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December 09, 2019

The next three days

There are two tail-end election scenarios for the UK - given what we know today. The first is a hung parliament - with a Labour/SNP/LibDem/Plaid Cymru/Green nominal majority. That would require two shifts from where we are right now: the tactical vote in south of England in favour of Remain-supporting parities has to become stronger than we think it is right now. And the shift from Labour to the Conservatives in the north has to be weaker. We think this scenario is possible but unlikely based on the current evidence from polls, focus groups and anecdotal information. If this scenario were to happen, most likely it would be due to a shift that has yet to take place, or one that has yet to be recognised.  

The other tail-end scenario is a Conservative landslide. That would be premised on the exact opposite shifts. We keep hearing anecdotal evidence - for what it is worth - that the shift from Labour to Conservatism may be stronger in the north than the polls reflect. These potential first-time Tory voters might be a modern incarnation of the shy Tory - voting for Boris Johnson but afraid to admit this to a pollster. That scenario would also require the tactical voting in the south to be less what it is expected now. 

The central scenario is that of a smallish Conservative victory. There could be less tactical voting in either the north or south, or more in both with the effects offsetting each other. The Tories could end up being the party of the working class, and Labour the party of urban England - but with broadly similar numbers as before. These shifts would be profound, but might not bring clarity on Brexit. 

The Guardian's electoral analysis says another battleground to watch out for is Scotland. A small shift appears to have taken place towards the Tories there. The Guardian notes that by this time in 2017 Labour had already closed much of the polling gap, while it is still trailing by some 10 points in the poll trackers right now. We note that the poll most favourable to Labour - from BMG - has shifted over the last week towards the Tories, with their lead up from a previous 6pp to 9pp. The variance among the polls is now lower than it was at the beginning. The polling organisations use different methods, and make different adjustments, based on assumptions of turnout and other factors. If they get it wrong, they will all have gotten it wrong. We concur with the Guardian's assessment that, barring some dramatic event, Johnson is headed for a majority on Thursday.

And finally beware of pseudo-statistics. Wolfgang Munchau warns in his FT column of how fake data can lead to political misjudgements. We noted one desperate journalist yesterday who tried to find some statistical information from the places the party leaders visits in the last stages of their campaign. There will be more polls as we head into the final days - but we doubt that these polls will give us much clarity.

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