Sunday, 10 May 2015

Why were the polls so flawed in General Election 2015?

© The Mirror
Criticisms of the pollsters’ efforts in predicting the outcome of the General Election 2015 (GE2015) came flooding in from all directions when the actual results showed that months of opinion polls had not been representative of the UK vote.

Predicting elections is a complex practice because it involves an understanding and factoring of a range of dynamic variables. Writing for The Conversion, Leighton Vaughan Williams offers one perspective and claims that, if in doubt, following the bookies’ analyses, rather than opinion polls, is a sure bet.

My fieldwork in the Bath, Birmingham Northfield, Cheltenham, Clwyd South, Vale of Clwyd, and Worcester constituencies did not correlate with the opinion polls. Therefore, I distrusted the polls from the outset.

In July 2014, I had a conversation with a fellow academic, Giacomo Benedetto, about the relevance of canvassing. We discussed how in the run-up to 2010, voting intentions seemed looser and more dynamic than in previous elections, with swathes of voters being undecided until the latter stages of the campaign. We questioned whether the art of political canvassing is dead.

Fieldwork in run-up to 2015 has confirmed a persistent trend in large numbers of voters being reluctant to commit decisively on the doorstep to a voting intention. This is a change in voter behaviour that has been reported widely by party activists. It has been accompanied by a trend of increasing voter turnout. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, UK democracy is alive and well, but it is shifting to be more discerning.

The pollsters have not understood the significance of the undecidedness factor of the electorate. Anyone canvassing in the field in both this and the last election will recognise the growing significance of the undecideds and the dynamic nature of changing voting intentions. Polling needs to adapt in line with this change in voter behaviour. 

Shy voters are also a factor, which in itself seems related to changes in voter behaviour and their undecidedness. Pollsters need to innovate in terms of their approaches and methods, which need to catch up with contemporary trends.

The changes in voter behaviour could relate to a combination of greater open-mindedness; reluctance to commit; and a desire to not fully make up their mind until they have had time to sit, read, think and analyse all the relevant information available to them. 

People feel busier than times gone by. There is now greater voter choice and the electorate is becoming increasingly educated. These factors are bound to have an impact on the approaches voters take to deciding where to place their vote.

There seems to be an increasing erosion of tribal, historic and family voting loyalties. Voters do not want to commit themselves until the last moment, often not even admitting to themselves how they want to vote when even perhaps deep down they and their subconscious have a good idea.

Postal vote registration is increasing at each election. Therefore, it is something political parties should consider more deeply in terms of strategy.

In politics, nothing is written in stone (perhaps someone should have mentioned that to Ed Miliband. The Labour Party might have saved some limestone). 

British politics is in a dynamic state of flux. The pollsters need to catch up. 

The beauty of democracy is its unpredictability and the power of the people to issue unexpected change.

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