Wisdom of the crowd: Polls show Brits can predict the future (sometimes)

By Hannah Shrimpton

In December 2014, Ipsos MORI asked the British public to predict what might happen in 2015, in a range of different possible political, economic, social and cultural scenarios. The idea was to see if the "wisdom of the crowd" – the idea that collective opinion is surprisingly accurate – could be proven. Now that another year has passed, we look back and judge how successful the public were at weighing up what was going to happen during 2015 – the year of the general election, peak selfie stick, and England being obliterated at a home Rugby World Cup. So, let's mark the nation's homework:

1. Ukip will win more than ten seats at the general election

In the run up to the general election in May, UKIP were attracting a lot of attention. Not least their media-catnip leader Nigel Farage, who was frequently depicted in a pub, wedged between the "common man" and a pint.  It was possibly this omnipresence which resulted in half of Brits (49%) predicting a ballot box success story for the party. However, come the night of May 7th – the Conservatives walked away with an unforeseen majority and Ukip came out with a single seat.


2. The SNP will get more votes than Labour in Scotland at the general election

The British public fared better in their predictions for the SNP. Three quarters (73%) correctly predicted the SNP would beat Labour in the tussle for seats in Scotland. However, even SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon failed to predict what a landslide it would be, admitting that "never in [her] wildest dreams" would she have imagined it.


3. Boris Johnson won't become leader of the Conservative Party

The renegade Mayor of London has endeared himself to the public despite, or possibly because of, his many and varied incidences of buffoonery.  But just three in ten (29%) predicted BoJo would take up the Conservative party reins at some point in 2015. Perhaps they were expecting the PM to resign following an election defeat which never actually happened. Fortunes may yet change for Boris though. He is currently the people's favourite for Cameron's replacement but Tory voters are more likely to back chancellor George Osborne.


4. The number of unemployed people in this country will rise or stay about the same

Brits were relatively pessimistic about the economic outlook for 2015. Three in ten (30%) thought unemployment would rise and a third (35%) guessed it would stay the same. The labour market statistics from ONS suggest this negative attitude was misplaced. The most recent figures from the ONS (November 2014/15) show there were 239,000 fewer unemployed people than a year earlier.


5. The number of immigrants coming into the country will increase

At the end of 2013, nearly half (47%) of us thought it was likely the number of immigrants coming into the country would increase in 2014. This turned out to be true, as summer and autumn of 2015 became dominated by the growing refugee crisis in Europe. The latest migration stats from ONS only go up to the year ending June 2015 but show an 11% increase in immigration compared to the previous year- although it should be said that includes all kinds of migrants, not just refugees.


6. A major terrorist attack will be carried out in the UK

Half (49%) of us thought it likely an attack would be carried out on British soil in 2015. Fortunately, this turned out to be wrong. However, fears seem to have surged over the past year, as three quarters (74%) of us now foresee a terrorist incident in 2016.


7. We won't find life on Mars

Most of us are feeling lonely in the universe. Eight in ten (81%) said it was unlikely life would be found on Mars in 2015. However, one in seven (14%) thought it was likely. The answer is that none of us need to be hiding behind the sofa with a tin foil cap, despite the revelation by Nasa that water – albeit very salty water – may indeed flow intermittently on Mars.


8. Benedict Cumberbatch will win an Oscar

Cumberbatch has become a bona-fide British sweetheart since he was catapulted onto our screens as the title role in the BBC's Sherlock. At the end of 2014, over half of us (56%) predicted the 'Batch' would pick up a tiny golden man at the 2015 Oscar ceremony in January for his performance as computer science whizz Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. However, he was pipped to the post by fellow Brit Eddie Redmayne, who played another genius Stephen Hawking, in The Theory of Everything.


9. England won't win the Rugby World Cup

Swing low, sweet expectations. Just one in three of us (29%) had hope that England would win the Rugby World Cup. This glass half empty attitude turned out to be even more bang-on than expected, as England crashed out the competition in the first round. This year, we're even less optimistic about the English football team's chances. Less than two in five see us reaching the final of the European Championships.


10. Prince Harry won't get engaged

Prince Harry is one of Britain's most eligible bachelors, but His Highness's public were not so sure he would settle down in 2015. Only two in five (37%) believed someone would put a ring on it, and they were proved right as the prince starts 2016 still single. The Prince's love-life has had various reviews over the years. At the end of 2013, 44% of us predicted he would get married the following year. Yet after an amicable break-up with long-term girlfriend Cressida Bonas in spring 2014 and with no new serious relationship on the cards, expectations of another royal wedding have slightly dropped. When will Harry marry?


SCORE: 6/10.

Hannah Shrimpton is senior research executive at the Social Research Institute, Ipsos MORI. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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