Sunday 21 January 2018

Brexit referendum: now who should we believe, the bookies or the pollsters?

Polls become more accurate closer to the day of a vote Photo: Depositphotos
Polls become more accurate closer to the day of a vote Photo: Depositphotos

Kevin Cunningham

An almost universal consensus has emerged among polling houses in the UK suggesting that we're heading for a British exit from the European Union. Since June 9, opinion polls have shown an averaging lead of 4pc in favour of leaving the EU.

However, the poor performance of polling houses prior to the 2015 UK general election casts considerable doubt over these polls. Indeed, the betting markets remain sceptical, predicting that Britain will remain in the EU.

To evaluate the predictive capacity of the polls, we can examine the historical relationship between polls and referendum results. Looking at the 25 most recent referendums in the UK and Ireland, it is clear that there are situations where polls are very good predictors and there are situations where polls are very bad predictors.

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