May 11, 2015

TRUE: Pollsters Are Worse Than Ever.

If you weren’t following the British election returns last night, you missed an amazing show. Virtually everyone went into the race expecting that the ruling Conservative Party would lose seats, and the biggest question was whether the Scottish National Party would cost Labour enough seats to make it impossible for any one party to form a government.

Well, we can all relax about the constitutional crisis. Astoundingly, the Conservatives actually gained seats, and now have enough to form a government without their former coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. (And lucky for them, because the Lib Dems were absolutely crushed, dropping from 57 seats to eight.) Labour’s shellacking in Scotland was utter, worse than even the direst predictions. The party, which has dominated Scotland for decades, held 41 of 56 seats going into the election. When the returns were in, they held … one, the same number as the Conservatives do.

I won’t opine on What It All Means. But let’s talk about the surprise factor: The polls were wrong. And as Nate Silver points out, this seems to be a troubling trend, not just in Britain, but around the world. The polls on the Scottish independence referendum were way off. So were the ones that missed the Republican sweep in the 2014 midterms. Israel’s pre-election and exit polls both missed Likud’s solid victory.

Well, the media narrative is “if you’re on the right, you’re evil.” So when strangers call you on the phone and say “are you on the left or the right?” people may choose to lie.

The funniest take was one I saw on Facebook: “Nate Silver is regressing to the mean.”

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