Features

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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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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There are four ways Cameron could keep power.
Featured, Features | 6th May 2015

Election 2015: Do polls and predictions now suggest David Cameron can win?

Two weeks ago, we suggested that Ed Miliband was headed for Number Ten. “It is hard to see how David Cameron can cobble together the 323 seats he will need for a majority,” we argued.

That piece examined the most optimistic seat scenarios for Cameron, and showed how he would struggle to keep power even if they came true. We concluded that Cameron could still win, but his path to victory was clearly more difficult than Miliband’s.

We then introduced what we think is the key graph for this election. It maps all the crucial Tory-Labour marginals. These are the 80 or so seats that the Tories won in 2010 and Labour are trying to win back. We ran through the election’s other 570 seats and showed how if we are right about them, Miliband will only need to win 35 of these Tory seats to dethrone Cameron.

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