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10 December 2019

LSE: A new expert survey suggests the UK’s general election will be tighter than expected

Moving beyond the current polling figures, experts at the Political Studies Association anticipate a close result, and are divided over whether the Conservatives will achieve a majority. They also predict Labour falling short of their 2017 seats but not as dramatically as polling suggests.

[...]between 20 November and 2 December, the Political Studies Association (PSA) ran a survey asking experts for their election predictions. The resulting data was analysed by Stephen Fisher, Martha Kirby, and myself, with the full report available via the PSA’s website, and some interesting findings emerge. [...]

The expert predictions should be different from the polling-based estimating because the experts were asked to consider what will happen on election day, whereas the polls are a snapshot of public opinion at the time they were gathered. It seems that the experts are sceptical about the Conservatives maintaining their strong position in the polls, predicting that they will fall to a 39% vote share (median answer) on 12 December. They do not anticipate a concomitant rise in Labour vote share, and anticipate that the party has hit a peak (31%) and will remain at that level in voting on Thursday. Finally, their predictions for the Liberal Democrat, Brexit Party, and Green vote shares are very close to the polling figures at the time of the survey.

The experts’ scepticism regarding the Conservative Party’s ability to maintain its performance until election day is also reflected in a divide over whether they will win a majority of seats. The median number of seats predicted for the party is 326, which is much lower than what the polling figures at the time indicated (in excess of 350), and slightly fewer than half of the experts predict that the Conservatives will fall short of a majority. The main beneficiaries of the decline in Conservative support would be Labour and the Liberal Democrats. In the former case, the experts predict that they will hold onto a significant number of marginals, whereas the polling at the time indicated that these would fall to the Conservatives. They also anticipate that the Liberal Democrats will somewhat sidestep the curse of being the third party in a first-past-the-post system, with 23 seats (10 higher than the MRP model and 3 higher than uniform change based on the polls at the time). As with vote share, they predict seats for the Brexit Party, Greens, SNP, and Plaid Cymru in line with the polls at the time. Their vote share and seat predictions are also reflected in the low probability (19%) that they give to a Conservative majority exceeding 100, whilst they anticipate a fall in turnout to 66%.

The expert respondents to the PSA’s survey expect Thursday to result in a Conservative victory but not necessarily a majority for them in the House of Commons, and this would be something of a bitter pill for the party to swallow. Although they would see an increase in their seats from 2017, their support would have declined in the last few days of the campaign and they may fall short of their ultimate goal in this election. It would also be a difficult night for Labour, who would fail to reach their vote share or number of seats from 2017, though they might be able to take solace from once again seeing the Conservatives fail to obtain their objective. The Liberal Democrats would no-doubt be delighted with their increased number of seats, as would the SNP, with Plaid Cymru content to maintain their seats, the Greens happy to double theirs, and the Brexit Party very pleased to buck their expected decline into parliamentary irrelevance.

Full results on LSE's EUROPP blog


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