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Douglas Ross and the 99% chance: Why can UK exit polls not predict Moray?


By Jonny Clark

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GENERAL Election exit polls in the United Kingdom are extremely well-trusted - usually predicting each party’s seat count with great accuracy.

Moray, however, seems to be somewhat of an anomaly for the Ipsos exit poll - which was again wildly wrong on Thursday night.

MORE: SNP win in Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey

Douglas Ross defeated by Seamus Logan in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East

I remember well covering my first election for The Northern Scot in 2019.

I wrote a story, based on the exit poll, which suggested that Douglas Ross had just a 1 per cent chance of winning the Moray seat.

Interviewing him at the end of the night, a rightly-proud, and mightily-relieved, Mr Ross joked about that 1 per cent chance as he was re-elected by 500 votes.

This year, when the exit poll was released, the shoe was on the other foot for Mr Ross.

Douglas Ross (Conservative) congratulates Seamus Logan (Scottish National Party) as he is announced as the new MP for Aberdeen North and Moray East. Picture: Beth Taylor
Douglas Ross (Conservative) congratulates Seamus Logan (Scottish National Party) as he is announced as the new MP for Aberdeen North and Moray East. Picture: Beth Taylor

He was given a 99 per cent chance of winning the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat, with the SNP’s Seamus Logan just a 1 per cent outside hope.

I doubt he would have been counting his chickens with 2019 in his mind - and I too recalled that election.

Seamus Logan went onto win by nearly 1000 votes, and his SNP counterpart Graham Leadbitter in Moray West, Nairn and Strathspey - who was given a 5 per cent chance compared to the Tories’ 95 per cent - also won.

Douglas Ross - Conservative (Aberdeenshire North and Moray East). Picture: Beth Taylor
Douglas Ross - Conservative (Aberdeenshire North and Moray East). Picture: Beth Taylor

A reflective Douglas Ross, speaking on BBC News, put it simply when he said “that’s politics”.

Douglas Ross - Conservative (Aberdeenshire North and Moray East). Picture: Beth Taylor
Douglas Ross - Conservative (Aberdeenshire North and Moray East). Picture: Beth Taylor

How do the exit polls work?

But why are the exit polls - which predicted Labour would win 410 seats (they won 412) and the SNP would win 10 (they won nine) - so wildly inaccurate when it comes to Moray?

This year’s UK General Election exit poll sampled the voting intentions of people at 144 polling stations across the United Kingdom, which are not named. It can be assumed that the vast majority of these are in England.

Essentially, a UK-wide projection is gathered and applied to individual seats and, based on the poor record of these exit polls here, there is a lack of local nuance.

How does this affect Moray?

This is especially exacerbated in an area like Moray.

There can be few constituencies across the UK that boast such a wide variety of communities - with fishing and farming central, and a military base and an eco-village just metres apart.

These groups bring wide-ranging political views and makes predictions hard to make - even for those with local knowledge.

This year’s election

With regard to this year’s election, there were three key points. Where would an increased Labour vote come from, how big would the Reform UK vote be and - in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East - how big was the influence of a clumsy Tory campaign.

The fact that Labour have never had a foothold in Moray (the party did not once finish in the top two in Moray and didn’t in either newly-formed constituency on Thursday either) made this election particularly difficult to call.

It was clear that Labour, who gathered 5 per cent of the vote in Moray in 2019, would improve. The question was where their votes would come from - the Tories or SNP. Perhaps this is where the exit poll faltered.

In both seats, it proved to be the Tories who lost more of their vote share, and that edged the SNP to victory. Also key, in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, was a low turnout (54.75 per cent) which party sources tell me did not favour the Conservatives.

Aberdeenshire North and Moray East also had the highest Reform vote in Scotland at around 14.6 per cent. Perhaps this was related to some disillusioned Tories, upset with the treatment of David Duguid, but that is hearsay.

What is known is that we are diverse, hard to predict and good at bucking the trend. All of that makes this corner of the UK one of the most interesting when it comes to election time.



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