Friday, November 29, 2019

Everything to play for

The biggest mistake anyone could think about the 2017 general election would be to imagine that the outcome is certain.

Anyone who thinks that could not be more wrong.

One reason so many opinion polls have got recent elections and referendum result "wrong" is not because the polls failed to reflect what people were thinking when the fieldwork was carried out but because they generated a self-defeating prophecy.

If some voters who would back Boris Johnson to win a small majority think that he is heading for a landslide (which he almost certainly isn't) they might be tempted to cast a protest vote for someone else to limit the size of that landslide.  The result could be another hung parliament which means at best another election in six months and at worst a Corbyn government.

Similarly there are voters who like Labour but detest Jeremy Corbyn, some of whom will vote Labour as long as they don't think Jeremy Corbyn will actually become Prime Minister as a result but could not face doing so if they think he might win.

There have been similar effects at many of the elections over the past thirty years. I am convinced that Neil Kinnock's "Nuremberg Rally comes to Sheffield" speech in 1992 helped to cost him that election because voters thought he was going to win and didn't like what they saw: the belief among voters that David Cameron was going to win in 2010 probably cost him a majority and an opposite belief that he was going to lose in 2015 helped him to get one.

And the closest potential parallel to 2019 is the 2017 election, where at the outset everyone thought that Theresa May was heading for a landslide and Jeremy Corbyn could not possibly win: there were other reasons for the fact that this didn't happen but there is no doubt in my mind that it was a self-defeating prophecy which helped to stop Theresa May from getting a majority at all and nearly put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

Of course, it is by no means certain that this will happen again.  Perhaps people have learned not to take any opinion poll as an infallible predictor of election results - which even opinion pollsters themselves, the wiser ones anyway, would warn them not to do. What Harold MacMillan called "Events, dear boy, Events" could yet intervene on either side.

As James Johnson writes on CAPX here, it is all still to play for.

The only poll that matters is the one on 12th December.

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