Why Did The Polls Get It Wrong In 1992 In Brittain?

1469 words - 6 pages

Why Did the Polls Get it Wrong in 1992?Opinion polls play a major role in politics, they can be used by the Government to decide when to call and election, and, among other things, how their pre-election campaigns are run. Throughout the history of opinion polling, from the time when polling began to be widely used before an election, in 1945, until 1987, the last general election before 1992, the polls have on average been correct to within 1.3% of the vote share between the three leading parties, and the 'other' category (Crewe, 1992, p. 478). This puts all the previous opinion polls well within the +/-3% margin of error. Because of the past accuracy of opinion polling, the system has had ...view middle of the document...

Of the four polls carried out in the two days prior to the actual election date, all of them pointed to a hung parliament; one put the Conservatives 0.5% ahead, one put Labour and the Tories neck and neck, the other two showed Labour ahead by a narrow margin (Crewe, 1992, p. 8). On the actual day of the election, exit polls carried out by the BBC and ITN both showed there would be a hung parliament, although both of them had the Conservatives slightly ahead. They were both not far from the actual Conservative 43%, and Labour 35%, and if they had predicted using a uniform swing assumption, they would have been very close to the real result. But they adjusted the figures as they were suspicious of the results being so far out of line with the mornings polls.The polls were not up to their normally high closeness to the actual results for one, or both, of two very broad reasons. Firstly there must have been a late swing of undecided voters to Conservative, or secondly, that the polls that were carried out were all inaccurate, obviously for the same or similar reasons.Looking at the first explanation, the theory that there was a late swing of 'undecided' voters in the favour of the Tories, this would have meant that the polling companies had all been correct at the time. But this, in itself, could not possibly have accounted for the incorrectness of the polls. The swing would have had to be in the order of 4%, which is unbelievably high. Although there were an exceptional number of 'undecideds' on the eve of the election, and it was evident from the post election recall surveys that there was a late swing towards the Tories (Crewe, 1992, p. 485).Before we can look at the second explanation, that the polls were simply wrong, we should look at where the 1992 polls differed from the past, remarkably accurate polls. Polling practices had not changed much from previous years, nor had the style of the polling, the questions, samples, etc. One reason that has been put forward is that the polls didn't check that people were eligible to vote or not, this may have caused major discrepancies in the outcome of the polls. The reason this may have caused such a big problem is that a lot of people may have taken part in opinion polls when they were not registered to vote, this is because they were avoiding having to pay poll tax. In general the people avoiding the poll tax in this way were Labour voters, which could explain why the forecast polls showed Labour in the lead. On the other hand some people may have thought that simply paying their poll tax entitled them to vote, and did not actually register. There were reports of dozens of people being turned away from polling stations, as they were not registered, this was especially true at polling stations near council estates, again this is where there would be a majority of Labour voters (Crewe, 1992, p.487). A Granada TV survey of unregistered voters, found that of those interviewed, 42% would have voted Labour,...

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