Researchers have been trying to work out why the polls got their general election predictions so badly wrong since May, and now we know the answer: ‘Shy Tories’.
The polls failed to reflect the fact that some people would not admit their voting intention because they were Tories and knew that their choice would make them unpopular if it were known. So they kept their mouths shut.
The Guardian report on the subject – part-quoted here – is wrong. It says the problem was pollsters’ failure to reach the right people and dismisses the reticence of ‘shy Tories’.
But the story goes on to support the ‘shy Tories’ theory by stating that Tory voters were “busy with other things” when the pollsters came knocking.
If you didn’t want someone to know you were voting for the Nasty Party, wouldn’t you find something else to do when they came around?
The paper’s politics index page on the World Wide Web has it right, though: “Election polling errors blamed on failure to speak to Tory voters.”
Perhaps the paper is trying to hide the fact that the pollsters will never, ever, get around this issue. They can’t force people to reveal their intentions. Nor can they simply build in an error margin to accommodate it, because of the chance that they’ll be significantly mistaken.
The only solution is to admit that many supporters of the Conservative Party are ashamed to admit the fact and include a line to that effect on every poll result, it seems to This Writer.
That will be embarrassing for the Conservative Party itself, of course.
But then, every cloud has a silver lining.
A new report traces the roots of the pollsters’ failure to predict the Conservative majority in last year’s election to their lack of adequate contact with Tory supporters.
Earlier speculation about what went wrong has focused on poorly designed questionnaires, a late swing to the Conservatives, a failure of “lazy Labour” supporters to turn out, or reticence on the part of “shy Tories” to reveal their leanings.
But, ahead of Prof Patrick Sturgis’s presentation of the first findings of his postmortem for the British Polling Council next week, analysis by the leading psephologist Prof John Curtice blows these theories out of the water and suggests the problem was pollsters’ failure to reach the right people.
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