A succession of pre-election opinion polls this year gave David Cameron’s Conservative Party little chance of forming a minority government, let alone being able to rule with a majority. Yet an ‘exit poll’ published 1 minute after the polling stations closed, comprised of 1200 voters, indicated a Conservative victory with a solid swing and a majority. The exit poll was spot on and the Conservatives romped to an unexpected victory. How could so many pre-election polls get the prediction so wrong while a post-election poll with a minute sample be so accurate?
What goes on in the minds of the 5-10% of voters who regularly switch their allegiances is anyone’s guess. But there is clearly a difference between what this group will tell someone who calls them up at 8:37pm one evening before the election, and what they actually do when they stand in the polling booth with paper and pencil in hand. A LOT happens in their minds in the privacy of a cubicle with the curtain drawn. This is not a question of statistical sampling technique as many believe. This is crunch time – the time when people actually decide to V-O-T-E rather than talk about it.
Singapore held an election last Friday and the ruling party was returned resoundlingly with 69.8% of the vote, a swing toward them of 9.6% compared with the last election in 2011. In a first for Singapore, the Election Commission decided to publish a ‘sample count’ made up of 100 randomly sampled votes from each electoral district about 1 hour after polling stations closed. The idea was to give an indication of the result before all the votes had been counted. [Historic practice had been to only report the final counts once they had been declared, which meant that many, many hours would pass before the result was known]. Just like David Cameron’s exit poll, these ‘sample counts’ turned out to be astonishingly accurate (check out http://www.eld.gov.sg/samplecount2015.html). Rather than wait until 5am in the morning for the final results, the nation could simply have gone to bed at 9pm with the knowledge that the status quo, once again, had been assured.
A 9.6% swing in favour of a political party that has ruled, uniterrupted, for 50 years is a magnificent achievement. The reasons we will never know, but the ‘thoughtful swinging voter’ in Singapore must have felt pretty good about the Government when they entered the cubicle, pencil and voting paper in hand, and drew the curtain. Maybe it was the public holiday that the Government declared for the election (no such luck in 2011!), the anti-immigration policies enacted or the flicker of ‘populist Socialism’ that the Government has tilted toward since the last election. Maybe its just that the voting public realised that the opposition is simply not ready to rule…
…but if you want my opinion, I think the public holiday did it!