The last leg

Thursday night drama: Between 1.30am and 4.00am on Friday, the bulk of results will come in.

With less than 24 hours until polling stations open, we take a final look at the parties’ prospects. A hung Parliament, where no party secures a majority, is still very much a possibility.

  • So, who is winning?

    Well, the headlines predict that the Tories are on course for a majority in the House of Commons after 12 December.

    But it isn’t that simple.

    Remember, these are national polls not even covering the whole UK — most of them exclude Northern Ireland. In England, Scotland and Wales, there are three very different campaigns unfolding with lots of local variations in their 632 constituencies.

    In the BBC’s poll of polls, the Tories are on 43%, Labour on 32% and the Lib Dems on 13%, which should be enough to give the Conservatives a reasonable — but not massive — majority. Most experts think that the Tories need a 6-7% advantage over Labour to get a majority of MPs.

    But the margin for error in this poll of polls is plus or minus four points for each party. Which means they could be anywhere within an eight-point range and the polls would still be statistically correct.

    So, as illustrated in our graphic, we could easily be in hung Parliament territory. Only a few points either way could be the difference between a very hung Parliament and a biggish Tory majority.

  • Is anybody losing then?

    Back in the summer, the political picture looked very different. There were four parties (Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Brexit Party), all with close to 20% support. It really looked like an election would be a four-horse race, and maybe five in Scotland and Wales.

    As the year wore on, and especially since the election looked imminent, the gap between the top two and the others has widened.

    The biggest national loser has been the Brexit Party. It has lost nearly three-quarters of its support, dropping from over 20% in June to around 4-5% now. And because it is now only standing in a minority of constituencies, it cannot hope to form a government anyway.

    Most of the 15% of voters that have deserted it seem to have gone to the Tories and the strain is showing: last week, four Brexit Party members of the European Parliament also quit the party and urged people to vote Tory.

  • What about the Lib Dems?

    Jo Swinson’s party has also suffered a squeeze in its support but, in this case, it has come from Labour.

    The Lib Dems have dropped from about 20% to about 13% — so, losing around a third of their support. Most of it seems to have gone to Labour, which has gone up by almost the same amount.

    But, unlike the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems’ support hasn’t gone into free-fall. In quite a few local battles, they seem to be doing well.

  • Does that mean Labour is also winning?

    Not really. Remember in the 2017 election — only two and half years ago — Labour got 40% of the vote. By this summer, it was down in the polls to less than a quarter of voters and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was getting the worst ratings ever recorded for a leader of the Opposition.

    It has climbed out of that hole, a bit, but Labour is still only on 32% — about half-way back to where it was in 2017. It is also unclear why Labour is winning back at least some of its lost support. Might it be because of its pretty Left-wing manifesto about domestic policies? Or might it be because it has now promised another referendum on Brexit? Or might it be simply tactical voting — Lib Dem supporters lending their votes to try and defeat Tories in Labour-Conservative marginal seats?

    Whatever the motivations, the chances of Labour coming anywhere but second look pretty remote.

  • What about the local battles?

    The US Congressman Thomas “Tip” O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local”. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but, in this UK election, it certainly seems more true than usual.

    Analysis by The Telegraph suggest that there are lots of marginal seats at risk on all sides. They list:

    Some of these are double-counted, but there are probably around 50-75 seats that could be in play and, in some cases, go against national trends.

  • When will we know who’s won?

    Even that is a bit uncertain. Polls close at 10.00pm and the TV networks immediately release the results of a very large exit poll they do of how people have actually voted. This can sometimes be very accurate, but in a close or very locally variable set of results, it might be hard to say for certain what has happened.

    The first, two dozen or so results will usually be in by about 1.30am, but again they might not help much. These are usually constituencies with very large majorities for one party, which makes the counting faster. The old joke used to be that they just weigh the votes rather than counting.

    Between 1.30am and 4.00am, the bulk of results will come in.

    But there are probably at least 100 seats that will not declare until after 5.00am, and around 20 not until after 6.00am. So if it is really close, you could be having your breakfast on 13 Friday and still not know who the next Prime Minister is going to be.

    This briefing is produced by The Day in association with ENGAGE Public Policy.

You Decide

  1. Should you be allowed to vote for a hung Parliament?


  1. Making polls as accurate as possible is a priority. For example, you want the spread of men and women in your poll sample to reflect the profile of the UK population (51% female). Make a list of all the other things you need to take into account to make a poll as accurate as possible.

Word Watch

Areas whose voters elect an MP to represent them in Parliament.
Margin for error
A small amount that is allowed for in case of miscalculation or change of circumstances.
Hung Parliament
A Parliament in which no political party has enough seats to secure an overall majority.
Marginal seats
Constituencies held with a small majority in an election. The opposites are called safe seats.
Exit poll
An opinion poll of people leaving a polling station, asking how they voted.

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