December 12, 2019 by Paul Goldsmith
At 9:59pm, a lot of people will think they might have a chance at Downing Street. One minute later, they will think very differently. That’s why the exit poll is a must watch.
I still remember the moment vividly. As we always do, the Politics department and students were having a ‘sleep’over at school to watch the election results come through. At 10pm in May 7th 2015 we made sure that we were tuned into BBC ready for David Dimbleby to announce the results of the exit poll. Everyone was expecting a hung Parliament to be predicted with the leading party, possibly the Conservatives, having around 280 seats, making it difficult for them to form a Government.
Instead, the poll predicted the Conservatives would get 316 seats, close to a majority. Labour would get 239 seats, giving them no hope of forming a Government. More explosively, the SNP were predicted to rise from 6 seats beforehand to 58 out of all 59 Scottish seats at Westminster. I remember standing there open mouthed in shock. No one had predicted this.
The focus shifted onto Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, who had run the exit poll. He looked absolutely terrified. If his poll was correct, the opinion polls in the run up to the election had all been wrong. By around 1am, however, as the actual results started coming in, Curtice was suggesting that his poll was wrong, but in a different direction. He felt the Conservatives were on course for a majority. He was correct.
And so taxis were dispatched to numerous television studios around the country at about 3am to take home the constitutional experts who had been booked to explain all the options possible if there had been a hung Parliament with no route to any party forming a sensible government themselves or with others. They were no longer needed as a David Cameron would be forming a majority Government the next day. His manifesto could be delivered unencumbered and in full. Including some Referendum he had promised…..
Anyway, I tell you this story because at 10pm tonight you should definitely tune in to watch the exit poll results released.
The polls are carried out at the polling stations, so unlike opinion polls they are talking to people who actually have voted. They note down their demographic information and who they voted for. Because these polls tend to be taken at the same polling stations each time they are able to compare their results with previous elections so they can adjust for any obvious anomalies. This is why the exit polls in 2015 and 2017 were so accurate. Let’s not forget that it was the 2017 exit poll that confirmed the YouGov MRP prediction that the Tories would lose their majority.
So, 10pm it is then. Followed by a wait for the first results (probably Houghton and Sunderland South) around 12, with the first big marginals at 1am. By then we will know what will really happen. I predict it won’t be much different from what the exit poll predicted at 10pm.