The art of guessing….

When it boils down to it, polling is really a form of educated guesswork. It’s rigorous, reliable and insightful, which is why political parties and companies rely so heavily on it, but at its core it’s about extrapolating data to make an educated guess. This is, in part, why the companies stress that they are snapshot of public opinion, and why politicians always recite the mantra that ‘the only poll that matters is election day’.

In the UK recently, the Political Studies Association, an organisation established to encourage the study of politics, released the results of its survey of 500 political experts. The results are certainly a very ‘educated guess’, but it provides an interesting insight. They predict that the seat count would be:

LAB 282, CON 278, SNP 29, LD 25, UKIP 7, GRN 2

This shows a quite different outcome compared to another poll from Electoral Calculus’, particularly when you look at the smaller parties. Their latest prediction (based on a scientific analysis of the opinion polls) that seems to indicate that the seat distribution would be:

LAB 301, CON 265, SNP 46, LD 15, UKIP 1, GRN, 1

In the first poll, UKIP, the Greens, and the Lib Dems would all be delighted with their performance. The latter downplays their chances and, conversely, plays up the chances of the SNP. Both result in a hung parliament and yet the complexion of it is very different. Interestingly in both situations it would be difficult for Labour or the Tories to form a coalition with just two parties. The picture is even more complicated, however, than if at first seems. You might expect the SNP to be in a position to form a coalition, particularly with Labour, but any formal coalition between them and the ‘Westminster elite’ they set themselves so strongly against could be more damaging than beneficial for them. This is especially true given that they will seek to put an independence referendum back on the cards if they fare well, something Labour will not find very palatable. Perhaps this is why Gisela Stewart MP (£) said at the weekend that the prospect of a ‘grand coalition’ of Labour and the Tories shouldn’t be ruled out.

Either of these predictions is possible based on current polling, but the only certainty is uncertainty. The point is this: regardless of what the polling numbers say, it tells you nothing about the seats. More than any other election assuming a uniform swing in every seat across the country just doesn’t work. So, as the politicians say, there is really only one poll that matters; the one on May 7th.

  • YouGov/S Times (20/2) – CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 6%
  • Opinium/Observer (20/2) – CON 35%, LAB 33%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 15%, GRN 7%
  • Populus (22/2) – CON 32%, LAB 32%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%
  • Ashcroft (22/2) – CON 32%, LAB 36%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 11%, GRN 8%
  • Survation/Mirror(23/2) – CON 28%, LAB 34%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 19%, GRN 4%
  • ComRes/Mail (23/2) – CON 34%, LAB 32%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 8%
  • YouGov/Sun (23/2) – CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 7%
  • YouGov/Sun (24/2) – CON 35%, LAB 33%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 14%, GRN 7%
  • YouGov/Sun (25/2) – CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%
  • YouGov/Sun (26/2) – CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 6%
  • Populus (27/2) – CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6%

Lauren Roden

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