This latest election “debunking” doesn’t come offby Peter Kellner / January 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
As a rule I enjoy attempts to debunk conventional wisdom. It is not done enough. However, I am not sure the authors of the latest such exercise have proved their case.
This is how the authors of the British Election Study (BES) have upended one of the most widely held beliefs about last year’s general election:
“The Labour ‘youthquake’ explanation looks to become an assumed fact about the 2017 election. The Oxford English Dictionary even declared ‘youthquake’ their word of the year. But people have been much too hasty. There was no surge in youth turnout at the 2017 election.”
Before going further, I must express my huge admiration for everyone who has made the BES such an important resource for political scientists for more than half a century. That includes the authors of the latest study, most of whom I know and respect.
However, their latest pronouncement goes way beyond what their data can support. They base their analysis on two post-election, face-to-face surveys after the 2015 and 2017 general elections. Their sample size in 2015 was 2,987; in 2017 it was 2,194. These are larger samples than in most individual polls conducted for the media—though some research reported by the media involved far more people (such as the 50,000 polled weekly by YouGov, which formed the basis of their prediction of a hung parliament, and their indication that the Conservatives were in trouble in Canterbury and Kensington).
Where the BES team skate on thin ice is when they seek to draw precise conclusions from small sub-groups. They derive their main conclusion from the 1,400 respondents that they have crossed-checked against the electoral register, to confirm whether those who say they voted actually did so. This is a valuable exercise which, by definition, campaign polls cannot do, because people have not yet voted (or abstained). Even doing so after the election is expensive and time-consuming. So, congratulations BES, for doing this.