A surprise exit poll has suggested that the Conservative Party could fall short of the majority it needs to form a government. Surveys at polling stations across the UK suggest the Conservatives will only get 314 seats – 12 short of an overall majority. That would mean Theresa May’s snap election gamble may not have paid off. Experts react to the news.
Darren Lilleker, associate professor of political communication, Bournemouth University
Exit polls have generally been fairly accurate in recent UK elections. If that is the case in 2017, the result is cataclysmic for the Conservatives. Labour would not only have increased its number of seats in parliament but also undermined the stranglehold of the neo-liberal societal narrative on public attitudes. This could represent a sea-change in the nation’s politics.
Labour supporters are somewhat triumphalist. It is still a bit early. It will be almost impossible for Labour to have a majority, and it’s still unknown if the Conservatives will be the majority party in a minority government. But if the rumours are true, Labour have the momentum.
Why might this be? This is the most interesting question. It would appear that the Conservative message of offering strong and stable government may well have failed, whereas the more nebulous – but also unproven – Labour platform has traction. What’s more, the UKIP vote has collapsed, while at the same time we see the emergence of the two-party state. UKIP voters have not exclusively moved to the Conservatives while other party voters seem dispersed – the electoral terrain never seemed less certain.
Todd K. Hartman, lecturer in quantitative social science, University of Sheffield
After catching their breath, the first question most people are asking is whether we can trust the results of this exit poll.
The short answer is yes. While the official seat count may differ in either direction due to sampling error, exit polls have provided reliable estimates in past elections.
Exit polling is done at selected polling stations within constituencies with sufficiently large samples to reduce uncertainty around the estimates. They include responses from tens of thousands of voters, while most national opinion polls have sample sizes of around 1,200.
The exit polls only include responses from actual voters. Opinion polls must rely on vote intentions and the likelihood that a particular respondent will actually cast their ballot on election day.
However, like most opinion polls, exit polls are not based on probability samples and are thus not entirely representative of the voting public. This process of sampling introduces error, which is why the exit poll estimates may be different than the certified seat counts.
James Tilley, professor of politics, University of Oxford
Poll leads for the Conservatives over the past couple of weeks have varied enormously. Much of the variation, although by no means all, has been due to the way that the pollsters predicted people’s likelihood to turnout.
The polls with the highest leads for the Conservatives tended to predict low voting rates among younger people and people in working class jobs. We’ve seen this pattern of non-voting for the past few elections, arguably because these groups had become disillusioned with Labour. The polls with the lowest leads for the Conservatives assumed that these two groups would turn out to vote at higher levels than in 2015. The argument here was that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is a more attractive proposition to more economically left-wing people. So who was right?
Obviously, we won’t know the actual result for another few hours and we won’t know exact rates of turnout by age and social class for several months until the British Election Survey reports back, but the exit poll does seem to suggest that young people have turned out in larger numbers than at the past few elections.
Generally campaigns are not thought to matter enormously, but this may be the exception that proves the rule. Labour has evidently either converted some people who said they would vote Conservative a few months ago, or mobilised people who said that they wouldn’t vote.
It’s likely that both conversion and particularly mobilisation have been higher amongst younger voters. While it’s not a successful night for Labour in that it is still predicted to have 50 fewer seats than the Conservatives, at this stage it appears a clear success for the Labour campaign strategy.
James Tilley is the Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford; Darren Lilleker is the Associate Professor of Political Communication at Bournemouth University, and Todd K. Hartman is a Lecturer in Quantitative Social Science, Sheffield Methods Institute at the University of Sheffield.
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