Surprised by the UK election results? What happened?

The UK General Election result in May surprised me; I did not expect a Conservative majority, nor did I expect UKIP to get so many votes. But why was I surprised?

Maggie Simpson and the exit poll map of the UK (real result had a bit more Plaid Cymru)
Left: Maggie Simpson. Right: the exit poll map of the UK.
(final result had a bit more Plaid Cymru)

Being in Mozambique, most of my UK news comes through the few news websites I visit (BBC News and The Guardian), Twitter and Facebook. In the lead up to the election, nearly all of these sources told me to expect a multi-party coalition, a form of government that we haven’t had for many years, and perhaps a farewell to the usefulness of first-past-the-post in the 21st century. I became convinced; the more I read, the more I expected this result. From the fallout and vocal complaints made by many left-leaning people, it seems like they too expected this result, and the Conservative majority shocked them into protest. The Guardian lead with headlines like “David Cameron wins surprise majority in general election”.

I asked myself, “How could this be?” Disbelief that my views are only shared by 30% of the population, that the rest didn’t respond to the social justice narrative I had consumed in my daily online news updates. A friend shares her similar experience on the election night, and my Facebook was filled with much of the same.

A new paper in Science sheds light on┬áthese ‘surprise’ results, using US data from Facebook (links shared and ideological affiliation) to explain the phenomena that has lead to people like me being so unprepared for the results of a national election.

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