COMMENT: Should we pay attention to polls?


Polls have played a big part in many of the biggest political events throughout 2016 and 2017 so far. Normally, polls are trustworthy and often a near spot on prediction for the outcomes of elections or referendums.

However, the 2016 US Election and the historic Brexit referendum clearly had different outcomes than the ones predicted. Hillary was predicted a landslide victory against her unlikely republican opponent and the world thought the UK would remain in the EU despite all odds. The polls suggest a win for the Conservatives, with Labour coming in a close second, followed by the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. However, Labour has been slowly catching up with the Conservatives in the 2017 race. Since 2016’s polls went so catastrophically wrong, should the public trust polls for the 2017 UK election?

The answer could go both ways. Yes, because the wounds the polsters received after 2016 are slowly healing and polsters are working to improve on the way they collect voter data and how they analyse it. This has been proved by the relative accuracy of the recent French election. No, for two main reasons; the methods of collecting data are outdated as typically most polls are carried out by phone and not many people answer the phone anymore and the ones who do, tend to be of an older demographic. Data collected through polling surveys are extrapolated, which is why some poll results are skewed. Another less talked about reason why polls go wrong are ‘secret voters’.

Secret voters are the voters who do not express their political opinion and who they vote for, or they lie about who they intend to vote for in order to avoid social scrutiny and embarrassment. Apart from being extreme leftists or rightists, secret voters tend to be regular moderate people who vote for hated populist candidates because they feel like they will be humiliated.

I think many secret voters tend to be younger millennial voters who hide their true political opinion due to heavy liberal presence on university campuses. I think students who lean towards the right on the political spectrum are often shunned out and not given a voice, which needs to change. I believe secret voters are one of the most important kind of voters because they are the ones that change election results

A better way to gauge election results is to have a look at the results of local elections to find out what the political leaning for the rest of the country is. Another useful method to poll is social media. Simple polls have taken Facebook and Twitter by storm and they give a better indicator of voters political thoughts and are potentially far more accurate than traditional polling methods due to social media’s vast reach.

The polling industry must catch up with the times if they truly want to be trusted again.