course, polling 650 individual constituencies is essentially impossible, as it would requirewell over 300,000 interviews to have amargin of errorbelow +/- 5%. While is true thatpresidential elections in the United States are of 50 statewide contests (less for senatorialand gubernatorial contests), the significantly higher number of British constituenciespresents a major challenge. Due to thesingle member districtrules of the Britishparliament, astraight national vote to seat uniform swingcannot be utilized
. Thus, exit-pollsters face the task of trying to make an aggregate prediction without being able to pollevery district. To get around this problem,exit pollsters(see Figure 1, page 6) interviewat polling stations in districts that are deemed to be "swing-districts" (marginalconstituencies). That is, the first districts one would expect to flip to the opposition basedupon previous vote (gathered using exit polls as individual polling stations do nottypically report vote totals
) and demographic data. Using math far too complicated forthis post, the marginal constituency data is turned into a national seat estimate. Still, noneof this answers the question of why exit polls in Britain do not bother to find out "why"voters vote the way they do.
Why The Difference in Exit Polls?
The answer is both simple and complex. The pace of counting in each of the 650different British constituencies differs considerably and often takes a very long timebecause votes are counted byhand(vs. bymachinein the United States). Even when
According to Mark Pack, a straightuniform swinghad an average error among the threemain parties of 30 seats between 1997 and 2005.
SeeCurtice and Firthpage 2 andRallings et al. page 7. Most precinct level data is
available for only a limited time and is too resource intensive to gather quickly enough.Some boroughs such as Brent, London keep precinct level data for longer. Otherwise,exit poll and after election surveys such as theBritish Election Studyare the only sourcesfor precinct level data.3