I don’t even…

…what? what’s happening? HOW is it happening?

Looking at the election results, the polls… everything makes no sense. It makes no sense, people! On any level!

…I think I’m going to have to go to bed and hope that this was all some sort of hallucination.


4 thoughts on “I don’t even…

  1. pthagnar says:

    England in ‘oh my god, it’s full of Tories’ brouhaha

    I live in a part of the country where fumes emerge from holes in the ground that used to contain coal, which fumes cause susceptible individuals to flee to places richer in the good things that Tories promise, but even I am not unfamiliar with the species — UKIP even came *third* here, which surprised me a little but I tend to underestimate how rural this constituency is.

    I presume most of the landlords, police, shopkeepers [except the hippy bookshop lady], racists, homeowners, etc. I know are Tories, so the fact of their existence in large numbers didn’t surprise me too much. All those people walking around with copies of the Mail are a dead giveaway of some sort of political consciousness too.

    There are some leftists who are obviously doing some sort of performative ignorance routine of “I CAN’T BELIEVE I LIVE ON THIS PLANET, LIFT ME LORD FROM THIS ILLUSION!” but there are also some who seem genuinely puzzled. On the off-chance you’re in the latter, how do you actually account for this and how do you intend to alter your mental model of the English political character? If it’s the former then the usual prop is some sort of false consciousness routine [I was cheered to see old Kinnock on the telly, back from the last time when Labour tried to believably position itself as a party of the Left and *the exact same unforseeably shy Rories did their thing*] but I seem to recall you weren’t ever too fond of that genus.

  2. pthagnar says:

    Speaking of the politics of secrecy, though and lamps, bushels and all that goes with them, I have to say your fellow moderators are a shower. That Dutch fellow is a twit, but it’s nice to see you not provoking and joining in Witchhunt II: Orange Edition unlike the rest of your pals. It will end in tears.

  3. The world is less confusing when you try to see things as they are, rather than through the lens of inflated strawmen to disagree with.

    I am, obviously, not shocked by the existence of supporters of the Conservative Party. For my part, I currently live in a constituency which voted around 60% for the Tories. I’m familiar with the concept.

    The shocking things are:
    – the Tory vote increased from 36% to 37%. The government increasing its vote share is almost unprecedented in modern UK history. 1968, 1955, 1922 – the only other times in the last century that that’s happened. 1968 was the second election of the year because the first was so indecisive, and in 1922 the electorate had changed from 1918 because most of the Irish voters were no longer in the UK. 1955 is the only case in the last century of a government actually serving a full term and being re-elected with an increased vote share by broadly the same electorate. Have the last five years felt like historic Tory surge territory? They haven’t to me! They’ve been behind in the polls for five years, by a large margin, before finally edging up to parity over the last year. Then suddenly in the election they’re 6 points ahead? If that wasn’t a shock to you, you haven’t been paying attention.
    – all the gains Labour made in voters were, other than in a few London constituencies, in places where they either were too far behind to win or too far ahead for it to matter. Meanwhile the Tory gains were in places that converted easily into seats. This isn’t impossible, but it’s surprising it worked out so neatly.
    – the Lib Dem vote collapsed more than it should have done. Or rather, their seats did. In every election, the LDs do better than predicted because of the ‘cockroach effect’ – where they have incumbents, they have much higher votes than nationwide. And this was predicted by the polls too. But in fact, while their vote share wasn’t unexpected, their seat total was. They were predicted to get 25-30 seats, and they got 8. Nobody was expecting that.
    – and when I say polls, bear in mind that this cycle has seen the most expensive and sophisticated polling in UK history. The Ashcroft polls gave us unprecedented insight into the voting intentions of voters on a constituency-per-constituency basis, giving pollsters far less margin for doubt in their predictions, all of which were broadly the same. And all of which were completely wrong. And I do mean completely: this is the only substantially incorrect polling cycle in more than twenty years, and the most wrong in probably thirty at least. So yeah, this was all pretty shocking.

    Why did this happen? Well, there are probably three key reasons:
    – there may have been systemic polling problems; in particular, Tories may have been undercounted, perhaps because they were more reluctant to talk to pollsters, or more prone to lying
    – there was an understandable systemic error in interpreting polling results for the Libdems. Ashcroft asked two questions: which party you would vote for (the normal question) and which representative (the representative of which party, can’t remember the exact phrasing) you would vote for in your local constituency. Everyone assumed that asking about intentions for the individual constituency would be more accurate, but in the case of the LDs there was a big systemic difference in how the two questions were answered. Turns out the general question was more accurate. It’s not clear why. Did voters not understand the specific question properly? Do voters somehow not understand that even in a general election they’re still voting for a candidate for their constituency? Is it that the specific question shows real local support for the party, but the general question includes tactical voting? Or vice versa, that the specific question showed intended tactical voting that didn’t actually happen in the end?
    – the twin fears of chaos and the SNP probably drove some LD voters to vote Tory to prevent a Labour-SNP alliance, and even some Labour voters who opposed the SNP. Meanwhile, the same fear (expressed as hope) pushed the SNP to be even more succesful than expected. These impulses may have been short-term impulses not caught in earlier polling.

