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Photography Elliott Stallionvia Unsplash

Don’t listen to the polls: this election is a battle on a knife-edge

Are we heading for another ‘youthquake’?

We are living through one of the most volatile elections in history. The polls, however, tell a different story: MPR – considered the most reliable poll after successfully predicting a hung parliament in the 2017 election – is suggesting a clear majority for the Tories of 38 seats. What it doesn’t reflect is how small the gap is between these figures – some, just a few seats – and the fact that they are closing. 

Headlines declaring an impending Tory majority are designed to do one thing: demobilise the force that has swelled under Jeremy Corbyn. The danger is that polls become a self-fulfilling prophecy: if the Tories can claim to offer an outright majority, they’re more able to stoke fears about a ‘coalition of chaos’ under a Labour government. The right-wing press – AKA the campaigning arm of the Tory party – are using these polls to construct reality. 

It is essential that we recognise that nothing is a foregone conclusion and that, as New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said: “we don't watch the polls, we change the polls”. Here’s why we shouldn’t buy into the polls that position the Tories as on course for a clear win, and why we must get out and campaign like it’s a knife-edge battle. 


“The main point to learn from previous elections and referendums is to see polls as a vague outline of public opinion, not as a definitive prediction,” Ell Smith, founder of Stats for Lefties, tells Dazed.

We only need to look to a handful of the most recent examples in history as evidence. In 2015, the polls positioned Ed Milliband and David Cameron as neck-and-neck (some even suggested Labour was pulling ahead) – yet, the Tories managed to score an outright majority. This was largely due to ”unrepresentative” poll samples – in other words, they spoke to too many Labour voters.

This reflects one of the key issues with polling: that finding entirely ‘random’ groups of people to poll is incredibly difficult. This has been exacerbated over more recent years by factors like the weakening link between social class and politics, and a transition away from phone to online polling, which are known to result in less accurate surveys. 

2016 came with some monumental plot twists, when fewer than a third of polls predicted the Leave result in the EU referendum, and in the US, where Trump’s win in the presidential election surprised most pollsters. In 2017, the polls failed to anticipate the ‘youthquake’ which led to the Tories losing their majority. Over half of 18 to 24-year-olds turned out to vote, with 60 per cent voting Labour. This is still significantly less than the turn out among older voters, which goes to show just how much potential there still is for young people to change the course of history.


More than 1.5 million people under the age of 34 registered to vote within the first few weeks of the election, compared with 1.2 million in the same time frame in 2017, according to official government figures. An additional 452,000 people under the age of 34 applied to vote on the last day of registration. 

Judging from the 2017 election statistics, it’s safe to assume most of those young people who registered to vote are backing Labour. Figures like Stormzy have been helping to drive the youth vote, when his Tweet caused a spike in voter registration. The polls, including the MRP, don’t account for the impact of voter registration. There also isn’t much data on how young people are voting, given that they’re less likely to answer the door – at least not without the warning of a WhatsApp message before.

If the young people who have registered come out to vote on December 12, the Tories would be out by a clear majority. But this would require an explosive turnout from young voters, who have historically made up a big percentage of non-voters. It’s why the Tories also don’t want young people to have their say: Corbyn previously tweeted about the Tories and Lib Dems complete failure to even remind people to register to vote. The fact that the government doesn’t want young people to have a say in their own future, and to even be aware of their own rights, should be called out as the scandalous behaviour it is. 


Despite claims that the Tories have a secure lead, their margins are in fact incredibly narrow. More than 50 seats have majorities less than 1,000, and 97 seats were won in 2017 by a margin of five per cent or less of the votes cast. Kensington has the closest majority of just 20 seats. 

This means the vote can hinge on multiple and often overlooked factors like the weather, student holidays, and general organisation on the ground. “I expect that there will be a number of marginal constituencies that Labour will win narrowly as a result of having a better campaign”, confirms Smith.


Polls like the MRP fail to account for the continued growth of Labour voters, which – if it continues to grow at the rate it has done so far – could well deprive the Tories of their majority. 

“The Conservative Party’s average poll lead over Labour (ten points) is identical to the party’s average poll lead at this point in 2017,” says Smith. “This suggests that there is a very real possibility of another hung parliament.”

The Tories have squeezed all the voters they can out of the Brexit vote, and have reportedly peaked with 42 per cent of the vote share. Labour, on the other hand, still has votes to gain from Lib Dem voters, which it’s been fairly successful at doing since Jo Swinson’s car crash appearance on BBC Question Time. “For a hung parliament to be likely, Labour would need to gain another five-to-six points from the Lib Dems and other parties,” says Smith. “This is very possible, as Labour has already increased its vote share in polls by an average of ten points since the week of 21-27 October”.

To secure an overall majority the Tories would need to appeal to people outside of pro-leave votes, which Smith thinks is unlikely. “If Remainers vote tactically for the Labour Party, as many of them did in 2017, then the Conservatives will find it very difficult to win a majority unless they increase their vote share to 45-46 per cent of the popular vote”, he says. 


Something Labour have that the Tories simply don’t is an active, populous, on the ground membership. Swathes of people have been showing up to canvas for Labour, while the Tories have to pay people to deliver their leaflets to people’s doors. (Perhaps they’re worried about getting called a cunt on the doorstep). This means Labour has robust data on voters, knowing exactly who to target in the run-up to the election.

The polls don’t consider the impact of this on the ground activism, which is why Labour winning the by-election at Peterborough earlier this year came as such a surprise. Laura Parker, a spokesperson for Momentum, tells Dazed that in the run-up to the by-election, the campaign group mass-mobilised nearly 1,000 activists to knock on doors or to make calls. On the day of the by-election, they sent out a “core group... who know the streets, boroughs, even what time people on certain streets finish work in a structured effort to knock on target doors”, she says. This year they’re sending at least a 100 activists to target key constituencies on the day of the election to “get the vote out”. 

In the run-up to the upcoming election, Momentum has been sending hundreds of activists to Uxbridge in the hope of unseating Boris Johnson for Labour MP Ali Milani – a 25-year-old former refugee who is the self-described ‘opposite’ of Boris. Surely, there is no greater incentive to campaign than the idea of waking up on December 13 to find out Boris has not only lost his majority, but is the first active or incumbent PM to lose his seat. We still have time to make it a reality.