Why the polls won’t predict the UK election outcome

epa07965047 A shop selling toys depicting (L-R) US President Donald Trump, British Prime minister Boris Johsnon, former British prime Minister Theresa May, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in central London, Britain, 01 November 2019. The UK general elections wi?ll be held on the 12 December 2019. EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

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This article appeared first in this week’s edition of Corporate Dispatch Diplomatique.Expert Week. 


UK parties have launched their election campaigns this week after an election date was set just over a month from now.


The UK political scene has been under the microscope since the country voted to leave the EU in 2016.  Following months of uncertainty and growing tensions over the Brexit deal, a new government could take over Downing Street following the December 12 election.


According to a Politico survey, Boris Johnson’s Conservative party could win by a comfortable 13 percentage point majority. This would mean that Johnson’s deal, negotiated with the EU over five days of intense negotiations earlier this year, would be the deal that sees Britain out of the EU.


But it’s important to keep in mind that the survey is only reflective of current support in the polls. Whether the party can maintain its lead during the next five weeks remains to be seen. More importantly, the current support does not necessarily translate into the necessary parliamentary seats to have a clear majority. The situation is, therefore, still up in the air and the majority is still up for grabs.


The unlikelihood of polls predicting the final outcome becomes clearer when you look at the available studies. The British Election Study team has shown that voters are now more likely to switch parties than at any previous point in post-war UK history. During the last two general elections, more than one-third of voters switched sides during the time between the general elections.


Predicting how these voters will switch is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. While Scotland was seen as Labour party territory in 2010, a large portion of its voters switched to the Scottish National Party in 2015.  Like many other countries, many voting habits have changed, and new habits take time to establish and to predict.


Trends also show that people are moving away from voting for the two big parties. While both the UK Labour and Conservative party got a combined 84 per cent of the vote in 2017, polls indicate the two parties could now obtain just over 60 per cent of the vote.


Political campaigning has become all the more important in an environment where people are likely to switch sides. In the 2017 election, the Conservatives had a disastrous campaign: Over six weeks, a 20-point lead dwindled to just 2 points.


But Johnson is unarguably a better campaigner than former Tory leader Theresa May. Will that be enough to win?



Denise Grech – Eu Affairs Correspondent –Corporate Dispatch (Brussels)



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