Sarah Jones | Know Your Enemy
In this special episode of the Governance Podcast, we’re partnering with Andrew Blick of the KCL Centre for British Politics and Government to discuss all things public opinion with Roger Mortimore, Professor at King’s College London and Director of Political Analysis at Ipsos Mori. As a leading social scientist behind the UK general election exit poll, Professor Mortimore takes us through the origins, mechanics and surprising realities of predicting election outcomes.
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Roger Mortimore is Ipsos MORI’s Director of Political Analysis, and has worked in the MORI/Ipsos MORI political team since 1993. Since 2012 he has also been Professor of Public Opinion and Political Analysis in the department of political economy at King’s College London.
Roger researches political and social attitudes, especially but not exclusively related to voting and elections; and he is responsible for the Political Monitor Aggregate, a data set consisting of more than half a million interviews stretching back to 1996. He is also the best point of contact for exploring any of Ipsos MORI’s historical archive of survey data, covering records of almost every survey which MORI and Ipsos MORI have conducted, on a wide range of subjects, since MORI was founded in 1969.
01:20: What is an exit poll?
5:51: You said that more money is spent on the one exit poll than is spent on polling through the whole campaign, which shows that the people paying for it obviously place a high premium on this but who are the customers? Who is paying for this?
7:28: In the end there is only one exit poll, or one publicly available exit poll that we know for certain exists.
8:12: In the context of the UK and what we call the ‘first past the post’ electoral system, what particular challenges does that system present as opposed to a proportional system?
10:20: What is success in the context of an exit poll?
14:12: I also suspect, for instance, that in 1997, whether you were 10, 20 seats out, when Labour were going to win a huge majority and that was pretty widely expected, doesn’t really matter that much. It’s in an era where, for the time being, results have been very tight and winning a workable majority is much more challenging. Suddenly you’re expected to produce this pin point accuracy.
15:46: If you have unlimited time, money, etc, what might be done differently?
19:53: General elections are obviously to a large extent about parties, so I want to ask about how this figures into what you’re doing. If there are one or more parties that have not contested a general election before and they are now running a significant number of candidates, how do you deal with that?
28:47: So you must get to learn a lot about the geography and profile of the United Kingdom for this job.
30:25: There are historic examples of electoral pacts between parties. The most famous one is probably the 1918 election where Lloyd George and the liberals who followed him into his government, splitting from the Asquith liberals, had an arrangement with the conservatives that in predetermined seats they would not run candidates against each other. Were this to come up again in a future general election, how might an exit poll try and model that?
32:54: Again a similar question going back to the electoral system, we have a phenomenon of tactical voting… how do you account for it?
36:06: It’d be interesting to talk about how you came to be in this post. What was your path to who you are now?
37:40: When did exit polling start?
42:21: What actually happens on the ground on election day?
47:54: A word you mentioned a lot is ‘computer.’ I suppose in 1970 I suspect there was a computer of some kind involved, but even in the time you’ve been doing it there must have been some significant changes in the technology. Has it made it easier or has it just increased people’s expectations?
49:21: Can you recommend a good book on exit polling for our listeners?