IN DOWNING STREET polls can set off delight or despair, relying on which one its occupants take a look at. One pollster, Opinium, suggests the Conservatives are sitting on a good-looking 15-point lead. Survation, a rival outfit, provides the Tories a lead of simply three factors, inside the margin of error. Others are scattered between these extremes (see chart). The potential outcomes vary from a hung parliament to a stonking Conservative majority. Somebody is asking it badly flawed. Why has British politics turn into so exhausting to foretell?
For starters, voters are extra politically promiscuous than they was once. Within the elections of 2010, 2015 and 2017, solely half of voters supported the identical occasion every time, in keeping with the British Election Research, which has checked out each basic election since 1964. About 4 out of ten voters switched events in 2015. When the subsequent election got here in 2017, simply two years later, one in three modified. By comparability, between 1964 and 1966 solely 13% of voters did.
When voters change their minds they typically dabble with smaller events, which makes issues extra unpredictable nonetheless. Voters see the likes of the UK Independence Social gathering and the Greens as a fling, somewhat than the beginning of a long-term relationship. Between 2015 and 2017, 78% of UKIP voters defected. Among the many Greens, practically all did, with 88% of the occasion’s 2015 voters deserting it in 2017. Monitoring these voters as they bounce across the political spectrum is a nightmare for pollsters. On prime of this, new cleavages on all the pieces from social liberalism to the way forward for the union to Brexit now compete with the normal left-right financial divide.
This newfound love of switching occasion just isn’t happening in opposition to a relaxed political backdrop. A collection of electoral shocks has blown British politics off its regular course, explains Jane Inexperienced of Oxford College. First got here a steep enhance in immigration. Then the monetary disaster. After that, Britain obtained its first coalition authorities for the reason that second world battle. Scotland had an independence referendum in 2014, earlier than the Brexit referendum arrived in 2016. Voters are dazed.
One other shock could also be coming. On the finish of this month Britain may depart the European Union with a deal, fall out with out one or, almost definitely, delay its exit but once more. This buffet of choices gives one other downside for pollsters. Asking individuals how they’d vote after, say, a no-deal Brexit, or an extension granted after a case within the Supreme Courtroom, is akin to asking somebody what they’ll need for dinner in six weeks’ time. Their tastes stands out as the similar, however the circumstances are near unknowable.
Asking individuals how they’ll vote sooner or later could also be troublesome, however so is making an attempt to make them trustworthy about who they backed in previous. Initially of the 1990s, pollsters needed to deal with “shy Tories”, individuals who wouldn’t admit to backing the Conservatives exterior the privateness of the voting sales space. Now they have to cope with “shameful Labour”, individuals who say they didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s occasion in 2017, when in truth they did. To work out the place voters are heading, pollsters want an concept of the place they’re coming from.
A wide range of outcomes just isn’t essentially a foul factor. Few pollsters predicted David Cameron’s majority in 2015. Again then, the issue was one in all “clustering”, with polling corporations reluctant to be outliers. Now they’re extra prepared to face by their outcomes, even on the threat of being wildly flawed. In spite of everything, “it isn’t science”, factors out Kevin Cunningham, a pollster who lectures at Technological College Dublin. However it’s extra sophisticated than it was once. Sir David Butler, the 94-year-old doyen of Britain’s pollsters, who studied each British election between 1945 and 2005, summed up the mess: “I’ve by no means felt extra completely confused.” ■