|Significant blogspace is currently being devoted to the performance of Extreme Right parties in the May European elections. Amongst those, the French FN is receiving more than its fair share of coverage. Partly this is due to the high polling scores that the party is enjoying – an estimated 23 per cent of the vote according to a recent poll, potentially putting it in first place.|
A second reason for the column bandwidth is a growing number of blogs challenging the media hype that Extreme Right parties will do well. We have already encouraged caution in these French estimates, Cas Mudde has done the same comparatively. At least three researchers into the Extreme Right seem to think the coming populist storm is overblown, then. What about all those experts who don’t have the time or inclination to blog their own estimate? We thought we’d ask them.
On 23 January, we sent out an e-mail to 137 researchers (mainly in academia, but some in thinktanks or other research institutes) around the world who work directly on or have an ‘informed interest’ in the FN specifically or French elections more broadly. In the e-mail we asked one question: “What is your own estimate, today, of the FN’s score in the European elections in May 2014?” They were then directed to a website to enter their estimate, anonymously. Other than the time of the submission, no other information was collected. These 137 were simply people we know who have worked on the topic, and could reasonably be described to have professional expertise on the subject. The majority of the list was made up of individuals we had contacted back in November 2011 to ask pretty much the same question – what score Marine Le Pen would get in the first round of the 2012 Presidentials. We updated the list with other researchers who’d come to our attention over the last 18 months.
One reason we repeated the exercise was that the 57 who responded to our question in 2011 did remarkably well as a group in forecasting the result five months before election day. The average predicted score for Marine Le Pen was 17.1%. In the end, she won 17.9% of the valid vote. In a chequered history of expert predictions, our collective expertise was very accurate indeed. Even though we are already well within the margin of error, one other average prediction was even more accurate – the modal score of our experts was 18%. The most popular choice turned out to be the most accurate. Moreover, our rationale for carrying out the expert survey in 2012 was to obtain a prediction of Le Pen’s vote against which to compare our own econometric forecast (17.4%) which was not based directly on opinion polls, methodological biases and all. The result was two of the most accurate forecasts of Le Pen’s vote that year.
Today, we face the same issue. Having issued our own forecast (19.7%) well over three points below current polling (23%), how does that stack up against the collective estimate from the 137? By the close of play on 28 January, 76 responses had been received.
Their average this time? 20.7%.
Expert predictions of FN vote in 2014 Euro-election
This score is notably under the polling estimates, and is well within the margin of error of our own forecast of 19.7%. Looking at the standard deviation, the average variation amongst our experts’ predictions is very similar to the estimates for 2012, as are the small number of extreme values. Unlike 2012, there is a very slight skew rightwards, as the higher median shows. The modal choice this time is in fact 22%, so by definition not all current forecasts can fall within a one-point margin.
Undoubtedly, even experts are influenced by polls to some degree, and the high degree of coverage of the FN’s likely success will certainly push some estimates a point or two higher. (Very few experts will carry around modelling correctives to polling scores, particularly when asked for a top-of-the-head estimate such as this.)
As in 2011, polling our experts after our own forecast has produced a collective score very similar to our own. Whilst this does not guarantee accuracy for either estimate, it does suggest that there is a ‘realistic’ score which both averaged guesses and modelled parameters arrive at. The different information, perspectives and personal biases that aggregate to produce the best collective guess – the ‘wisdom of crowds’ noted in large-scale mass forecasts – at this stage looks credible for the 2014 Europeans.