Polls and Polls – Reading the Tea Leaves

As the UK’s General Election approaches and the polls, and polls of polls, and polls of polls of polls, proliferate, the media have become desperate to tell us something new. But there’s nothing new to say. The polls haven’t budged much, nor indeed the polls of polls, or polls of polls of polls.

statistics

‘It’s probably going to be a hung Parliament. The Tories may get a few more seats than Labour, but they won’t have sufficient seats to form a Government, even with help from the Lib-Dems.’

That was what they told us five weeks ago. It’s still true.

So I was amused by the BBC’s recent Panorama programme on who’s going to win the election. In desperation they’d hauled in the most famous, and famously successful, pollster in the world – Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight – who got every state right in his prediction for the last Presidential Election. A fresh pair of eyes, and particularly this pair, must surely bring new insight to the game.

The BBC traipsed him around the UK, a sleek silver American caravan in tow (did it contain a statistical number cruncher?). He asked a few questions of the kind that any of us might ask, in markets, bingo halls, casinos, and the like, and made some unremarkable observations: ‘He’s a shy Tory,’ ‘She’s not going to change her mind,’ ‘He’s not telling you what he’s really thinking,’ and so on. They talked in a sophisticated way about the usual drift towards the incumbent party in the last few days. I think he may even have said, ‘It’s the marginals that really matter.’

And at the end of it, when the algorithms had done all their brainy statistical work, and I at least was fully hooked and desperate for a prediction, there came something like this:

‘It’s probably going to be a hung Parliament. The Tories may get a few more seats than Labour, but they won’t have sufficient seats to form a Government, even with help from the Lib-Dems.’

Well, that’s good to know.

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One thought on “Polls and Polls – Reading the Tea Leaves

  1. The Perils of Polling – Adam Bager

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