We have a soft spot for the shy, geeky statistician, who rose to fame after correctly predicting every state in the US 2012 Presidential Election.
Nate Silver is the clever academic who uses a range of polls, data and mathematical formulae to make predictions. This time, he has turned his focus onto the UK General Election, and on BBC’s Panorama, set out to predict who will win the 2015 election in Great Britain.
What is the difference between US and UK politics?
Before he set about his task however, he was keen to point out the major differences between US and UK politics.
“When there are only two major candidates, the choice isn’t very complicated. Which candidate do you like better? Great — go ahead and pick her. But the U.K has become less and less of a two-party system.”
In the US, there are two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. Nate told Richard Bacon, the BBC presenter, that it is fairly easy to look at a section of the US demographic, and accurately predict a voting pattern.
For instance, a black or Hispanic person living in a poorer, deprived area, is more likely to vote Democrat than a white collar worker in a wealthy city suburb. In the UK however, it is a much more complicated matter.
First off, for the first time in UK politics, there is now a multiple party system. It is no longer a case of the two major parties, Labour and Conservative that are in the running. There are the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the Greens and UKIP.
Tactical voting and how it affects the polls
Nate spent just over a week in the UK and talked to potential voters, in order to get an inside view on how people might vote. Nate believes that tactical voting could have a major influence on this year’s election, but with this type of voting comes two concerns:
- Does the candidate you prefer have a chance to win locally? If not, your vote might be wasted.
- Will the candidate’s party have any influence in who forms the next government?
Nate found that there was a great deal of evidence to support that people were considering tactical voting. In places where a voter would normally prefer a Labour candidate, but the top two MP’s were a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative, polls revealed that voters said they might vote for the Liberal Democrat instead.
Others stated that they would not vote tactically to stop a Tory government by voting Lib Dem, as they did in the last election. This is because they ended up with a coalition government of Conservative and Liberal Democrats anyway.
Nate’s probing revealed that in the UK at least, people would vote for the candidate they liked the best, and hoped that they would win.
Another point to recognise is that the polls may actually influence the way people vote. If voters in marginal seats saw that their candidate was in the lead by a few points, this might encourage them to vote for her after all.
The Shy Tory Factor
The last influence is the phenomenon known as the Shy Tory Factor, which was observed in several U.K. elections during the 1990s. This is where the Tories performed much better than their polls on the day of the election.
One reason for this is that people may not want to disclose that they are voting for the Conservative Party, and tell pollsters that they are undecided instead.
So clearly the UK election has thrown up a far more complicated set of parameters than that of the US presidential race. But who does Nate Silver think will win the election?
Nate Silver’s predictions on who will win the UK general Election
Nate Silver stated on his website FiveThirtyEight, that the Conservatives will win the most seats on Election Day, but that it will be an “incredibly messy outcome” and still “enormous uncertainty” about who will form the final government.
Nate and his team of consultants have put the Conservatives on 281 seats, Labour on 268, the SNP on 49, the Liberal Democrats on 26, the DUP on 9, UKIP on 2 and other parties on 15. You need 326 seats for a majority government.
These results show that neither the two larger parties would be able to form a majority without help from a minority party.
Nate’s model shows that despite the increasing popularity of UKIP and the Greens, the first past the post system means that this will not translate into actual seats.
To get up to the minute updates on Nate Silver’s model, visit his website here.