Saturday morning of the X Factor final is all about the YouGov poll for The Sun. For those who haven’t yet seen it, the answer to the question, ‘Which of the finalists do you want to win?’ had the following response from 1,219 viewers: 56% Sam Bailey, 24% Luke Friend, 11% Nicholas McDonald, 9% none or don’t know.
The surprise is that Nick is so low and trailing Luke. What may confuse further is the response to the question: ‘Who did you vote for last weekend?’ The answer given to the YouGov pollsters is as follows: 42% Sam, 24% Luke, 20% Nick, 13% Rough Copy. Clearly Nick finished above Luke in last week’s actual phone vote, because it was the latter who ended up in the singoff. Just what’s going on here?
Polling, like any statistical data, has to be interpreted. There are a few points to make about the findings suggesting more people voted for Luke than Nick last week, when we know it wasn’t actually the case. Firstly, given the sample size, the margin of error would be more than the 2% required anyway.
Secondly, some people provide misinformation to pollsters, whether accidentally or not. The most famous example of this was the 1992 general election, when pollsters were caught out because people didn’t admit that they intended to vote Conservative. One’s preference in a TV singing competition seems less of a big deal than your political leanings, so why would people misremember their semi-final vote?
It’s worth checking back to see our article on last year’s YouGov poll which proved impressively accurate compared to the actual results. The biggest difference between the polls and actual voting didn’t come in the final, which you would expect given that people have the opportunity to change their minds. It came in the question concerning whom respondents voted for in the semi-final.
Only 10% said they voted for eliminated Union J, whereas the boyband’s actual vote was 18.1%, just 0.6% behind Chris Maloney. Maybe the 8% who said “can’t remember” were too shy to admit they’d plumped for Union J. What it shows us is that, whilst you would hope the question of who you voted for last weekend would be more accurate than who do you want to win this weekend, it’s subject to the same issues of poller reliability.
Other difficulties with polling X Factor compared to, say a general election, are that people can vote multiple times and under 18s can vote (but are not surveyed). YouGov’s X Factor polling has tended to underplay those acts more popular with a younger demographic such as One Direction, Cher, Little Mix, Union J and James Arthur – but the amounts have generally been getting smaller with each passing year.
This year’s sample size is just half that of last year’s and that is an extra reason to be cautious about the polling that YouGov have done, professional and series-long though it has been. Lower ratings means fewer votes, means smaller sample sizes, means a greater margin of error.
Bearing that in mind, what can we say about this weekend’s final?
Sam Bailey deserves to be a very strong favourite. Even allowing for all the polling discrepancies that can occur, she most likely won the semi-final comfortably and is the public’s overwhelming first choice. The only time a semi-final phone vote winner has failed to take the crown since records were available in 2008, was when Alexandra Burke easily overcame a 4% deficit against JLS, aided by the star power of Beyonce and their brilliant duet.
Otherwise, it’s worth noting the phone vote percentages of previous semi winners that went on to take the prize: Joe McElderry 42.2%, Matt Cardle (35.84% – up against four rivals instead of the usual three), Little Mix 34.4%, James Arthur 41.2%. Sam Bailey fans should be encouraged by that.
Producers seem likely to do everything for her this weekend. She’s reprising her best performance from previous rounds, week 1’s ‘Power of Love’, whilst other song choices, ‘Edge of Glory’ plus ‘And I’m Telling You’ with Nicole Sherzinger, also seem designed to help her shine. Expect to be told plenty of times that she “deserves” to win, and to guard against complacency, “you’ve got to pick up your phone and vote”.
A more interesting question may well be: who comes second? I think this is a close one to call. We’ve already established not to take the polling completely at face value. Nicholas did beat Luke in last week’s phone vote, and has regional support in Scotland that is likely to be motivated. I certainly don’t expect Luke to beat Nicholas by 13 percentage points. The question is: just how big an impact does the Scottish vote have? We’ll get some idea tonight.
Nonetheless, the polling does hold out some encouragement for Luke managing second this weekend. There is an anomaly in the semi-final figures, but Luke has stretched his lead over Nicholas significantly in the final poll. He may well have picked up many of the Rough Copy supporters or floating voters among the younger demographic, a group we have already suggested gets underplayed in the polling.
Luke also has one of his best performances to reprise – week 7’s ‘What Makes You Beauitful’. Nicholas, on the other hand, doesn’t get his best performance to reprise, although there was nothing wrong with his week 3 rendition of ‘Angel’. Nicholas is also stuck with ‘Candy’ which doesn’t promise to play to his strengths, although I can’t say I’m particularly wowed by Luke’s equivalent song choice, ‘We Are Young’. Still, it may well be Advantage Friend in these two rounds.
Much has also been made of Nicholas drawing the short straw in having Westlifer Shane Filan for his duet. It’s hardly inspiring, and it doesn’t get any more middle-of-the-road than ‘Flying Without Wings’. Luke has something far more current in his duet of ‘Anything Could Happen’ with Ellie Goulding, though that one could go either way. Still, if producers are likely to favour one over the other, it’s Luke, who is more commercially viable. Song choices and duet partners reinforce this.
I don’t take it lightly that Scotland will be largely on Nick’s side this weekend. But the polling data suggests he has enough ground to catch up to make it a close-run thing. Yet you can get much better prices on Luke beating Nicholas in various markets such as top boy at 9/4 and Luke to finish second at 11/4. Nicholas is also 5/2 to finish third with Betfred and it’s 13/5 with Bwin the Sam / Luke straight forecast. Despite all the caveats about this year’s polling, that arguably represents the best value to be found in the final.
That leaves us with the following prediction:
1. Sam Bailey; 2. Luke Friend; 3. Nicholas McDonald
Let us know your thoughts on the final countdown below.