Maybe we should say, pollsters stunned again. They seem to be on a roll over the last few months, missing the scope of the GOP’s win in November, Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory for Likud earlier this year, and now David Cameron’s re-election as Prime Minister in the UK. Labour thought they’d be poised to form the next government, but the Tories won an outright majority last night:
British Prime Minister David Cameron prepared to form a new government Friday morning while an ashen Labor Party leader Ed Miliband conceded defeat after voters defied predictions of a deadlocked election and put the Conservative Party on the cusp of a majority in Parliament. …
The Conservatives were on the cusp of an outright majority by taking 325 seats in the 650-member parliament and were likely to increase its total in the final count, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported Friday.
But Cameron’s party effectively had crossed the majority threshold. In practice, controlling 323 seats in parliament is enough because four lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein refuse to take part in parliament.
CNN reports that the count is up to 326 seats now, one over the theoretical majority, and three over the threshold of the operational majority (four MPs from Northern Ireland refuse to take their seats). That may go up higher as the day progresses too. That’s pretty remarkable for a party that pollsters had all but buried just 24 hours earlier.
Within the last couple of hours, the party leaders of Labour, Liberal Democrats, and the UKIP all resigned within 60 minutes of each other. The UKIP ended up with 13% of the vote but just two seats, but the big story was the Scottish National Party. They routed Labour in Scotland, taking 56 of the 59 seats there, after Labour worked hard to keep Scotland within the UK in order to protect its ability to win national elections. During the independence referendum, Labour fretted that their standing would erode without the Scottish seats in Parliament, but that moment has arrived anyway. Don’t be surprised if Scottish independence makes a return in the next couple of years.
Cameron has already gone to see Queen Elizabeth, who will ask him to form the next government as per protocol. The political editor of the Sunday Times has another request, this one aimed at his colleagues in the press (via the BBC):
Can we now put Russell Brand back in the showbiz columns rather than the news pages? Thanks…
— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) May 8, 2015
Make it so.
So how did everyone miss this surprise? Bloomberg claims that the “undecideds” swung to the Tories at the last moment:
The “undecided” swing is becoming a tired excuse for pollsters, who haven’t done a very good job of predicting that possibility prior to these elections. The “shy Tory” theory seems a little suspect, too. (Remember the “silent majority” here in the US?) That’s precisely the kind of phenomenon that polls should identify, even more so as elections approach. Pollsters used to worry about missing the youth vote because of the challenges that cell-phone reliance presented, but now it seems that pollsters are missing right-leaning voters most.
That’s not to argue that we should throw out all of the polls here, although I’d argue that they mean a lot less than people assume at this stage of the 2016 race. The latest string of bad results all shortchanged the Right, though, so maybe pollsters need to rethink their sampling techniques and even their basic assumptions about the electorate if they want to get the next Western election correct. Or perhaps we should ask whether that was their goal in the first place.