In the recent UK General Election we observed a significant discrepancy between the polls in the run up to the vote on the one hand and the exit poll and the published results on the other. Thus far there is no evidence-based explanation for that discrepancy. Here I argue that we should assume that the election was fixed until a satisfactory account is offered for the discontinuity in the data.
When the exit poll was released there was general disbelief. Ed Miliband and his team looked shocked. Paddy Ashdown offered to eat his hat if it was accurate. Many Tories looked amazed too. But the published result was even more extreme than the exit poll. As the results were revealed it seemed that the Tory vote had been under-estimated and those of all the other parties had been over-estimated.
The messy hung parliament that had been forecast for months had somehow turned into a Tory-led coalition in the exit poll and then into a Tory majority government in the published result. Yet people accepted its legitimacy without question. Instead commentators questioned the accuracy of the polls. Lord Ashcroft and his pals were left looking like fools and were mystified as to what had gone wrong.
But should we have accepted the result so uncritically? There is still no evidence-based explanation for the gap. It seems clear that if we saw such a discrepancy in a foreign general election we would simply assume that it was fixed. Perhaps in the UK there is an element of ‘It couldn’t happen here’ arrogance. But there is no logical reason to treat our own case any differently from elections abroad.
Nor is there any special reason to think that the Tory party and its supporters are above suspicion. Indeed when you consider the many scandals that have dogged David Cameron’s government you could even make a case that our election is more likely to have been fixed than many other countries. It would, at the very least, be absurd to see them as so honest that such suspicion would be reprehensible.
Therefore we should make the normative assumption that our General Election was fixed. This assumption should remain in place until a satisfactory evidence-based explanation for the discrepancy between polls and published result is found. Or, of course, until evidence of fraud is uncovered and the assumption becomes fact.
There are several consequences resulting from this conclusion. First, as a matter of urgency, we need further research to determine what happened. This should involve politicians, activists, election officials, civil servants, academics, journalists, polling companies, and so on. It would even be reasonable to ask UK police and the United Nations to launch inquiries into the validity of the General Election.
Secondly, it means that the current government should not be considered legitimate. Until an acceptable explanation for the jarring discontinuity between the polls and the result is found we should see the present ‘government’ as having no mandate to govern. This also provides any protest against them with an extra level of legitimacy. Indeed it makes protesting the correct thing to do.