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.