Nate Silver, the statistician who correctly predicted the US 2012 election results in every state, has suggested there could be an “incredibly messy outcome” to the UK general election.
In a BBC Panorama programme broadcast on Monday night, Silver revealed that a model he backs puts the Conservatives on 283 seats, Labour on 270, the SNP on 48, the Lib Dems on 24, the DUP on eight, Ukip on one and the other parties on 16. This suggests that no two parties would be able to form a majority without the help of a third, leading to the possibility of a so-called rainbow coalition.
He said: “If these numbers held steady, you’d have the Tories as the largest party but Labour plus the SNP are more. Even then they are not a majority. The betting markets seem to think there would be more paths for Miliband in that case, but it’s an incredibly messy outcome. There is still enormous uncertainty about who forms a government after 7 May.”
The forecast is the work of Silver and three UK academics, Chris Hanretty, Benjamin Lauderdale and Nick Vivyan, whose model creates a range of options. Those figures are at the centre of the range extending to plus or minus about 30 seats.
Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the programme, Silver said the polls are currently pointing towards an almost dead heat: “The irony is that if the polls are spot on, you’ll have the very chaotic, uncertain nightmare scenario. In some ways, people should hope the polls are off in one or other direction for the Tories to be able to form a coalition or Labour to say we clearly have the mandate of the people as the largest party.”
However, he said he thought there was still ambiguity about how the Ukip vote will behave and perhaps how the Liberal Democrat vote behaves. “The Ukip vs Tory dynamic could shift,” he said.
The Guardian’s own poll projector puts the Conservatives on 274 seats, and Labour on 270 – both well short of the 326 required for an overall majority.
There is some evidence that support for Ukip has dropped off in recent months, with the party falling from about 19% to less than 14% in most surveys. Conservatives still hope hope Ukip’s support will diminish in key marginals where they are battling Labour challengers.
Silver also detected a high degree of awareness about tactical voting in the UK, which makes attempts to forecast the result more difficult. He said it was easier to predict US elections than UK ones as America has better data and a simpler system.
“Then on top of the inherent challenges, this one in particular seems very unclear what the outcome is after May,” he said. “The polls are very close. What happens if that occurs is unclear. It is layer upon layer of ambiguity.”
Currently, some polls are showing a Labour lead of several points and some a Conservative lead of several points, with phone surveys tending to show David Cameron’s party ahead and internet polls generally putting Ed Miliband’s party in front. Silver said his bias or predisposition was for telephone polls. “You should look at both and take an average, but I probably prefer the telephone polls still, given their penetration and their methodology being a bit more by the book.”
Silver said the polls show an even split but there is perhaps a “tendency for the incumbent party to do a little bit better on than its polls on election day”. He went on to say that he did not have enough expertise in British politics to say whether Miliband or Cameron would be prime minister.
“What we know is that it’s highly likely you won’t have a majority,” he said. “I have no expertise in the process of forming a coalition. But clearly if the Conservatives are towards the high end of their range, then they can still form a majority with the Lib Dems or come close enough that they’ll figure something out. But if Labour wins the most seats by more than a couple, it seems like Miliband has a lot of options.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th April 2015 21.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010