France had the first round of its presidential election today. To no one’s surprise, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande leads incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy in the exit polls. However, horrible far-right Marine Le Pen is doing way better than was predicted by polling. What happened here? Was this a random sampling mishap, or are voters lying about their choice?
On Friday, five separate polling agencies released polls based on samples taken over Wednesday and Thursday (available here, here, here, here, and here). These should be reasonably close to how people actually voted, and since they’re all polling all of France at the same time they should be sampling the same distribution of voters. So based on those polls, what’s the likelihood of the exit poll outcome we saw today?
Oh the graph above, the bell curves represent what the last five polls predict, and the horizontal dashed lines indicate the actual exit poll results. For Hollande and Sarkozy, then polling did a good job; the polls are pretty close to the middle of the bell curve. For (despicable bigot) Le Pen, though, the actual vote share was way higher than what the polls predicted. What happened here? There are three possibilities:
- The polling agencies all just randomly picked a sample without very many Le Pen voters. As you can see from this graph, this possibility is so far out at the end of the bell curve that it barely even registers.
- Lots of people changed their votes over the weekend. Millions of French people woke up Sunday morning with their mind totally changed and marched out to vote for Le Pen even though previously they’d been set on another candidate. This is definitely possible, although Le Pen never touched 20% support in any poll in the last two months.
- Voters are lying to pollsters because they don’t want to admit (even to a stranger) that they are the pathetic small-minded racists who would vote for Le Pen.
Almost certain that #3 is what’s going on here. This has scary implications for polling European elections, because it indicates that as voter dissatisfaction with the eurozone and the response of the mainstream parties to the ongoing crisis grows we might see some really unpleasant surprise election results over the next couple years.