One of the more interesting dynamics in British politics in recent years has been the rise of UKIP – the UK Independence Party. UKIP might still be a minority party (the latest Guardian poll projection forecasts it to win three out of 650 seats in the next parliament), however the apparent electoral allure of its anti-immigration rhetoric has forced the bigger, mainstream parties to talk tough about migrants.
Predicting the future is not easy, but there is no shortage of pundits willing to try in the run-up to an election. Forecasters rely on a range of measures, from opinion polls to betting odds to campaign spending and exit polls. But which is the most reliable predictor? We’ll have to wait until May 8 – the day after the 2015 UK general election – to know for sure. However, we can get a better sense of which sources to trust and which to ignore by analysing their performance in the 2010 general election.
General election outcomes in the UK are difficult to forecast. Even setting aside the 18 seats in Northern Ireland and the entirely different party system that exists there. In England, Scotland and Wales there are seven parties that compete either regionally or nationally with a good chance of winning seats in May 2015.
The Polling Observatory forecasting model has been a long time in the making, and builds on our effort in 2010, where we fared relatively successfully both in absolute terms and compared to other forecasters. (Our forecast before the start of the official campaign proved even more successful.) Forecasting like this is inherently limited, as there will always be some factors which can impact elections but are difficult to quantify or model effectively.
What do you get if you ask a Labour Party pollster and a Conservative Party advisor to predict the outcome of the 2015 UK general election? Two very different answers, of course. And so it was that during a debate at the Market Research Society annual conference this week, James Morris (a former speechwriter for Labour leader Ed Miliband) predicted a Labour victory, while Andrew Cooper (a former director of strategy for the Conservatives) predicted that Tory leader David Cameron would remain prime minister 'in some sort of messy coalition'.
Election season is now well underway in the UK and every scandal, botched interview and policy announcement is being elevated to profound status. These triumphs or disasters are then inevitably used to give narrative to the parties’ constant movements in the political polls. But are the pollsters really giving us an accurate snapshot of the national mood?