It was widely believed that, according to the polls, Theresa May would secure a majority in the UK General Election earlier this month. She did not. It is as a result of this that questions are increasingly being asked about the reliability of such polling. In investigating the use, outcome and reliance of such polling, certain questions do need to be asked. Why have Opinion Polls been criticised? What essentially is the problem? And where do we go from here?


Before the first question is addressed, let us outline what exactly an opinion poll is.

According to the Merriam Webster website, an opinion poll is described as "an activity in which many people are asked the same questions in order to find out what most people think about something".

Why have polls been criticised?

However, with regards to the first question, opinion polls have been criticised mainly because they have been wrong on a number of occasions. Let me explain in greater detail. There are numerous examples over the past few years. In 2012 the polls predicted that the Republican Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama for the presidency. He did not. In 2014, opinion experts in 2014 stated that Scottish voters were "deadlocked" on whether to seek full independence from Great Britain.

The Scottish people, however, overwhelmingly chose to "keep ties" with the United Kingdom. And more recently too. Almost a year ago to the day, the people of Great Britain voted in the EU referendum. As the Guardian reported, just two of six polls released the day before the referendum gave leave the edge. But as we all know, the nation did vote to leave.

In addition, let us look at the US presidential election for starters. For months the majority of polls taken forecasted a victory for the Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Although it was believed to be a close call, nevertheless, Clinton was predicted to be winner. But she did not, and Donald Trump won. And finally, to this month's general election in the UK.

Whilst some pollsters such as BMG gave the Conservative's a large lead, YouGov and Survation predicted a small Tory lead, as the Telegraph newspaper stated. They were all wrong, as we know that a hung parliament followed the election results.

What is the problem with polls?

What this proves is the essential unreliability of polls themselves. But the second question to ask is, what essentially is the problem with polls taken? One major problem is that only a small number of people are used in the polls taken and they may not represent the views of the general public. Another issue is that people do rely on them so much. A number of people do check the latest polling data just before heading out to the vote.

The main point here is the importance attached to polling data. This was further summed up by Michael Traugott from the University of Michigan who said that, according to the USA News website, "polling is a very important element of democracy". This was the case, he believed, because polls "give the public an independent voice that's generally not present". Such was the issue that in the United States investigations have been launched in the past. As a result of the 2012 election, the polling company Gallup admitted that it had "made mistakes in its core samples". These included its "racial makeup and political ideology, as well as its overall methodology", according to USA News. It must also be stated that there have been times where opinion polls have been correct.

In France, pollsters were very close to the vote share received by Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen in the presidential election. My fear though is that this is an exception to the rule and not a sign of things changing.

Where now?

The final question to be asked is, where do we go from here? It is clear that pollsters have to change their methods; they have to be more accurate and start showing that they can be trusted again. If they can do that, there is no reason why they cannot be relied upon by the public in determining who will win the election at stake in the future. It will take time though.