Relief at last: the end of polls — for now

The most annoying aspect of Election 2015 was the endless American-style polling.

Every result showed either minimal difference between Conservatives and Labour or a dead heat. Even Nate Silver, the much-lauded US forecaster of American election results, was off.

In the end, they proved nothing.

Only the exit poll was accurate.

The New Statesman‘s May2015 site explained how the exit poll was achieved. It’s a fascinating article. The tabulations are done in a secret location. Here is a brief excerpt:

Almost no one knows where this room is. The five men stowed away inside it then start to analyse the results, looking for patterns. By now they should have just received their first batch of real, actual voting data.

Data will come in thoughout the rest of the day in ‘loads’ or ‘drops’. A final one will come in at 9.15pm, just half an hour before the exit poll has to be released to broadcasters, and 45 minutes before it’s released to the world. If that final drop of data doesn’t fit with everything else the exit pollers have seen, they will have to rapidly re-write their model …

“There are a lot of variables flying around,” says Steve Fisher, one of the five men. Fisher is an Oxford academic behind Elections Etc, one of the election forecasts long tracked by May2015. He is one of the three most senior people in the room. He and Jon Mellon, a research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, have to come up with the exit poll’s statistical model over the next 9 hours.

Assisting Fisher and Mellon was Rob Ford, the lecturer at Manchester who studied UKIP in depth. John Curtice, Britain’s foremost psephologist, did the sanity check. The article says that if he disagreed with part of the analysis, the three others had to make the necessary corrections. Colin Railings from ITV and Michael Thrasher from Sky then looked at the results as ‘questioning emissaries’, not as forecasters.

The exit poll is jointly run by the BBC, ITN and Sky. It was expertly done and wildly accurate. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it last night.

Apart from that one, I am relieved to see the back of daily and weekly polling. It was too much. I hope that polling companies tread more lightly in future.

Furthermore, the betting markets couldn’t influence who would end up with most seats, as so often happens in the US. This came as a great relief — to me, anyway.

This was an election of historic significance, more than polling or betting led us to believe.

We do not need to go all out, American-style with our elections. If we learned one thing from Election 2015, let that be it.

16 comments for “Relief at last: the end of polls — for now

  1. May 8, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    From BBC news:

    The British Polling Council confirms there is to be an independent inquiry into the election polls, which under-estimated support for the Conservatives and over-estimated that of Labour.

    Did anyone else hear Andrew Marr – possibly loose-tongued after a sleepless night – say that the BBC campaign coverage ‘may have been’ distorted by the polls?

    • May 8, 2015 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks, macheath!

      I would welcome such an enquiry.

      As for Marr, my better half and I watched ITV exclusively, bar a few minutes when we switched to the BBC. ITV has excellent, impartial coverage.

      I did notice that when the BBC should have been talking about Miliband this morning, they were discussing Scotland — also important but hardly the main headline.

      ‘May have been’ distorted. Pah. Distorted every day in every way for years now.

      • May 8, 2015 at 6:47 pm

        ITV were certainly more on the ball; they announced 326 seats and a majority almost an hour before the BBC did so.

        It can’t have been ITV jumping the gun; Cameron and his missus were already talking to the queen when Huw Edwards made his portentous announcement sometime after midday. In fact, the BBC were all over the place all morning and long behind ITV with the results; it looks as if the outcome was one they had never considered, let alone planned for.

        My mother (an inveterate channel-hopper, hence the coverage comparisons) reckons the BBC staff were all too busy arguing or weeping in corners to update the running totals.

        • May 8, 2015 at 10:52 pm

          Your mum is a gem!

          We switched over around 9:30 or 10:00 this morning to BBC during an ITV ad break. They had the same projections as ITV running at the bottom of the screen. I don’t remember what they were talking about then. (By contrast, I do remember a lot of the ITV interviews: mums from right and left at Gabriel’s Wharf in London along with media people [Antony Worrall-Thompson, Richard Wilson, Janet Street-Porter, Jo Malone] and a great selection of political pundits. Kate Galloway was nearly in tears at Labour HQ, although she did a good job of reporting.)

          It is appalling that the BBC missed that call. Alastair Stewart (mid-morning to lunchtime), and the breakfast show people much earlier, said that Cameron was expected to go to Buck House at 12:30 p.m. to meet with the Queen. They also mentioned that Her Majesty was at Windsor and does not miss election results.

          My better half switched on BBC this evening at 6. I had to leave the room. It was wall-to-wall Scotland, with only a few minutes of Cameron’s victory and Cabinet news.

          We wonder what Sunday Politics will show. All being well, Andrew Neil — the best of a bad bunch — will shed some sanity and light on all the bias.

          Thanks so much for sharing your mother’s viewing with us — greatly appreciated! Enjoy your weekend!

      • Errol
        May 9, 2015 at 5:44 pm

        I woke up on the morning to try to find out who had won. Radio four triumphally playing Labour victories then, slowly; it filtered through. The tone of voice was subdued, the attitude sombre.

