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My 350 on BREXIT: Why were the EU Referendum predictions so inaccurate?

"Ultimately, it was this wave of anger and disillusion that decided this election."

Sathesh Alagappan
29 June 2016

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

The EU Referendum results last week came as a surprise to many. Polling had been fairly close throughout, but a poll taken the day before the vote showed a four-point lead for the Remain camp. Bookies were even more confident. There were odds of up to 80% for Remain prevailing.

The pollsters, pundits, and bookies got it wrong. 52% voted Leave. The poor predictions were down to flaws in methodology, and a misunderstanding of the political landscape. 

Phone v online polling

Polling conducted over the phone consistently skewed the results towards Remain, whereas online polls gave a more accurate figure. When asked for a ‘yes or no’ answer over the phone, floating voters seemed to have felt pressured, and fell into instinctively supporting the status quo. Come polling day, many of these floating voters would have instead opted for Leave.

Underestimating the turnout

Pollsters took figures from past elections to estimate the turnout for the referendum. This was flawed. The emotive and decisive nature of the referendum meant many previously apathetic voters did cast their vote. This meant pollsters did not anticipate the incredibly high turnout in areas that veered towards Leave, such as the South West.

Skewed odds

The bookmakers were even further off the mark than the pollsters. A press release by Unibet last week indicated an 80% chance of a Remain vote, and even argued that betting markets were a better reflection of reality than polling.

Why were the odds especially off? Whilst more individual bets were made for Leave, a greater amount of money overall was placed on Remain. This is because wealthier punters were more likely themselves to vote Remain. They spent more, and severely skewed the odds. 

Misjudging Labour’s heartland

It was assumed by many that traditional Labour voters would follow the Party’s position and vote to Remain. However, the results show that the majority of Labour seats in the North voted decisively for Leave. 

The experts did not gauge the degree of disaffection amongst voters in the working class urban towns and cities. Labour have been losing support here in recent times, and UKIP’s populist nationalist message has gained much traction.

Ultimately, it was this wave of anger and disillusion that decided this election. People in poorer communities, weary of mainstream politics, and willing to go against the status quo.  

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Violence, corruption and cynicism threaten America's flagging democracy. Joe Biden has promised to revive it – but can his new administration stem the flow of online disinformation and shady political financing that has eroded the trust of many US voters?

Hear from leading global experts and commentators on what the new president and Congress must do to stem the flood of dark money and misinformation that is warping politics around the world.

Join us on Thursday 21 January, 5pm UK time/12pm EST.

Hear from:

Emily Bell Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism and director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School

Anoa Changa Journalist focusing on electoral justice, social movements and culture

Peter Geoghegan openDemocracy investigations editor and author of 'Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics'

Josh Rudolph Fellow for Malign Finance at the Alliance for Securing Democracy

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