Marco Morucci and Sally Symington test the ‘Shy Tory’ hypothesis that has been mooted as the explanation for the polls’ failure to predict the election outcome and find it unconvincing.
The release of exit polls on 7 May was a moment of shock and awe for political scientists, pollsters and forecasters across the UK: polls and subsequent predictions had grossly underestimated both the vote share for the Conservative party as well as their share of seats.
Hungry for a quick and simple explanation of the phenomenon, the mainstream media and commenting classes were quick in bringing up the ‘Shy Tory’ hypothesis. The adage dates back to 1992 and goes something like this: right-wing voters felt cornered by the adversarial and negative propaganda directed at them by the left wing, prompting them to feel safer in withholding their voting intention on surveys by either answering they’re undecided or won’t vote.
The theory has received little real scrutiny nor been critically evaluated despite the self-reinforcing coverage it has been given since the election, to the extent that it has now morphed into ‘Lying Tories’. However, some pollsters and experts have already manifested their doubts on its value. It presents a number of flaws that discourage its adoption as a principal explanation for the polls.