The U.K. Election Wasn’t That Much Of A Shock

Despite betting markets and expert forecasts that predicted Theresa May’s Conservatives to win a large majority in the U.K. parliamentary elections, the Tories instead lost ground on Thursday, resulting in a hung parliament. As we write this in the early hours of Friday morning, Conservatives will end up with either 318 or 319 seats, down from the 330 that the Tories had in the previous government. A majority officially requires 326 seats.1

Conservatives will wind up with the plurality of seats and the plurality of the popular vote. It’s still possible — indeed, probable — that Conservatives will form a government, either as a minority government or as part of a coalition, most likely with the Democratic Unionist Party, which won 10 seats in Northern Ireland. By contrast, a coalition between Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (which lost a significant number of seats) would have about 310 seats — short of a majority. It’s also probable that May will continue as Conservative leader and prime minister, the BBC reports.

With 42 to 43 percent of the vote, in fact, the Tories should wind up with their largest vote share since under Margaret Thatcher. But the outcome isn’t being interpreted as any sort of moral victory for May; instead, it’s being portrayed in the British media as a disaster. That’s because at the time May unexpectedly called for a “snap” election seven weeks ago,2 polls showed Conservatives leading Labour by 17 percentage points and poised to win as many as 400 seats in parliament. Instead, they went backward and are at best hanging on by a thread. It’s even plausible that there could be another election later this year.

And yet, the results should not have been all that surprising if one followed this year’s polling and the polling history of the U.K. closely. The final polling average showed conservatives ahead by 6.4 percentage points. In fact, Conservatives should wind up winning the popular vote by 2 to 3 percentage points. That means the polling average will have been off by about 4 percentage points. (The table below lists YouGov twice because they polled the race using two different methods.)

POLLSTER CON. LAB. UKIP LIB. DEM. OTHER LEAD
Qriously 39% 41% 3% 6% 11% Lab. +3
Survation 41 40 2 8 8 Con. +1
SurveyMonkey 42 38 4 6 10 Con. +4
Norstat 39 35 6 8 12 Con. +4
YouGov.co.uk 42 38 3 9 7 Con. +4
Kantar Public 43 38 4 7 8 Con. +5
YouGov (The Times) 42 35 5 10 8 Con. +7
Opinium 43 36 5 8 7 Con. +7
Ipsos MORI 44 36 4 7 7 Con. +8
Panelbase 44 36 5 7 8 Con. +8
ORB 45 36 4 8 7 Con. +9
ComRes 44 34 5 9 7 Con. +10
ICM 46 34 5 7 7 Con. +12
BMG Research 46 33 5 8 9 Con. +13
Average 42.9 36.4 4.3 7.7 8.3 Con. +6.4
The U.K. polls missed, but not by that much

Percentages are rounded.

Sources: UK Polling Report, Wikipedia, @britainelects

While a 4-point error would be fairly large in the context of a U.S. presidential election, it’s completely normal in the case of the U.K. On average in U.K. elections since World War II, the final set of polls have missed the Conservative-Labour margin by 3.9 percentage points, almost exactly in line with this year’s error.
 

 

 

 

 

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