I wrote about this in my last post – exploring what, if anything, we could tell from the polling about whether Boris Johnson would get the blame if Brexit did indeed end up being delayed past the 31st October.

With the government now pushing for an election in December the issue has now arisen again, with lots of people dragging out a ComRes poll from the 16-17th October that asked how people would vote in an election if Britain had NOT left the European Union on 31st October, showing Labour one point ahead. Some people are sharing it with excitement, others with dismay. Both should probably calm themselves.

As a general rule, you can only usefully ask people a polling question if they actually know the answer… and most of us aren’t actually very good at predicting how we will respond to hypothetical situations. If you take this specific question, it was asking people to imagine quite a lot. How had the delay come about? Had the government fought it, or gone along with it? How had the government explained and reacted to the delay? Given the dates of the fieldwork, many respondents wouldn’t even have known about the deal. All of these things will impact how the public react and whether they blame the Conservatives or not… but were impossible for respondents to know.

In short, polls measure current public opinion. They can’t predict the future. While you can ask respondents to predict their own future opinions, they aren’t necessarily very good at it.

1,004 Responses to “A reminder that hypothetical polling questions are a bit rubbish”

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  1. Just back from the south side of Glasgow.

    Looks like Francois was right, and the country has exploded. Damn place was full of zombies, vampires, monsters (though none resembling Johnson), unicorns and fairies. It is the end of days.

    As for imaginary beasts, I then had a look at the Survation tiny Scots crossbreak. Even with such tiny numbers one would expect something in the general direction of what other polls suggest.

    That they have the Unionist vote as Lab 17% : LD 14% : Con 12% : BxP 10% suggests that their sampling and/or weighting are severely disconnected from reality.

  2. Hmm, an election. Perhaps with more polling to discuss UKPR can become a little less of a bearpit? Dare I risk it?

    It is certainly a hard one to predict, with tactical voting and differential turnout being even more prominent factors than normal, sacked MPs standing as independents, defecting MPs standing in their previous seats – or new ones – for their new party.

    My starting position as always is that a straight line somewhere down the middle of the opinion polls is as good a guess as any – which would currently suggest the Tories 9-10% ahead of Labour and looking at a comfortable but not huge majority.

    Too early to really predict anything but as we’ve been asked to have a stab at it, and promised we can amend our prediction later at no additional cost…..

    Conservatives 341
    Labour 209
    LibDems 31
    Greens 2
    SNP 46
    PC 3
    NI 18 (I have no clue)
    Brexit Party 0
    UKIP 0

    Headlines –

    Tories lose a handful of seats in Scotland, London and the SW but fewer than expected.

    Tories gain seats in Wales, the Midlands and the North.

    LDs gain 4 seats in Devon and Cornwall (St Ives, North Cornwall, North Devon and Totnes) and a handful in London/SE and in University towns.

    Labour lose seats everywhere (except possibly the SW where Plymouth Sutton and Exeter both look reasonably safe – although Sutton could go), but are not slaughtered anywhere.

    Outcome – Conservative Majority government. Brexit on 31/01/19 under current deal. Honeymoon due to the poll win and the initial boost to the economy of there being a “deal”, followed by a decline in support once the negotiations for the future relationship get underway.

    Labour crisis of confidence. Corbyn retires from politics to be replaced by Emily Thornberry.

    LibDems revert to “one more push” mode. Swinson remains in post. “Referendum on rejoining” becomes their signature EU policy but is relegated to a bit of a side issue, at least in the short term.

    SNP push for 2nd referendum but don’t get it. Inititiate some sort of protest campaign possibly including an unauthorised referendum a la Catalunya.

    Farage agitates from the sidelines over the future relationship, but doesn’t get much purchase and eventually quits politics in a huff around 2023.

  3. @NeilA

    Thanks for the prediction. Unfortunately, I can’t take the 18 Norther Ireland as I wouldn’t be marking you on a like-for-like basis with the others. Please have a stab, your lack of knowledge of NI is no greater than most of us (experts/residents like Prof Howard aside). Thanks.

    Garj, Redrich, Lewblew, & JamesB many thanks. Others please have a go – nobody gets attacked for failing to win, and the winner gets kudos on UKPR for years!

  4. oops, it seems like the post of ‘new thread’ adjudicator is unfilled at present.

    @ MOG will think about a prediction, but I feel it’s too early yet. I’ll bide my time and see how the first week or so of campaigning goes.

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