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Exit polls? Move over

Only poll that counts is where voters place cross
Duncan Milligan, Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Swingometers. Margins of error. Opinion Polls. Exit polls.

Aren’t you sick them? If not yet, then you will be.

What I learned from opinion polls is don’t rely on them. Work until you get the last Labour voter into the booth to put their cross on the ballot paper.

You’ll hear the exit polls shortly after 10 at night, when polls have closed. Don’t trust them either.

I’ve not trusted them since polling day 1992. I’d worked for months in the dark rabbit warren of Labour’s Walworth Road HQ from where we had fought ‘The Battle of Jennifer’s Ear’.

All the opinion polls up to that day were predicting a Labour victory, albeit a narrow one. That was the case when I turned up at 5pm on polling day: a tight Labour victory predicted.

By 8pm, before polls had closed, Labour’s own internal polling brought us down to earth with a bump. It was predicting the Tories would win by seven  seats.

Then there were two TV “exit” polls announced just after polls closed. These polls asked actual voters how they had voted after they had voted.

Both exit polls suggested a hung parliament, with Labour being the largest party. Those of us on the inside were not fooled by that, although we kept up the front with reporters.

The later internal polling that day – before the TV exit polls were announced – suggested the Tories would have a 14 seat majority. Although we all felt like crying, we kept up the front.

How Bryan Gould– he was deputy leader and main media front man on the day – maintained his composure throughout was stunning to watch. You would never now he was gutted inside.

In the end, despite net Labour gains of 42 seats, the Tories held on to secure a majority of 21 seats.

Fast forward to 1997. The Labour workplace for the last few months has been Millbank Tower, focusing on regional broadcasters and regional print media.

The opinion polls are suggesting a Labour victory. On polling day, my work started at 10.30 at night.



Labour, which had gone to sleep a bit in the last few days before 1992 polling day, was now working to the wire and beyond.

I took a call from a colleague at Millbank on my mobile at Euston station just after 10 pm. She was in tears and all I could make out was “the exit polls” before I lost signal.

My first thought was “not again”. It was only when I got to Millbank that I realised the exit poll was favourable.

But I still didn’t trust it. I’d just finished work and was at the election night party on the South Bank. It was about 3 am and I had knelt down to watch the Portillo result on a big screen.

You can see our outburst of relief and joy when Portillo lost. If they show it again, I’m the one in the glasses kneeling down at the front giving the thumbs down. It was only then that I knew Labour would form the next government.

Push opinion polls and exit polls aside. The only poll that matters is where actual voters put their cross.

It’s not over, to adjust a phrase, until the voters sing. Let’s hope they sing for us.

By Friday, there may be another battle on our hands.







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