains a commanding lead over the opposition Labour Party – often edging into double digits – in voter surveys.

Despite this, the ghosts of past election prediction failures haunt both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In the 2015 election, support for the ultimately victorious Conservatives was drastically underestimated beforehand. Election-eve estimates had the major parties tied in the polls, yet the Conservatives took 38 percent of the vote while Labour got only 31 percent.

A subsequent inquiry by the British Polling Council found the surveys had been “some of the most inaccurate since election polling first began” in Britain, in 1945.

Then polling ahead of the 2017 election discounted support for Labour by an average of 5.2 percent, according to the council. The election outcome meant the Conservatives were forced to rule as a minority government.

This time around, polling firms are increasingly using a methodology called MRP (multilevel regression and post-stratification), a sophisticated approach using both national and weighted local-level polls to determine how many seats in the House of Commons each party will win.

On Tuesday, Johnson told reporters that the election was still close, and that his party needed every vote to prevent another hung parliament.

“I’m sorry to say this but you remember what happened in 2017,” he said, “Polls can be wrong.”

Johnson and his party are pinning their campaign on convincing voters that they will “get Brexit done” – finally get an agreement on leaving the European Union through parliament.

Opposition parties, partly dominated by sitting or aspiring lawmakers who want Britain to remain in the E.U., hope their supporters vote tactically in their constituencies, supporting the candidate – irrespective of his or her party – best placed to beat the Conservatives.

One of the questions still open is whether or not younger voters will turn out to support Labour, as they did in 2017. Although some academics have disputed the idea, younger voters were popularly credited with saving Labour from a convincing defeat.

Sixty percent of 18-24 year-old voters reportedly voted Labour in 2017. The majority of new voter registrations in recent months have been for those in their thirties or younger.

However, with the end of the academic term at many universities this week, some commentators predict students will be too busy with packing up and preparing for Christmas to make a difference.

Prof. Matt Henn, a Nottingham Trent University expert on younger voters, said Tuesday students undoubtedly have a lot of their minds at this time of year.

At the same time, younger voters have been increasingly been making their voice heard in pivotal elections in recent years, he said.

In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, younger voters overwhelmingly voted to leave the United Kingdom (The “no” camp won). In the 2016 vote in favor of Brexit, in contrast to older voters, most younger Britons wanted the country to remain inside the E.U.

In a political landscape where many voters over 60 tend to support the Conservative Party, a voter’s age has become helpful in determining which party they most likely support.

“Certainly age is far more important than other kinds of traditional variables like social class,” said Henn.

He said while no one could say with any certainty what will happen on Thursday, younger voters could prove a key factor: “I wouldn't be surprised if we weren't about to experience another youthquake.”

Both the smaller Liberal Democrat and Green parties appear to be being squeezed out in recent weeks’ polls.

“It's a two-way fight and it just depends on what happens in some of the marginal seats,” Henn said.

Despite the acrimony over Brexit in recent years, a YouGov survey in late November found the election was not dampening the nation’s Christmas mood.

Ninety-one percent of respondents said that they had not fallen out with any friends or family over the election. Five percent reported that they had but – happily – had “later reconciled.”


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