“Brave/stupid”: Essencient’s electoral swing forecast comes unstuck

With most of the UK still glued to latest political updates in the wake of the national election, we should spare a minute to reflect on Essencient’s attempt to predict the outcome of the general election based on its social media index, which uses natural language processing technology to measure trends in support on social media.
The Index-S graph of the % share of support between all the parties was, it’s fair to say, wildly off, showing the Conservatives with over 63% and Labour on just over 30%, with the Conservatives gaining 8% between 8am and 7pm on 7 June, the evening before voting began.
Former nFlow founder/BigHand managing director and Essencient CEO and co-founder Rob Lancashire, interpreting the results in an email on 7 June to Essencient shareholders and interested parties said: “As a thought exercise if you were to extrapolate the 559 seats Labour and Conservatives held in the last parliament, these percentages could indicate a swing of up to 49 seats from Labour to Conservative. This new graph is also live on the website (http://www.essencient.com/uk-general-election-2017-trends/).”
He added the caveat: “I will get my defense now and say that this is a very crude thought experiment which ignores some additional data points in the interests of expedience.”
Speaking to Legal IT Insider today (9 June), Lancashire said: “I have egg stuck to my face,” commenting: “I was probably brave, stroke stupid to try to predict the outcome. We’ve always said we can’t predict outcomes, we just show the trends and there was overwhelmingly support for the Conservatives on Twitter.
He adds: “It’s our inability to determine where people are that’s the challenge – they may be in a Tory stronghold but you don’t get access to that data and we’re working on that to take it up to the next level.
“This was a really difficult election to predict anything – which is why the pollsters didn’t do very well, it was very difficult to predict in terms of seats.”
In the US elections, Index-S showed Hilary Clinton commanding most support on Twitter until the FBI announced it was to re-open investigations into her conduct, at which point support dropped beneath then rival and now US president Donald Trump.
Lancashire said: “It’s how the trends change and how people see those things and the effects on peoples’ opinion that is of real value.”
Luckily, we didn’t bet the farm on a Conservative landslide.