Election exit polls: How accuracy of 2017 predictions shocked nation

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THE EXIT POLLS for this year’s general election are widely considered to provide the first indication of how the electorate has actually voted – and, during the last election, the polls shocked the nation with the accuracy of their predictions.

Boris Johnson ended up calling for a snap election shortly after taking up the leadership of the Conservative Party in the summer. After inheriting Theresa May’s minority government, he wanted to break the parliamentary deadlock in order to help get his policies through and help him effectively govern the nation. The Conservatives have held a solid lead in the opinion polls over Labour for the last few weeks, so many commentators have predicted a safe win for the Tories.

However, voters will remember that the exit polls of 2017 turned the narrative of Conservative success on its head on voting day.

When Mrs May called a snap general election two years ago to strengthen her own Conservative majority, most commentators believed it was going to be a very achievable goal.

Just before the exit polls were released on June 8, 2017, former Sun journalist Steve Hawkes even tweeted: “Rumour Tories could be looking at 400 seats – we’ll find out in a min.”

Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan also made his announcement on Twitter: “As exit poll looms, I repeat my prediction: Conservatives to win by 90-100 seat majority.”

However, the exit polls found that Mrs May was likely to lose her majority and Britain would be stuck with a hung parliament. 

While many key figures in politics, such as the former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown and former Labour aide Alastair Campbell, expressed their disbelief at the poll, the astonishing prediction was, for the most part, accurate. The Prime Minister was forced to ask Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her government.

The poll found the Conservatives would secure 314 seats – they secured 318 – Labour were thought to have 266 seats while in reality they had 262, and the polls incorrectly thought the Liberal Democrats would have 14, rather than 12, Parliamentary seats.  

Exit polls involve interviewing voters outside polling stations when they have just voted. The electorate are asked who they voted for, rather than who they wanted to vote for, to increase accuracy.

The polls are conducted to reflect voting patterns across the country but also pay close attention to marginal seats, due to the influence they can have over the final result.

Yet, the accuracy of the polls is not always a given.

As The Guardian revealed in its 2017 election coverage, the 2015 exit polls missed the mark significantly.

It predicted the Conservatives would be 10 seats short of a majority, resulting in a hung parliament – in reality the Conservatives secured a 12-seat majority.

This turned out to be the least accurate exit poll conducted since 1992, when the BBC were out by 70 seats in its predictions and ITN were out by 62.

Yet, the 2015 poll did correctly find there would be a fall in support for Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

From 2005, there has been a joint exit poll commissioned for ITN and the BBC, produced by NOP and MORI – Sky joined in 2010.

Prior to that, the exit polls had been a little unpredictable.

In October 1974, the BBC was out by its exit polls by 132; in 1979, it was out by 29; but then in 1983 only out by two; and then in 1987, both ITN and the BBC were wrong by a significant amount – BBC by 76, ITN by 34.

It turned out to be a great improvement. The first year the joint poll was used, it was wrong by 0 – Labour did receive a majority of 66, as predicted. It was wrong again by 0 seats in 2010.

Earlier this week, Betfair Exchange revealed that the Conservatives were at the shortest odds in two years for a parliamentary majority.

The chances of a Tory led majority government appeared to stand at 79 percent probability.

The odds showed only a two percent predicted Labour majority and 19 percent predicted of a hung parliament.

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