Launching the PRCA Review of Political Predictions – Brexit, Trump and why the experts failed to see what was coming

We all got it wrong again.  The city, the pollsters, the pundits and the bookies predicted Hillary Clinton would win.  Just six months after Brexit shocked and rocked the political world, those who are supposed to be ‘in the know’ have been wrong footed again.  Some wise sages, like my friend Francis Ingham, the CEO of the PRCA, predicted Donald Trump would win, (he even had a bet on it) but they were few and far between.  In the early hours of November the 9th, as we watched the American news networks declare Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida for the Donald, Francis and I resolved to spend some time putting our heads together with others, to discuss and better understand why the public keep blowing a big raspberry in the face of received political wisdom.

The pollsters may say that they were closer than their rivals and point out ‘margins of error’, but the truth is they were very wrong.  Remain tracked consistently ahead of Brexit in the EU referendum. In America, in state after state, the Presidential election polling was out by between 5 and 10%.  The pundits and the public affairs specialists mostly got it wrong too.  This points to an uncomfortable truth: that we suffer from a collective case of confirmation bias.  We believe the polls and they believe us, and we all believe the markets.

We, the community of pundits, advisers and pollsters, are a relatively narrow group, whether we are in London or Washington or Paris, who have seemingly become, hard though it is to admit it, a little too detached.  I live in the midlands and I go to the local pub, the shops and the school gate. On Facebook, many of my less political friends told me that Brexit would win, yet I was too ready to believe all the ‘smart’ people: the political consultants, the newspaper columnists and those opinion polls.  It was the same in America, where few ‘experts’ could countenance a Trump win.  They have a phrase for it over there, it is known as ‘inside the beltway’ thinking.

Over the coming months I will be leading the PRCA Review of Political Predictions. We will ask tough questions and face difficult truths, as we explore why the ‘experts’ keep getting it wrong.  We will invite views and perspectives from both those who are willing to hold their hands up and say they got it wrong, and those more marginal voices who went against the grain and called it correctly.  We will explore the reasons behind the gap between what most experts thought would happen and what actually happened.  We will ask how experts made their forecasts, what evidence they weighed, what news sources and commentators they were most influenced by, and how they were able to either overlook or disregard contrary evidence and opinion.  We will also discuss the implications of a more uncertain world in which, perhaps, we should get used to surprises.

Our aim is to learn for the future and to restore confidence in the art and science of predicting political trends and outcomes.  We expect to gain some broader insights to, that go beyond the specifics of recent elections, to the wider question of how we can better understand different views and currents in public opinion.

If you would like to get involved, please drop me a line at a.sawford@connectpa.co.uk or tweet me at @andy_sawford using #PRCAPredict. We would love to hear from you.

You can also read PRCA’s press release here .


Andy Sawford by:
Andy Sawford