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Spiral of silence

People are pretending to pollsters that they won't vote Labour

By Andrew Cooper   March 2004

The opinion polls were memorably wrong about the 1992 general election. They were so wrong that some of them picked the wrong winner. And they were all wrong in the same direction – overestimating Labour and underestimating the Conservatives. An industry post-mortem established that one of the principal causes was a tendency among some Conservative voters not to want to admit how they were going to vote. They were dubbed the “shy Tories.”

This tendency was first described by the German social scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, founder of the Allensbach Institute, who defined it as a “spiral of silence.” Noelle-Neumann argued…

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