Exit Poll Results: Are They Always Accurate?

The exit poll is in, but how often have they been correct?

exit poll results

by Georgia Aspinall |
Published on

If there were ever a sign that election anxiety has reached an all-time high, it’s the search data currently coming from Google Trends. Right now, as the British public waits patiently for the first polling results to come through from today’s general election vote, the main thing people are searching for is ‘Has the exit poll ever been wrong?’

Just minutes ago, the exit poll for today’s vote predicted a Labour landslide, Labour on 410 seats, Conservatives on 131, Lib Dems on 61 seats and SNP on 10, Reform on 13 seats, Plaid Cymru on 4 and the Green Party on 2 seats - other parties are expected to be on 19 seats. The Labour majority is expected to be 170.

In fact, many people don’t even quite understand what an exit poll is, so allow us to explain. The exit poll, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Sky News, BBC and ITV News, is defined as ‘a poll of voters taken immediately after they have exited the polling stations.’ Essentially, until such time that every vote has been counted in the UK, the exit poll results show what the most likely outcome will be.

With polling stations closing at 10pm in Britain, the exit poll comes immediately after. But how are exit polls conducted? Well, it typically involves people being asked, after they’ve already voted and left their polling station, to fill out a replica ballot and give an indication of how they voted. It happens at 144 polling stations across the UK, chosen to be demographically representative of the UK and balanced between rural and urban seats, so traditionally giving a clear indication of the general election result. That's where the accuracy comes in, because rather than polling the opinions of people who haven't yet voted and may change their mind, the exit polls are based on people who have literally just voted.

Has the exit poll ever been wrong before?

According to political scientists, a rough rule is that the exit poll usually comes within 15 seats of the final outcome. In 2015, while the exit poll did not predict a Conservative majority, it was more accurate that opinion polls that were reported throughout the campaign. And in 2017, while exit poll did not predict there would be a hung parliament, it did show that the Conservatives would be the largest party.

The most accurate reading was the 2019 exit poll, which predicted a Tory majority of 86 seats, with their actual majority being 80 once all the votes were counted. In full, the exit poll predicted The 2019 exit poll predicted that the Conservatives would win 368 seats, Labour 191, the SNP 55 and the Lib Dems 13. The actual results saw the Tories win 365 seats, Labour 203, the SNP 48 and the Liberal Democrats 11.

The methodology has been improving over time then, with tonight’s exit poll potentially being the most accurate yet. We won’t know for sure until around 6am in the morning when the final votes are reported.

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