Curtice has been running the exit poll since 1992, which shocked pundits on election night.
Featured, Features | 8th June 2015

John Curtice: The man behind the only poll that was right

It’s “virtually inconceivable that Labour can win the next election by just doing well in England and Wales – it’s just brutal arithmetic,” John Curtice begins when we meet three weeks after the election, on a cloudy afternoon in St James’ Park.

Curtice, 62, is the only forecaster any journalist still listens to. He is the man behind the exit poll, which flashed up on TV screens at 10pm on election night and sent parties, pollsters and pundits into a frenzy. The story it told contrasted completely with more than 700 polls published in the previous year, 99 per cent of which said the Tories had no hope of a majority.

Its accuracy has left pre-election polling on life support. Journalists don’t trust it, pundits ridicule it and newspapers no longer want to publicise it. But the exit poll has never been more revered. Half a dozen men were behind it this year, but it is Curtice who has led the group for more than two decades.

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How much can we predict with just a few stats and a computer?
Featured, Features | 4th June 2015

If polls are wrong, can a handful of stats tell us how people will vote?

If you hadn’t heard, the polls didn’t predict last month’s general election. Or rather, they very accurately predicted support for the SNP, Ukip, and Greens – and, at a national level, the Lib Dems – but failed to predict what really mattered: support for the Tories and Labour.

More than 500 national polls were published in the year before the election. 99 per cent of them suggested the Tories had no hope of winning a majority. Poll after poll implied both parties would win around 34 per cent. In the end Labour won 31 and the Tories 38.

Were the polls really wrong? Sure, but our approach to them was the real problem. We all treated polls as very specific when they were, and only ever can be, impressionistic. The magic of polling is that you can ask 1,000 people who they will vote for and, 19 times out of 20, their answers will be within 4 percentage points of representing actual British opinion.

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David Cameron is headed back to Downing Street at this rate.
Breaking News, Featured | 8th May 2015

Election 2015: The exit poll is believable – and is right so far.

The exit poll is believable. For it to be right, two key and unexpected things seem to have happened.

First, the Tories have held onto far more seats in England than we thought they would. Rather than losing more than thirty to Labour, they may have lost as few as a dozen (or even less). They may have even won a few seats from Labour, but we are guessing that there has been a net loss to Labour of around ten. That would mean the Tory seat total rises from the low 270s, as we had expected, into the high 290s.

But the exit poll says the Tories have won 316 seats. Who are the other 15-20 unexpected wins coming from? The Lib Dems. That is the second shock. They seem to have lost many more seats to the Tories than we expected. The party’s supposed ‘incumbency effect‘, with popular local MPs overcoming the Lib Dems’ national collapse, doesn’t seem to have materialised.

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Clipboard-holders around the UK are sending data back to the exit poll room.
Featured, Features | 7th May 2015

Election 2015: What is the exit poll and how does it work?

Right now, in a room somewhere in London, five men are trying to work out how the UK is voting. Most people haven’t voted yet, but they’re already figuring out how we all will.

This isn’t just a poll, it’s an exit poll – the exit poll. In less than 9 hours, it will set Twitter ablaze and pundits in a four-hour frenzy until real results start pouring in.

An exit poll works by asking people how they have voted, rather than how they will vote. People have been dispatched to 140 polling stations around the UK, stations thought to be representative of the constituency they’re in. Every nth person who turns up at one of these polling stations, say every 10th, is then asked how they voted as they leave.

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