Is the polling meltdown in the UK a stern warning for Ireland [and #BrexitRef]?

So the British Polling Council is publishing Professor Patrick Sturgis’ report “The Inquiry into the Failure of the 2015 Pre-election Polls…” It doesn’t look good for the pollsters…

British Polling Council report

For the first time we may be getting a clear glimpse of just who the shy Tory voter is. It may be that they aren’t shy at all, more that they are just too busy working to answer the phone or say yes to a pollster’s enquiry.

Here’s the thing, not only did they get it wrong at the end, it looks like they were getting it wrong from at least 2013 (remember, about the time Miliband forgot to mention the Tory’s lagging deficit?).

Polls have become so unquestioningly central to political debate that in many cases debates about policy has been displaced, unsighting the electorate on the material choices facing them.

For Jim Murphy speaking on BBC Radio Four on Sunday argued that it lead to a sense of complacency within Labour, whilst given the prospect of a hung parliament the Tories heavily moderated their own manifesto commitments.

In Ireland right now everyone (including Slugger) is at the what do the polls say about the actual outcome game.  However there’s no equivalent to YouGov, so emailed surveys are not such a factor here.

Irish pollsters generally extrapolate from a very large pile of ‘don’t knows’, and then reassign them to parties on a national basis. The challenge however is how you scrape those national percentages back into constituencies.

PR STV renders the multi member constituency unit a lot more unpredictable than FPTP, with some voters identifying much more with their candidate than his/her party.

In fact the multi member constituency is a nightmare for policy based politics. As one wit told Hugh Linihan recently, the most negative thing you can do in Irish politics is to tell local voters that your party colleague is safe.

Take Irish Labour party for an example. Even with an 8% rating in the country includes large swathes of Ulster and the west that simply don’t vote for Labour. So there may be pockets where they do very well. Ditto Fianna Fail. At a certain rating too, +/- 1% or 2% can add or subtract four or five seats.

In truth the public feedback loop in politics now operates at a speed and in a manner we’ve not seen before. Perhaps voter volatility is now a feature rather than a bug, brought on by the recession or anger at a wealthy elite that many feel have not faced the consequences of their actions.

If the UK polls – which journalists in many ways have been using as a substitute for in house sampling (of real people) – failed in 2015, what guarantee do we have that they aren’t already getting a badly skewed reading on Brexit? 

Unless they are really bad polls and their extrapolations are (mostly) for fun. The problem is the literal interpretation of them. They can foreshorten the perspectives of those who over-rely on them, encouraging focus on hypotheticals and squeeze limited space for real issues.

Another log on the fire perhaps for those cynics who are found of saying, “don’t vote, because the government always gets in”… (ie, whomever it is it is always the one you didn’t want…).

Meantime,if you think the polls that over state your favourite party’s position are your friends: well, think again.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty