‘In all my years as journalist & strategist, I’ve never seen as stark a failure of polling as in UK. Huge project ahead to unravel that.’
Thus tweeted David Axelrod, the American election guru drafted in by Ed Miliband.
Pollsters have been offering up explanations left, right and centre (so to speak) as to why nobody was able to call the election.
‘Lazy Labour’, ‘Shy Tories’ and a last-minute swing have all been mooted. Some have defended their analysis, saying that actually they weren’t that far off predicting the final share of votes.
But what they fundamentally failed to do was to divine what undecided voters in key marginal seats were thinking.
In that way the parties, in particular the Conservatives, had a much better idea of what was going to happen through the results of their own data collection.
Opinion polls are used not only by those in the Westminster bubble, but by marketing and communications professionals the world over.
Whether it’s seeking to gauge the public’s perception of a client, or adding weight to a campaign, everyone loves a survey.
Polls offer a snapshot of how a particular group of people are thinking at a particular moment in time, or at least what they tell the pollsters they are thinking!
What they don’t account for is the inherently irrational nature of those whom they are polling, or the fact that people change their minds.
Polling companies may now have to re-think how exactly they talk to voters.
As today’s digitally-immersed teenagers become adults who can vote, pollsters will need to find new ways to reach them.
These people don’t answer landlines (they probably don’t have them), won’t stop in the street and are unlikely to respond to online questionnaires.
The volunteers who do put themselves forward to take part in opinion polls may become less and less representative of the population.
Pollsters may have to rely more heavily on data harvested from social media – although the experts say Twitter analysts got no closer to predicting the 2015 election result.
Undoubtedly the General Election will prove a pivotal moment, and we’ll see plenty of soul-searching and head-scratching in the months ahead.