What if the general election could be informed by real data and not just speculation?

This week 97% of MPs voted in support of holding a general election on June 8th. By calling a snap election, Theresa May is seeking to capitalise on disorganisation in the opposition and to strengthen the mandate for her Brexit strategy. As a result, the country is going to the polls for the third time in two years.

If recent revelations in the US and UK have shown us anything, it’s that unbiased, informed debate can be hard to come by in the national media. Polls used to be at the heart of this discussion, but after failing to accurately predict the 2015 general election or the 2016 Brexit vote they are now seen as untrustworthy.

We don’t believe it has to be this way. We live in world where “artificial intelligence” and machine learning seem to be everywhere - yet where are these supposedly amazing technologies when it comes to something as useful as political forecasting?

Our goal is rooted in a simple question: if you brought together a group of skilled data scientists, software engineers and experienced political operatives, whose only motivation is to create something truly amazing that provides valuable unbiased information to voters, how far could we go?

We draw a great deal of inspiration1 from the work of Nate Silver and his team at FiveThirtyEight. Their approach exemplifies good statistical practice, blending data science and engineering with inferential and political analysis.

We know that predicting a UK election result is notoriously difficult. The most common approaches, such as applying the latest poll swing to each constituency, are statistically dubious and wildly inaccurate. Polling data in the UK has been historically inaccurate and is rarely available at a constituency level. The complexities of modelling a multi-party system plus factors such as the Shy Tory Effect compound the problem further.

We hope that by combining best practice with cutting edge algorithms, and by showcasing the datasets we use, we can cut through the partisan noise with some old-fashioned honest and impartial data-driven truth. Furthermore, we will be fully open about our approach, and discuss the challenges and roadblocks along the way.

A better, more informed, political debate awaits.

If you would like to get involved, please email [email protected] or send us questions @SixFiftyData on Twitter.

  1. Why “SixFifty”? The name is a reference to the 650 constituency seats being contested, as well as a deferential nod to those at FiveThirtyEight who’ve inspired us to come together