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Election Forecasts Are Often Wrong

By CYRANO The results have surprised nearly all the political experts, none of whom forecast a Labour victory.—B.B.C. News Bulletin, reporting the British Elections. TF I were not surprised at the result of the British elections, I should stand pretty much alone, for I doubt the accuracy of that "nearly" in the 8.8.C. message, but in not venturing to predict what would happen, I must have had many companions. When people asked me which side I thought would win," I said how should I know at this distance? Even if I had lived in England, I should have been reluctant to express an opinion. Long experience has made me extremely cautious about forecasting election results. The older I grow, the more difficult it seems to be. I have observed with increasing interest, not unmixed with amusement, the confidence with which many people express themselves. Their state of mind often reminds me of Dr. Johnson's description of a second marriage as the triumph of hope over experience.

Experience Does Not Teach It is true that accurate forecasts are sometimes made. Shrewd party men ■in the inner circle have got remarkably close to results. After a general election in this country within recent years I was shown a card marked by an M.P. He had been proved right in every constituency but two, and in those he was out by only a handful of votes. We must bear in mind, too? that party leaders, managers, and candidates must always be confident in public. It would never do for them to express doubt, however much they may feel it and express It on the quiet. ' When we have made all allowance for this, however, the fact remains that large numbers of people forecast on what are really weak foundations, and often do not learn from experience. I have known men whose confidence was unshaken after years of falsified forecasts. They kept on being sure that the tide was going to turn. They had seen so many people who had gone over to their party. The other party had committed so many sins that they couldn't possibly last much longer. And then the election was held, and their party was still in opposition. The reasons for these disappointments are wishful thinking, failure to realise that what they hear of public opinion is only a tiny fraction of the whole, and inability to project themselves into the world of their opponents. It is so tempting, so easy, to assemble mentally your own strength and pit it against the weakness, or what you regard as the weakness, of your opponents. There is a story of Kipling's in which he tells how Irishmen in America arranged a mutiny in an Irish regiment in the British Army. The Third Three conspired over whisky, cocktails and a clean sheet of notepaper against the British Empire and all that lay therein. The work is very like what men without discernment call politics before a general election. You pick out and discuss, in the company of congenial friends, all the weak points in your opponents' organisation, and unconsciously dwell upon and exaggerate all their mishaps, till it seems to you a miracle that the hated party holds together for an hour.

The Unseen Enemy It is customary for members of a party to herd together. Indeed it is possible for a voter to move about quite a lot and never discuss politics with an opponent. He is naturally drawn into the society of men and women of his political colour. He reads his party newspapers and no others, and listens to his party'speakers at meetings filled for the most part by party members. Even if a main political party is due for a whacking defeat next week, it has quite enough supporters to put up a brave showing to-day. Its meetings are large and enthusiastic, its candidates full of confidence. To a supporter this army is apt to fill the landscape. He does not see that just over the hill is an army equally brave and a good deal larger. Then, on the day after the election, he just cannot understand it. I remember a voter being quite indignant in her disappointment. She had had so many assurances of support. Shopkeepers, for example, had told her they were going to vote for her side. She did not realise that the shopkeepers probably knew her politics, and were not going to risk losing her custom by disagreeing with her. In one- election my own little detached and homogeneous community — all middle-class with hardly a proletarian—was put down by the Blues (we will call them) as being completely "in the bag," but the returns showed that about 40 per cent of us voted Green.

It is the silent voter who does it, the man or woman who stays at home, the great army of the unpredictable. There is a certain similarity between an election campaign and a battle. Wellington, if I recollect rightly, on being asked before Waterloo, how things would go, replied by pointing to a British private: "It all depends on that man." This wasn't strictly true; the issue depended on the soldier plus his general. The result Of an election depends on the rank and file of the armies and the generalship, with this difference, that no. general knows the size of his army. He is not lighting a battle so much as appealing for recruits, and the side that attracts the most recruits wins.

Two Landslides The election in Britain produced a tremendous landslide. There has been only one election like it, that of 19"06, and opinions may differ as to which was the more sensational: In those days the election was spread over nearly three weeks, which had the effect of turning a good many Voters to the winning side because it was seen to be winning. Arthur Balfour and other prominent Conservatives were defeated early on, and this gave the landslide a good push. Day after day the Liberals pushed further ahead, until the party was 377 strong, without the Irish and Labour parties, ag."inat a Conservative Opposition of only 167, which was a good deal 1 ss than the Conservative strength cO-day. Spender, the Liberal editor and historian, says the results in 1906 "far exceeded the most sanguine estimates"oi' Liberal party managers." Also, "Young men who had fought forlorn hopes with no thought of winning found themselves to their surprise, and sometimes to their embarrassment, suddenly projected into Parliament." Just the same reports come from Britain now. History has repeated itself, with a difference. The party that thirty-nine years ago swept the country, as Labour has done to-day, is now reduced to a handful. We "must grieve when even the shade of that which once was great is passed away," but the Liberal party still has a little flesh and blood on its bones.

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Election Forecasts Are Often Wrong, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 184, 6 August 1945

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Election Forecasts Are Often Wrong Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 184, 6 August 1945

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