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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.  

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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