The Polling Industry

  • David Butler
  • Dennis Kavanagh


The opinion pollsters entered the general election of October 1974 in a defensive position. After twenty-five years of success they had been seen to get the last two elections wrong. Every single prediction in June 1970 had been too favourable to Labour and every single prediction in February 1974 had been too favourable to the Conservatives. The pollsters were widely blamed for the fact that both times the outcome had come as such a shock to parties and public alike. The margin of error had been less on the second occasion; indeed the polls could claim that only their forecast of how seats in Parliament would be divided was seriously wrong, and not their percentages of the votes. However, they had seemed to plead guilty; as Louis Harris said on March 1, ‘If you make a mistake, see that it’s a beaut’. There is no doubt that scepticism about the validity of the pollsters’ operations had been greatly increased.


Opinion Poll Labour Party Daily Mail Labour Lead Sunday Time 
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  1. 4.
    But see R. Jowell and J. Spence, The Grudging Europeans, a pamphlet published by Social and Community Planning Research in March 1975 but based on a survey in June–August 1974.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Butler
    • 1
  • Dennis Kavanagh
    • 2
  1. 1.Nuffield CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.University of ManchesterUK

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