Forecast error: Are polls getting worse at predicting elections?

Polling booths

Voting intention polls appear to have an accuracy problem. The UK House of Lords recently instructed the polling industry “to get its house in order”, citing its failure to predict the outcomes of the 2015 and 2017 general elections and the 2016 “Brexit” referendum. The Lords report stated that: “For each of those events, albeit to varying degrees, the polls ‘called it wrong’.” But is this recent poor performance a temporary blip? Or is it part of a longer term decline in accuracy?

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Visualising ages and life trajectories of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom

Winston Churchill

Rick Wicklin, over at The DO Loop blog, published an interesting graph showing the ages of US Presidents at the beginning and end of their terms, from George Washington to the current occupant of the White House.1 Inspired by his analysis, we extracted data2 from Wikipedia on ages of the Prime Ministers (PMs) of the UK – from Robert Walpole in 1721, regarded as the first PM, to the incumbent, Theresa May.

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Brexit: Britain has spoken… or has it?

Brexit illustration

The “Brexit” referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union (EU) took place on 23 June 2016. The result was essentially 52-48 in favour of Leave, as the observed proportion of Leavers was 51.9%. On this basis, statements like “the majority of the UK chose to leave the EU” or “the British people have voted to leave the European Union” or “the will of the British people is…” have pervaded political discourse and newspaper articles since. However, all those statements are untrue or – at best – unproven.

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