Election 2015

Analysis: What to make of the exit poll

Ed Miliband and David Cameron Image copyright Various

So, just as opinion polls throughout the election campaign and before predicted a hung parliament, with no one party on course for an overall majority, so too does tonight's exit poll.

But, there is a difference between this exit poll and many of those during the campaign: the gap between the Conservatives and Labour is substantial.

Let's start by inserting the caveat we should always insert about polls.

They can be wrong.

But, and it's a big but, the exit poll last time around, in 2010, was pretty much bang on.

For the next few hours, whether it's right or wrong, those exit poll numbers will shape the analysis of how the parties have fared.

And at the heart of that debate will be the question, if it is right, how will a government be formed?

'Clearly won'

The Conservatives would be just under 10 seats short of a majority.

Already, Tories are using the language of victory: the Chief Whip Michael Gove told David Dimbleby on BBC One that if the exit poll was right, the Conservatives had "won".

They will make the case that if these numbers are accurate, they are the clear winners, even though they didn't quite make the finish line.

They'll be nervous that whilst they have "clearly won", as Mr Gove puts it, there could still, just, be the potential for an anti-Tory majority - everyone else.

But they will hope that by striking a deal with their former coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats - and perhaps, the Democratic Unionist Party - they can make the case that they have the numbers, and the legitimacy as the biggest party, to continue in government.

For all the parties now - the wait begins. It'll only be a few hours, but it will feel like months.

"The exit poll bears no resemblance to the other polls. We will wait and see and wait for the votes to be counted," a Lib Dem source in leader Nick Clegg's constituency in Sheffield tells the BBC.

That is undoubtedly true.

The question now is whether it is right.

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