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Tags: polls | pollsters | Britain | Labour | conservatives

Pollsters Are Second Biggest Losers in Britain's Elections

By    |   Friday, 08 May 2015 11:56 AM EDT

Members of Britain's Labour Party may be licking their wounds after suffering a resounding defeat in Thursday's elections, but they are not alone — Friday's results handed pollsters their worst performance since 1992, when Conservatives defied forecasts by winning a narrow parliamentary majority.

Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, admitted the polling firms had got it wrong.

"What seems to have gone wrong is that people have said one thing and they did something else in the ballot box," Kellner told The Telegraph.

But it could have been worse.

"We are not as far out as we were in 1992, not that that is a great commendation," Kellner said, while adding that politicians would be wise to "campaign on what they believe" and "should not listen to people like me and the figures we produce."

Prior to the election, Conservatives were predicted to win by a mere 36 percent to 35 percent margin in a survey by Ipsos/MORI, and by a similar one-point margin in a poll conducted by ICM, reports The New York Times.

Rather than achieving a narrow victory, the Conservatives claimed 36.9 percent of the vote, compared with 30.5 percent for the Labour Party, according to BBC News election results.

American pollsters fared no better.

"Our pre-election forecast, put together in conjunction with electionforecast.co.uk, did project a narrow Conservative plurality," wrote Nate Silver, a polling analyst with the website FiveThirtyEight, early Friday morning.

"However, that’s not much of an excuse. The forecast assigned too little of a chance to an outcome like this one, especially given that there have been significant polling errors in the U.K. before. It’s a good lesson as we begin to plan our coverage for the 2016 U.S. election," said Silver.

"The most obvious problem for all forecasters was that the polling average had Labour and the Conservatives even on the night before the election. This was not just the average of the polls; it was the consensus. Nearly every pollster’s final poll placed the two parties within 1 percentage point of each other," said Silver's colleague, Ben Lauderdale, in a post explaining what went wrong with their estimates.

According to Lauderdale, the biggest error made by analysts was a failure to accurately capture the "possibility of a national poll miss" and to "introduce sufficient uncertainty due to the complexity of having multiple parties."

The Guardian newspaper's data editor, Alberto Nardelli, admitted he lacked a sufficient explanation of what went wrong with the polling.

"It could be simply that people lied to the pollsters, that they were shy or that they genuinely had a change of heart on polling day," he said. "Or there could be more complicated underlying challenges within the polling industry, due, for example, to the fact that a diminishing number of people use landlines or that Internet polls are ultimately based on a self-selected sample."

Nardelli noted that pollsters did have more success in predicting the outcome in Scotland.

"Expectations that the SNP would win nearly all of Scotland’s 59 seats have materialized. The paradox is that most pollsters thought the pre-election figures north of the border were less likely than the expected results in England.

"In the end, the outcome in Scotland was roughly in line with the polls. The result in England wasn’t same companies, same methods, but very different results," he said.

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Members of Britain's Labour Party may be licking their wounds after suffering a resounding defeat in Thursday's elections, but they are not alone as Friday's results handed pollsters their worst performance since 1992.
polls, pollsters, Britain, Labour, conservatives
Friday, 08 May 2015 11:56 AM
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