I think it’s important, both as an academic and a politician, to look back at things and see where you went wrong in the hope you won’t make the same mistakes the next time around. It’s important to get rid of all those errors so you can make a whole set of brand new ones the next time around, rather than just repeating the same ones again and again. I’m lucky in that my chosen field within political science is parties and party systems which is related to and uses data from political behaviour and elections, but is much more about analysing things after the fact rather than trying to test theories by making predictions.
That’s why I wasn’t building a complex model to predict the election and didn’t really jump into making anything more than the vaguest predictions. However, that didn’t stop me being wrong about YouGov’s prediction which, along with the broadcasters’ exit poll, appears to have been the most accurate of all the models. I dismissed it because it didn’t match up with my expectations and perceptions, so I did the natural thing (as did so many other people) of sucking in through my teeth and muttering ‘dodgy methodology’ and ‘looking for headlines’, without thinking about why they might have come up with something that challenged my perceptions.
One importnt thing to learn is that big data crunching like this has a better perspective than you. From the bits of Colchester I’d seen and spoken to, I didn’t feel that Labour were in second place here, but until yesterday I’d never seen people queuing to vote in my local polling station either which was a clear sign of something unexpected going on. It does raise an issue I think we often elide in our discussions of voter behaviour where we assume that ‘the voters’ and ‘the non-voters’ are the same people at each election, and often neglect to consider movement between the two groups. We also — and this is something common to politicians and academics — forget that people don’t exist solely in terms of our labels. Just because we have someone down as a Tory, Labour or Lib Dem voter doesn’t mean that they consider themselves that in the same way and in some conditions — especially when the links between parties and voters are weak — they’re not going to behave in the way we expect.
I also missed the relative popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, though in my defence his election did seem to be following the same pattern as Miliband’s two years ago: the crazed revolutionary depicted in the right-wing media turning out to not be much like that when the public saw them, getting more confident as the election went on, but then a final onslaught of negative press burying them. Except this time Corbyn managed to keep that momentum up, and even if he didn’t shake it off to the extent that Blair did, he did achieve it better than Miliband.
I’ve only had a couple of hours sleep in the last thirty-six, so those are the errors that come to mind right now, but do feel free to go through my election posts in painstaking detail and point out anything else I got wrong in the comments. I’m still mulling over the questions of where we are and what comes next, but things aren’t unfolding with the same sense of post-election urgency that they did in 2010 and 2015 — possibly because everyone’s still shell-shocked from a bizarre night — so writing about that can wait until tomorrow when my brain’s capable of thinking in a bit more depth.
Tempted to call that next post Day 1 of the 2017 General Election v2, but I’ll probably resist that temptation when I’m better rested.
Originally published at www.nickbarlow.com on June 9, 2017.