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John Curtice Won The General Election 2017 Battle Of The Pollsters Live On TV

Some heroes don't wear capes.

09/06/2017 21:24 | Updated 09 June 2017

Like night follows day, questions will be raised about the polling industry after it largely failed to get an election result right.

But there’s one pollster who can hold their head high: John Curtice.

Strathclyde University’s polling guru is the “frontman” behind the BBC team that calculated Britain was heading for a hung parliament as voting ended at 10pm on Thursday night.

The exit poll, commissioned by multiple broadcasters, triggered a political earthquake, with the tremors felt around the globe as the pound plummeted on the news.

The world held its breath: would the survey of voters at just 144 polling stations correctly predict the most seismic election result since ...... well, the last one? After all, most polls a day earlier were still eyeing a comfortable Tory victory.

The early signs were not good.

Results in the North East of England  - university towns Newcastle and Sunderland - were not swinging to Labour as much as the exit poll suggested. Curtice was unfazed, suggesting it still showed the “direction of travel”. But still. Gulp!

Then, more drama.

Fellow pollster Peter Kellner suggested if the early mis-calculation was repeated across the country, Theresa May could be en route to Downing Street with plenty to spare. 

“I would say if the exit poll is as wrong everywhere else than it is in the first two results, it could be 80, 100 majority,” said Kellner, the former boss of the YouGov pollster. “But if you dial it down, a majority of 30 or 40.”

Make no mistake, this is the pollster equivalent of a street fight.

Curtice, perhaps, showed the first sign of nerves. “Oh, a majority of 30 or 40 I think we still have to regard as potentially possible. Ah, 80 or 100 I think, shall we say, we would be seriously astray.”

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It set Twitter alight. Well, among those who were awake. Mainly journalists.

But let’s remember, Curtice has been doing this kind of thing for 38 years, and got the shock 2015 Tory majority bang on too. 

As the hours went by, however, it was clear the internet’s best-loved psephologist was on the money once again.

And in the wee small hours ...

Victory.

The BBC’s election anchor, David Dimbleby, asked our hero whether “this is the moment where you will probably want to turn to John Curtice with a big pat on the back”.

“John Curtice is beaming with pleasure hearing that,” the veteran broadcaster mused. 

BBC
John Curtice, beaming

“Well, I hope you found it useful and that it helped to inform your coverage during the course of the night, David,” responded Curtice, magnanimously.

“The crucial thing about the exit polls is not necessarily whether it is right or wrong, but it gives people a guide as to what the results might be.”

He then addressed the earlier tension. Before heaping praise on the “wonderful set of colleagues” behind the scenes, he said:

“You will remember that actually, very early in the night, it was not clear that it was right, because most of the results came in from the North East, particularly Newcastle and Sunderland, and the exit polls overestimated how Labour would do in that part of the world.

“But while that was going on, we were hearing all sorts of commentary about what was going on in seats further south, particularly crucial marginal seats. And it was fairly clear to us early on that we have got the broad picture right. And therefore hopefully it means that the programme started off on the right leg.” 

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And the plaudits rolled in ... 

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