I’ll trust my bones, not polls, in future general elections!
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
This week’s publication of a report into why the opinion polls got things so wrong in the run-up to the general election didn’t come as a huge surprise to me – and didn’t look like rocket science.
It turned out that the data being used by polling organisations was tainted because those who gave their views to pollsters did not represent the electorate as a whole.
That was as I expected – and confirmed to me that I’m better trusting my own instincts during the run-up to an election rather than pouring over the figures from every poll that is published.
More and more opinion polls now are dominated by respondents who choose themselves, rather than are chosen by the polling organisations to represent the population as a whole.
Anyone can sign up to give their views on YouGov. Of course the company will try to get a good balance of the people who have signed up to be polled on any occasion – but the fact is that if you aren’t engaged with YouGov in the first place your opinion will not be canvassed.
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Those who sign up are much more likely to be engaged in the political process than the population as a whole. Politicians and pollsters seem to forget that many people aren’t that worried about politics but do turn out once every five years to vote... and their voices were ignored.
Which brings me to my resolution not to have my feelings about a campaign swung by the polls in the future – unless they can prove they are more accurate.
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I felt from day one of the campaign, in fact from day one of 2015, that David Cameron would be returned to Downing Street (and that Ben Gummer would retain Ipswich).
The polls told me not to be so sure and the bookies (whom I usually trust more than the pollsters) told me that Mr Gummer had little chance and that the result was wide open.
But talking to people in Suffolk and in the wider world, and the feeling in my bones, told me that there could be only one winner.
And I have to say that our own opinion survey in Ipswich – which was not scientifically worked out, didn’t place any particular weighting on one area over another, and we didn’t even call it a poll – turned out to be much more accurate than all the experts, whether from YouGov or William Hill. We have used the same survey method now for four different elections, and the results has been remarkably accurate.
So for all those reasons, I’m not sure that I’ve learned a great deal from this week’s report into the opinion polls’ performance in the last election.
What I did learn in the immediate aftermath of the general election was that in future I will trust my instincts and my gut feeling more in the run-up to polling day – and put less reliance on the data from opinion polls, however well-researched they may appear to be.