General election: what do the final polls tell us?

Now that polling stations are open, the opinion polls have closed. Here’s what they looked like last night.

A dog waits outside a polling station as voters go to the polls in the general election on 4 July 2024.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Polling stations opened at 7 o’clock this morning, and voters are out in force to decide who will become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

It is a criminal offence to publish a poll or survey once voting has opened, so we won’t have any new data until the exit poll comes out at 10pm. 

As of yesterday, the BBC’s poll tracker was showing that Labour had an 18-point lead on the Conservatives. This is a small narrowing compared to earlier in the campaign period, when Labour enjoyed a 22-point lead. 

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The BBC tracker suggests the Conservatives gained a small amount of support in the final week, but Keir Starmer’s party still remains comfortably ahead. 

What’s more, several polling experts have predicted a decisive Labour majority. “Even at the lowest end of our prediction, Labour would have 391 seats and a majority of 132,” a team of experts from YouGov said yesterday. 

That said, it’s worth remembering that the polls have been wrong before – notably in the lead-up to the 2015 general election and the 2016 EU Referendum. 

The surest way to get the result you want this election day is to exercise your democratic right to vote. So make sure you head to your local polling station before 10pm today, where you can have your say. 

Who’s behind Labour and the Conservatives in the polls?

The bid for Number 10 is a two-horse race between Starmer and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. However, other parties have played a visible role over the course of the campaign period. 

They will be hoping to hang on to their existing seats and, in some cases, grow their share of the House of Commons, where they will look to exert pressure on the leading party.

When the final polls were conducted on 3 July, Reform UK was coming in third place, four points behind the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats were next, followed by the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

The BBC’s poll tracker showed the percentage split as follows:

  • Labour: 39%
  • Conservatives: 21%
  • Reform UK: 17%
  • Liberal Democrats: 11%
  • Green Party: 7%
  • SNP: 3%
  • Plaid Cymru: <1%

Are opinion polls accurate?

Opinion polls don’t always predict the right result – and there are several reasons behind this.

An important one is voter secrecy. Some people prefer to keep things between them and the ballot box. Indeed, psephologists often talk about “shy Tories” who tell the pollsters they are going to vote one way, before ultimately choosing a different candidate.

Another reason could be poor sampling, where those surveyed aren’t representative of the wider electorate. Sometimes pollsters don’t ask the right questions either, which can influence the results. It is also important to ask who has paid for the poll, and whether they have an ulterior motive in skewing the questions to achieve a particular outcome. 

Opinion polls were famously inaccurate before the 2015 general election in suggesting the Conservatives and Labour were neck and neck. Many were speculating about the prospect of a hung parliament and another coalition government but, in reality, David Cameron won a clear majority with 99 more seats than Labour.  

When the British Polling Council looked into these errors after the election, it found that the surveys did not use an accurate sample of the population. As a result, it over-represented Labour voters.

What time will the exit poll be released, and is it more accurate than opinion polls?

The exit poll will come out at 10pm this evening as polling stations close. 

Exit polls are generally deemed more accurate than opinion polls, so this evening’s result could give us a decent idea of what to expect over the hours that follow as votes are counted.

Teams stationed at constituencies across the country will catch voters as they leave the polling station and ask them who they voted for. 

“By targeting electors immediately after they have voted, the poll gathers voting behaviour, rather than voters’ stated intentions ahead of the day,” says Ipsos, the market research firm that conducts the exit poll. 

Ipsos adds that the simple methodology behind the UK exit poll also contributes to the reliability of its results. 

The company says: “The UK exit poll asks one question only: ‘Who did you just vote for?’ It asks no further questions on background or motivation, which is more common in other exit polling worldwide.”

These aren’t the only reasons why exit polls tend to get it right, though. Another important factor is that they are administered face-to-face. 

This means relatively few refuse to participate, with four in every five people approached at the 2019 general election agreeing to take part, according to Ipsos. The more representative the survey group, the more reliable the poll.

Katie Williams
Staff Writer

Katie Williams has a background in investment writing and is interested in everything to do with personal finance, investments, and financial news. Before joining the MoneyWeek team, Katie worked as an investment content specialist at Invesco EMEA, a global asset management firm, which she joined as a graduate in 2019. While there, she enjoyed translating complex topics into “easy to understand” stories. She studied English at the University of Cambridge and loves reading, writing and going to the theatre.