        Checked the Telegraph and saw a Labour obliteration. No wonder they were miserable. The party of misery and horror (Labour) had been obliterated by the great champion of big state tax and waste (Miliband) and the BBC; proponents of such divisive damaging policies had to say so!

  2. May 8, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    Your relief will be short-lived. Endless polling on EU referendum coming soon, I expect.

  3. Gerard
    May 8, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Stayed up all night and watched the BBC coverage exclusively. Delicious to see the depression on Dimbleby’s face as the results came in…

  4. Hereward unbowed.
    May 8, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Not all is lost, Tombstone Mili’s lot are toast and a referendum will tear the Red-tories limb from limb – Dave has said he will campaign to remain part of the Brussels church, that will not go down well in many Tory ‘eyes’.

    NOPs and weighting by design.

    The NOPs, particularly Kellners lot – were deliberately skewed. The meme was to show labour doing similarly as well against daves lot, NOPs were also fashioned in a deliberate bias to portray the greens and Libdumbs in a more positive light than their lowly status which has now been confirmed. The idea was to show the Greens, Plaid and Libdumps and as equals to UKIP – who were continually down weighted.

    It worked, there will be no serious in depth analysis of ‘pollsters failure’. Damn it, it worked out well – UKIP were sidelined but the collapse of the Libdummy vote was a surprise because the psephologists assumed erroneously that these votes would bleed to the lavs – they didn’t go red they went pink and purple – they mainly went to daves green tossers and UKIP.

    Alas, to throw in a constant negative campaign in the press and on the TV where every little mistake was pounced upon and blown up.

    Plus, the obvious lack of true professionalism on UKIPs part and the mixed messages, even though, they had quite the best manifesto of any political party – it all went against UKIP.

    The Electoral Commission [deliberately?] torpedoed the ex-pat vote who traditionally vote right wing. Next, 850 K voters went awol though actually 3 million went missing and 3 million ARE on the register all of whom should not be on it [according to Michael Pinto-Duchinsky]. Plus, all he other thousands of dubiety; voter irregularities and gerrymandering – banana republic – we’re not even that good these days! ………Electoral commission?? Jenny Watson and the rest – someone needs to put them down.

    Conclusion, the guvmint, the civil service, the media, psephologist, political machine and with the ghostly guiding hand of Brussels – took UKIP away from any sniff of making a major break through.
    A UKIP political earthquake didn’t occur but which after the EU elections was the foremost fear of the establishment and insofar as the elite and corporate mafia are concerned – job done.

    Job done? Not by a long chalk!

    UKIP can take store and solace, there was a surge but it was not enough in a FPTP system, you can only work in the framework, there will be no change in the system though the Tories will make damn sure the boundary alterations are made this time.

    It is no use blaming the system, what UKIP need to do is to go back to the constituencies where they have support, are strong to fortify and bolster their grass roots base, augment the foundations of future success by marginalizing the labour divs. But they also must and vitally seek out the younger voters.

    Only one thing stirring the waters to a muddy swollen torrent – mass immigration and immigrant birth rate, come 2020 it may be already too bloody late – for UKIP and the Dave’s lot combined.

  5. Hereward unbowed.
    May 8, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    I should also have added, a quite salient point missed.

    In that, the media, the opinion polls along with the combined forces of the administration were so focused on sidelining and downgrading the UKIP ‘threat’ – their obsessional emphasis on building a ‘Maginot line of the left’…….allowed the Tories to sneak in via the back passage – eh and old Ken knows that way.

    • wiggia
      May 9, 2015 at 8:28 am

      Agree with the thrust of what you say.
      Regards the pollsters, is there not a case to do away with them, it was not so much they were wrong but the message that was constantly put out that UKIP were losing voters as the campaign went on, with the come home message being put out by the legacy parties on the basis of the other lot getting in, it must have had an effect with many seeing the dropping in the polls and saying UKIP are not going to win any seats and voting elsewhere.
      This is not the same as press propaganda or party propaganda but a skewing of what actually happened in favour of the legacy parties and therefore biased, is this right ?

      • Hereward unbowed.
        May 10, 2015 at 1:07 am


  6. Voice of Reason
    May 9, 2015 at 4:13 am

    If all else fails, follow the bookies. They have an actual stake in the big game.

    • May 9, 2015 at 11:02 am

      I mentioned the bookies (3rd paragraph from the bottom of the post).

      That raises another issue: overseas bettors on other countries’ elections. It isn’t right.

      In 2012, a young Briton who waited on me at a supermarket in the UK told me that he and his mates had big money on Obama getting re-elected. In 2008, I worked with another British guy who was playing the markets in the Obama-McCain election.

  7. May 9, 2015 at 9:23 am

    The quotation which reverberates with me came from Jane Garvey on the morning after Election 1997

    “I do remember… the corridors of Broadcasting House were strewn with empty champagne bottles. I’ll always remember that”

    • May 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Sums them up perfectly.

      I reckon that, outside of Andrew Neil, the BBC will give Cameron relatively little coverage until the EU referendum and, before then, only if it is negative.

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