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X Factor 2011: Too Close to Call

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Back in August it began and on Sunday it will finish. The eighth series of ITV's The X Factor has thrown up some interesting results so far, and this weekend is unlikely to be any different.

In previous years X Factor winners have been far out in front by the time the final show came around. They would consistently perform at the top of the polls and cement their lead as the weeks progressed. As a result, the discussion would often be over who was going to get second, third etc.

This year the situation is very different. YouGov's most recent survey of 2,955 X Factor viewers aged 16 and over shows that going into the final days, the race is too close to call. There is no front runner and the viewers' preferences have shown themselves to be very fluid.

Instead it will almost certainly come down to the whole performance on the night, but by that I don't just mean the singing and the dancing. It is crucial to remember that the X Factor is a popularity contest - and that popularity, in the eyes of the viewers, is based on not just the actual singing, but also the contestant's story, conveyed to the nation via behind the scenes footage.

Compared to earlier rounds the final has relatively few songs and so a greater amount of time will be devoted to backstory. A particularly powerful narrative for any of the contestants could quite easily sway public opinion as much, if not more so, than a particularly strong song belted out on the Wembley Arena stage.

With the polling so close there is all to play for. Nearly one in five (19%) of those who say they will vote do not expect to make up their mind until the night.

Here is how the data looks for each of the contestants:

Amelia (Chosen by 28% of X Factor Voters including those who will vote on the night but excluding don't know)

Amelia's re-entry into the competition to replace Frankie Cocozza was an example of a narrative that was very popular with viewers. She was by far the most popular of the possible contestants to be reinstated and proved consistently popular.

Currently she is lying in third behind the other two acts when voters say who they will choose, but the gap is by no means insurmountable. In her favour is the fact that when viewers say who is the best singer out of all those to make it to the live shows, Misha B (24%) is top, but Amelia is second (17%), just ahead of Marcus (16%).

Little Mix (Chosen by 34% of X Factor Voters including those who will vote on the night but excluding don't know)

Little Mix have been growing in popularity throughout recent weeks and have finally fought their way to near the top, currently just behind Marcus (38% versus 34%).

The emotional performance of 'Beautiful' was a particular high point for the polling, but they have not yet been consistent with their singing. Only 5% of viewers believe they are the best singers out of all this year's acts, and last week one member of the group was seen to forget some of the words during the live performance. Though this mistake does not appear to have caused much damage to their support, another mistake in front of a Wembley Arena audience of 10,000 could prove more costly.

Marcus (Chosen by 38% of X Factor Voters including those who will vote on the night but excluding don't know)

During the latter weeks of the live finals our data has consistently pointed to Marcus being the front runner and going into this weekend he remains just ahead of Little Mix.

Respondents have viewed his performances positively, but he has failed to pull ahead in the polling in the way previous winners have done. This is despite often finishing as the most popular in our surveys for given weeks. He is also the finalist the fewest number of people think will go on to have a successful career.

However, I believe his duet with Gary Barlow, the most popular and commercially successful of the three judges, will place him in a strong position. Plus he has history on his side: Four of the seven previous winners have come from the 'Boys' category and five of the seven have been male.

If I was absolutely forced to pick a winner I would go for Marcus, but it really is too close to call and when respondents are asked to choose between just Marcus and Little Mix, the gap closes completely.

This lack of a strong winner perhaps goes someway to explain why a majority of respondents (54%) feel that this year's show has been worse than last year - and why nearly three quarters (71%) would like Simon Cowell to return for next year.

But back to this year, and for the first time in a number of years, there is still all to play for going into the final. We will just have to see what happens.

View the full results here:

Between 7 and 9 December 2011, YouGov surveyed 2,955 respondents online who were aged over 16 and identified themselves as viewers of X Factor. The data was statistically weighted to the demographic profile of the audience derived from a nationally representative survey.