You might wonder about how a Parliamentary by-election without any public opinion polls can be a good one for pollsters. But bear with me…
The contrast with Hartlepool is striking. There, the constituency polls helped the media get the story of the campaign right from the start.
However, in Chesham and Amersham, the media mostly got the story wrong for most of the campaign. Some got it spectacularly wrong:
Others were rather wiser in their comments but still wrong:
Oddest of all was The Guardian who invested in sending a journalist to the seat, vox popping people and then writing a story… that didn’t mention the Lib Dems at all. Sending a journalist on location is a sadly all too precious resource these days in journalism. It doesn’t say much for the power of vox pops and their role in media coverage (something I covered in more detail in last year’s book).
To be fair, in the last few days many woke up to what might be happening, but by that point the earthquake was well underway. It’s hard for journalists to get a grip on what is really happening in a campaign – you need a good amount of time on the ground, time that is rarely available.
Which is why opinion polls can be so valuable. As Hartlepool showed it’s much easier to get the story right with them, and as Chesham and Amersham has now shown it’s also much easier to get the story wrong without them.