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Why is Polling So Important in the Run-Up to a General Election?

With the UK General Election around the corner, we asked our intern, Tom to uncover the importance of reputable and reliable polling.

A photograph of our intern, Tom

The direction of a General Election campaign is driven by politicians understanding what’s important to the public – this allows political messaging to be carefully crafted and fine-tuned to the mood of the nation. How do we grasp the views and beliefs of a population? Political polling is often the first step. 

The Importance of Tailoring Communication

In our modern world, communication is key. And that’s certainly true in politics. Whether you are the incumbent government or an opposition party, policy announcements must be carefully and precisely orchestrated, to determine how best to build rapport with voters.

Without understanding the public’s needs, legislators would be taking a shot in the dark with every decision – and with only a few weeks to go until the UK General Election, legislative choices need to be quick, relevant and popular. 

Polling provides this all-important snapshot of voting intention, enabling politicians to keep their finger on the pulse of national opinion. 

The Influence of Polling

There’s an element of responsibility when it comes to polling. Since it began to be widely utilized by campaigners in the 1950s, it has become a key aspect of elections. However, in the 1966 General Election, there were calls for it to be banned as some believed it to be too influential.

A 2022 study from the University of Warwick delved into the extent to which polls are utilized by the public, not just politicians, to inform their decisions. The study found that when people believe their vote will have little impact (due to polls forecasting one party winning a large majority), they’re significantly less likely to show up to the ballot. This was particularly evident in the 2001 election, when most pollsters predicted a second landslide victory for Labour. Because most people assumed this, less than 60% of the electorate cast their vote – the lowest amount in UK history. 

The debate of whether polling simply records voting intention or actually influences voters’ choices is seemingly far from over. 

Polling’s Impact on Policy

Despite the question mark over polling and any potential negative influence, it still has an important impact on the development of policies.

Oftentimes, when a party develops a policy, it’s not aimed at the whole population, rather a selection of people or an industry. By using polling, party leadership are more informed about which voter groups need to be won over, and therefore, how to tailor messaging to speak to their specific needs. 

Without this data, political parties would be unable to recognise which sectors of society need convincing, and policy would be less precisely targeted. In a world of 24/7 media coverage, decisions that parties take are under constant scrutiny, so reaching the right people is crucial. 

The Power of Data Within Politics

So, what have we learned? Polling is the beating heart of modern politics, and data has become an indispensable tool that politicians can’t do without. 

It’s not just politicians that benefit from accurate and reliable polling, however, but voters too. With the first-past-the-post system, many voters find themselves unsure which party to support in their constituency, and utilize local and national polls to inform where their vote would have the most value. 

Without this vital information, the political process would undoubtedly be more muddied. With access to reputable, reliable polling, politicians and constituents have the data they need to make more informed decisions on where society should go next. 

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