This really really is the final word on the election this time

There’s been a lot of hot air expended on the ‘polling fiasco’ (you have to say that in a shock ‘horror probe’ newspaper headline voice) evident at the recent British general election.  OMG – the polls taken before the day of the vote didn’t reflect the final outcome.  But – and this is truly amazing – the exit polls did.  OMG again.  It’s very obvious to anyone who has worked anywhere near market research, so it’s a bit mystifying to hear respected pollsters floundering as they’re quizzed by grinning pundits.  In research, we often ask people how they feel about things.  Sometimes we ask them about their behaviour.  If we’re sensible, we don’t get the two things confused.  So there’s cunning insight number one – duh, people don’t necessarily (or even very often) act according to their stated opinions.  Cunning insight number two – political strategy involves the incumbent trying to scare the pants off us by asserting a change would be a calamity.  The behavioural scientists call it loss aversion, discounting future outcomes and many other things.  We can call it fear of change.  That’s what the Conservatives did very explicitly (” A Labour government held to ransom by the SNP – they’re evil you know”) and very successfully.  So people who were considering change ended up reverting back to the status quo when it came to the crunch.  Add to that the way voters fell back into the normal pattern of tactical voting at the booth, despite their avowed commitment to one of the (wasted vote) minority parties.  So it really is no surprise that the polls overstated the vote for the opposition parties but the exit polls were reasonably accurate.  Stating the bleeding obvious, as I said.



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