Britain heads to the polls this Thursday for the fourth time since 2015 following two general elections and the EU referendum. Though the ruling Conservatives appear on course to win a majority, it is worth bearing in mind that the previous three polls delivered outcomes that surprised against expectations.


Recent campaign developments

The final full week of campaigning was relatively uninspiring, culminating in a head-to-head debate between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in which neither managed to land any heavy blows on the other. A snap YouGov poll showed that 52% of voters believed that Johnson had come out on top, while 48% considered Corbyn to be the victor once the 6% of unsure respondents were excluded.


Johnson also outlined his plans for his first 100 days in office should the Tories remain in power. First, a Queen’s Speech would be scheduled for 19 December, before the introduction of Brexit legislation, to enable the UK to leave the EU on 31 January. Also, the plans allow for a February budget that would see the Tories act on their fiscal pledges (for example, raising the National Insurance Contributions threshold for employees to £9,500).


What are the polls telling us?

Broader polls on voting intentions continue to point a decent majority for the prime minister, with polls of polls placing the Conservatives around 10 points ahead of Labour. There is, however, a significant amount of variation between polls. Six published over the weekend put the party’s lead at between eight and fifteen points. At the upper end of this range, such polls would translate to estimates of a solid Tory majority, whereas at the lower end the election looks to be a close affair.


Additionally, YouGov has announced that it will publish an update to its multi-level regression and post-stratification (MRP) election model on Tuesday at 10:00pm. The MRP approach works by using a large sample to model voting intentions using factors such as socio-economic characteristics and pro “leave” and “remain” attitudes, allowing the pollster to predict individual seat results as well as voting shares. The YouGov model called 93% of seats accurately in 2017 and correctly predicted a hung parliament, in contrast to other major polling.


In its first iteration a fortnight ago, the YouGov MRP model suggested the Conservatives were on course for a clear majority. It predicted that the Tories would win 359 seats (42 more than in 2017) and 43% of the vote (about the same as in 2017) in what would be the party’s best performance in terms of seats won since 1987.


Election day

Looking ahead to the election on Thursday, voting starts at 7:00am and ends at 10:00pm. Press coverage during the day will be light with the media barred from reporting on the election campaign from 00:30am until voting ends. Once the embargo lifts at 10:00pm, shortly afterwards, we will get the exit poll, which has in the past been a good indicator of the eventual outcome. 


Subsequently, results will start to trickle in from around 11:00pm until late Friday morning. But sometime between 4:00am and 5:00am, enough constituencies should have reported that the final result will be relatively clear.