Monitoring the British General Election

UK Elections 1st June

We have turned our system onto monitoring the British General Election (see diagram above), with some trepidation, for 3 reasons:

  • Our system uses Social Media to predict elections, and in the UK in 2010 and 2015 Social Media was massively biassed towards the Liberals and Labour respectively, so the question for us is how biassed is it in 2017? There are now more people on SocMed, so it is probably more representative of overall society, but  correcting for a true Tory picture is still a measure of some guesswork. There are two parts to this calculation, being (i) The demographic who is on Social Media tend to be natural liberal/labour voters, but to what % and (ii) “Shy Tories” – people who talk liberal for social kudos, but vote conservative. This latter is not insignificant in the UK.
  • The short timeframe – we found Brexit and the US elections quite easy to see in the analytics as they happened over a long time so the social media datastream was reliable. We found in the French election, especially the 2nd phase, that the data we could monitor was “behind” where the electorate was – we were having to predict where the supporters of the losing candidates would go, and in what volumes. There is a related problem here in the UK, the short timeframes mean our data is “behind the curve” –  or more accurately, our curves are “behind the data”.
  • The UK first past the post system is horrendously unrepresentative of national party support, as it depends hugely on exactly where teh support is. For example, take the Liberal Democrats. As The Register explains

In 1983, 25 per cent of the vote got them 23 seats, whereas in 2005 22 per cent got 62 seats: a vote increase of 1 per cent in 2010 saw a seat decline of five. The point? On 8 to 10 per cent, which is where they are currently in the polls, they could as easily face wipeout as a doubling in their representation to c.16-20 seats.

With our system right now we can only clearly see what the relative share by party is, so we can’t predict seats gained/lost easily, and we still have to correct for an unclear anti Tory bias.

That all said, what is fairly predictably true is the trend over time, and what we have seen so far is the following:

  • Liberal Democrats came out the blocks early, with a clear story, and garnered a disproportionately large social media share initially. As expected, the other opposition parties took a while to get going, but we were surprised that the Tories – who called the election so one would expect them to hit the ground running, did not.
  • In fact, we have seen the opposite for the Tories. They seemed slow to get going, and never really took off. We never saw this “huge lead” they were supposed to have, and support has ebbed away from them from the outset.
  • Labour – and Jeremy Corbyn in particular – have been doing well, picking up support. We see two major drivers of this:
    • The Labour Manifesto was very popular with a lot of people, not just traditional Labour voters
    • Jeremy Corbyn is simply not as bad as the British media and his opponents have repeatedly painted him, so – as with Trump – he wins merely by being better than the very low expectations people had. In this way I think the anti-Corbyn brigade have shot themselves in the foot.
  • The other parties are quite small or regional, they won’t shift much so we are not really watching them.

As to the result, well, as you can see the Tories – or rather, the Cult of Theresa (this was a deliberate tactic that they have recently reversed out of)  – are slightly ahead of Labour at the moment. But bear in mind what we said above about SocMed bias. Also, there was a very interesting debate on TV last night and some early signs are that it may be a bit of a “tipping point” event. We’ll wait to see what impact it has before making our call early next week. Stay tuned….