General Election

First Past the Post: Why the Polls got it Wrong

By Jack Peat, TLE Editor 

When the exit polls were revealed at 10pm last night the entire nation was left scratching their heads. Paddy Ashdown said live on television that he will eat his hat if the poll, which left the Liberal Democrats with a measly ten seats in the House of Commons, was right. The reality is that the party could receive even fewer seats than that. The exit poll gave Conservatives 316 seats, Labour 239, the SNP on 58 and Ukip on 2. The outcome isn’t far off.

But since the start of the year, pollsters across the board have been predicting a neck-and-neck affair. This graph by the New Statesman’s Poll of Polls demonstrates how little public opinion has changed since the election. Both the Conservatives and Labour’s lines run parallel along the mid-30 mark with UKIP garnering around 15 per cent of the vote and the Liberal Democrats just under ten per cent.


So what went wrong? Were people lying to the pollsters? Or were they genuinely undecided right up to the last moment?

A spokesperson for online researchers said, “the reality is that the pollsters were bang on”. If we take votes cast as a percentage then the Conservatives garnered slightly more than Labour just above the 30 per cent threshold, UKIP polled at just over ten per cent and the Lib Dems just under. Compare the graph below with the one above and you will see the parallels.


But as we all know, votes don’t win the election, seats do. As bemused UKIPers have found, their impressive polling figures mean very little if they don’t translate into seats. Some 3,801,525 people voted UKIP yet they secured 1 seat. More than one million people voted Greens with the same outcome. The SNP, on the other hand, received 1,454,436 votes but managed to secure 56 seats in parliament.

As I predicted in this article, the debate over an alternative voting system could be back on the agenda.

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