    It’s possible that the sheer scale and vehemency of the anti-Labour, anti-SNP press also played a role in scaring people away at the last minute.


    I don’t believe there IS an English political character. I think that’s lazy thinking. The political character of the country isn’t Tory – they only had the support of a third of voters, and many of those were voting tactically. It isn’t Labour, Libdem or SNP either. It isn’t anything.

    But I think it’s silly to see the election as a rejection of left-wing politics (and let’s be clear, in this context ‘left-wing’ still means ‘would get on fine with Thatcher’). Labour losses to the Tories were minimal. If Labour had been more appealing to voters to the left of them – core LDs, the SNP, the Plaid, the Greens – they would have won the election. Both vote shares and seat totals shifted to the left in this election. Labour’s problem is just that it can no longer rely on its left flank, whereas Tory defections to UKIP were positioned in places (either where the Tories were dominant already, like the south-east, or where they have no presence at all, like parts of Wales) where they didn’t hurt too much.

    So it would be a mistake for Labour to think this result meant they should run even faster away from the base that is already flowing away from under them.

    Btw, UKIP may have a rural image, but it’s actually a party of decaying towns – in the southeast, for instance, it’s strong not in the countryside but in the old ports.

    [and if you think there was a ‘witch hunt’ against you, you’re delusional]

  4. pthagnar says:

    Ironically, aren’t you more confused than I am, what with the ‘I don’t even…’? If anything, my ignorance is a sort of buffer allowing me to see as reasonable all sorts of things which wonks have convinced themselves, unreasonably as it turns out, that Just Can’t Happen?

    A strawman is a sort of model of a person or group of people, proffered in an argument which contains a bunch of modelling errors due to all the usual biases, automatic extrapolation of ignorance and also sometimes malevolence; the horror of strawmen being when the person or people thus modelled notice that the Thing is meant to be them. Thus you, thus that part of the electorate which thinks the pollsters have the measure of them. I take the abusive part of your comment, mon semblable, mon frere, in the spirit it was intended, and ask only your charity since I got *one* voter a bit wrong rather than millions.

    Also I’m glad that despite your post you’ve not become doctrinaire wherever it is life has taken you — most of my cheekiness was in case you had, as I have noticed a lot of that about, so your shock is due to polling errors. Reasonable.

    My, vague, thoughts beforehand was that there were three interesting and probably unprecedented (here you can cite precedents, which I would be interested to see) things happening all at once:
    * I noticed that even the pretty early projections had the SNP winning a lot of Scotland, so an SNP win of this magnitude pleasantly surprised me but didn’t shock me since I guess it fell within whatever notional ‘error bars’ I had. I also have a fondness for the Scots Nationalists, and in my fantasies they run candidates here in order to confound Westminster and its wizards even more.
    * UKIP, of course. I think this is the most unprecedented of the three factors, and most liable to result in a lot of very small but consequential shifts, none of which pollsters have much experience in measuring — not helped by the fact that UKIP doesn’t itself know what it is doing [incidentally I didn’t mean to give the impression I thought UKIP was rural — I know pretty well it’s a largely urban party, my remark about this place being rural was that I overguessed how many votes UKIP would get since I forgot how many sheep there were here. Also market gardening, which is a lowland affair]
    * The foreseen drubbing of the LibDems. I had noticed a lot of shilly-shalling from LibDems, emoting about whether or not they were still loyal or if they should punish.

    The result of these was to cause me to think ‘This year, especially, I should be doubtful about what pollsters say’ because it is shaping up to be one of those years which gets written up as ‘Due to the unprecedented situation in the 2015 election, the following statistically improbable but small effect-size things happened…’.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like science. It’s important and good that the pollsters actually try to be good at this, and apply all the knowledge they can, but that’s the input side of the process. The output side — whether I, a citizen, would be right to put my faith in what they say and whether it is sensible to be ‘shocked’ if they’re wrong — is another thing. Scientists working on studies usually have more time, money and reputation invested in the questions, as well as professionallly exquisite prejudices and so are usually more shocked when results don’t work out, than an outsider to the field, reading the paper, would think is scientifically justified. This happens even in very quantifiable sciences.

    [If you also have any professional interest [like, you have ended up getting a nice job with some polling company], it’s good practice to state this beforehand so people can work out your shock is for professional reasons rather than ideological or whatever, and adjust accordingly. congrats if so, otherwise more jaundiced eyeing.]


    So if not your view of the *political character* of England [though I mean you point out some unpleasant things when you add them all up — people can’t understand simple questions, right-wing people dissemble, english people vote for right-wing parties due to right-wing scaremongerers and ‘fear of chaos’ than left-wing ones: if these are all things not taken into account by the modellers, and assuming they’re not leaving them out on purpose, or if they are underestimating these qualities [since even I am aware of these systemic biases and consider them part of ‘the English political character’ ] doesn’t that mean the modellers have a pretty rosy impression of the public?] then what about the pollsters in general? I already don’t treat them with the same respect you do — is your confidence in them weakened, and would you be less likely in the next general election to put your trust in them so much, at least emotionally?

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