‘When the new government is elected …’

‘When Starmer gets in …’

‘When Labour are voted in …’

It cannot just be me who is struck by the confidence surrounding the results of the upcoming General Election. Despite the uncertainty, a date has now been set for July 4. But even without it, electoral forecasts have been cementing a Labour victory – as have the wider public.

But election forecasts have been wrong in the past. So before we get our hopes up (or down), perhaps it is worth looking at what the forecasters are predicting, why they could be right, or – more pertinently – why they could be wrong.


Current Forecasts

Despite the variety of electoral polls to choose from, most reveal a similar pattern.

The Guardian has polled Kier Starmer ahead since the beginning of 2022, estimating that 44.7 per cent of Great Britain will vote Labour. In comparison, the Conservatives are predicted to gain 23.1 per cent of the vote and the Reform Party 11.1 per cent, respectively.

In a slightly different measure, The Electoral Calculus states there is a 98 per cent chance of a Labour majority win and 2 per cent of a Labour win by a minority.

Focusing on the current government, POLITICO gives Rishi Sunak a 65 per cent disapproval rating, with similar election predictions to the Guardian. Politico also suggests that these trends are not new, with Labour growing in popularity over the Conservatives since November 2021.

With all key polling sites showing similar predictions, a Labour ‘landslide’ seems imminent. But how are these figures calculated? Are they representative of what will actually happen on election day? Or could the UK face its most surprising election yet?

The Value of Electoral Polling

Most polls are strictly regulated across the UK to ensure accuracy and reliability.

One way this happens is the regularity of the forecasts that keep each prediction up-to-date. The Guardian, for example, uses data from the Electoral Calculus, which is collected every 10 days to produce an average. This rules out the possibility of spikes/troughs based on daily happenings. Furthermore, viewers can trace overall trends and view how Labour has steadily gained support since 2021.

Interestingly, most polling platforms concede that the true position of Labour and the Conservatives lies within five percentage points of our estimated average, with nine out of ten polls being within this range just before election day.

Still, with a sample of almost 20,000 people, the regularity with which results are collected, and the margin of error, it is clear that election polling is done in a way that makes it as reliable as possible. However, only the actual result truly counts. So perhaps we should consider why polls may not always be the best judges.

Could the Polls be Wrong?

Electoral predictions have gone horribly wrong before.

In June 2015,  the polls suggested a hung Parliament. Instead, David Cameron went on to secure an outright majority.

In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 13 opinion polls predicted a comfortable victory for Remain, yet Leave won with 51.9 per cent of the vote.

In the 2017 general election, 11 major polls predicted a big loss for Jeremy Corbyn. He won 40 per cent of the vote, leading Theresa May to lose her House of Commons majority.

As recent as 2019, YouGov, one of the electoral polls that predicted the results of the 2017 election correctly, foresaw a 28-seat majority win by the Conservatives. The party ended up winning almost three times that figure.

Predictions calculated from electoral polling can be wrong or misinterpreted for a number of reasons.

One of these is how the electoral system works. The first-past-the-post system does not always correlate to seats. The location of the votes equally matters. So, when looking at polls that show predictions for GB voters, it is important to remember that this shows the general pattern of national voting behaviour, which may not translate into seats in Parliament — the only way to secure a victory.

Other key factors behind election polling include sample size and who the poll is commissioned by. It is recommended that the sample size be at least 1,000 people, which does not reflect the 47 million individuals registered to vote in the UK. Some polls are paid for by biased companies that aim to show a pre-confirmed result. This can lead to loaded questions and selective findings.

Importantly, polls often do not include those who abstain from voting and those who are unsure of whom they’ll vote for. The BBC polls tracker suggests a wide range of opinions, with Labour securing 39-49 per cent and the Conservatives 19-29 per cent. Considering the lowest Labour outcome, the highest Conservative outcome, and the fact that the poll does not include those who remain uncertain, the election result starts looking a little less predictable.

So …What is Likely to Happen?

Polls are not always trustworthy. Whilst public sentiment and the media predict a landslide win for Kier Starmer and Labour, this should not be seen as a confirmed result. Voters should never become complacent or rely on the voting of others to secure the result they want. The only result that matters is the one produced on election day.

Whatever the opinion polls, political commentators and social media say, it remains crucial that all those who can vote, do so. So, get physical IDs and find the nearest polling station … an important general election is coming!

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.